by Jim Bates
English Breakfast Tea
The October wind suddenly gusted and blew leaves swirling along the pathway causing the old man to pull his worn fedora more tightly on his head. His battered cane kept him company as he shuffled along, feeling the sun's rays on his face, the fleeting warmth of the last days of fall. He hadn't been out of his tiny apartment in days and it felt good to breathe the fresh air.
Up ahead an elderly lady sat in her wheelchair, dozing near a park bench in the sun, her head wrapped in a colorful scarf of bright green and scarlet red. He marveled at her peacefulness, then wondered for a nervous moment if she was dead. But no, as he shuffled closer he could see the rise and fall of her shoulders, the slight twitch of her knurled fingers. Just resting.
She awoke as he passed and smiled a greeting. "Hello," she said in a foreign accent.
He nodded in return, his perpetual frown unbroken, and continued on, realizing as he did so that it was the first time in days he'd interacted with another human being. He didn't have many friends or acquaintances anymore. Nobody, really, ever since his dear Emma had passed away nearly three years ago.
Emma. Like a tidal wave crashing, the memories came flooding back: his darling wife, their marriage for fifty-seven years, the pure joy of their long, fulfilling life together. A sharp, crushing pain suddenly pierced his heart. He stumbled. Fortunately, his cane propped him up, maintaining his balance. He put his hand to his chest ignoring the plaintive voice behind him calling, "Sir?"
After a few moments his heart rate slowed and his breathing returned to normal. It wasn't a heart attack he was having. It was much worse; a heart broken by loss and still struggling to bear the weight of his ongoing sorrow. Still healing.
He steadied himself and gripped his cane, equilibrium restored. It was then he heard the voice drifting into his consciousness. The lady in the wheelchair.
"Sir? Can I help?"
He turned and saw her look of concern vanish as she realized he was all right. She smiled and gave him a little wave, fingers fluttering like butterfly wings.
He took a deep breath and let it out. She seemed nice. It might be good to talk to someone. Emma wouldn't mind, would she? Just to talk?
He took a tentative step forward. Then another as he slowly made his way toward the old lady, his cane tap-tapping through the leaves.
When he was next to her, he tipped his hat and introduced himself. "Hi. My name's Earl," he said.
"I'm Sophie," she answered, smiling. Then she motioned to the bench. "Why don't you sit?"
Something about her caused his frozen facial muscles to thaw and relax. He returned her smile, obliterating his perpetual frown. It felt good.
After only a moment's hesitation, he said, "Thank you."
Then he sat down and joined her.
About the author
Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and writes full time. He loves contributing to CafeLit. If you like this story you can check out his blog to see more: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com.