Miss Delilah walked down Greenwood Street almost every day. Clarence Bauer liked to find himself on the front porch to call out a greeting to her. She'd smile and wave and make him feel giddy like a young man again. She always wore a dress and a hat, a bit old-fashioned, unless you remembered the days when women were dressed to the nines if they left home.
She took this seriously, not a hair out of place, her pocketbook in her hand. She would shop for her evening meal when the weather cooled down at about four o'clock in the afternoon. You could set your wristwatch by her meticulous timing.
Clarence checked his watch, audibly saying, "Oh," he stepped out on the front porch, and the squeaky screen door snapped shut. He sat on the porch swing waiting for Miss Delilah to parade by his house. She walked with the traffic going to Blanche's Market, she'd be on the other side of the road, but on her way home, she would walk right by his porch. He knew she would stop today because the purple cone flowers had bloomed overnight, sending the dazzling color through his fence and spilling over the sidewalk. She'd told him it was her favorite flower last year, so he saved the heads and spilled the extra seeds on the fall ground. Just as he'd hoped, twice as many flowers came up. They mixed with the orange daylilies and gave quite a show.
She was walking across the road with purpose and didn't look up to see him sitting there. He was alright with that; it gave him a chance to stare at her without being noticed. If she had looked up, he would have been reading the magazine he held in his lap, just in case.
Clarence's wife died three years ago, leaving him to ramble in the large Craftsman-style house he inherited from his parents. The three-bedroom home raised four children who had started their own lives many years ago. When Ethel died, he was mixed with emotions of relief that she was out of pain for her and devastating loneliness for him. That was until Miss Delilah entered his world two years ago. She bought the house down the street from him.
She was a handsome woman, stopping and talking to the children on the sidewalk. They all knew her.
"Miss Delilah!" they'd call. With the parent's permission, she'd stop and give them a cellophane-wrapped butterscotch disk. They squealed in delight. There it was, the reason she came back on the other side of the street. There were just as many children waiting for her after a shopping excursion to get their butterscotch candy.
Clarence knew that she would be about fifteen minutes in the store before she came past his house. He also knew the Baker children were the last on the block to receive candy before she went home. They seemed to know it was her time to pass also. Three children, two girls and a boy, played on the sidewalk after they'd drawn a hopscotch grid. They tossed a small stone; where it landed, they hopped one foot, then two to get to the rock to pick it up.
"There she is!" Cassie Baker squealed. Clarence felt his heart beat a little faster. It was time to pick up his mail. If he walked slow enough, he'd be returning from the mailbox when Miss Delilah walked by.
She was handing out candies when he opened the box and pulled out his mail. As Clarence turned, she was there.
"Good day, Miss Delilah."
"Good day, Mr. Clarence, your Echinacea look amazing. Even better than last year!" She’d used the scientific name for the flowers.
"I planted a few more this year. I like the look. Would you care for a glass of lemonade?" Clarence asked her this almost every day. She always refused. On the days he didn't have a pitcher made in the refrigerator, he silently hoped she'd say no.
"It's warm today. I would love a glass." Clarence opened the gate and escorted her up the sidewalk. She sat on the porch swing while he ran inside to get her a glass of lemonade.
"Thank you." She took the moisture-laden glass and held it to her face. He found that endearing.
"It’s a scorcher today, alright." Clarence sat next to her on the swing and slowly rocked back and forth, enjoying the company.
He wondered how long they would do this dance. He was seventy-five and no longer a spring chicken.
"Delilah, would you like to stay for dinner? I have a steak that is too big for me to eat alone."
She blushed and then looked in her grocery bag.“I brought things to make a salad. That would be a wonderful idea. Take me to the kitchen."
Clarence opened the squeaky screen door and showed her where she could make her salad. He started the grill while she chopped the lettuce, making herself comfortable in his kitchen. It had been to many years since a woman helped make dinner, and he liked the feeling.
"If you show me where your dishes are, I will set the table."
He pointed to the cupboard near the sink. She opened the door grabbing the good dishes. He almost corrected her; those dishes were for special occasions, but he kept that to himself.
Clarence went to another cupboard, pulled out a bottle of wine, opened it to let it breathe, going back outside to flip the steak.
When he came in, he saw fresh salad next to a vase of coneflowers at the center of the table. He almost showed dismay at having those flowers cut from their stems in the prime of bloom but remembered there were so many at the gate, that a few in a vase inside didn’t take away from their beauty.
"I hope you don't mind. I thought I should bring a few flowers to enjoy while we eat."
"No, I don't mind at all,” Clarence lied as he poured a small amount of wine into the glasses, and they toasted.
"To friendship," Delilah offered. Clarence liked that sound, feeling he was not being disloyal to Ethel.
"Tell me about her." Delilah took a sip of wine.
"The one who chose these beautiful dishes, they are too nice to be in a cupboard. I could tell they weren't your everyday dishes, but at our age we need to enjoy these things. No more saving them for good. These are the good times."
Clarence had to agree with her. He hadn’t used these dishes in many years. For what reason? He didn't know.
"She was an amazing woman; we were married fifty years. She was the kind of mom who put on neighborhood plays where all the kids wanted to gather. She was creative, loving, and giving."
"She sounds amazing."
"She was. Were you ever married?"
"I was engaged. He went to Vietnam and never came back."
"Oh, I'm so sorry," Clarence said, regretting he'd brought it up. Delilah looked at him strangely and then laughed.
"Last I heard, he is still alive. No, he met someone in the service, a nurse. I got a “Dear Jane” letter. I was so heartbroken; I never trusted another man."
"You were a nurse, weren't you?"
"Yes, I loved the job. I still volunteer when needed, but I am glad those days are behind me. I like being retired."
They chatted, drank wine, and sat on the porch swing until it darkened.
"Goodness, I need to get home!" Clarence offered his arm and escorted her three houses down the sidewalk.
"Thank you, Clarence. I had a lovely time."
"I did too. We should do this again."
"Yes, and soon. The next time we get together, you will come here!" Clarence's smile was broad as he walked back to his house, his step lighter than it had been for years. Delilah was the salve he needed for his soul, and he looked forward to seeing her again.
Clarence washed and dried Ethel's good China. He opened the cabinet and started to put the plates at the back when he changed his mind and set the good China in front of the everyday dishes. Delilah was right. He would use these beautiful plates and enjoy them. These were the good times.
About the author
Dawn DeBraal lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband, Red, two rescue dogs, and a stray cat. She has published over 500 stories, poems, and drabbles in several online magazines and anthologies.
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