Thursday 29 February 2024

Alice and Relationships by Judith Skilleter, white wine from the Hunter Valley

Alice is worrying about relationships, at least she is worrying about her relationships with men. Why do they peter out? Why is she glad that they peter out? In her twenty years of having boyfriends and then men friends she cannot recall a time when the end of a relationship with either a man or a boy left her bereft, left her wondering what is wrong with her, left her wondering why she couldn’t keep a relationship going after a certain length of time and left her especially wondering why she wasn’t bothered by these endings.

There was an exception. Her first love, Adam Gibson, he moved away. But he had no choice, he was eight years old and his mum and dad could not, would not, move away without him.

Alice is now thirty-six years old and she is conscious that her biological clock is ticking faster than she would like. And that adds to her worries. She cannot decide whether she wants a man in her life because she wants marriage and children or whether she just wants a man for love and companionship. What should come first? Is it a desire for a man or a desire to reproduce? And does this desire to reproduce lead to unsuitable and unhappy marriages?

And does she really deep down want marriage and children? Alice is not sure. Thankfully the pressure from her mother to settle down has stopped since Alice’s sister, Anna, produced four grandchildren in ten years. But Anna has always known what she wanted – marriage and babies and not necessarily in that order. Anna is a qualified midwife and is with babies all day every day. Alice has never seen anyone as happy as her sister even if she does constantly smell of baby posset and is more than a few pounds overweight because of finishing off small pizzas, chicken nuggets and fish fingers. And Anna adores her equally overweight husband who is also a nurse.

How could she have been so certain that that was for her wonders Alice.

Alice’s relationships are usually the result of dating sites. How on earth can she decide her future life on the basis of pictures that might have been improved (is the word photo-shopped?)  - every time in Alice’s case. And those totally unbelievable and outrageous personal statements? Most of her friends have found permanent partners this way and it is pot luck. Some have been successful but some have ended up in messy, bitter and expensive divorces. Alice does not want her future decided by the swish to the left or right.

Therefore when a relationship gets to that stage when you may or may not be living with your partner but has been established for perhaps two or three years there comes pressure from others, expectations from others – especially close friends and family.  When are you going to have a diamond on that certain finger? When are you going to name the day? When will you settle down? When will we hear the patter of tiny feet? You are nearer forty than thirty you know – time is getting on!

And that is when Alice decides enough is enough and ends the relationship. She makes her decision in anticipation of the unwanted expectations of others.

And that was what she decided with Angus. His time was up. He had been one of the better ones, he too had a busy career and was away often with work. They had had lots of fun together, lots of extravagant and expensive holidays and he was a romantic bringing her delightful and thoughtful surprises. Her friends had often said that she was lucky to have found him, he had no baggage and he was a keeper. A keeper for heaven’s sake! Does he keep goal for Arsenal?

But Alice did not pine for his touch or miss his dulcet tones during these times he was away. Rather she enjoyed the time to herself. She enjoyed pleasing herself. She enjoyed not having to compromise. She enjoyed having time to read. She especially enjoyed not having to refresh her make up before they met. Her own career was very demanding and the thought-space and rest after a break up was so beneficial and necessary. She enjoyed just being herself, doing what she wanted without having to consider anyone else. Was Alice being selfish? Perhaps. But she was not ready to change her life – yet.

Alice reached for her mobile. 

 

About the author  


Judith Skilleter is new to writing fiction after a long career in social work and teaching. Her first children's novel The April Rebellion, has recently been published. Judith is a Geordie, who settled in East Yorkshire 45 years ago and is married with four grandchildren. 

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Wednesday 28 February 2024

Granda’s Pipe by Eamon O'Leary, strong tea

As I walked through our village the other morning, the smell of freshly baked scones, cinnamon swirls, and dark roast coffee wafter from the deli. How lovely to savour such aromas on one of the rare crisp sunny days we’ve had this year.

It sent me thinking of fragrances from bygone days. Not a pleasant one, but for some unknown reason, mothballs came to mind. That camphor odour which made my eyes water and clothes stink is thankfully no longer with us. I’m not sure what’s replaced them, but I’ve seen a few rogue moths hovering about of late.

What I really miss is Granda’s pipe. Granda or Jack as we called him was a martyr for his pipe. When we went to visit, the ritual was the same. Every morning, he’d plonk his diminutive frame in front of the open turf fire and while keeping an eye on the cast iron kettle, start proceedings.

Using a penknife as old and worn as himself but sharpened weekly to razor like keenness on a wet stone, he’d separate stem and bowl and scrape out the previous day’s remnants of ash and tobacco. They’d not be discarded but piled onto a piece of newspaper. Then he’d start on the stem. This involved quite a bit of blowing and sucking, and only occasionally, for reasons best known to himself, did he resort to using a pipe cleaner.

Time to refill. Taking a plug of Mick McQuaid tobacco, he’d cut tiny flakes from the block into his palm and gently massage them with the blackened pad of his thumb. With great care, the pipe would be filled and topped off with the grey ashes. After brushing any stray bits from his trousers into the hearth, and before putting on the silver cover which looked like the top of a pepper box, he’d sit back, strike a match, take a few decent pulls, and disappear into a woody, spicy, sweet-smelling cloud.

Definitely not healthy, but I miss that smell.  

About the author

Eamon regularly reads his short reflections on RTE Radio ( Ireland's National Broadcaster). A number of stories published by Cafelit have been featured. He hopes to finally finish his collection of humorous childhood memories before the year's end. He is a winner of the Southport International Short Competition.

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Tuesday 27 February 2024

All Change by Jane Mooney, milky instant coffee.

 

I struggled to wake from the fog of a deep sleep. My limbs felt heavy. My mouth was dry and sticky, like peanut butter. The beginnings of a headache were tickling around my temples and the bright lights in the train carriage hurt my eyes. As I reached for my bag to look for the paracetamol there was an announcement over the tannoy.

We will shortly be arriving in Plymouth. This train terminates here. All change.

Panic clenched my chest. How was I in Plymouth? I was supposed to be in Doncaster! I racked my brains. We’d been out in York celebrating Joan’s retirement. We’d done Bottomless Brunch, which had seemed like a good idea at the time. For an all-inclusive price of £35 we got something to eat and as much as we could drink in two hours. I’m a lightweight when it comes to drinking, so I liked the idea that it was time limited. I figured I couldn’t do too much damage in two hours.

Well, it hadn’t quite worked like that. After the limited time, we’d gone on to another bar, then another. I had a vague memory of drunken, giggly hugs at York station before we’d all gone our separate ways.

And here I was in Plymouth. The train slowed to a screeching halt, and I took my purse out of my pocket to see how much cash I’d got. £3.75. And I’d left my bank cards at home so I didn’t overspend. Oh Gosh, how on Earth was I going to get back to Doncaster? 

The train pulled out of the station, leaving me on a windy, deserted platform. I thought there’d be someone to ask, but it was the middle of the night and there was no-one around so I made my way through a subway and into the ticket hall. The doors were locked. I couldn’t get out.

I sat down heavily on a bench with a lump in my throat. How could I have been so careless? The first time I’d been out since I’d lost Geoff and I’d managed to get on the wrong train AND to fall asleep as well! I pulled my cardi tight around my shoulders and cursed my friend Moira who’d persuaded me to wear this stupid flimsy dress.

Despite the cold I must have fallen asleep because I woke suddenly when a group of shouting lads emerged from the subway. They were about 16 or 17, just a little younger than my girls. I shrank into the seat hoping they wouldn’t notice me. At first, they were too busy showing off to each other, but then they spotted me.

‘Hey! What we got here?’ said one.

‘Looks like she’s ‘ad a rough night!’ said another.

‘Let’s see if she’s got anything worth ‘aving,’ said the biggest of the boys as he reached for my handbag.

He grabbed one handle. I had hold of the other, and as he tugged the bag towards him, he pulled me out of my seat.

‘Give it here!’ I yelled, yanking it back in a ridiculous tug of war.

‘Why should I?’ he whispered quietly.

He moved closer, so close I could smell the alcohol and cannabis on his breath. I tasted fear, sharp and metallic in the back of my mouth, but I wasn’t going to let him have my bag. The rest of them were closing in, like a pack of hyenas in a TV documentary. I looked around for an escape route and noticed that the doors at the front of the station were now open. With a well-aimed kick to his shins, I was able to grab the bag and run for the open doors. I ran out of the station and kept on running.

 

When I eventually stopped, I was out of breath and shaking, but it didn’t look as if the boys had followed me. The air was chilly and the sky was all shades of pink and purple. There was a café on the corner, lights on, windows steamed up. It looked very welcoming.

As I pushed the door open the hot aroma of frying bacon hit me, and my mouth started to water. It was crowded. Mostly workmen in overalls. The odd businessman in a smart suit. No women other than a harassed looking waitress behind the counter.

I was still shaking, and my head was throbbing. I took a few deep breaths to steady myself before stepping forward.

‘What can I do for you love?’ the waitress asked.

‘Just a coffee please.’

She steamed the milk and poured it onto instant coffee granules.

‘Nothing else love?’ 

Studying the menu which hung above the counter, I checked my pockets for further stashes of cash, hoping I had enough for a bacon sandwich. Nothing.

‘Maybe a glass of water.’ I said. At least that should help the hangover.

I carried my drinks to a table by the window and leaned my head against the damp glass. The coolness felt good against my pounding head. I heaped two spoonful’s of sugar into the mug and stirred it slowly. After the first scalding hot, milky sip I began to think straight, and to wonder how on Earth I was going to get home?

Always one for a good list, I pulled a notebook and pen out of my bag and started to jot down ideas:

  1. Hitchhike.

But it’s a long way from Plymouth to Yorkshire, and I might get murdered.

  1. Beg, steal, or borrow the money for the train ticket.

But I’m too shy to beg, too honest to steal and I didn’t know anyone in Plymouth to borrow from.

  1. Get a job and earn the money for the ticket.

But doing what? 

  1. Phone Moira and see if she can come and pick me up.

I’d never live that down.

 

I’d run out of ideas. I reckoned phoning Moira might be the best bet, and in any case, I should let her know I wouldn’t be coming into work. I pulled my phone out of my pocket, but the screen was black. Completely dead. Of course! I’d been using Google maps to find my way around York and that always eats up the battery. I delved into my bag to see if I had my charger with me. Nope. Well so much for that idea.

Behind the counter the waitress was yelling into her phone. She threw it down, tore off her apron, and stormed angrily out of the door. Through the window I could see her shaking a cigarette carton. It was empty. She leaned back against the window. Then I remembered I had Moira’s fags in my bag from yesterday so I went outside and offered them to the her.

 

‘Thanks love, you’ve no idea how much I need this!’ She put the cigarette between her lips and lit it. She took a deep pull and breathed out slowly.

‘That’s better,’ she said. ‘The girl who helps with lunches has blobbed again. It’s the third time in a fortnight, and I could really do without it today. I need to get everything cleaned up quickly ‘cos it’s my little boy’s school assembly.’

‘Can I help?’

‘Are you a waitress?’

‘No, I’m a lab assistant,’ I said. ‘But I know how to wash up and I’ve nothing else to do today?’

‘You sure?’

‘Sure I’m sure,’ I said. ‘And if you’ve got an iPhone charger so I can charge my phone I’m even more sure!’

‘Well, you’re on Missus,’ said the waitress. ‘I’m Tash.’

‘Liz.’

‘Well Liz, you might just be a life saver today.’

We went inside and Tash pointed to a phone charger in the corner of the kitchen, then gave me an apron to wear and showed me where I could lock my bag and coat in the storeroom. The first job was to clear the tables, which were stacked high with greasy plates from the breakfast rush. I dumped them in the sink and spent the next twenty minutes up to my elbows in hot, soapy bubbliness. This was very different to washing test tubes and flasks. Then there were salads to wash and vegetables to prepare.

We chatted as we worked. Tash told me about her little boy, eight years old and thought he was the next David Beckham. I told her about my two girls, off at university and almost grown up. At lunchtime Tash took the orders and did the cooking and I delivered the plates of food and cleared the tables. I couldn’t believe how many people came through the door of this small café in a couple of hours. There were takeaway orders too, office workers coming in for sandwiches or burgers to take back to their desks. Around two it quietened off and Tash handed me a cup of coffee.

‘Something to eat?’ she asked. ‘There’s some meat and potato pie left.’

I attacked the pie with gusto.

‘You look like you haven’t eaten in days,’ Tash joked.

My face burned when I told her my last meal had been ‘Brunch’ in York yesterday, and there’d been a lot more drinking than eating involved. I told her about falling asleep on the train, and ending up in Plymouth, and the lads who tried to nick my bag at the train station.

‘Oh blimey,’ said Tash, ‘and I thought I was having a bad day.’

‘Well, it got better after I came in here.’ I said. ‘I’ve really enjoyed helping you, especially the banter with the customers. You don’t get that in the hospital lab.’

‘Why didn’t you just get a train straight back?’

‘No money,’ I said with a shrug.

Tash went to the till and pulled out six £20 notes which she put down on the table in front of me.

‘Oh, Tash, I wasn’t asking for money. I wanted to help you out.’

‘You’ve earned it. I’d never have got through today if you hadn’t been here to help.’

I looked at the notes on the table. It was probably enough to get me home. Problem solved.

‘How about staying on?’ asked Tash. ‘I was going to kick my assistant into touch. She keeps letting me down. So I can offer you regular work, five days a week. What do you say?’

I was about to say, No. I can’t. I live in Doncaster. Then I thought, Why not? What was keeping me in Doncaster now the girls were at university? My job had felt like a dead end for the last ten years. Perhaps it was time for a complete change.

‘Pass me my phone,’ I said. I dialed Moira’s number.

About the author

Jane Mooney writes in West Yorkshire where she enjoys walking in the Pennine hills and watching the sunset. She was a finalist in the 'Women on Writing Summer ’23 Flash Fiction Contest', and her short stories have been published by Funny Pearls’ , Café Lit and The People’s Friend

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Monday 26 February 2024

Ytterbium by Jim Bates, black coffee

 

The story so far:

In Chapter One, Gadolinium, we were introduced to Sherry a sixteen-year-old girl who has withdrawn due to the loss of her father in a tragic car accident. Chapter Two, Terbium, we were introduced to Zeke who has been in the child welfare system for six years and is having mental health issues. They both like science a lot. In Chapter Three, Dysprosium, we are introduced to Mary who is one of the mental health professionals caring for Zeke. We are also introduced to her boyfriend Len. In Chapter Four, Holmium, Len, and Mary meet Leroy a homeless person, and befriend him. In Chapter Five, Erbium, Leroy, and his pal Riley attempt to rob a store, and the result is better than they could have ever expected. In Chapter Six,Thulium, they end up going home to Leroy’s parents farm and are welcomed with open arms.

 

Ytterbium

Fall, 2021

“Hi. Welcome to Café Enya, Riley said, consulting a chart. “Reservation for noon?”

“Yes, indeed,” said the elderly lady, smiling at him. “I believe I’m right on time.”

 “You are! I’ve got your table all set. Follow me.”

“Gladly.” A minute later, she removed her Covid mask and sat down at the table for two at the far end of the outdoor eating section. She took a deep breath and let it out. “O, boy. What a wonderful day.”

“It sure is,” Riley remarked. He set down a glass and poured some ice-cold water from a pitcher.

While he was doing that, Hazel turned to the seat next to her and smiled. Abe smiled back and nodded, agreeing with her. It really was a nice day.

Hazel was wearing a yellow floral dress and sandals. She set her oversized shoulder bag on the ground next to her chair but left her straw hat on. She took off her sunglasses, though, revealing bright blue eyes. She appeared to be in her early seventies.

“My name is Hazel, by the way,” she said.

“Riley,” he said, giving her a bump on her extended right elbow.

“Nice to meet you, Riley.”

“You, too.” He set a menu down on the table. “Here you go. “The special today is baked walleye on Minnesota wild rice, garnished with fresh parsley.”

“Oh, my. That sounds yummy.”

Riley grinned. “It is.”

Hazel smiled back at him, favoring her left elbow somewhat. “I’ll tell you what. It’s such a nice day, I think I’ll just take my time and check out what else you’ve got. If that’s okay.”

“Perfect. Sounds good.” He pointed to the severs station. “I’ll be right over there.”

“Great.” Riley picked up the water pitcher and was turning away when her voice stopped him. “So, how long have you worked here?” He turned to see her looking past him and waving at the other server. “That’s Ronald,” she said. “I remember him from the last time I was here.”

So, she wanted to chat? That was fine with Riley. She was the only customer. He stepped a little closer and set the pitcher down. “I’ve just started and only been here a little less than a month. When were you here last?”

“Oh, it was about three months ago. Toward the beginning of summer. My husband Abe and I came as sort of a celebration.”

“Anniversary?”

“No,” she chuckled. “It was to celebrate going on a trip to Sweden. My husband’s family is from there. I just got back.”

“Really? I have relatives from Norway.” He paused. “I think.”

“Well, it’s a really pretty out there. Lots of forests and trees. I was on an island.” She smiled at the memory. “I was beautiful”

“Sounds wonderful.”

“It was.” Then she patted the empty place setting and smiled, seemingly for no reason. “I was wondering, could I please have another water? That would be nice.”

“Sure. Anything else? Wine, perhaps?”

“No. Water is fine.”

“Coming right up.” He poured her extra water glass, mildly curious as to why she was so thirsty. She’d barely touched her own glass. Oh, well. The customer was always right, as the saying went.

He smiled at her. “Okay. If you’re all set, I’ll leave you to your menu. Happy deciding!”

“Thank you,” Hazel said, perusing her menu. “It all looks so delicious.”

Back at the server’s station Ronald was watching the interaction with interest. “I remember that old lady,” he said, as Riley walked up to him.

“Yeah, she said she’d been here before.”

“She was. Earlier this summer, I think.”

Four more customers wandered in filling a table that Ronald took. A little while later, the two servers met up back at the station after Riley had taken Hazel’s order: broiled salmon on a bed of curry with a side salad and vinaigrette dressing. She’d also ordered the special.

Which he mentioned the double order, Roland remarked, “Two meals, huh? Yeah, I think she did something like that with me.”

            Riley shrugged. “Kind of strange, but no big deal. Maybe she’s hungry.” He looked at Hazel. She had taken off her hat and was sipping on her ice water. “She seems nice.”

“She is,” Ronald said. “Left a hell-of-a tip. I remember that. Like a hundred bucks."

“Wow!” Riley grinned. “I’ll be extra nice, then.”

Which wouldn’t be hard. If anyone was born to be a server, it was Riley. He was twenty-nine years old, with an open, friendly face and a quick smile. He was about five-feet six inches tall, had a thin build, and liked to make people happy. He wore his hair long on top and shaved on the sides because he liked the look. When he wasn’t working at Café Enya, he was writing songs, his fervent hope being to one day get a recording contract. Until then, he played lead guitar in alternative rock band The Class of Never. And worked at Café Enya.
            It was just after noon on the second to last Sunday in October, the last Sunday they’d be open for outdoor seating. The two servers were expecting a nice crowd.

Ronald looked up as more people started arriving. “Okay. Gotta go.”

A bell rang signifying both Hazel’s orders were up. Riley hurried to fetch them and then brought them to her. “Here you go. Enjoy."

“Thank you, young man.”

“Give me a yell if you need anything else.”

“I will.”

Hazel smiled and watched Riley move with ease through the rapidly filling outdoor dining area. She moved the plate with the special in front of where Abe was sitting. She smiled at him. Boy, he sure looked good. Even after all these years. He was wearing a favorite pair of tan cargo pants and a black tee-shirt that said Born to Run on the front. It was the title of his favorite Bruce Springsteen album and a little joke between them because Abe had once been an avid jogger. Until his knees gave out. Now, with his trimmed, grey beard and straw hat, be looked like an artist from 1870’s France, like Paul Cezanne or someone. As far as Hazel was concerned, he was the most handsome man in the world.

“Here you go, dear. I hope you enjoy your meal.”

He smiled at her and patted her hand. Oh, I’m sure I will.

Hazel leaned over and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. She was so happy. It was wonderful to be back at the Café, and dining outside like this with her dear husband was sending a thrill through her.

Hazel watched as Abe dug in. Oh, she still loved him so. The trip to Ytterby on the island of Resaro had been so much fun. The home where Abe had grown up had been purchased twenty years earlier by a couple who had turned the quaint one and a half story stone cottage with a view of the water into a nice bed and breakfast called Island’s Rest. Which is where they’d stayed. The island was thirty miles from Stockholm. The owners, Bengt and Rose, welcomed her with open arms. She’d toured the Ytterby Mine, famous for its significant deposits of the rare earth metals yttrium, erbium, terbium and ytterbium, along with traces of scandium, holmium, thulium and gadolinium. For someone who could have cared less about chemistry, even Hazel had found it remarkable that so many hard-to-find elements were found in one place.

Rose had taken to Hazel immediately and enjoyed showing her about the island archipelago via an old wooden but sea worthy motorboat she and Bengt kept. All in all, Hazel had had a wonderful time.

Except for the accident.

On the day she was scheduled to leave, the weather was bright and sunny and both women were in good moods. Rose had suggested a short boat ride and Hazel readily agreed.

Rose was in the stern, running the noisy twenty-five horse power motor. She pointed to the north and yelled, “See that island? That’s called Urm. It’s were Bengt proposed to me.”

Urm, like so many of the islands in the archipelago was a granite slab of stone covered in dark green pines trees.

“My husband proposed to me at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum,” Hazel said. “In a grove of maple trees. It was Fall.” She got a faraway look in her eyes. “They were bright orange and red. I’ll never forget it.”

Rose was a stout woman and handled the old wooden boat with ease. She cut the motor and they drifted, bobbing gently in the wake. “He sounded like a nice man.”

“Not was.” Hazel corrected her new friend. “Is.”

Rose looked at her questioningly. It was something she’d noticed about Hazel; she was a little odd. For instance, she sometimes talked to herself, saying things like, ‘Isn’t that right?’ or ‘What do you think?’ It seemed harmless, even kind of charming, and Rose just let it pass. Or like this, referring to her departed husband in the present tense, even though the first night she’d been with them, she had asked Rose to accompany her when she scattered Abe’s ashes off a nearby point of land. Odd, maybe, but ultimately harmless, and to Rose, not that big of a deal

“Okay.” Rose responded to Hazel’s admonishment. “Is, it is.” Over the last few days, she had been enjoying the companionship with Hazel. What were a few quirks? It’d been a long time since she’d had a woman friend. So what if Hazel made stuff up? She was still a nice person. “Tell me more.” She was looking forward to hearing more about her friend’s husband when a humpbacked whale surfaced about fifty feet away. Rose was transfixed. “Hazel! Look at that!”

“What?” Hazel, asked, turning.

“A whale,” Rose pointed. “Over there! A humpback. They come through here sometimes. Hunting for fingerlings.”

“Oh, wow!” Hazel remarked after she’d made the sighting. She was enthralled. “That’s incredible.”

The whale dove under the water and both women followed its shadowy shape. It was headed away from them. “See him?” Rose pointed.

“Yeah.”

The humpback then turned sharply away from them. “It must be hunting for food,” Rose said, looking around. “They’re usually in groups called pods.” She scanned the surface of the water for indication of more whales. “We could be in for a real treat.”

Hazel pulled down the brim of her straw hat to shade her eyes from the sun and twisted back and forth looking from side to side. “How cool!”

“No kidding.” Then Rose noticed other boats were being to show up. She pointed. “More observers.” She grinned. “This is very exciting!”

Then both women turned their attention to the shadowy form of the humpback as it appeared off the starboard bow just under the surface of the water. They were enjoying watching it, when, suddenly, the whale cut toward them, as if chasing something.

“Oh, oh.”  In an instant, before Rose could make a correction in the direction of the boat, the whale swam right under them. “Watch out!”

But there was nothing she could do. The top if its hump hit underneath the hull and the boat flipped over like a it was a tiny twig. The two women were flipped into the air and thrown into the water. They both came up sputtering while boats in the vicinity hurried to help. The whale dove out of sight. The two women would have been all right if Hazel hadn’t cracked her elbow on the side of the boat when she landed. They were rescued by no less than three nearby boats. Both women were taken to a hospital in Stockholm where surgery was performed on Hazel’s elbow.

“I’m afraid it’s broken,” the surgeon had told her, looking at the x-rays and shaking his head in symphathy. “It’ll take two weeks to heal, but maybe six months to fully recover.”

“Geez,” Hazel said, saddened by the length of time.

“Don’t worry,” Rose had told her. “You can stay with us.”

Hazel enjoyed Rose’s company as much as Rose enjoyed hers. Gratefully, Hazel accepted. “You’re so kind. Are you sure?”

“No problem at all.” Rose felt bad about the accident. “I should have been more careful.”

“There was nothing you could have done,” Hazel said. “Nothing at all. I don’t want to hear about word on the subject. Just forget about it.” Then, she grinned, “Plus, we got to see the humpback up close. That was amazing.”

Rose grinned back at her. “You’re right about that!”

 “Plus, Abe will love having more time here.”

Rose played along. “And we will love having him.”

Hazel ended up staying for most of the summer. With Abe of course. Rose didn’t mind at all.

***

Hazel had only been back in Minnesota for about a week when she made the decision to celebrate being back by going out to lunch at Café Enya.

“My, that Riley seems like such a nice young man,” she said to Abe. She pushed aside her meal and was sipping on her water. The restaurant was filling up fast and both servers were busy. But, as busy as he was, Riley made it a point of stopping by to check on her. Something she appreciated. All in all, she was having a wonderful day.

At one point she smiled as a pair of cardinals landed in a nearby lilac bush. The male fed the female a seed, a sign of his commitment to her. It was touchingly intimate and made Hazel happy she’d seen them. After they flew off, she reached out her hand and her heart fluttered with joy when Abe took it. My dear, he said, I was wondering if you’d like a little desert. Remember last time we had crème Brulé? I’d love some of that.

“Sound good to me,” Hazel said and raised her hand to get Riley’s attention.

He hurried over. “I get these dishes cleared away.” He noticed the second meal was untouched. “Should I put that one in a takeout container?”

“Thank you. That would be very nice.” Hazel grinned. “But there’s still room for dessert. I think I’ll have crème Brulé’ and two spoons.

“Coming right up.”

Riley hurried off after removing the remnants of their meal.

Hazel sighed a contented sigh and closed her eyes, turning her face to the sun. Her elbow had healed pretty well but there was a twinge of pain every now and then. That was okay. It was nothing she couldn’t handle. A former grade school teacher, Hazel was happy with her life. Abe had been an engineer for a local electronics manufacturing company, and they were fortunate to have had two fine children, one who lived twenty miles east in St. Paul. Marie was her name, and Hazel smiled at just the thought of her talented daughter, an art teacher Southwest High School in Minneapolis, located not ten miles from where she was now seated. Her three grandchildren were adorable and Hazel and Abe had enjoyed helping to tutor them one day a week during the pandemic lockdown. Hazel took another sip of water wondering why she was so thirsty these days. Oh, well. Part of getting older she guessed.

Hazel also worked part time at the Orchard Lake senior living home, which is how she’d inadvertently brought home the Corona Virus. Abe had been infected and died only a few weeks after he’d be diagnosed. That had been over a year ago. She still felt the pain of his loss, not to mention the guilt at how she had contributed to his death.

What are you thinking about, my dear? Abe asked.

Hazel used a napkin to wipe a tear from her eye. “I’m thinking about how much I love you and how much I miss you. I’m just so sorry…”

Abe reached over and caressed his wife’s cheek. Don’t be, my love. Over six-hundred thousand people in the United States died for that damn virus. I’m just glad neither of our children or the grandkids got sick.

Spoken like the true scientist he was. It was one of the many things she loved about him; he helped keep her grounded.

Her thoughts were broken by Riley’s cheerful appearance. “Here we go! A nice desert for you to enjoy on such a lovely day.” He set the crème Brulé down with a flourish. “Anything else I can get for you?” He indicated her water glass. It was almost empty. So was the other one.

“A little more water would be nice.”

“You got it.”

Riley was turning to go, when Hazel added. “Oh, and the bill. I’ll take that, too.”

“Coming right up. I’ll also bring your doggy bag.”

Hazel waved ‘Thank you,’ as her hurried off, but doubted he saw her. The restaurant was just about full. Hazel was glad she’d arrived early and had booked her table. The sun was bright and there wasn’t a cloud clear blue sky. She and Abe had often come here to have a meal, driving in from their home twenty miles west in the small town of Orchard Lake. They’d have lunch and go for walk down the sidewalks around through the quiet nearby neighborhood. They loved looking at the one-hundred-year-old homes with their nicely kept yards, often planted with tasteful groupings of shrubs, perennials and colorful annuals.

Hazel savored her desert and tried to get Abe to have some as well, but he demurred saying I don’t need anything else, my love. I’ve got everything I need right her with you.

Hazel giggled. Oh, how he could send her heart fluttering.

“I’m so happy,” she said. “Even though I miss you every day, I love that we can still be together like this.”

Abe smiled and took her hand. Even though I’m not really here? You’re okay with that?

Hazel gripped his hand tightly, wiping away a shadow crossing her face. “I’ll never be okay with it, but…”

But you’re starting to accept it.

Hazel was quiet for a moment, and the shadow passed. She cracked a bright smile. “Yes, my love, I’m starting to accept it.”

Abe looked at her. You need to, you know. You really do.

“I know.”

You scattered my ashes like I’d asked you to. I know how painful that was for you, but I’m so proud you did it.

Hazel gripped his hand even tighter. “It’s what you wanted me to do. It was hard, you know that.

I know.

“But I did it.”

It’s part of letting go, my love.

“I know.” She wiped a tear from her eye. “I know.”

I’ll always love you, you know. Always.

“And I’ll always love you.”

They were sitting looking fondly at each other when Riley stopped by the table. “Here’s the check,” he said. And, with another flourish, “The doggy bag.” Then he noticed Hazel had been crying. “Oh, my goodness. We were so busy I didn’t notice.” Concerned, he hurried inside and came back with a fresh napkin. “Here.” He gave it to her and leaned in close studying her blue eyes that were now sparkling in the sun. “Are you doing all right?”

 She smiled up at him. “Yes. Yes, I am.” She dabbed her eyes dry. “Thank you.” She looked at him, appreciatively. “I just get a little emotional sometimes.” She smiled a wane smile. “Silly old me.”

Riley was concerned. He liked the old lady. There had been an attempted robbery in the area recently and he didn’t want her to be at risk. “Look, can I do anything for you? Call someone?”

Hazel smiled at him. “No, dear. I’ll be fine.” She straightened up and shook her shoulders as if to shake off whatever was bothering her. “Look around.” She pointed to the diners and then to the tree- lined street the café was located on. “It’s a beautiful day. I’ve had a wonderful meal. I’ve had a great waitperson.” She smiled at Riley and his ears turned red. “Life is good.”

“Are you sure?”

She patted his hand. “I’m sure, young man.” She picked up her bill. “I’ll pay cash for this, and then I’ll be on my way.”

Riley grinned. He wasn’t sure she really was all that okay, but, at least for now, she seemed like she was and that was good enough for him. One thing he was learning as he grew older, life could get complicated sometimes. That was for sure.

“Okay,” he said. “If you’re sure.”

“I am,” she said picking up the bill. “I’ll just be a minute.”

“Take your time,” Riley said, turning. “I’ve got some more tables that need looking after.”

“You do that young man.”

“You take care.”

“You, too. I’ll be back.”

“Great.” And Riley hurried off.

“Such a nice young man,” Hazel said to Abe.

He sure is.

Hazel laid her money down for the meal plus a generous one-hundred-dollar tip and stood to leave. She put on her straw hat and her sunglasses and then put the doggy bag in her shoulder bag. She glanced around and saw that Riley was busy at the far end of the restaurant. He must have sensed her looking at him because he looked up, saw her, smiled and waved. She waved back.

“Okay, Abe, let’s go,” she said. No answer. She looked around. “Abe? Now where did that man go? I thought we could go for a walk.”

She looked around the restaurant but didn’t see him. My, oh, my. Where’d he wander off to? Well, she could stand there like a doddering old fool looking for him. That wouldn’t do at all. “Okay. Be that way. But I’m going.”

She wasn’t mad, just adjusting to life without having her husband of over fifty years around her all the time. She knew that he was gone; she’d scattered his ashes. She also knew that her memories of him would never go away. Like today. It was important for her to keep them alive. Even if people thought she was a nutty old lady who talked to herself, she didn’t care. After all, maybe, in the end, that’s what love was all about. Never having to say a final good bye.

Hazel took her time walking through the outdoor seating area. Then she turned down the street. The day was too picture perfect to waste.

“I’m going for a walk, my dear,” she said to Abe. “Want to join me?”

Sure, he said, suddenly appearing next to her. Anytime.

She smiled and took his outstretched hand. “Great,” she said.

And off they went, hand in hand. The two of them. Together for all time.

About the author  

Jim lives in a small town in Minnesota. He loves to write! His stories and poems have appeared in nearly 500 online and print publications. To learn more and to see all of his work, check out his blog at: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com.

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