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In Chapter One, Gadolinium, we were introduced to Sherry a sixteen-year-old girl who has withdrawn due to the loss of her father in a tragic car accident.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.



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.”


“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.


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:

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