A thin, wrinkled woman hobbled into Room 45. She settled herself in the vinyl chair beside the bed.
The elderly man didn't look up. Didn't see her, in fact.
She swallowed, then began a monologue in a voice no one heard but him. Because it was for him only.
I never believed in love at first sight until I met you. Remember, dear?
You were across the room at Murphy's arguing with another man. I'm not sure what the topic was, but your face was flushed with excitement, you eyes sparkled with victory in view, your movements mimicked a dance in time to the forcefulness of your words. And then, you threw your head back and let out an exuberant laugh. It was right then, I think, I felt my heart untie its arteries and veins, and leave my chest to fly across the room to attach itself to your own.
I didn't even know your name. It doesn't sound very smart, does it? Falling in love with a total stranger. It was hardly my choice.
I wonder if you remember the time you took me out to the little cafe at the corner of Oak and Thomas Jefferson.
It was to be casual, and you had on a blue and black plaid shirt, and wranglers. I can't recall what I wore, but I do remember the look in your eyes when you saw me. You told me later that was when you fell in love with me. You said you never stopped falling.
We ordered buffalo burgers that night.
I can still see that elderly couple as they hobbled in holding hands and laughing like teenagers. They sat across the room from us. I remember how you glanced at them and watched as he kissed his wife's wrinkled hand and whispered to her. Then you looked at me and remarked: "Isn't it amazing? They've lived their whole life together and they still are so in love."
I forget what I said, but then you grinned your funny lopsided grin, and I wished to somehow capture the moment.
Oh.... there are so many memories, aren't there?
Our wedding. You were so handsome in your tux. Our hands trembled throughout the ceremony. Mine were so cold.
And our first argument. It's almost amusing to recall it now. On our way to the hotel, we argued whether the left was on Fairview Road or Rocky Springs Road. I said Fairview, and you said Rocky Springs. I was right, but that didn't matter a few hours later, did it?
I'll never forget the way you looked when our baby was born. You started crying when you held him. You told me that all the love you had for me had just been multiplied to include our sweet little Dale.
Dale was our honeymoon baby, wasn't he? We were so shocked. After you heard I was pregnant, you stared at me a few seconds, let out a whoop, and snatched me up in your arms to do a little dance in our bedroom.
Oh my, I can recall our tenth anniversary as if it were yesterday.
We dropped the children off at my parents, and we dined at the little cafe at the corner of Oak and Thomas Jefferson. W sat at the same little table and ordered the same meal. You took my hand and said, "Soon we'll be the old couple, sweetheart. And I will love you as deeply as I loved you the first time we sat in this cafe, and as all-encompassing as I love you right this second. I love you, I love you, [i]I love you[/i]."
It wasn't a flowery speech at all, but your heart shone through the dusky brown light in your eyes. I started crying. I said I could see us as a little old couple, and I wasn't scared of being old at all, because I'd be with you, and that was all I cared about.
That was when you got a dust speck in your eye and started blinking very fast.
Oh, my darling....... there are so many memories, aren't there?
*** **** *****
The bent old man still stared vacantly, his empty gaze on the nursing home wall. The tiny elderly woman at last fell silent.
The late afternoon sun threw a sudden slash of light into the dim room. It fell across his shoulders, over the space between the two, and landed on her hopeful face. Her eyes slowly filled once again with a weary sadness.
He suddenly looked up, noticing her for the first time. "I'm sorry," he wheezed. "I didn't see you." An 85-year-old version of his lopsided grin lighted up his face. I hope you haven't been waiting long. I don't believe we've met before."
He held out his hand and she took it.
"No, not long at all."