Table For One-Part 3

The next morning—about 10 A.M. I think—I was at the wheel of big rented Crown Victoria headed north on Interstate 94. Theda, dressed in her finest, flower-print, mid-calf length dress and sun glasses, sat serenely smiling in the passenger seat silently exalting in the scenery hurtling by under a sparkling, Michigan fall sky. She commented in a tone that was both sad and self-congratulatory, it was the first time she’d left the city in about 16 years.

She added almost incidentally that she had had another silent Alvin  call that morning before we left—just like all the others. The phone rang—nothing from the other end—she said she loved him, told him about this outing, they shared their moment of silence then he hung up. I listened, nodding as she spoke, focused on the traffic. When she finished I turned toward her, smiled, she smiled back, sighed and turned away to enjoy the scenery. For much of the remainder of the drive I pondered—how do people—who seem so perfectly competent and normal otherwise—get this way?

Six lanes of barreling traffic and high rise buildings soon gave way to bucolic, rolling green country-side—small towns with one or two stop lights and red-barn farms with black and white dairy cows standing motionless in the surrounding fields. At this latitude only a few hours from Canada—Maples and Oaks were turning red and gold against an electric blue sky.

Several times during the trip I glanced over at Theda who lay back on the comfortable seat dazzled at the beauty rolling past, sometimes with tears of happiness streaming down her pale wrinkled cheeks. Her eyes—filled with tears—shone and glimmered in the bright fall sunshine. The experience seemed overwhelming to her but at the same time, something she had yearned for, for centuries.

Shumacher’s was right where it had been since 1916. The exterior had been painted different colors yes, but Theda could not remember what the colors were 50 years before.

Other than carpeting, the décor and furnishings looked exactly the same as in the photographs. Theda nodded appreciatively and said she liked the new carpeting better than the old. It had been stained and in need of replacement.

There were a few trees in the foreground that had not been there in the old photograph but otherwise the view of Lake Huron looked the same.

While the waitress, who was about my age—stood silently—Theda snapped open the menu authoritatively, scanned for a few seconds and ordered the same meal she had had 50 years before—pan-seared scallops, baked trout with lemon and a buttered vegetable medley. For dessert, French vanilla ice cream covered in flaming Kirschwasser Cherries.

I knew it was all stuff she should not be eating but I thought, “What the hell—it’s a special occasion.” She savored every bite and twice during the meal called me “Alvin.” It was not the first time—she’d done it once before when we were talking in her apartment one morning as I was setting off to work.

On the way back that evening she seemed extraordinarily content—like an important task had finally been completed—though I saw her take several pills I learned later were for pain.

She needed help getting up to her apartment and I arranged pillows and blankets in her big overstuffed chair and hassock for her to sleep in that night. As she took a few more pills and settled into her piled-up nest she gave me the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen and thanked me for the most wonderful day she’d had in half a century.

The next morning I got up and upon leaving my apartment, found her door standing slightly open. Lucky was inside sitting at the kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee waiting for me. Theda had been taken by ambulance to the hospital during the night. Lucky also told me Theda’s “sort of boyfriend” had died almost a week earlier—something Theda had not mentioned to me.

Not being very accomplished at big-city public transportation it took well over an hour to find my way to the hospital. Theda was there in a semi-dark hospital room in one of these mechanical beds cranked up to where she was almost sitting. An IV trickled into a vein on her left arm. She looked ashen and crushed—as though 90 percent of life was gone and the other 10 percent was barely hanging on.

We chatted a bit—I have no memory of what—she had difficulty speaking. After several minutes I could see it was becoming painful for her to talk. I stepped back from the bed a bit and leaned awkwardly against a wall trying to decide what I should do. After—I guess—four or five minutes she turned her head and barely opening her eyes thanked me for coming, said she loved me and that there was nothing I could do. She told me to, “Go, get on with your life.”

I didn’t know it at that moment of course but those were the last words she ever spoke to me.

That evening I called the airport and confirmed my flight out of Detroit  for the day after tomorrow.

The next morning I knocked on Lucky’s door—there was no answer. I stepped around the corner and—again Theda’s door was open—this time wide open.

Inside Lucky and Marie were standing in the middle of the living room looking at a painting on the wall above a bookcase and talking.

Marie turned to me and told me Theda was dead—she had died probably 5 or 6 hours after I left. Marie showed me a bearly legible note Theda had written probably only hours before she died—instructing me to take Alvin’s picture with me.

I sat down on a kitchen chair in light-headed disbelief—a bit confused. My throat tightened and I began weeping. Marie was not good with emotional stuff—she touched my shoulder and quietly left. Lucky pulled up a chair and put an arm around me. I briefly felt a sense of being cheated, victimized, beaten then I just felt sick and filled with anguish. I cried on Lucky’s shoulder for several minutes.

I don’t remember what I did that afternoon—probably packed my bags, probably had lunch—assuming I had an appetite—with Lucky or Marie. I just don’t know.

The next morning I cleaned up the apartment I had been sleeping in, carried my bags downstairs to the front door of the building and called an airport taxi. I went back upstairs and put an envelope with a thank you note and the keys to my and Theda’s apartments in it, under Lucky’s door. Then I went to Theda’s place one last time to say good bye.

After picking up the portrait of Alvin I sat on the couch listening to muffled traffic on the busy street outside and the quiet hum of Theda’s refrigerator. The big overstuffed chair with her blankets and pillows and hassock was still there in its place near the window—very still and empty. Lucky had neatly folded and stacked the blankets. Suddenly the phone rang, startling me out of my reverie. I picked it up and said “hello.” There was no answer—only a searching, melancholy quiet on the other end.

I held the phone to my ear for another moment—I could hear faint, ambiguous background noise. Finally, in a voice that didn’t sound quite like me I said, “She’s gone Alvin. She’s dead.”

We shared a moment of silence and then he hung up.

End part three

End story

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2 Responses to “Table For One-Part 3”

  1. Larry Blackwood Says:

    This is a different style photo for you–very post-modern, which means I shouldn’t like it. But I do, very compelling for some reason.

  2. orion Says:

    Actually this is an old pic.–taken about a year ago. I sent it to you back then but you never commented so I assumed you didn’t like it.

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