An old couple. Holding hands. Walking slowly around a pond.

July 12, 2010

(A Spontaneous Moment)

AN OLD COUPLE was holding hands and walking slowly around a pond. The day was ending, and the sun had fallen behind the trees, turning the sky orange and the trees black. It was cold, getting colder. Most weather reports agreed—most—that it would snow. Winter coat sales were up slightly that day, as were fire logs, beanies, gloves and scarves. But just slightly. A store called Stacey’s put up a handwritten sign for a “Winter Sale”, but, while customers did come, no one was sure if it was because of the sign. The couple had seen the sign on their way to the park.

“Buy me a coat,” the woman said

The old man grunted and shoved his hands in his pockets. “Have a coat,” he said. He’d developed a habit with age: not including a subject in his sentences. He assumed the subject was obvious, but, as he grew older, people lost confidence in his ability to make any sense at all. So his wife just nodded and they passed by Stacey’s winter sale.

At the park, they set out an old quilt and a picnic basket that looked almost exactly like you’d imagine a picnic basket looking. The woman did the work, pulling out a loaf of bread and constructing sandwiches. She cut them carefully corner to corner—a cut that somehow made the sandwiches look bigger. She put a sandwich on a paper plate and handed it to the old man.

“Hungry,” he said, and took the plate.

The two of them ate in silence, which really wasn’t true since they were surrounded by commotion: the birds screaming, the children chasing each other around aluminum poles, a couple kissing loudly under a tree.

They finished their sandwiches and let their plates blow away. (The plates eventually got pinned to a chain-link fence and then stabbed by an inmate picking up trash who, coincidentally, was in prison for stabbing.)

The couple sat for a long time, holding down their quilt. Sometimes, a gust of wind would catch a corner, and the old woman would turn it back down and smooth it with her hands—old, wrinkled hands that were beautiful for some reason. Maybe it was her eyes that made her hands beautiful—the way she looked at the things she held.

She put her hand on the old man’s sleeve.

“Take me for a walk,” she said

“Getting old,” the man said

“Who?”

“We”

“Take me for a walk,”

The old man groaned and stood, then helped the woman up. She groaned too. The old man turned, and scrounged in the bushes for two big rocks. He tossed them onto the quilt and smacked his hands together like erasers. Then they walked. They walked slowly, not saying a word. The woman looked at everything, the man nothing. They stopped for a moment in front of the playground and watched children chase each other around aluminum poles. The woman’s chest heaved just once, slowly. A sad, heavy heave.

By now the sun had gone down and everything was going grey.

If you didn’t know what to look for next, you would have missed it—missed everything. You would have missed when the old man slid his hand from his pocket, and slowly, gently took his wife’s hand. You would have missed how he pressed his fingers between hers, in a firm but sort of gentle way. And, most of all, you would have missed the way his veins tightened, the way his knuckles paled, when he squeezed his wife’s hand. Just once. Just briefly. And when he let go, his wife looked at him with her sad eyes and touched him with her hands that were beautiful for some reason. And the two of them walked round and round the pond.

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