The old woman saw the bench sitting alone and thought it looked lonely sitting there beside the path through the woods. She rested her weary body on it and patted its moss-covered wood in gratitude for this respite on her daily walk.
She sat and let her eyes flutter closed as her mind drifted into the past. She remembered the red dress she wore the night she first saw Carl. Her lips curved in the slightest of smiles as she remembered her young love–so tall and strong. She chuckled in her mind as she remembered how he couldn’t take is eyes off of her. She snorted. “He couldn’t take his eyes off of my breasts is more like it.” Her memories gave her energy enough to push herself to her feet and move on.
The next day the bench still waited for the old woman to rest on its aged wood. She patted the mossy surface and let her eyes drift closed. She smelled the damp air as the weak sun tried to dry up the last of the night’s rain. She remembered the big flood. Their house sat on a small knoll surrounded by water. Many of their neighbors had not been so lucky. Carl had taken his rowboat from house to house rescuing stranded neighbors and bringing them home. She remembered how she’d fed forty-three people soup and bread. She sighed pushed herself to her feet and resumed her walk.
The next day, the old woman greeted the bench as an old friend. She sat and remembered when her babies had come. A tear rolled down her cheek as she remembered the grave of little Marie. She’d been born so tiny, but had fought so hard to live. “Dear Lord, take care of my baby. I miss her,” she prayed then pushed herself to her feet to continue her journey.
On the fourth day, the old woman sighed as she eased her frail bones to the rough surface. She didn’t have to wait for the memories. They flooded her senses. She remembered when her son, Dale, went away to war and the day he came home in a coffin. She remembered how Carl had held her as he cursed the foolishness of men who make war. She remembered how Beth grieved for her brother then followed him a few months later as cancer claimed her body. The old woman heaved a great sigh and thought, “Soon,” as she struggled to her feet.
On the fifth day, the old woman stumbled as she approached the bench. What memories would torment her soul today she wondered? A great sigh welled up from the depths of her being, but no memories of loss plagued her today. Today, she remembered traveling with Carl to Venice. They’d stayed on the Lido. She remembered how he held her hand as they rode in a gondola. They ate lunch and drank wine in St Marks’s plaza. He bought her a cameo on a chain. She bought him a yellow tie with lions on it. She remembered the warm sun of Italy and longed to be warm and loved.
After her happy memories of Italy the old woman approached the bench the next day, hoping for visions of the good days when Carl held her in his arms and made her laugh. She thought of Carl and her knees gave out as she lowered herself onto the bench. Instead of joy, she remembered the night he passed on. She remembered wondering when her handsome young husband had become an old man. A warm feeling spreading from her heart surprised her as she remembered how Carl had turned to her at the very end and whispered, “I’ll be going now. Always remember that I love you and will love you ‘til the end of time.” The old woman pressed her hands to her heart to hold the memory of Carl’s love inside her as she struggled to push herself upright.
At the end of the week, the old woman tottered and wheezed as she made her way to her bench. The young nurse had told her to say inside because the wind blew so cold, but the nurse didn’t know anything. At the bench, she remembered. She lived again. As the elderly woman sank down on the rough wood, she longed for her mate. She closed her eyes but no memories flooded her brain. She thought, “It is cold I best go in.”
She smoothed the folds in her red dress and looked up to see Carl. His voice warmed her tired body as he almost lifted her from the bench. “Come my love, the children are waiting.”
Nurse Daphne leaned close to the window as she peered out and shook her head. She turned to one of the nursing assistants in the home. “Steven would you go out and bring Rose inside. That crazy old woman is sitting in the cold.”
Delinda McCann is a social psychologist who has worked in the field of developmental disabilities for over twenty years. She has served on committees for the state of Washington and been an educational advisor to other governments. She has published four books Lies That Bind, M’TK Sewer Rat: End of an Empire, M”TK Sewer Rat: Birth of a Nation, and Something About Maudy.