Bernadette Miller stood before her gold framed full length mirror. More and more often of late she had been startled at the sight of her aged reflection. When had she grown so old?
She checked her hair, permed to perfection with every strand in place. She studied her now persistently slumped posture, remembering how mother had always stressed the importance of standing tall with shoulders back and chin level with the ground. The last few years had been long and heavy, and it seemed as though the weight of them rested on her shoulders.
It was a nice day. Bernadette decided to take a walk to the new produce stand a few blocks away. Now that she was on her own, it just didn't seem reasonable to keep a fully stocked Frigidaire. These days she would buy a few groceries here and there as needed. Her appetite didn't require much more, and her doctor highly recommended the exercise.
Walking to the dresser, she smiled down at a beautiful walnut box. She ran her fingers over the lid, feeling the relief of the elephant painstakingly hand carved into the wood. Tim had won her heart with the box. The care, the patience, the attention to detail required to make such a gift revealed more about her suitor than a hundred weekend date nights could have unearthed. She had promised the box to her son, Peter, but the contents had to go to Madeleine. She gingerly picked through her assortment of lapel pins. Precious stones, gaudy crystals, gifts and heirlooms and souvenirs. She finally selected her infinity pin, that small, sideways figure eight, because it complimented so nicely her pink tweed blazer.
She looked to the mirror again, feeling a bit silly getting all dressed up to buy produce, but mother had always stressed the importance of appearances. How appalled that stalwart matriarch would have been if she could see Peter's teenage daughter running out the door to school in her pajamas with a granola bar in her mouth!
The sky was clear. There came a gentle breeze, and off in the distance a lawn mower buzzed, filling the air with a warm green scent. The small development was picturesque, borderline Rockwellian, in fact. The new neighbors had been so kind and attentive, making her home security system feel embarrassingly excessive. At first she had been a little uneasy with the idea of cameras in every room, but Madeleine had been insistent. Bernadette supposed she could handle a little case of the creeps if it helped her daughter sleep at night. While Madeleine had been uncomfortable with the idea of her poor old mother living all alone, Bernadette had not been ready to live out the rest of her days watching birds from the window of her daughter’s spare room.
There was a new man at the produce stand. He was young, but friendly. He must have been new, for when Bernadette asked him for a few red potatoes he simply smiled, put them into a brown paper bag, and told her to "Take care!"
An awkward silence followed during which the young man just stood there, smiling.
"How much?" Bernadette asked, taking pity on the boy.
"Ma'am?" His charming smile faltered for a moment, as if he'd been confused by the question.
"For the potatoes? How much?"
His eyebrows came together.
"Oh, uh, one dollar." He stammered, as if guessing. She fished out four quarters from her handbag and went on her way.
She started home, reminiscing about long walks with Tim. The year they met they walked all summer, the distance between them shrinking weekend by weekend until they were walking hand in hand. He would always find something on their outings; an Indian head nickel on the road, a used bird nest with empty eggshells littered around, or a perfect skipping stone. She learned to love those keen brown eyes, always so alert and alive.
Bernadette was miles down memory lane when a cold wind brought her back. She clutched her light cardigan against the sudden chill. While her mind had been meandering her feet had taken a wrong turn. She looked around for something familiar, a recognizable house, or sign, a tree.
She turned around and saw a friendly looking face jogging up the street.
"It’s me, Molly," the woman explained. 'Molly' was middle-aged, maybe forty, with kind eyes and perfect teeth. "Molly Hughes."
"Oh of course!" Bernadette didn't recall the woman at all. Since moving to the new house, she had met so many new neighbors she was surprised she could remember any of them.
"I noticed you pass by and just thought you looked a little lost."
"Yes," Bernadette said, flushing bright, "I seem to have let my feet get away from me."
Molly nodded knowingly and leaned forward. "All the houses look the same. It can take awhile to get your bearings. If you don't mind the company, I could use a walk..." She trailed off.
"Not at all!" said Bernadette, "But the weather seems to have taken a sudden turn."
The sky, so open and blue at the start of her adventure, was now completely covered by menacing dark clouds.
Molly studied her face for a moment, seemingly thinking it over.
"You're right," she finally responded, "I'll grab my umbrella."
It was nice to have a walking companion again. Molly had stories about all the neighbors and seemed to be genuinely proud of the community. Having someone to talk to made the walk pass quickly, and in no time at all the two women were standing before the nice little house, with the neat little lawn, just as the first gentle drops of rain began to fall.
"Thank you, Molly, so much!"
Molly casually waved away the gratitude.
"Of course! Anytime! You stay warm now!"
And it was cold.
Watching Molly’s figure retreat up the road, she wrapped her sweater around herself as tight as she could and shuffled up to the door.
Once inside, Bernadette went to the kitchen and set her bag on the counter. A bright green pear rolled out, and she made a quick grab for it before it could wobble off the edge. Back in the bedroom, she peeled the damp cardigan from her drier clothes, almost forgetting to remove the pin. She would have hated to loose it, the tiny silver hummingbird from Tim on her 30th birthday. She made sure it found its way back to the beautiful walnut box on the dresser.
Tim had won her heart with the box. The care, the patience, the attention to detail required to make such a gift revealed more about her suitor than a hundred weekend date nights could have unearthed. She had promised the box to her son, Peter, but the contents had to go to Madeleine.
The phone rang in the kitchen. Bernadette crossed the house again. On the other end of the line she heard a friendly voice.
"Bernadette! Hi there, it's Earl!"
"Earl Grey-like-the-tea!" She said, tickled by her own joke. She still couldn't believe his name was Dr. Earl Grey
"Yeah, it's me! Dr. Like-the-tea!" He chuckled. "Anyway, I was settling in for the evening, eating my dinner and taking my vitamins when I remembered I was supposed to invite you along to the museum tomorrow! The whole club is carpooling over."
"That sounds great Earl! Thank you!"
"Of course! I'll see you tomorrow. The van is coming round in the morning to pick everyone up. You have a good evening Bernie, and don't forget your vitamins!" he said, sounding off.
She did take her "vitamins," a variety of medicines for everything from blood pressure to inflammation. Again she wondered when she had grown so old.
Bernadette settled onto the sofa, covering herself with the old afghan Madeleine had knitted in home ec a lifetime ago. She tried to ignore the persistent little flashing red light over the light switch, assuring her the home security system was on and as vigilant as ever. Closing her eyes, she enjoyed the pats and taps of the rain on the roof, the steady knock-knock-knock of the eaves dripping rhythmically.
She would stay warm.
She smiled in the dark, waiting for Tim.