I feel like there is so much here.
| The midmorning sun was peaking over the top of the mountains as a gust of wind started on the eastern side of the valley, swaying every tree slowly one after the other until it was out of sight, lost in the infinity that stretched beyond the western end. The wind rippled the lake at the valley’s bottom, which sat in the middle of the man’s line of sight on its course.
The patio where he and a woman waited for breakfast was built on the edge of a giant cliff, barricaded by a clean, white metal fence overlooking the valley. The stones on the ground were a faded maroon color. The patio had islands of large rectangular pieces of slate that were stained with years of red footprints and mud in the sea of stones that lead from the fence’s gate to a glass table that was deliberately placed at the center.
The man’s fixation on the valley was broken by the woman’s voice. “What do you think we’ll be having for breakfast?” she asked with the slight rasp that accompanies morning’s first words.
He turned his attention to her. She sat with her legs crossed and her elbow on the table with her chin resting on her hand.
“Your hair looks very light today,” he said. “I like the new color.”
She looked at him, confused. “You think so? I’m not sure if my eyes are right for it.”
“There’s no such thing as wrong green eyes. Besides, a little change never hurt.”
“Yeah, I just have to get used to it I guess,” she said as she shifted in her seat and sipped her coffee. "Even though I'm still not used to your dorky compliments," she teased.
The two of them laughed.
“Anyway,” he said while he yawned and stretched, “we’ll probably have eggs or something. You know how these places are.”
“I hope its Eggs Benedict," she said. "Or pancakes.”
“That’s a long shot,” he said.
She said nothing back, but offered a smile as another breeze swept over the valley, this time moving over them and blowing back the loose hairs she had neglected earlier when she fixed her hair into a ponytail.
They sat and admired the scenery, enjoying their cups of coffee. Every few moments the man adjusted himself in search of a comfortable position. She noticed, but didn’t say anything.
They found the house where they spent the night in an ad at a gas station off the main highway. It said, “Bed and Breakfast 2 Miles Ahead on the Left.” The house looked like it should have been a home for a well-to-do retired couple who hadn’t been in touch with popular culture and fashionable home décor trends for decades. The large stone façade was clean but plain and gray with several windows. Inside, the walls were lined with pictures, some black and white, several tables that held tea cups, and flower pots scattered about in the most unusual places. The curtains were a bit dirty and old, but they matched the blue furniture and carpets. The piano in the sitting room acted more as a display shelf for old wedding photos than as an instrument. Nonetheless, the land the house was built on was one of the most scenic places the man and woman had ever been.
The woman finished her coffee, put her cup on the saucer, and cleared her throat. “I’m glad we came here,” she said as she smiled at the man and fixed her hair.
“I am too. It’s a nice place," he said. "Here comes the old man.”
The old man who had rented a room out to them for the evening came from the side of the house walking slowly and carrying a tray, accompanied by a beagle. The gate squeaked as he opened it; he didn’t shut it, though. The old man sluggishly made his way to the table where the couple was seated with a smile on his old, wrinkly tan face. He wore his flannel shirt tucked into his khaki pants with the sleeves rolled up; however, he had forgotten to change out of his house slippers before he went out to serve the man and the woman their breakfast.
“Sorry about this,” he called to the man and the woman as he waved his hand, “I forgot to change my shoes and the stones are hurting my old feet!” he said with a laugh.
“It’s ok sir,” the man replied. “Do you need a hand?”
“Oh, no I’ll be just fine! You folks just sit there and hold on.”
The woman watched the dog as it sat by the gate until the old man whistled for it to follow.
“What a sweet man,” she said.
The man nodded in agreement. “I didn’t realize how short and old he was last night.”
“You shrink with age.”
“I don’t know how true that is.”
“True enough for people to think it.”
The old man finally approached the table and put the tray down. “Mornin’ folks,” he said. “I brought you some toast, eggs over easy, and some orange juice,” he said as he pointed to each item.
“Thank you very much,” the woman said, feeling guilty about the old man carrying the tray.
“Oh that’s quite all right,” the old man assured her.
The man stared at him confusedly. The old man, oblivious to this, shifted his dentures around in his mouth with his hands on his hips as he watched the woman take the food from the tray. As she placed a plate in front of the man, she said, “Do you want ketchup?”
“Oh, yes,” the man said.
“Could you bring us some ketchup?” the woman asked the old man.
“Certainly dear,” he said.
“Thanks,” the man said.
“Come on Charlie,” the old man called the dog, then whistled.
The old man walked with the empty tray, stopping every few paces because of the pain in his feet.
“I guess you were right about the eggs,” the woman said.
“Yeah, what were you in denial?”
“No, I just really wanted pancakes.”
“We’ll have them tomorrow.”
“The first diner we see.”
The old man went back into the house and walked down the hallway that led from the door to the kitchen. The dog ran ahead to its bed by the back door, tripping the old man, who was overcome by a wave of nostalgia triggered by the pictures on the wall as he stumbled.
“We never had kids for a reason,” he said, leaning on the wall.
The old man opened a cupboard and moved several condiments around in search of the ketchup but couldn’t find it there or in his refrigerator.
“Damn, Charlie,” he said to the dog, “I haven’t seen any ketchup since Barbara was around.”
Before he went back outside the old man went into the living room and turned on the television. He walked toward the door where his sneakers rested beside the couch and changed his shoes.
As the old man returned to the table outside, the man didn’t notice that the old man didn’t have any ketchup. He was preoccupied observing the old man's new shoes.
“What happened to Charlie?” the man asked when the old man got closer.
“Oh he’s as old as me, in dog’s years of course, so I left him to rest inside.”
“Oh,” the man said.
“I’m sorry, but there’s no ketchup here. I’m afraid that my wife was the only one of us who used it and she’s long since passed.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” the woman said, sympathetically.
“Oh no miss, it’s not your fault,” the old man assured her.
A silence fell on the three of them. The man thought that the old man's emptiness and the woman's sympathy for him were tangible.
“I’ll live without ketchup,” the man said, breaking the silence.
“Well then,” the old man said as he placed his hands on his hips, “you folks let me know if you need anything. I’ll be within earshot.” The old man nodded and turned to leave.
“Hey, how long have you lived here?” the man asked. “Pardon my curiosity.”
“Oh, it’s no bother!” the old man said. “Years and years young fella. My wife and I moved up here from the city the day after I retired. We’d been talking about a place like this forever.”
“Well,” the woman chimed in, “it’s lovely.”
“Has this always been a bed and breakfast?” the man asked.
The woman made eye contact with him and looked down, pointing her eyebrows in the same direction to signal the man to leave the old man alone.
“Oh just in recent years,” the old man said. “Since the old lady passed it’s been lonely around here. So, I opened the place up for business and company.”
“Is it busy?” the man asked.
The woman coughed and purposely dropped her fork.
She startled the old man and he looked at her. “A bit,” the old man said. “One or two customers a week. Usually truckers and such. Not honeymooners like you two.” After a pause, he added “Well, I’ll be heading in now. I ain’t feelin' too well. Enjoy your food!” he said as he smiled and walked slowly away, again not closing the gate.
“That poor old man,” the woman said.
“He’s fine,” the man said.
“How do you know?”
The man finished his food in a hurry and began mopping the egg yoke on his plate with a piece of toast.
“Where do you think we’ll be then?” the woman asked.
“What?” the man asked with his mouth full of toast and yoke.
“You know, then. When we’re his age.”
“Are we together?”
The woman scowled at him and turned her heard toward the valley. As she uncrossed her legs and put her hands on her lap, the man wiped his mouth and poured himself a glass of orange juice.
“What’s the matter?” he said over the sound of the juice pouring.
She watched the orange juice flow from the plastic white pitcher, not making eye contact with the man.
“You know what’s the matter,” she said quietly.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“You should be.”
Inside the old man was watching a game show with his shoes off and his feet on the coffee table. The wind coming in through the window blew the curtains behind him up and made them dance with the dust particles in the streaks of light. The motion going on behind him caught the old man’s attention and he turned around. He stared for a moment at a caricature of him and his wife from many years ago on a boardwalk.
“We were too in love,” the old man said as he smiled and faced the television again.
Outside the man broke the silence between himself and the woman as he reached across the glass table and took her hand. He rubbed her thumb with his and she looked up with a few tears in her eyes. The light reflecting from the table made her tears look like little pearls waiting to fall out of giant emeralds.
“I meant it when I told you I was sorry,” he said.
“There’s plenty of reason now for us to be together then.”
“I didn’t say there wasn’t.”
“You may as well have.”
“But I didn’t. I wouldn’t have meant that.”
“I don’t understand your uncertainty.”
“It’s not uncertainty,” he said as his mind drifted off and he let go of her hand and leaned back in his seat. “I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s a curiosity,” he said with his eyes on the lake at the bottom of the valley.
“We’re definitely in this together, right?” she asked.
“Of course we are. I wouldn’t leave you now.”
“I hope you wouldn’t leave me ever.”
“I wouldn’t,” the man said.
A flock of birds rose from the forest by the lake. They flew low over the trees, the sound of their wings flapping and beating like a thousand little drums miles away.
“How do you think your parents feel?” the woman asked.
“They don’t know,” he said. The woman thought she felt her heart drop with her jaw. “I’m sure they’ll be fine though,” he added before she could close her mouth.
“Mine are unsure how to take it.”
“Why is that?”
“They think I’m too young.”
“We are too young, but that doesn’t change anything.”
“I hope you don’t feel obligated to stay with me.”
“I don’t feel obligated at all. I want to be here.”
“This trip was a good idea,” she said.
“I know. I’m going inside to see if the old man has anything to drink that isn’t burnt coffee or pulpless orange juice.”
“Bring me a glass of whatever you have,” she said.
The man got up, pushed in his chair and walked toward the gate. He went inside and as he walked down the hallway toward the kitchen he looked at every picture on the wall as he passed and began to imagine them of himself and the woman in the places of the old man and his wife. It scared him to think about those kinds of things.
When he got to the kitchen he took a glass from the drainboard and went to the refrigerator. He opened the door and it accidentally bumped the dog, who was laying beside the fridge and didn’t react.
He took a pitcher of lemonade from the top shelf and poured it into the glass. As he drank he casually strolled toward the window, which had an excellent view of the patio and the valley. He watched the woman for a minute, the sun shining on her as she yawned and stretched and rested her head on her hand again.
When he finished the lemonade he washed the glass and put it back on the drainboard.
“Come here Charlie,” he said to the dog as he dried his hands on his pants, but the dog didn’t move.
“Here boy,” he said, and then mimicked the old man’s whistle.
The man hoped his first thought wasn’t true and that the dog was just in a deep sleep. He walked over to the dog and lifted its paw, then its head, then he put his hand in front of its mouth and felt no breathing.
“Sir,” the man called. “Sir,” he said louder, to no reply.
The man went into the living room and saw the old man sleeping in front of the television, snoring loudly.
The man decided it was better not to wake the old man, and to let him find out on his own after his nap.
The man opened the door and walked back out to the patio and sat down.
“I think it’s time we leave,” he said to the woman. "We're already paid for and the old man is asleep."
“Okay,” the woman said with a smile.