by John S
Tom was a recent widower who thought he might have found a little happiness from his past
|Paradise and Gray Hair
He was on his daily walk when he saw her approaching from the opposite direction. She slowed her pace as they got closer, as if she wanted to say something. She didn’t and walked on. She looked a little familiar to him, but he couldn’t remember from where. She appeared to be in her mid-fifties, like him, but she was better preserved than he was. Some woman and some men, for that matter, looked good with all that gray hair showing, She was one of those people, he wasn’t.
He kept walking and forgot about the woman by the time he returned home. He had other important things on his mind like, what he was going to microwave for dinner, what TV shows he wanted to watch, and what pills he should take before bedtime. Doris, his wife of thirty years, passed away suddenly six months ago and he still couldn’t handle most of those things. Doris always had dinner ready at six, the TV shows selected, and his pills laid out on his nightstand with a glass of water.
Life, for him, without Doris was terrible. Some mornings he woke and wondered if it was worth the effort to get out of bed. Lucky for him a shrunken prostrate made the decision for him. One of the pills he was supposed to take was going to stop the many trips he made to the bathroom. The visits didn’t stop, but there were a lot less of them.
Sundays were the worst. The two of them would go to church, eat lunch at one of their favorite restaurants and then maybe see a movie. He stopped going to church, any God who would take Doris so young was no God of his. He wouldn’t eat out by himself. To him there were few sadder sights than on old man or woman sitting at a table in a restaurant by themselves. The only entertainment he enjoyed and enjoyed wasn’t really the correct word to describe his television viewing. He liked to watch sports of any kind before, now he didn’t care who won what, it made no difference to him. To quote B.B. King “the thrill is gone.” The TV in the house was usually on to silence the silence.
He walked the same route every day. Down the hill to the CVS, about two miles away, and then back up the hill to home. Three days later the same gray-haired woman was walking up the hill as he walked down. She smiled at him this time, but she’d walked past him before he could return the smile. The thought of returning the woman’s smile worried him. It felt as if he did he was being unfaithful to Doris.
Would Doris even care? He was afraid to go for his walk. What would he do if he saw the woman again? He could cross the street, but that seemed rude. It wasn’t the woman’s fault that he was acting the fool. Doris was probably looking down from heaven and laughing at him.
All of their friends were couples. That worked out fine when he was part of a couple, now he felt like the odd man out. Their friends tried to make him part of the group, it wasn’t working.
Both of his kids were long gone. He’d been the devoted father. He attended every event they participated in. Neither of his kids liked anything he liked, though, he thought he put on a good show. The debate club and ballet didn’t excite him as much as football would have, but he and Doris always allowed their son and daughter to follow their own muse. Things might change if either produced a grandchild. Right now, the monthly phone calls were more than enough for him.
He’d retired the year before and had more than enough money to live comfortably. Doris always spoke about visiting Europe and Asia when he retired, they ran out of time. He had no interest in seeing either by himself.
“Oh crap,” he muttered under his breath. The gray-haired woman was approaching fast. His trick of walking on the other side of the street wasn’t working. There she was on the same side he was. It was too late to take evasive action. So, he put his head down and charged forward. As they got closer, she said one word, “Tom.”
He lifted his head, feeling like a real moron for acting like a lovesick teenager. They both stopped. She knew his name, shouldn’t he know hers? He stood there looking uncomfortable.
“You don’t remember me, do you?” Her voice was lovely and familiar.
“Sorry, but I don’t.” He could see that she was enjoying him being so uneasy.
“It’s me, Helen Burger.”
“Sorry, it’s not ringing a bell.”
“Oh, sorry, you knew me as Helen DeCamp.”
It dawned on him then. “Helen, oh my God… damn you aged a lot better than I did.”
“You look good Tom. It’s been a long time since the prom.”
“It sure is.” Helen had been his first girlfriend. He always felt he was dating way out of his league when he was with Helen. She proved him right when she never saw him after the senior prom. It took some time and he eventually got over her.
Instead of continuing their discussion on the street that agreed to meet at the coffeehouse downtown. They talked about the old days. She never did tell him why she’d dumped him. He didn’t ask her, maybe he didn’t want to know.
Helen’s third husband died around the same time that Doris had passed away. She told him that her first two marriages were disasters and number three died only three months after their marriage. She had one daughter who she was living with. Tom told her about some of his life after high school and the recent death of his wife.
For the first time since Doris left him, he almost felt alive. It wasn’t like when they dated in school, but there was a spark between them. They got into the habit of meeting for coffee a few times a week. He still missed Doris, he always would, but Helen was making his pain bearable. He dressed better, shaved more often, and even got a haircut. His world was beginning to revolve around his coffee shop meetings with Helen. He was ready for the next step, he hoped Helen was. He would ask her to dinner and a movie if he could get up the courage.
He didn’t get the chance to ask her or to ever speak with Helen again. Two very serious detectives showed up at his door and his entire world collapsed around him. At first, he thought something terrible had happened to Helen. They told him their visit was about her and asked if they could come in. They pulled no punches, Helen had been arrested for the murder of her third husband and was suspected of killing the other two. They questioned him about how he knew Helen and asked if she’d ever spoken about her three husbands. He told them that she barely mentioned her husbands. He told them that he knew Helen from high school and they mostly spoke of the good old days.
After the police left, he sat on the couch in stunned silence. Was he being groomed to be Helen’s fourth victim? He could visualize Doris looking down and laughing her ass off.