after dinner

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Herman and Edna are the only ones left in the dining area. Herman leans on his fist, a half-eaten dinner roll in his line of sight – if he were to notice it. Edna sits still, looking out the window in front of her.

They like this time of day, when most residents have returned to their rooms, maybe to watch TV, maybe to begin getting ready for bed. They stay at the table a little longer, sometimes glancing up to see the sun going down, or the staff rolling silverware for breakfast, or a couple in matching track suits whisk by on their evening walk. But mostly, Herman and Edna are enveloped in their own lovely thoughts.

Herman’s are usually related to his memoir – the one he’s been dictating slowly into his old tape recorder in the hopes that one of the grandchildren will offer to type it up for him.

He recently began wondering if he could just change a few details and call it fiction, or if he’d need to take the whole narrative in a different direction. He doesn’t mind if people know about the decision he made in his youth to leave his father’s ad business and ride trains for a while like a hobo. But he might not want everyone knowing that the man who got on the wrong flight, ended up in Omaha when he was headed to St. Louis, and then blamed the flight attendants for his mistake… was him. It’s a good story, but not one he’s quite ready to own, even now, more than 50 years later.

Edna’s always liked math, and sometimes that is what she is doing as she sits in the after-dinner silence – adding up numbers she makes up in her mind, or remembering a good story problem. But she also likes solving other, more pragmatic problems.

For instance: if there was a fire, would the best thing be to head towards the coat closet before exiting so she doesn’t freeze while waiting on the staff or the fire department to take them someplace warm? Or would it be more important to grab the framed photo of her grandkids, which is right by her bed and easy to pick up on the way out – but would reduce the time available for putting on shoes, a jacket, gloves, and a scarf?

Or: what will make her mind last longer – going to the crafting group on Tuesdays, or going to the “relaxercise” class they’ve started down the hall? Is there any way she can do both?

Sometimes Edna suddenly remembers a joke, and begins laughing aloud. At those times, Herman turns to her, takes a moment to put his hearing aid back in, and asks her to tell it.

“A couple of farmhands counted 96 cows in the field,” she’ll say. “But when they rounded them up, they had 100!”

He might get it right away, or she might have to repeat, meaningfully, “when they ROUNDED THEM UP.”

Herman will laugh along with her once he gets it, and then her joke will remind him of a riddle.

“Why didn’t the butterfly go to the dance?” he’ll ask.

She’ll wait, and then he’ll say with a wink, “Because it was a moth ball!”

“Are you flirting with me, all this talk of dancing?” she’ll ask.

“Might be,” he’ll say, taking her hand.

After a moment of silence, fingers entwined, Herman might notice that Edna has gone back to mulling over the best way to make the bathroom door stop squeaking without needing to call the Thursday Handyman who always comes round.

Herman will take his hearing aid out again, and go back to remembering the bike ride he and Edna went on when they first met, when he first fell in love with her.

He will try to find just the right words, so that a reader will see the glint in her eyes, smell the freshly rained-on soil around them that April day, and know-but-not-know (just as he did then) this day is just one day in what will become a series of days, winding into each other, from one moment to the next; their ongoing, present, and ever-changing journey.

 

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