Nothing had been the same since Mary had died.  He hadn’t realized how much he’d miss her until she was gone.  No one can prepare you for the emptiness of grief until it’s all you have to fill the lonely days and longer nights.  It wasn’t just her presence that he missed.  It was how she’d buttered his toast because of his arthritis and the way her hair had looked when she woke up—like a gale had swept through in the night.

The first time he’d dared to tease her about it, they’d just returned from their honeymoon.  She’d blushed and buried her face in his shoulder.  That had been nice.  But then she’d learned to tease him back and that had been even better.

“If I’d known there was going to be a storm, I would’ve worn my parka,” he’d joke.

“Well, if I’d known it would give you frostbite, I would’ve worn my woolen socks,” she’d retort, glancing at his feet.

Even now, in the middle of July, his feet were cold.  Something to do with his circulation, his doctor said.  Or was it more serious than that?  He could never remember.  Mary had been the one to kept track of all that, jotting down their growing aches and pains with a sense of humor that had made him laugh.

He glanced down at the folder on the table.  He’d gone in for his regular checkup, followed by some tests.  His doctor had referred him to a specialist.  The folder contained his test results and a sheaf of papers known as his “options.”  He hadn’t realized he’d have so many of those at his age.  It seemed like a man had the right to die without climbing a mountain of paperwork first.

“Are you trying to kill me?” he’d asked the specialist wryly.

The man hadn’t been the joking kind.

“He’s just trying to do his job, John,” Mary would’ve reassured him.

“I know,” he grumbled aloud.  “I just wish he’d do it less efficiently.”  He laughed at his own contradiction, then sighed.  “I wish you were here.”

He cobbled the papers back together and pushed the folder away from him.  Some of the forms slipped out and scattered on the floor.  One corner landed in the cat’s water bowl.  He decided to leave them until morning.  It hurt too much to stoop down these days.  He poured himself a glass of wine and turned on the record player.

“–eel a glow just thinking of you,” Sinatra’s voice crooned.

“And the way you look tonight,” they finished together.

“‘Here’s lookin’ at you, kid,'” he toasted the photo on the coffee table.

Mary’s smile was as warm as wine.


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