Daily Prompt: Wrinkle/My Body’s Map

via Daily Prompt: Wrinkle

Steigerwald Spring March 18 127

I plan to always suffer gladly all new gentle (or not) etchings upon my skin. I, in fact, plan on making a point welcoming each wavy, rutted, elastic new line. This is my largest organ, the skin, the part that encases and carries me from birth until death, at which point may it fall away in relief and happily. It has been an ignominious as well as lustrous journey from there to here and I do approve of how it has made its story marks upon me each year. It’s my ordinary, ecstatic life–what is not to like about breathing and moving and entering another day into the span of time with heart pounding, mind poking about, soul sailing along like an invisible, encouraging overseer as this skin carts me about?

I’ve noticed my pillow case’s creases leave more markings. My daybreak face is reminiscent of the night’s peculiar magic. My less visible chest is textured with light scribbles like little rivulets if imagined from far above, a landscape of curves and slopes and fine detours and scarred places that were unexpected pauses along the trails left from the dark’s ways and daylight dreamings and doings. They all seem irrelevant until I get a flash of origins. Then lose interest. I would rather be present in this material body, not a captive of the past, for it has been wrought of miraculous sinew and cells, biomechanics, conduits for data and mad thrills and small, brave outings that have made a thing I can only imagine since I cannot see it in full. Not from here. My eyes see only a few discrete parts. My skin sees it all without me knowing fully; it records and relegates my life to itself and says hallelujah or hold on or what’s next?

I smooth back greying hair, study clues and secrets. This phenomenon of wrinkles that America keeps telling me I must wage war against? I resist this decree. It is absurd, arises from fallacy. Everything that has lived and matters has signs of life, unique markings, the madness of survival bargaining, the gasps of its own prime beauty. Smoothness now hardened where there has been friction, grooves and tunnels that herald new destinations. This is fine common art, our best and worst living. It creates itself in exquisite folds and generous crumples and lively ticks and tats and tears that end up like brave sweet embroidery; it completes its own repair work with ingenuity, endless extraordinary design. I’ll take mine, cannot bear to erase one of these sorrowful, foolish, loving, exuberant tales that swath the kind and courageous vehicle that holds me and thank you, thank you, my body, for all of them today and all that are soon to come.


Friday’s Passing Fancy: Along the Columbia River

Legendary king of rivers moving to entwine with the great salt sea,
generous, brawny, demanding, enigmatic, indefatigable, crackling,
monstrous, mystical, ancient, unpredictable, transformative, spellbinding
anadromous miracle, water to water, life to life, power to power

Cannon Beach to Astoria 3-18 452
All photos © 2018 Cynthia Guenther Richardson

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Wednesday’s Word: A Story of a Short, Hard Fall v. the Long Haul

Oswald West trails along the Oregon coast

Apparently I think I have daredevil blood in my veins, if perhaps not seriously like stunt persons or Indy race car drivers (though I felt the attraction in younger years). Or maybe I entertain the idea that I’m quite a skilled athlete. Both read as faintly ridiculous–neither is close to the truth, at least not at this stage in my life. Well, maybe the first sentence is still true. I do have impulses to undertake some stuff that many people I know do not, even if they’re a decade or so younger. And I act on those most of the time. Risk taking doesn’t often seem such an unreasonable choice to me– physically, anyway. I trust myself, my animal instincts.

But I had an injury this morning that gave me pause. I had completed the task of changing a light bulb above the bathroom sink. As usual, I then jumped down from the counter. Except I didn’t land perfectly on my feet as I have a hundred thousand times in many situations over the years. My stocking feet slid just a bit, I lost balance and listed; gravity fast took me to my left. My arm and hand searched to find something to break the fall but all I found was the side of the tub, then the damp bottom that my hand slipped rather than grabbed onto, say the shower curtain or the rounded edge the bathtub. Thus, my left side crashed against the rounded edge of the tub even as my body loosened and recoiled from the crash. I felt my ribs press in, move out. I caught my breath, waited a moment, considered that I’d likely develop a bruise–I take aspirin for heart disease, so bruise rather easily. No body alarms rang out, though, so I got up. With nothing awry except a small sore spot on my side, I counted my blessings. I did feel a bit shocked by it, tried to figure out just what occurred. I rarely have fallen in any circumstance, and tend to end up embarrassed if anything. It has been a sort of a family joke that if I start to fall or even drop something, fast reflexes are my good luck, saving me each time.

So I decided to go on a walk after a bit, as the sunshine was amazing and no rain clouds in sight. The temperature was in lower to mid fifties: more almost-spring weather! I admit I also  wanted to see if I was okay enough to move about more. So I strolled along for once, snapping photos, checking out blossoming trees and bushes, even a first perfectly white tulip. I called my sister to share my story; she was surprised, too.

That fragrant, lovely walk was a mistake. By the time I got halfway home I was aware of pain. I put an ice pack on it and decided it would be wise to call the nurse advice line.

“Any swelling? Big bruising? Sharp pain when you breathe in and out? Can you move about generally okay?”

“Well, I can’t turn or bend to my left. How do you mean, like a knife or a side jab or a grating pulling sensation? It hurts when I laugh much–I was laughing earlier as I told my sister how very un-catlike I suddenly felt today…more like an unwieldy hippo in a downhill slide. It is spreading a bit but no, I’m not in agony when I take a deep breath. It just sure hurts along my left side now.”

“I imagine! Keep icing, take pain relievers. Come in tomorrow morning to be checked further. There are no openings today but if things worsen later, call. But just so you know, it will hurt more as time goes by, will be worse tomorrow. Just keep an eye out for serious pain, swelling or bruising in the next few hours as that requires attention much sooner than later.”

“I feel like a real idiot, stupid how I lost my footing, ” I mumbled.

“Naw, listen, people get injured all the time in odd ways. We all do things we expect will be fine, then they aren’t.”

At least she didn’t say: why on earth was a 67 year old woman standing atop the bathroom counter, then thinking she could just jump down to the floor?

That would have upset me more.

I expect this body to do better for me. I have counted on that a long time. It has been happy to oblige with fortunately excellent balance, some decent core strength and sure-footedness, generally limber movements. I guess it has been a source of pleasure plus a bit of quiet pride. I so love being physical, believing this vehicle of flesh and bones will do as it is supposed to. This despite having chronic and sometimes emergency health issues. What’s a medical challenge here and there?–they do keep us on our toes. We all have our hurdles; mine have been fairly manageable thus far. I still crave being active and so get out and about. I long ago learned that lots of movement pumps up general well being, is required for bodies to work at optimum levels despite our glitches. (Kids clearly know all this without thinking; we adults can forget.)

Okay, not that I am one of those older women who backpack thirty miles into the wilderness with a fifty pound backpack–finally  to sleep upon stony ground under an wide and possibly storming sky. My camping days have sadly faded away (though I’m definitely open to buying a pop-up camper; maybe if we save and then cash in all our extra change when hubby retires). I admire those who do this after 65 or 70–even at 50–and what a beautiful thing to have what it takes.

In fact, I do far less than I’d like. I could find excuses but why bother, I just haven’t done all I want to do yet. I seriously want to rent kayaks and canoes again as well as try tubing down a river, hike much farther and higher, swim at least twice a month, ice skate more, take up regular cycling after not riding a bike a couple of decades, and try more dance classes. (I had to quit flamenco due to a sore foot from hiking two years ago). I’d also like to go rock climbing, parachuting, horseback riding, cross-country skiing–some of it new, some not.

But I power walk an hour a day which is perhaps 4-5 miles, depending–more and faster when the weather is good. I dance and exercise at home, have enjoyed working up a sweat in Zumba classes. I hike often when the trails aren’t too muddy (recently we did eight miles at the beach, in the coastal forest). I wouldn’t mind weight training again. I haven’t decided to join a fitness club again; I always prefer the outdoors. But weight training was a thrill when I was forty; maybe it’d be fun now.

I also am more apt than my husband, bless him, to do physical work around our place–it’s my nature to hop to things, get them done. I used to love splitting fire wood and doing all the yard duties; I just like such work. I’m not the most daring or active a person can be but neither am I a shrinking violet when it comes to pushing my body some.

When I was a kid, I used to dream about was being a trapeze artist. It was likely after I saw a performance of Ringling, Barnum and Bailey Circus. I imagined over and over what it would be like to have such perfect timing and such strength and grace to swing back and forth and grab another swing or the hands coming toward me. It was mesmerizing. I wanted to be far up there, to feel the flight that occurred with such letting go, to sail through the air. So I rigged up a trapeze in our big old maple tree in the back yard. I’d swing and hang from that thing endlessly, as if I was really doing something. And when the trapeze broke, I put op a heavy rope from which to swing and catapult myself up onto the bigger branches. That tree was like a mountain, something to be conquered and then to rest within, a feeling of triumph filling me with happiness.

And I could be as tough and capable as any boy, often outpaced them, endured longer bike rides, climbed higher than most all of them. (This was more important as I got older rather than less. Strength, agility and stamina were crucial to my confidence and feeling safe in the world. More than once those traits literally saved me.) I also liked to practice bike tricks for hours in the medical building’s empty parking lot near our house. These required standing atop my bike seat, sticking out one leg behind me as I drifted about the parking lot. Or lying with abdomen on bike seat and chest on handle bars, then letting go of the handles. How about jumping on and off, hanging form the side as if the bike was a bareback trick horse? The fun was endless. Of course I fell, got a few cuts, shed a tear now and then. That was simply part of it.

I was athletic as a child and youth but more importantly, I was in love with human locomotion. I also wanted to see how far it was possible to push myself. I had little fear and lots of curiosity. I dearly longed to be a National Geographic explorer and journalist (besides a trapeze artist, dancer, figure skater, etc.)–that wonderful magazine inspired me far more than most tomes in our home.

I hope this lovely zest for life doesn’t subside much any time soon. But some days I wonder just a little.

Yachats, Oregon

Along the coast of Oregon are plentiful pockets of tide pools, many of which are among massive basalt rock formations. The sea crashes against the rocks sending up towering spray, waves surge and land in mighty thrusts of energy. You have to be careful out there and not many want to even venture farther than a few feet from the shore. My husband will go down to the rocks with me aided by his walking stick  so he can search for stones and starfish and anemones. After a bit I go on my own way, closer to the edge and the crashing waves. I always want to climb until I get a grand view out over the ocean; if there are peaks to scale that is where I end up. I know the dangers. I know not to turn my back to the sea, and to keep my distance from the slick edge where waves break high.

Yet…I want to get as close as I can to the swirling depths, to the action–just as a rocky outcropping or a steep hillside calls to me to climb to the top. Just as the towering maple and oak trees and the trapeze called me. It is hard to explain how it feels, all the right muscles clenching and stretching, feet reaching and finding a next toe hold, sense of balance finely attuned. Everything working together, the heart pumping happily, rich air filling up the lungs, bones ringing with the joy of it. I take chances because it is worth it. I know onlookers on the high ground likely think I have lost my mind but I am not concerned with them, only the moments when I am free, exhilarated, full of the mystery and beauty out there: mentally, spiritually, viscerally alive.

Only one time I slipped on wet mossy rocks and my hand found purchase to help me get my balance again. A slight scrape on my palm got infected; it was one of the worst I’ve ever had thanks to all the bacteria in the sea, on rocks frequented by an array of wild creatures and microscopic matter. It hasn’t kept me from going out there though I’m even more aware of how and where I step. I respect the ocean’s powers and defend myself against its beguiling, ferocious waves. Several people drown at the coast each year because they underestimate the danger. I do ask my body each time: can I still safely go out to explore? So far, it has been a yes.

Whew, right now, my left side is crying a bit, pain radiating out and I can’t easily think of leaping about all the fabulous earthy places I admire. It’s taking some effort to type all this. I need to ice more, rest awhile. Still, it was the day to post my nonfiction piece and suddenly there was a topic I’d not foreseen. Besides, I need to write as much as I desire to be outdoors, maybe more. My two loves, though.

My happiness expands within the wonders of nature. We are all part of an infinite natural design.

Because we never know. I’ve found myself unexpectedly very close to death a few times. This is a far cry from that but even little accidents can make one re-evaluate the order of things. One tiny tip of the balance, one alteration of the physics at work, one second miscalculated and we find out how vulnerable we can be. I can’t say I appreciate it much right now. Body messages and common sense or intuition do keep us going, keep us moving through life. Did my body feel a bit sluggish this morning? I think so…and then was not so smart although other times I’d land just right. Live and learn the hard way, I guess.

When I heal I’ll likely climb and hop off another counter or rocky abutment until my instinct warns me not to do it–and I will listen better. And expect a good outcome. But not while wearing my darned slippery socks, without better consideration of all factors.


What fluke accident have you had? Did it make you more cautious? Or do you have a slight daredevil tendency, too, and you just want to get back out there–and without real worry? I’d love to hear about it as I heal!

Friday’s Quick Pick: Oh Pacific Ocean, You are a Grand Sea

All photos by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

Carry me along the rim of this world,
through capricious magic of sky-lit
waters where formidable tales are made
of labor, beguilement, exploration, survival.

Take me to heights and depths where life
shines, burrows, vanishes; light shadow dances;
gold and greens, silver and blues are silken
transparency and density of salt, fishes, shell, plant.

Bring me to the uncertain edge of capriciousness,
rapture of the seventh wave; cover me with lace of spray, sand and stone beneath feet. I will sing a song
of kingdoms built of the tumult and peace of the sea.

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Here I am Without You

He didn’t understand, he was right about that, she thought. To him it had to be glamorous with jewels as the commodities of her trade, all that gadding about with fancy people, seeing sights he’d not see now. There was truth to this but it was the only part he wanted to believe.

The rest of it he tried to hold at bay any way he could, sometimes blaming her. And there was good reason for that. Admitting he was not going to walk again, at least not right–never mind play his horn, dance at one a.m. with the last customer, drive like crazy along some back country road–was like admittance to hell. Well, that had already begun when he had the stroke. Forty-one, relentlessly alive and just like that, cut down by a vagrant piece of circulatory trash that got stuck in an artery. Now his legs were mostly useless for the best things. His left hand couldn’t hold his trumpet mouthpiece to lips for more than a moment if he tied it there and dictated those beautiful, once-muscle-memories of movements required for sound.

But Mirabel kept on. Of course she did, what else was she to do, watch the seconds of their lives tick on as the pantry was emptied? She’d been a jeweler by trade when they’d met–he’d been browsing for someone who became irrelevant that snowy day–and remained so. He was a musician, he had some regular gigs and even when he hit it bigger there were more bills than income at first. Her work tided them over and she kept at it. She got good, then better, and then she was managing the finest jewelry store in Detroit metro as well doing the best work around, as she’d often been told.

Now she traveled more. Okay, a lot, every month or more. She had trade shows to attend and consultations to carry out, gems with just finished settings (or the final designs to deliberate) to hand deliver so an out-of-town customer could see up close exactly what big money was paying for. A personal touch was how Mirabel preferred to do business. It cost a bit but it was worth it for connections and subsequent referrals. Success had arrived. If she had to go out of her way to keep things well oiled, she’d do it despite Hal being held hostage to the damnable wheelchair.

He understood this much: they now lived in a beautiful spacious condo with a fine river view and he had good help. Alma came to care for him every day, and she had a fair for it. She had expansive congenial feelings for him which she could dispense lavishly; she went home each night to a good humored, healthy husband.

Mirabel meanwhile speculated what a warm bed would feel like as someone sidled up close, held her all night. Those days felt over for her, to her sorrow. Not that Hal yet believed it but he was more a dreamer, not so accepting of gritty details.

“You must stay at nice places. And stay occupied,” he said. “Don’t tell me ‘no’.”

“Right, occupied by my usual historical novel or a sitcom on T.V. It’s a blast. I do find most people I meet are interesting, you know that, and thank goodness. It’s not all diamonds and rubies and money.”

“Oh, come on, there are many men in this business who’d be happy to hold your hand, your waist, then–”

“Right, those men are older by far than you and gassy and balding, or baby-faced and ambitious, or very married with two kids. And what do I care? The others circle like hawks, I know how to put them off. How many times do I have to remind you? I’ve been doing this for twenty years. I’m more likely to meet up with business women for a late dinner. But none of us love travelling. We’re flat out whipped at the end of the day so it’s no party. It’s not a great way to see the country, either. No, it’s not great fun…”

Hal grunted. “Yeah, it’s so hard to be free, on your own out there.” He turned up the music, checked out.

The anger never quite quit, it just went underground. It abated if there was something good, like his musician friends coming by for dinner and talk. Then Hal was all affable bluster as ever he’d been. He applauded his friends’ recording contracts or tours or the latest band they’d put together. Never moaned on and on that he wasn’t with them. He wouldn’t consider doing that to them or himself. They missed him. They also saw him as man of steel despite extraordinary ways with his instrument. Well, once extraordinary, once on the high road. He was a guy who could take punches over and over and still come up chirping about this surprising and wild life. How thankful he was he wasn’t a Benny who’d died of an overdose at the apex of his career, or a Margo who literally went over the edge from too many bad breaks. He’d had it pretty good since he was nineteen, overall. Now he could again read some (the stroke rattled that piece of his brain), listen to music all day, compose in his head all he wanted. Sit the terrace and breathe pungent city air without worrying, planning the next big gig. Maybe he’d take up electronic music in the end. He was working on bettering hand strength and dexterity.

And then Mirabel was one of a kind, she stepped in, took care of things, they knew how steady she’d always been. She never once hinted she’d leave him. Besides, there was now Alma with the short blonde bob and so-so jokes–she was such a cheerleader and they got on well. Maybe he would be okay.

Hal was a braver person than any of them but it was so sad to witness his demise that they couldn’t speak of it later. They put on his recordings now and then and raised a bottle.

Hal’s anger spilled over after they returned to making music and he to useless days and nights. Mirabel gave him enveloping hugs and good words then stepped aside, worked longer hours. Loneliness might bash him any time. He’d feel it burrow into his sleep and his waking when she left for a three day trip or worse, a long week. He’d think himself into exhaustion wondering what she was doing, who she was doing it with, even though nothing telegraphed that she was  disloyal. It was his humiliation, the teeth-gnashing depression that ran his mind in circles like a mad dog. But she was a person others gravitated to, that was the thing, eyes sparking with intelligence, a listening ear that put you center stage, a soft laugh that rolled into body and mind. She was attuned to life’s nuances as he was to music’s dynamics. He’d also seen her operate in a competitive, male-dominated trade that centered on obdurate, cool, magnificent gemstones with people to match. Mirabel had the right touch for so much.

But now more than ever there were things they did not know about each other.


When she went on work trips, after she was done for another day or evening, Mirabel wandered. If she had been successful or not, it was the same. After she window shopped and consumed a juicy steak, fish and chips or street burrito, she walked as if she was going somewhere, stride confident, footfall secure. But she was just moving fast from corner to corner, street to street, waiting for lights to change, people to pass without making eye contact, feeling breathless. Waiting for her life to stop blurring, as if she was on a runaway train and had to hang on for life.

Sometimes she ended up in a bar. The first times is was a shock, she was not a bar person, but they weren’t fancy or suspect, just any neighborhood place when regulars swiveled their heads as she slipped onto a stool. They knew she was passing through, she had the look of a visitor, hair neatly swept up at the sides neatly, her good leather bag full of things like scarves and elegant sunglasses, glossy pamphlets and who knows what else that made it bulge. She kept it close to her body.

The women who tended bar wondered if she was looking over their men but saw the plain gold band (her right hand wore a large single contemporary-set topaz) and her distant look. (Mirabel never wore her wedding diamond with two sapphires on either side when on trips, it was vintage and worth a good figure.) So they got her the simple mixed drink to get her started, minded their own business unless she stayed late for one too many. Which happened too often on trips, never at home since she rarely drank otherwise.

They’d pause at her spot, one hand on hip, brushing back unruly wisps of hair with the other. Tired out but always curious.

“BBQ sandwich? Pretzels? We’ve got a pile of garlic fries.”

“No, thank you very much.” She jiggled the ice in her glass full of rum and coke. “I suppose I need my husband… but he’s home and I’m–” she looked around as if surprised–“here.”

“Visiting someone then, huh?”

She shook her thick brown hair with white gleaming at the part and leaned into her glass. “Work only, I’m a jeweler. I’m on business.” She slurped the last of that drink.

Then they’d talk about jewelry and the bartender would show off shiny earrings or a dainty necklace from a boyfriend and ask if they were worth anything. One thing would lead to another until Mirabel would put an end to the questions with another drink, then a third and she’d start to slump. She was an amateur, they noted.

“I do miss the guy…”

“Have you called tonight to let him know you’re thinking of him?”

“Oh, no, he’s surely asleep. Alma the Nurse usually puts him to bed before she’s done for the day.”

“Oh?” Both hands on hips. Quizzical looks shared with those who’d been listening in.

“Hal’s paralyzed. Stroke.” She’d press fingers to lips–she hadn’t meant to tell these strangers, never anyone—would get up, hurry out the door unsteadily, hail a cab.

They were sure to watch her climb in okay, then regulars shook their heads, regulars frowned at their beers, muttered about fate and its misfortunes. The bartender slapped her rag hard once on the counter and got busy. Lots of pain in this place.

Back at her small, too bright room, the cheapest one available that didn’t cause worry about bedbugs or neighbors shouting all night. Why spend money where it didn’t help business, after all?

Mirabel somehow got off her clothes. Sat on the edge of her bed awhile, listening to the traffic below, the night a meaningless void. Where would she find some comfort for the night if she didn’t collapse under the influence of alcohol? Her five hundred page book or the same shows again? She stood motionless in the inadequate shower, shivering even in the hot spray. Then came the ache of longing, the gaping depths so empty where rich love had flourished. Her music man, crackling wit and loyal partner. Struck down. She wanted to hold his hands in hers, feel him squeeze hers three times like a young man: “I”, “love”, “you.” She wanted to hear that music had not been the one and only love of his life. That he still had room for her. For them. If his heart might still pull out the old joy–she could help if he’d let her–one day.  She didn’t need him to be this strong. Or this sorrowful. It would end, wouldn’t it?

The steam billowed, suffocating her. Mirabel opened her eyes, turned off the water and slid back the curtain. Grabbed a towel, readied body and mind for one more vast, chilly bed in the drone of the dark.


Hal watched Alma clean up the living room, her muscular arms and square hands moving with efficiency as she picked up things, dusted a little, took the tray with his dinner leftovers to the kitchen. She hummed to herself much of the time. He’d never commented despite his flinching; she was always off key and it pleased her. She spent all day taking care of him except when Mirabel could be there so he tried to be generous. To encourage her when she had trouble getting him moved, to laugh at her silly jokes, to not make more of a mess than possible.

She’d lasted ten months now. The others lasted two or four months. The stroke had terrorized him into submission close to two years ago. It was hard work to help him; he was not a short man, no longer toned, lithe, quick to respond. Alma was possessed of broad hips and shoulders and moved with such grace that he marveled at it. She had good muscle in those biceps. Mirabel though lovely, sleek, inhabited her body as if she had to command her limbs to act natural. She was confident while working, her hands so deft, but otherwise she might stumble, ram into corners, drop glasses–about which he used to tease her. Not now; he envied she could rise up, move alone.

Alma’s dishwater blond hair was spiky and bright. She wore black stretch pants and a long, loose pink shirt. Hal found her attractive if he was honest but made sure she didn’t know it. Her company was priceless, she had to know that by now. She hummed and chatted as she labored, and never lost her patience. He guessed that’s why they paid her a hefty wage. Well, mostly Mirabel’s health insurance did but Alma got bonuses. For such aid and company he’d give up other things if needed. She read murder mysteries to him. She cooked well enough. And never made a face when he needed more help in the bathroom, unlike Mirabel, whose dismay could not be hidden, nor deep frustration over her limitations.

Alma was interesting to contemplate. She’d be one of those women who stood right up in a nightclub and swayed to the jazz, arms raised, ample form mimicking the beat, high on his acrobatic trumpet. Livening up the crowd. This imagined scenario as she worked dovetailed with his sadness, shaping it into a lighter, prettier thing. She’d glance at him as if feeling his gaze, eyebrows flitting above cheery eyes as she hummed louder to make him chortle–surely she knew she couldn’t carry a tune but just didn’t care. She stirred things up a little as she watched over him. Perhaps that was her best way to help people. Distracting them from any self pity.

“Mirabel back tomorrow?” she asked since her work was done. She took off her pinafore type apron with its big bright flowers. Old fashioned, pretty, a fun touch.

“I suppose, wasn’t sure about this tran–trans–I mean, deal. I thought she’d call tonight.” His language use had returned bit by bit a year after the stroke but he still spoke with care, had to simplify some days. He gestured to the table. “Phone charged yet? She call or text?”

Alma picked it up, brought it to him. “No, Hal, nothing the last hour.” She handed it to him and then sat in the armchair across from him.”I was thinking lately. You ever consider going with her on a short trip? I know it’d be tiring but just for a change of pace.”

“No, no, that’d never work! She couldn’t help me. Even the airport would be a nightmare–can you imagine it? Everyone staring, too.”

She leaned forward, hands on knees. “They have wheelchairs there and those electric carts that whisk people about–they’re many places. You might get a portable wheelchair or find a hotel where they have extra aids.”

“Naw, not a plan of mine.”

“What if I came? I mean, a little trip, one that wouldn’t cost too much.”

Hal shook his head, glared at her. “What are you getting at?”

Puzzled, she took her time answering. “I was just thinking, if it was me, I’d want you to come along some times. See a couple of sights. Be there when I got back to the room. Share a nice dinner with me.”

“But you’re you, not Mirabel. She’s a busy pro with people to see, things to do. I doubt she thinks much about me when she’s out there. She calls out of duty. I mean, she escapes!”

“I’m busy, too. You’re not my only patient, I work at night sometimes. But if I could–”

“You work at night?” The idea seemed absurd, no one could do this another eight hours. “When do you sleep or see your husband?”

“That’s neither here or there but yes, on week-ends I do overnight work.” She sat up straight and sighed. “Hal, you are starting to look at me like your best friend or your mother or something… it’s time to get you out more, not just to the park. You should ask if you can go with her.”

His face flushed as he turned wheelchair away. “I see. So, are you done here?”

“Yep, all done. Your chili is in the frig if you want to microwave more. Let’s get you to the bathroom.”

“I can do the necessary things better now, thanks.”

“I know, but I’m here.”

“You can go, thanks, Alma.”

She came around to face him. “It was just a suggestion, Hal! It might make you both happier.”

He looked into her eyes, saw compassion. Her soft face was so close, her skin radiating a scent slightly sour but even more sweet. He looked down at his knobby knees, the near-useless hand. His wife was so far away. It almost lured him, this closeness that wasn’t even Mirabel’s.

“Maybe so.” He managed a wan smile. “I’m alright, never mind.”

Here was a woman who knew all his needs, frailties, moods. He tried to think of himself in a bland room with Mirabel in a strange place, greeting a morning together, sipping a cup of coffee, chatting softly and then he’d realize they weren’t even home with some comforts. Did he even want that? But maybe it could happen; likely not. And she’d have to leave him once more. Of course, he’d also been gone every night when she came home, for years and years. Did she feel abandoned? No, she had had two legs and arms working, a resolute mind.

He felt confused by all this, saw Alma study him.

His phone rang. Alma got her sweater, opened the front door. She almost waited to see who it was then waved at him and glided outside.

Hal looked at the caller ID, answered. “Mirabel. It’s late in Boston. All okay?”

“I miss you,” Mirabel’s voice wafted to him, weary.

She missed him. “That’s nice to hear…tell me about your day.”

“Hal, I drank too much at a corner bar and feel so lonely. When I got to my room I desperately wanted to just hold your hand. To press forehead to forehead like we used to do, remember?”

A crummy Boston dive of all things, his wife alone! But the timbre of her voice reached in. His body–all parts that still could be swept up in feelings, so many places–tingled, and his mind’s usual fog lifted just enough that he knew this was real, his wife was speaking truth.

“Are you there, Hal?”

His good hand holding the phone shook a little. “Baby, when you come home, let’s figure out how to take me with you next time, okay? I want to be with you more, hear me? I need you.”

There came the ease of relief, then he heard her snuffling. She hadn’t cried around him since the first days after his stroke. He had become the weeper too often. He put the phone to his chest, his heart as she caught her breath. Because she would. She always regained footing even when he had no purchase, himself. But he saw it was possible she could use help, too. Hal felt her head against his shoulder, her warmth melding with his, soul opening a little like a flower to the light.