The hand he extended to her was grimy, but her own was muddy from where she fell on the ground. She thought that maybe she reminded him of his grandmother. She tried to clean off the mud by patting the sidewalk, and then just took his hand gratefully. In the distance, she heard a horn honking, traffic droning, the beginning of rush hour. “Thank you, young man.”
“Kind of slippery, now that the ice is melting.” He looked at her as if he knew her.
She didn’t think she had ever met him. The day shone sunny, so she wasn’t wearing gloves. She had not noticed the patch of ice in the melting puddle and slipped like an old lady. Fortunately, her bones were strong.
He brushed his hands on his jeans and turned to go on his way.
He did look familiar. She called after him. “Would you like a cup of coffee? I just live a block away.”
“I have to go to the library to write a paper.” When he saw the disappointment on her face, he said, “I’ll write better with a cup of coffee in me.”
The blare of a siren pierced the air. They strolled under the bare oaks and maples. She remembered walking here with her daughters and sister and with her late husband. She had walked in this park a thousand times, but today she felt heavy, shaky, quivering; she had awakened with a chest cold that tore at her lungs. She wrapped a thick scarf around her throat and took her afternoon walk in the late winter light, unfiltered by leaves, clear and gleaming. A car’s brakes screeched.
She introduced herself as they crossed Main Street. She could hear the four o’clock train shrilling its whistle. “My name is Samarra Jones. I know it’s an odd name. Still, it’s no odder than ‘Chasity’ or ‘Brie.’ My parents were not readers and had never heard of ‘Appointment in Samarra.’” She shrugged. “Probably most people today don’t know that story .”
“I know it,” he said. “Death visits a merchant in Samarra.”
“Well-educated and chivalrous!” She clapped her hands.
He looked at her sideways and smiled. She led the way up the steps and onto the wraparound porch. The house was Victorian gingerbread, from another century. Well, so was the old lady, white-haired and frail. He had not thought he would work today; he thought he could just read and study. He sighed.
Her parlor was dusty and cluttered. She was sick, he knew. She coughed and took off her coat and hung it on the wooden stand.
“I think I’ll just keep my jacket on,” he said and pushed his hands into his pockets. He looked at the wedding photo on the mantel. “Your husband passed away.”
“Since Roger died, I’ve been adrift.” She twisted her hands. “How did you know?” She shuffled into the kitchen to heat water for the coffee.
He sat down on her couch. “Of course, you’re at a loss.” He thought that would be difficult.
“We were married for fifty-three years.” She spoke from the kitchen.
“Your children have moved away.”
“There’s just a niece that drives up sometime.” She carried a tray on which rattled cups and a coffeepot.
“Your friend died last week,” he said gently.
“Carla was my best friend. She joked that leukemia was better than Alzheimer’s.”
He extended his hand to her. “It’s up to you. Do you want to come with me? Where it’s quiet?”
“I like the quiet.” She dropped the coffeepot. The crash reverberated through her universe.
AUTHOR BIO: Cezarija Abartis’ Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Brain Harvest, Underground Voices, Liquid Imagination, Story Quarterly, and New York Tyrant, among others. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University.