Miriam sat on the park bench, her head bent, looking at the ground. Her daily stroll around the lake had left her exhausted. She looked up and stared for a few seconds too long at a man seating at a nearby bench. The elderly man saw her looking and stood up and, with his cane's help, walked towards her.
"Mind if I join you, young lady?" he asked.
"Have a seat." Miriam moved a little to make room. He seemed to be in his eighties, a little stooped, but he didn't shake much. She liked his childlike grin and twinkly eyes. He reminded her of someone.
"Thomas, pleased to meet you." The man extended his hand after he had sat down.
"Miriam." She looked straight ahead and didn’t shake his hand. She was not in the mood to talk.
"So, how long have you been here at lovely Osprey Village?
"Eight years, two since Benny passed."
"Benny was your husband?"
"Yes, fifty-four years."
"Ahh, yes. I was married to Sally for nearly sixty, I can't remember exactly. My son dropped me off yesterday. Lucky to be here. It's a gorgeous place."
"I guess," Miriam responded. She looked down at her hands, her skin so thin she could see her blue veins. A tear rolled down her cheek, but she did not wipe it, not wanting for a stranger to see her cry.
There had been a time when Miriam had found the grounds of Osprey Village beautiful and welcoming. She and Benny had moved into the assisted living facility eight years earlier. They had always enjoyed their walks around the property. They loved the ancient oak trees surrounding the lake, moss hanging down from their massive branches, and colorful peonies at the base of every tree. They'd feed the ducks and enjoyed listening to the birds' melodies in the morning and watching the sunset from one of the park benches at the top of a hill. But Benny was gone and lately, nothing appealed to her. She felt more tired and lonely every day. It was a struggle to get out of bed and force herself to come outside.
"Ready to go inside, Ms. Miriam?" a woman called out as she approached the bench. She was wearing a familiar orderly uniform, but Miriam did not recall her face. She looked blankly at her. Thomas stood up and helped Miriam get up from the bench. The orderly moved the wheelchair closer, and Miriam sat down.
"I hope to see you tomorrow, Miriam. I will be here waiting for you. Have a good night," Thomas said. He smiled and brought Miriam's hand to his lips. Miriam opened her eyes and mouth wide, surprised by such a bold gesture.
The orderly pushed the wheelchair up the path. "You look like you've seen a ghost. Are you okay, dear?"
"I'm fine," said Miriam. Before they went into the building, she glanced back to where they had left Thomas standing, but he was no longer there.
The next morning when the orderly came to take Miriam for her stroll around the lake, Miriam asked, "I'd like to put on my blue scarf. Will you get it from the closet for me, please?"
"You sure? You haven't worn that one in a while. Is this a special occasion?"
"No, just thought I'd wear it today."
"Very nice. It’s lovely, and it brings out the blue of your eyes."
The orderly pushed the wheelchair up the path leading to the lake. Miriam asked to be dropped off at the park bench where she had sat the day before.
"Don't you want me to take you around the lake before you sit for a while?"
"I'd like to just sit today." Miriam looked around, hoping to see Thomas. She didn’t see him, but soon after the orderly left her, she saw him walking towards the bench. Her heart skipped a beat, and she felt something she hadn’t felt in a long time, a hint of joy.
"Hello Miriam, you look lovely. May I sit with you?" Thomas said.
"Yes, please join me."
Miriam and Thomas talked for a long time, and then Thomas asked her to go for a walk around the lake.
The nurse on duty had been surprised to see Miriam get up from the bench and start walking. She had kept an eye on Miriam just in case she needed help.
By the time they got back, Miriam's legs were hurting, but she felt good. She found Thomas delightful to talk to, and she had shared many happy memories with him. It uplifted her and gave her the strength to complete the walk.
The nurse approached the bench to make sure Miriam was alright.
“Good for you Ms. Miriam, that was a nice long walk. I'll get the orderly to take you back to your room,” the nurse said. Miriam thought, why doesn’t she leave us alone but said nothing.
"I’ll see you tomorrow, sweetie, same time, same place," Thomas said with a big smile, and he kissed her hand.
"Can you get me my lipstick, please? It's in the top drawer," Miriam asked the orderly. She was wearing a new dress and her blue shawl. Her hair had been trimmed, and her nails done the day before at the community salon.
"You look beautiful, Ms. Miriam," the orderly remarked as Miriam pressed the lipstick onto her lips.
"Let's go. I'm ready for my walk," Miriam said. "Thomas is waiting." The orderly smiled and pushed the wheelchair out of the room.
"Have you noticed the change in Ms. Miriam?" the nurse asked the orderly.
"Yes, ma'am. She's a new woman."
"What's going on with her? She had been so sad and depressed. I was worried."
"She's met a gentleman friend."
"Who? I don't see her with anyone."
"It doesn't matter that we don't see him, she does, and that's made all the difference."