The woman came by each Saturday afternoon with a record player and a considerable stack of records. The hands that dropped them into place were heavily veined and thick with age, shaking slightly with effort when setting down the pin, but were long and must have once been full of grace. She came always carefully dressed, as if she were going somewhere much more splendid than the nursing home, visiting someone far more lively than Mr. Wade. Had he noticed her even once? Perhaps she belonged to a generation who’d never be caught dead with a hair out of place. Her hair was silver, and shone brilliantly like a newly minted coin. She was majestically tall, and favored dark dresses with boat necks, beautifully cut. In any case, we were fascinated by her and always tried to stop by the window lounge on those afternoons.
There were others in the lounge sometimes, but it didn’t seem to bother her. She came with the player and records in one of those boxes people being let go from an office might have used, holding it in both arms, and gently shook her head the first couple of times one of us tried to help. Once the box was set down, she’d look around the lounge and greet each person with a gracious smile, as if to say, thank you for being here. The way she did that reminded me of a concert pianist. Then she’d walk over to Mr. Wade sitting in his chair by the window, overlooking the forest, and give him a kiss. She was much younger than him, though by the way she kissed him, we deduced she couldn’t have been his daughter. Mr. Wade looked far into the forest as he always did, not just on Saturdays, and not giving the least indication of having felt the kiss or the woman’s presence. That was another reason she fascinated us – our files recorded Mrs. Wade as having been deceased for years, and each of us had a separate guess as to who this woman was.
The record player was taken out first, placed firmly on the low table by the wall. As the woman reached into the box for the records, she would chat with Mr. Wade, calling him Henry darling, and coax him to tell her which record he’d prefer today. When there wasn’t any answer – none was expected – she’d chat on and say something like, well, then let’s see if this tickles your fancy, and set a record on. Soon music, melodious and calm, would fill the lounge. After that the woman straightened up and went to sit by Mr. Wade, sometimes taking his hand into hers, and together they would sit until the first record was finished. Then the second, third, until every record she brought was played once and the sky had grown grey out, the smallest crescent of blush gilding the farthest reaches of the forest, where Mr. Wade’s gaze rested. The records and their player went back into the box then, as carefully as they were taken out, and Mr. Wade kissed, the woman gone.
One day I was collecting bed sheets to be aired out the next day, which was promised to be full of sunshine, when Karen came running past, shouting in a hush tone that was entirely overwhelmed by her excitement. Come see, come see, she said, and soon a little flock of us followed her down the hall. When we got to the lounge, Karen signaled for us to be quiet, and the clump of us installed ourselves by the door, peering past each other to see what was in the room.
The music was on, played from the familiar record player, its sound aged but clear. I’d forgotten it was Saturday, for the woman was there. A handful of residents sat entranced by what we too saw and exclaimed over. Mr. Wade and the woman weren’t sitting side by side in the seats by the window. She was in Mr. Wade’s arms, who was surprisingly tall – I’d so rarely seen him standing – and together, awkwardly, they moved to the music. Mr. Wade’s knees were weak, hobbling a bit, and the woman appeared to be half holding his much larger frame. Even with the awkwardness, they glided as one, as if they’d done this many times before. There were years worth of stories behind what I saw just then, I was sure. It couldn’t have been said to be beautiful, but all of us were touched.
The song ended much too soon. The woman returned Mr. Wade to his seat, and took her place beside him once more. Mr. Wade turned to her, patted her forearm, and said, in his deafness loud enough for us all to hear, that was lovely, my dear. Did you like it? I became conscious of holding my breath, as if waiting for something miraculous to follow what had surely been extraordinary. The woman murmured something against Mr. Wade’s neck, as a purring kitten might have. The other residents in the lounge watched them intently, as did we, but it seemed she didn’t feel our presence. Before long, Mr. Wade’s gaze became withdrawn, again looking into the distance. When the last record was played, she packed the recorder as she always did. She kissed Mr. Wade, and waited, I thought, for a moment longer than usual. When it was clear he would not stir, she took the box in her arms and left. I suppose some of us making way for her by the door might have looked at her sympathetically, for she nodded once, courageously, and said to no one in particular, I will be back next week.
more by SOPHIE X. SONG
photograph by James Besser