Wally wore his gold wedding band around the ring finger of his left hand. It was strong and round and it shone even in the gloom of a rainstorm on the last day in September.
His hands were wide and his fingers were long and they closed and they spread and they bent and they opened as he spoke to the woman beside him. It was the same motion he’d use if he were trying to mold a clay figure into its proper form, but he wasn’t. He wasn’t trying to do that.
On the other side of Wally, his wife sat in a blue raincoat with the hood pulled down over her forehead. The wrinkles under her round face dragged her skin closer to the ground. She was looking at his reading glasses and the way they pinned the white hair against the top of his head. She wanted to speak, but for the last six months her words have come out groggy and distorted, sometimes indecipherable.
So she sits and she listens and she sits and observes, but today as she sits, her mind goes.
It goes back 40 years to Paris when she’d been with him at a shabby hotel in the 19th arrondissement, young 20s and their first time away from home. It was late in October and she sat atop the bed with her legs crossed and a map spread wide between her fingers. She was harmlessly naked, a symbol of her comfort with Wally, a young man she’d met only four months prior. She remembers the breeze that came through the old iron window, she could feel the sheets beneath her svelte legs, and could still see the ceiling light above Wally that cast his shadow on the wooden floor of the old Parisian hotel.
Then her mind went to the old town center in Prague and the cool gray air that surrounded them as they shared a bench, drank cider, and worked through their first dispute — his hand on her knee and his tone just where it needed to be.
Her mind went along the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to San Diego, stopping in Morro Bay, Cambria, and Santa Barbara — just as he’d gone with her during their first summer together.
In her mind she felt his hands on her back and the sun against her shoulders as they sat and drank sweet sangria on the beach in Coronado. They were all long-ago memories that she and Wally would sometimes revisit. Sometimes with a photo album and other times with a whisper or just a kiss.
But six months ago when he walked into the bathroom, her body was lying against the shower floor. Wally ran to her side and wrapped his long fingers around her golden hair which was changing to gray. He spoke her name, whispered in her ear, and touched her damp forehead. But her eyes showed him nothing so his mind went.
In just an instant it went back 20 years to their near-separation. So many words they exchanged during that time but none could pinpoint the angst he felt nor the pain that his angst caused her. Some of those nights he’d hold her in his hug as they lay beneath the covers. The tears would run from his eyes but he held her and he wouldn’t let go. Even through those nights he wouldn’t let her go.
In the days after he found her that way on the shower floor, Wally’s mind went and it went. It went with her in the ambulance and it lay with her in the hospital bed. When he tried to speak she didn’t respond and so his tears came. But as the days passed he looked at her eyes and he could see she was there.
When the doctor arrived he told Wally that her mind was gone. Wally didn’t shout nor gasp and he didn’t make a scene. Instead, when Wally looked at her eyes he saw the same blue and the same gray that had been with him for 40 years, and he believed there was still more.