The Widow Asks
The Danish cookies sit up in their little white paper cups inside the blue tin, waiting for any of the gathered mourners craving a rush of pebbled sugar. The only one who does is the widow herself. Everyone else is too busy showing off their grief.
But the widow knows she had dispensation to do whatever the hell she wants, and she wants a cookie to stave off a sudden touch of lightheadedness resulting not from grief but from feeling as though hydrogen balloons are billowing beneath her black dress.
She came to me.
Biting down on something hard, chewing and swallowing, will remind her, she knows, that she has to remain Earth-bound a little while longer. After that: anything is possible, including flying up, up, and away.
“Hello, again,” said the object of the widow’s ballooniness.
“Hello, yourself,” said the widow, with no idea what came next.
“Do you want to, maybe, after…”
The two women stood close, facing one another, as the others began darting around them like ravens, having decided, as a flock, that they could both eat and grieve without sacrificing either.
The widow looks into the woman’s large blue eyes, surrounded by a thin skein of wrinkles she has never seen before, and how could she, as they had only seen each other an hour ago after thirty years far outside any mutual orbit. But thirty years ago, they were almost as one.
“Yes,” the widow responded. “We should. I can. I just need to…”
“I know,” the woman said, taking the widow’s hands in her own. “It’s all right. I’ll wait for you.”
Both women smile then, teeth showing, because what she’d just said was enormously funny and they wouldn’t pretend otherwise.
The widow pulls away, slowly, to tend to the flock, leaving her old friend to fend for herself as best she could. Hours later, alone in a new kind of way — husband-less — she changes into a yellow summer dress and sandals and lifts her car keys to travel thirty years to her friend’s hotel, where…what?
The widow drives backwards and forwards in time, feeling not just lightheaded now but unmoored, her breath coming and going in shallow beats, her thoughts beating like the wings of a caged bird.
She came, she came, she came to me.
Blue-eyed Anna dancing in the courtyard at midnight. Waving a book over her head. Laughing until she cried because the Marx Brothers were still hilarious.
She came because I asked.
Why did I ask?
The widow pulls up to the hotel and looks up at the rows of opaque windows, wondering which one frames Anna and whether Anna is seated on the edge of her hotel bed also feeling the beat of a caged bird’s wings or perhaps she is drinking a minibar whiskey and watching CNN, her mind a blank, or maybe she lies naked under the cool sheets waiting, waiting, waiting for the widow to appear thirty years on, so they may, perhaps, start over, start anew, start something.
As the widow steps out of her car, the air crackles, the ground shakes, the asphalt splits apart, and an enormous sinkhole opens a scant foot from where she stands. She peers down into the hole, shaken, and sees her husband beckoning impatiently — a reverse Orpheus beseeching her to join him below. ‘No!’ she cries and looks around for help.
The widow spots a young man walking toward the hotel carrying an enormous bouquet of balloons dancing in the summer breeze. The widow runs from the widening sinkhole as it nips at her heels and snatches the balloons away with both hands. She holds her arms aloft and lets the balloons carry her up, up, peering in each hotel window, looking for Anna.
Her entire life narrows to a single hope — that a hand, Anna’s hand, will dart out to capture her, to save her, to bring her back to solid ground, where she can alight, in safety, far, far away from the grave.