Grace lives up the street. Every morning she gets into her mint condition 1982 Plymouth Reliant and drives two blocks down the street where she spends the day with Gary, her gentleman friend. Grace is a spritely 89. She is robbing the cradle a little with Gary who is only 78. Gary is homebound. Diabetes took his vision. They both have grandchildren and great grandchildren of children who left this little town long ago. Widow and widower, they spend their days together. She cooks for him. “Having someone to enjoy the food is the only fun in cooking anymore.” They are intimate. “Our children think we should marry but phooey on that!” They never spend the night. “I need my beauty rest!” She takes him to church and to the Elks club for pinochle and for coffee and pie at the little café so they can get the gossip from the coffee clutch. Gary always has pie, diabetes be damned. She reads the local paper aloud and plans their attendance at funerals. She has a little box of sympathy cards at the ready and an envelope of laundered and pressed five dollar bills. She always gives one in memory of the deceased to the church’s radio broadcast, unless a memorial fund is specified. She includes Gary’s name with her own on the card.
Late one afternoon, after she divvies the roast, mashed potatoes and gravy into separate containers for their meals throughout the week, and puts a couple in the freezer as well, Grace tells Gary she needs a nap before driving home. While she dozes in the floral print recliner, he listens to a cooking program on television. The woman cooks from her kitchen on a ranch, and a husband, children, and a widowed father-in-law are always brought in to eat what she makes, usually after chores or school or some play activity. They are always happy. He likes the show for the stories of ranch life that go with the food. It puts him in mind of his life, before the kids grew up and moved away, before Nettie died, before he’d sold the ranch and moved to town, before he’d lost his vision.
He says, “I was listening to the Pioneer Woman and thinking on the old times.” He says this over and over in the next couple of days to anyone who will listen, to his children, to himself while he waits in the corner of the family room at the church. He thinks on it during the Psalm and the hymns, and still beside the grave where disturbed soil gives scent to his sightlessness. His daughter helps him find the casket with the flowers he’d asked her to buy. The people whisper in the church basement over casseroles and bars, “Grace was always so good to him,” and “What will Gary do now?”
TAYO BASQUIAT is a writer, teacher, adventurer, scavenger, and Wilderness First Responder. He gave up tenure as a philosophy professor to pursue an MFA in creative writing at the University of Wyoming. His work has appeared in Superstition Review, On Second Thought, Northern Plains Ethics Journal, the Cheat River Review, Proximity Magazine, and in a growing portfolio as producer of Wyoming Public Media’s “Spoken Words” podcast.