This is the first post of our January Theme Week. In honor of the new year, the theme is New Beginnings. Look for a few more great twists on the theme the rest of this week!
Our first post is written by Guest Contributor, Wayne Scheer, who has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net. He’s published numerous stories, poems and essays in print and online, including Revealing Moments, a collection of flash stories. His short story, “Zen and the Art of House Painting” has been made into a short film. Wayne lives in Atlanta with his wife.
At the stroke of midnight at the Evergreen Pines Retirement Village’s New Year’s Eve party, Herb kissed his wife, Florence. Then he turned to a friend and said, “The best thing about being married is you always have a date for New Year’s Eve.”
“So what am I going to do with him?” Florence asked, wheeling her oxygen tank behind her like a reluctant dance partner. “After fifty-three years, I’m his date.”
Today, Herb sits in an overstuffed chair in his overheated condo watching Jeopardy and listening to the sounds made by his refrigerator.
The doctor told them Florence’s heart and lungs were failing. The simple act of taking in a breath of air had become a strain. Still, she was determined to attend the New Year’s Eve party at the clubhouse with her husband and friends. For the previous eight years, she headed the decoration committee. This year, she had to relinquish her chair to Ellen Morgan, who at 66 was one of the youngest members of the committee.
The decorations were nice, although a little tacky. Too many flowers.
After the party, as Florence and Herb prepared for bed, he remembered her saying, “Do me a favor. When I go, find someone to tell your jokes to.”
Herb took her swollen hand in his, afraid to squeeze too hard. “You think it’ll be easy replacing you after all these years? It’ll take me at least a week.”
They laughed. Herb turned away so she wouldn’t see his eyes fill up with tears.
Later that night she was rushed to the hospital. Three days later their children were making funeral arrangements.
Now, Herb sat on his chair still fighting tears. “Ahhh,” he waved his arm as if someone might see.
After some time, he realized the telephone was ringing. It took two tries to push himself off the overstuffed chair.
Martha Raditz was on the phone asking how he felt.
“With my hands. How else should I feel?”
She laughed, a little too much. But it was a good, hearty laugh. Herb started telling her an old joke about a rabbi and a priest in a bar. He remembered telling it to her weeks ago. Or was it yesterday? He told it anyway and Martha laughed like she had never heard it before.
When Herb and Florence first moved to Evergreen Pines, Martha and Jake had introduced them around and made them feel welcome. They even joined a bowling league together and took a trip to Atlantic City. But when Jake died, Martha said she felt awkward going out with the two of them, like a third wheel. They didn’t see much of her after that and Herb missed her laugh. Now she called nearly every day and brought Herb supper most nights.
Almost a year had passed since Florence’s death. Martha asked, “The New Year’s Eve party at the clubhouse, are you going?”
Herb thought how nice it would be to get out of his little condo and be with people. Martha was a good friend. He always liked her. Florence would want him to get out and tell his jokes.
Then he remembered how at midnight everyone was expected to kiss.
“No, Martha. Not yet. Maybe next year.”