She turned and looked at him, her eyes wide with surprise.
“How do you know my name?”
“You told me. Yesterday.”
“I did? I don’t remember.”
“I know. It’s ok.”
Sheila returned her attention to her knitting, her curiosity oddly satisfied.
“I’m knitting a sweater,” she said.
“I know. You told me that too.”
“It will be finished when the last leaf falls from that tree over there.” She pointed at a maple, blazing red and orange as if it were on fire. She continued on with her knitting, fingers deftly weaving yarn over and around, needles clicking as they moved swiftly in her hands. Howard watched as memories flooded his mind, filling him up and threatening to spill out at the corners of his eyes.
“It looks soft,” he said, trying to keep the conversation going. She did not reply. Instead, she finished two more rows then packed up her project and walked back inside without another word. Perhaps tomorrow.
She looked up and saw him standing there, her eyes questioning but she said nothing.
“May I sit?”
“Lovely day, don’t you think?”
“It will be cold soon,” she said. “See that tree over there? It’s beautiful now but soon the leaves will start to fall and after that it will be too cold to sit out here. It happens quickly.”
“You’re right,” he said. “But if you had a sweater you could sit here a little longer.”
She turned to him with enthusiasm and informed him that she just so happened to be knitting a sweater. Sheila reached into the embroidered bag that sat beside her on the bench and retrieved a pile of yarn that had begun to take on the familiar shape.
“See,” she said.
“I see. It looks soft.”
“It will be,” she said. “Soft and warm. Just like him.”
“Him?” he asked.
“Nothing. Never mind.” Howard watched her face light up as she held the half-knitted sweater up in front of her and smiled. He wondered what she was thinking but knew better than to ask. Sheila placed it gently back in her lap and picked up the needles, her hands busy now. Perhaps tomorrow.
“What a beautiful color,” he said, sitting down beside her.
“It’s a sweater,” she said. “Or it will be when I’m finished.”
“It looks soft,” he said.
“May I touch it?” he asked.
Sheila stopped knitting and eyed him suspiciously.
“The sweater…may I touch it? It looks so soft.”
“No,” she said finally. But after a few moments she lowered her arms, knitting closer to her lap and allowing the sweater that was taking shape to brush ever so slightly against Howard’s hand resting on the bench beside her. Perhaps tomorrow.
“I remember you,” she said.
Howard held his breath.
“Yes,” he said, although the flu had kept him away since last Thursday. It didn’t matter as long as she was happy to see him.
“Did you finish your sweater,” he asked… and immediately he wished he hadn’t. She pulled it from her bag and began to knit. He looked at the tree across the way, its leaves brilliant. Already a few rested beneath it on the ground and others drifted down, one by one, when the breeze blew gently over the lawn.
“I’m almost finished,” she said. “I have to hurry. See that tree over there…”
“Hello. Howard, is it? I’m sorry; I’m not very good with names.”
“Yes, it’s Howard,” he said, his heart leapt within his chest and a lump formed in his throat. He swallowed, hard, and noticed the box sitting on her lap, neatly wrapped in brown paper and tied up with a bow made of yarn.
“I think this is for you,” she said softly. “I remember tying the bow but I’m embarrassed to say I can’t remember what’s inside. I brought it out here with me, when I came to sit, and now that you’re here I think I remember that it’s for you.”
Howard sat down next to her and she smiled and handed him the box. He unwrapped it gently, careful not to tear the paper while he reeled at the possibility that she could have remembered his birthday.
“I remember now,” she said, and he stopped and looked directly into her eyes.
“I remember what’s inside. So silly…how could I forget? ” she said.
Yes, how could she forget…forget a lifetime… forget a love so deep and true it refused to fade? The fact that he knew the answer to this did nothing to diminish his pain and for a brief moment he envied her.
Howard lifted the lid from the box and folded back the tissue paper that enveloped the gift inside. He instantly recognized the color of the yarn and reached in, pulling out the sweater and holding it up to admire the finished work. He looked across the lawn, at the tree, and saw it bare…caretakers bagging the fallen leaves. He couldn’t help himself and he laughed.
“It’s beautiful,” he said.
“Put it on. I made it myself.” She seemed eager and pleased and Henry pulled it on over his shirt, surprised at the fit. It was just the right size. How could she forget the rest and remember that?
“It’s going to get cold soon, you know. You’ll need that if you’re going to keep coming here.”
“It’s perfect,” he said, “Thank you.”
Sheila smiled at him then turned her gaze across the lawn, watching the men with the leaf blowers plant mums in the newly mulched flower beds. Her hands rested now, one placed gracefully in her lap, the other in the space between them on the bench. Perhaps today.
Howard reached over and took her hand, holding it gently in his own. He looked at the gold band upon her finger and remembered the day he’d slipped it on…how he’d searched his pockets at the altar, terrified that he’d lost it, and how they’d laughed when he found it moments later inside his jacket. Then he remembered the kiss they shared, as husband and wife, and the thousands since that day. He missed the kisses, some hurried and full of passion, others tender and sweet. He missed all of them. But more than that he missed how well she knew him, knew everything about him, knew him better even than he knew himself. Without that, he felt alone. But not today. Her hand in his, he was not alone.
The embroidered bag sat next to her on the bench, a thick strand of yarn trailed from it, winding its way up to needles that clicked rhythmically as she worked. She was concentrating, but watched him from the corner of her eye. Finishing the row, she gathered her work and placed it back inside her bag.
“It’s a scarf,” she said. “Or it will be when I’m done. Colder weather’s on the way and you can’t have too many scarves when it’s cold outside.” Her tone was light and conversational, friendly even.
“It’s a lovely sweater, you have on. I knit quite a lot and I know quality work when I see it.”
“Thank you,” he said. “My wife made it for me.”
“She’s quite talented.”
“Yes, she is.”
“It looks soft.”
“And a lovely color.” She turned her gaze toward the sky, letting the sunlight warm her face and watching the birds flitter about on a nearby tree. Henry reached over and rested his hand next to hers, close enough to feel the warmth of her skin. After a moment, he moved almost imperceptibly closer, so that the side of his hand touched hers, ever so slightly. She looked at him and smiled, moved her hand to her lap, and returned her attention to the birds.
© Kelly Rainey and 500wordsandcounting.wordpress.com, 2015.
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