Marty gazed at himself in the mirror, examining his face. Creased like a map, it was. He could remember years upon years ago when his face was unlined and fresh…but that seemed another lifetime ago, and not worth thinking about.
With a deep sigh he turned away from the mirror and moved slowly across the room to the bed. Easing himself down on the edge gingerly, feeling his age most acutely in every joint in his body, he slid his shoes out from under his bed with his feet. Anymore, bending down to get them meant he might not come back up. Slipping his feet into the comfortably-soled, uncomfortably old-looking shoes, he wondered what breakfast was going to be today. Hopefully not oatmeal, again. He just couldn’t stomach the gooey stuff. Not since he was little, and he felt just fine about the fact that he wouldn’t like it till the day he died. And Myra could just stick that in her pipe and smoke it, as far as he was concerned.
Bracing his arms on his knees, he levered himself to his feet and slowly straightened. He could feel muscles protesting in his back that used to flex and relax with ease. No matter. He was still a handsome figure of a man, even if he was on the wrong side of seventy, and he knew it.
Shuffling out to the hall, he discarded the brief thought of using his walker. He was hoping that Myra would be to breakfast today, her mockery of his distaste for oatmeal notwithstanding. No way did he want to appear old to her. He knew he was old, and she knew he was old, but the walker would just confirm it. No, no walker today. He would get to the mess hall on his own unsteady feet or not at all.
“Good morning, Marty!” Edna chirped a greeting from her cheerful and trendy little motorized scooter as she sped down the hall. Some days, Marty really felt that they should require speed limits on those damn things, always bumping into a man when he didn’t have his walker. Shaking his head, he shuffled into the mess hall.
All the tables were mostly filled, a sea of white cotton candy-haired heads, with some bald pates dotting the ocean like little bouys. He wended his way to the food counter, keeping a sharp eye out for Myra. Wouldn’t do to have her see him sit with someone else, not with what he had in mind today.
He should have known. He gazed glumly at his bowl as Ethel ladled him him out an overgenerous portion of sticky, gooey oatmeal. He tried his most winning smile on her, testing her response, hoping she might have something, anything back there other than this mush. She gazed back at him blandly, completely unaffected by his obvious charm. He considered complimenting her on her hairnet, but discarded the idea almost immediately. Best just to deal with the oatmeal like a man. Maybe Myra would appreciate his sacrifice.
Turning away from Ethel, he faced the rest of the room and scanned the crowd. What was it about getting old that made everyone look the same?
Ah, there she was. She sat ramrod straight in the plastic cafeteria chair, her snowy hair pulled back into a bun rather than fluffed out around her face in a white helmet like half the other women in here. He headed her way, slowly, to be sure, but he was relieved to note that her knife and fork were still placed neatly on either side of her bowl, and her oatmeal looked to be untouched. She was gently unfolding her napkin to lay across her lap, since it wouldn’t do to muss her soft, perfectly matched, teal track suit. At least it wasn’t one of those polyester numbers, Marty consoled himself. Those things screamed “old” even worse than his damn shoes.
Best of all, she was seated all alone, and there was only one other chair available.
He quickened his step, suddenly worried that some other elderly fool would make it there before he did, but his fears faded into just a billion butterflies beating against the walls of his stomach as he approached her table. He opened his mouth to speak, and suddenly it was dry. This was Myra, the love of his golden years, the woman who considered him just a friend, and nothing more. Yet.
“He…ahem.” He cleared his throat vigorously and started over. “Hello, Myra. Do you mind if I sit with you this morning?”
Myra raised her gentle gaze to his face. “Hello, Marty. Of course you may.” She finished unfolding her napkin and picked up her spoon, holding it a little awkardly in her veined and knobby fingers. “I see they made your favorite this morning.”
Marty sighed. “As you can see, I have failed to bring Ethel over to my side of the fence here. She pretends she doesn’t know how much I hate it. And she never smiles back at me.” Disgruntled, he attacked his porridge as if he was proving a point. To Ethel, perhaps. Definitely to Myra.
Myra’s laugh tinkled out from her seamed face, and her eyes danced merrily. “Oh Marty, you know that ever since she didn’t get the chance to get up onstage and kiss Bob Barker that time she made it onto the Price Is Right, she’s never been the same.” Myra tooka dainty bite of the goopy stuff and wiped her chin delicately. “One can almost feel sorry for her, that Bob was a fine specimen of a man, if I do say so myself.”
Marty was silent. Bob Barker? What?
No matter. On with business.
They chatted about irrelevancies for some time, comparing little tidbits of nursing home gossip, such as it was. Details like who just got a new cane, whose hip went out, who’s grandkid just got married.
Finally, there was a lull in the conversation. Marty took a deep breath, screwed up his courage as high as it would go, and blurted out, “Myra. I’ve been thinking. You’re a fine woman, and I’m, well, I’m a man who thinks you’re a fine woman, and nothing in the world would make me happier if you were to spend the rest of your life with me. I mean, as my wife. Not my girlfriend. I mean, the rest of our lives might not be that long, but still, I would like it. I would dearly like it.”
Myra gazed at him, her eyebrows almost up to her hairline.
“Why, Marty,” she said at last, “I am utterly surprised by you! You’re much more the rogue than I would have imagined!” Was she fluttering her eyelashes at him? Surely not.
Marty couldn’t think of anything to say, being as his windpipe seemed blocked by his heart which had climbed right up into his throat.
Myra patted her lips one last time with her napkin, then folded it neatly next to her bowl. She folded her hands in her lap and eyed him intently.
“I don’t know, Marty, I mean, I don’t know if I’m ready for a commitment, you know. I find that I rather enjoy the single life.” She gazed out across the room, her eyes once again sparkling with merriment. She laughed again, but it was not mocking, it was…free sounding. “I mean, no strings, no one to report to, if I want to pinch a bottom or two, well, who’s going to stop me? I find I like having my independence, nowadays.” She returned her gaze to him, and the corners of her mouth turned up in a tiny smile.
Marty searched for words. He scrubbed a hand through his thinning hair in frustration. Independence? At seventy-six? For Pete’s sake.
“Myra, look here. I know you like your flirting and your bottom pinching and your independence and what-have-you, but I love you! Ever since my Gertrude died, I never looked at another woman until I met you. You’re my friend, but you’re also one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. Nothing would make me happier than to see you every morning when we finally ease our way out of bed, or to walk with you in the sunshine along the lake, to visit with our grandkids together. I love you, Myra. Now let’s do away with this non-committal nonsense and get married already. I still have a trick or two up my old sleeve that will make you never think about pinching another man’s bottom again.”
“Other than yours, I suppose?”
“Well, if you must, then I suppose I can allow a moderate amount of bottom pinching.” At Myra’s slow smile, he added, “a moderate amount, mind. I don’t need to have to explain to the orderlies that the bruises on my wrinkled butt are from my overzealous wife.”
“Well I don’t know, Marty, this is all so sudden. What if I’m not ready? I’m still so young, what if I change my mind?”
Marty reached across the table and took up Myra’s hand in his, gently to be sure, but he held it as tightly as he dared. “Myra, think about it if you need to, but don’t take too long. I might love you today, but I can’t promise that some other hot ticket won’t steal me away tomorrow. So consider it at your own risk, my dear.”
With that he pressed a kiss carefully on the back of her hand, tried to look soulfully into her eyes, and eased himself to his feet. He still held Myra’s hand, but her other had risen to rest over her heart.
“My dear, sleep on it. I shall approach you for your answer tomorrow. Don’t disappoint me, my dearest.” He backed away, enjoying the drama of the moment, which was completely spoiled when Myra burst into gales of laughter at his melodramatic exit. Straightening in disgust, he shot her an exasperated look and left with as much dignity as he could muster together.
He woke the next morning in high spirits and shuffled downstairs. To his surprise, Ethel shoved over a bowl of Special K, along with a folded up piece of paper. Fingers shaking, he opened it.
I cannot resist the idea of unlimited bottom pinching for the rest of my life.
Marty’s grin nearly split his face. He couldn’t be sure, but he almost thought that Ethel smiled back. Almost.