short story by Wayne Scheer
Elizabeth had finally accepted widowhood with grace and
humour. She even changed the recording on her answering
machine to say: "As unlikely as it may seem, the widow
Grayson is not home at present."
The last thing she expected, nearing her seventy-sixth
birthday, was the message that greeted her when she returned
home from the grocery store.
"Hello Elizabeth, or should I say Widow Grayson? I love your
message. This is Jack Kearns, a friend of Mary and Bill
Lindsay. We met last week at the art auction. Heaven help
us, but Mary has taken it into her head to fix us up. Well,
to be honest, it wasn't entirely her idea. I asked about you
with, perhaps, too much fervour. Anyway, she's concocting a
plan to invite you for dinner while neglecting to say I
would be there. But I've decided at our age there's no time
for games. Would you like to meet for a cup of coffee? I'll
leave my phone number. If I don't hear from you, I'll try
again tomorrow evening."
Elizabeth shook her head. Good grief, she was being asked
out. When the shock wore off, she played the message again.
This time, she enjoyed Jack's honesty. Like Leonard, her
late husband, he sounded intelligent and honest, a
She put away the few items she had purchased at the grocery
store and recalled meeting Jack at the auction. She was
there to buy a painting by a local artist she admired and
couldn't be bothered with small talk. Still, she remembered
Jack as tall and interesting looking, with longish white
hair and a bushy beard. She thought he looked like a man who
smoked a pipe, although thank goodness he didn't smell of
tobacco. She also recalled that they had exchanged a few
words about art, and he appeared knowledgeable and
For the first time since her husband's death three years
earlier, she found herself thinking of another man. Should
she feel guilty or amused, she wondered.
She considered what the children would think. Barbara would
probably say it's about time. Bryan, more like his father,
would make a joke and shrug it off. The grandchildren's
reactions would undoubtedly be dismay that an old lady might
have a gentleman interested in her.
She wanted to call Janice, her friend since high school, but
Janice's cancer had recently spread to her liver. This was
no time to gossip about a man asking her out.
Waving her hand in the air, she tried putting the idea out
of her mind.
She turned on Vivaldi's Concerto in G Minor, but her mind
wandered to Jack. She recalled how he had focused on her
when they spoke, as if he were truly listening to what she
said. She regretted being so preoccupied with the auction.
What foolishness! After spending more than fifty years with
one man, how could she even entertain such thoughts? She had
finally grown comfortable with her new life. Why would she
want to risk…Risk what? Eating dinner by herself? Dashing
off to the grocery store for a couple of things as an excuse
to get out of the house? Her comfort was little more than
resignation; she knew that. She had never been one to
passively accept what could be changed for the better. Why
was she so accepting now?
It would be wonderful listening to music or enjoying good
food with a thoughtful man. She never felt at ease with
couples like the Lindsays, always imagining herself a third
wheel. And, although she had a few women friends, she
enjoyed the company of men.
She had grown accustomed to being the only woman in the
boardroom as a fundraiser for non-profits. She learned to
enjoy intelligent men and avoid the bores. Most of all, she
could come home and laugh with Leonard about her adventures
in the so-called man's world of corporate finance. Leonard
understood little of what she did, and she understood even
less about cardio-pulmonary research, but they appreciated
each other's intelligence. And they laughed. She tried
recalling the last time she had laughed freely at a clever
remark, instead of forcing a smile at an insipid, poorly
What harm could there be in sharing coffee and conversation
with an interesting man?
She turned towards the telephone, remembering he said he'd
call back tomorrow evening. Would it be forward of her to
call him? Should she at least wait a bit longer? The thought
made her smile. Leonard had always observed that men never
outgrew their adolescent insecurities. Apparently, the same
held true for women.
Pushing herself out of her chair, she played the message
once again, this time copying Jack's number and calling it,
not allowing herself time to think.
The telephone conversation went well. Once she identified
herself, Jack sounded relieved. He said he hated message
machines and feared he had rambled like a dolt. Once they
both admitted their awkwardness, they spoke comfortably.
Jack had been widowed for nearly five years and had suffered
depression, but only recently realized it. He had spent so
much energy assuring his children he was doing fine, he
ignored his own feelings. To his surprise, over cocktails,
he had admitted to Mary and Bill that he wanted to date
again. That's when Mary told him about Elizabeth and
arranged their introduction at the auction.
"You mean it wasn't a chance meeting?"
"There are no coincidences in Mary's world." They laughed.
After a pause, he added,
"Mary describes you as brilliant, witty and kind. A virtual
"The operative word is 'virtual,'" she had assured him.
"I'll have to catch up on my reading of both the Gospels and
Oscar Wilde." She felt proud of her little witticism and
relieved he seemed to get it.
With that, they arranged to meet for lunch the next day,
both admitting they stopped drinking coffee after breakfast
and neither wanted to wake up early enough for a breakfast
After she hung up, Elizabeth tried recalling which of them
had used the word "date."
That evening, memories of her first date with Leonard
haunted her. They were both in college--he a junior,
majoring in Biology, and she a sophomore English major. They
attended a school production of King Lear. She was surprised
a science major knew so much about theatre. Of course, her
own knowledge was limited to an Introduction to Drama course
and a high school performance of Romeo and Juliet, in which
she assisted with the lighting.
Despite her naiveté, he hung on to her every word. Leonard
had a way of listening with his whole self, much like Jack.
When she spoke, he'd lean in towards her, his hand on his
chin. His eyes focused on her, as if she were the only
person in the room. She had known immediately Leonard was
Even after he went on to medical school and she earned an
MBA, they remained friends. When Leonard finally asked her
to marry him, her mother replied, "It's about time."
So how, after a lifetime of living with and loving her best
friend, could she be thinking of another man? The very
thought seemed unreal, bizarre.
She ate her dinner alone, grilled chicken breast with beets
and a salad with a pear vinaigrette dressing she had
prepared yesterday from a new recipe. Too acidic, she
thought. It needed sweetening. Perhaps a touch of raspberry?
She read for a while and watched some television before
deciding to go to bed early. Her mind wandered to the first
time she and Leonard were intimate. She could still feel the
comfort of his arms, the way she relaxed and let go of her
inhibitions. It would be good to rest her head on a man's
chest, to smell the muskiness of a man's smell.
That night she dreamed of Jack. Was it a sex dream?
Certainly not. She couldn't imagine Jack that way. Or
herself. Although the details dissolved with the morning
light, she felt aroused and distraught.
In the shower, she made up her mind to call off the lunch
date. She'd tell him the truth: she wasn't ready. She
imagined him joking, "You're not ready to eat lunch? How
about dinner then?"
She knew how foolish she sounded. How often had she advised
her own children to step out of their comfort zones, to take
chances. When her daughter doubted her ability to succeed in
law school, Elizabeth responded, "How will you know if you
don't try?" Barbara, who recently made full partner at her
firm, had told her numerous times how important those words
were to her.
If only she could follow her own advice.
Now a new fear taunted her as she stepped out of the shower
and considered her reflection in the mirror. Her body looked
like she had stayed in a swimming pool too long. Recalling
how proudly she had presented her young, firm body to
Leonard, she pushed up her sagging breasts and watched them
fall, not bounce. She didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
After drying herself and putting on an old, comfortable
robe, she poured a cup of coffee and finalized her decision.
She would call Jack and cancel plans. No need to torture
herself any longer.
When she reached for the phone, she saw a missed call on the
message machine. She played it.
"Hello, Elizabeth. It's Jack. I hope it's not too early to
call. If you're anything like me, you've had a restless
night. Until a few minutes ago, I had decided to cancel our
plans. I feared I wasn't ready to meet a woman I wanted to
know better. I'm being a perfect fool, I know--I assure you
I'm not usually this indecisive. Would you please call me
when you get a chance and assure me I'm not a total idiot.
Perhaps between us we can strengthen our collective nerve."
Elizabeth smiled and, it seemed for the first time since
yesterday, exhaled. She reached for her reading glasses and
called Jack's number.