“The Ways of Each Other”
A Short Story
He stood on the downtown street corner – a cold, winter evening – bouncing a bit on his feet, trying to fight the chill, patiently waiting for his concert escort to arrive.
He was a soft-spoken gentleman of advancing years. She had teased him that he had mistakenly arrived at the conclusion that the one remaining duty left for him was to remain something he had always been – a gentleman.
He was finding it increasingly difficult to be the polished man he had trained himself to be all his life. Bad manners and self-centeredness, things he detested, had become the norm. People consumed with awareness of themselves only, neglecting others – spending hours out of each day contemplating their singular universe floating inside their minds. A waste, he thought. He often wanted to say things, but had concluded that no one listened to the elderly anymore.
He didn’t mind her teasing. Her sarcastic wit and irreverent sense of humor always made him laugh, even with 1700 miles distance between them.
She had insisted – no email, no texting – only letters written in long hand could be exchanged between them, along with a monthly phone call. Upon receiving his last letter, she booked a flight, hotel room and called him to let him know she had arrived.
More than anything – he loved attending the symphony – alone. He found that going with a relative, a friend – even a loved one could be a distraction. Their mannerisms, their little idiosyncrasies, even their breathing could be a distraction at the most inopportune times of a performance.
He was anxious yet somewhat irritated with himself that he agreed to meet her tonight. But she had insisted in such a way that he had to agree – she flew 1700 miles to see him. There was no negotiation.
For a few seconds, he hoped she might have decided at the last moment to be a no-show. He wouldn’t have been too disappointed, he kept trying to convince himself, if she had decided not to come and he could turn briskly and walk toward the theater, knowing he would have a glorious experience of symphonic ecstasy by himself and not have to burden her.
But then he saw her walking toward him. She was simply beautiful.
“Tragic,” he whispered to himself.
She was ten years his junior – a young 55 years, he thought, smiling, as she walked toward him with the walk only a seasoned model could sustain. Features that were long and elegant – neck, legs, fingers – he was annoyingly captivated just as he had been the first time he met her.
She gave him a friendly kiss on the cheek. She smelled heavenly – the scent of a woman.
She took his arm as old friends would instinctively do. No words were initially spoken, just sad smiles underneath silk scarves to brace the winter evening’s chill.
“I’m sorry it has come to this, ” she said quietly.
“It’s perfectly fine,” he answered, “I would have it no other way. I’m just concerned that this is too much for you…”
She let out a polite “sssh”. “I too would have it no other way,” she said.
They made their way to their seats. He helped her out of her wool overcoat that gave way to an elegant black dress, simple pearl necklace with matching earrings. A touch of red fingernail polish and black silk stockings giving way to tasteful black sling-back pumps. Elegant and feminine. She knew the things he would remember.
They had been friends for twenty five years. She was married – holding up a spouse for reasons she didn’t want to admit, of a man who provided a good life, but whose attention was always elsewhere. He was a widower for some five years now. They had not seen each other during any of those twenty five years. They were friends only all these years – though as they laid their heads down each night alone, could only wonder of what might have been between them had their distance not been so great.
But on this, a night out to enjoy the music he had loved his entire life – they were there to share their friendship and the elegance of each other.
“I wonder,” she began, pretending to read the performance program, “if we had met earlier in life…I wonder…”
“You would have never been able to put up with my silliness, my stupidity, my mistakes, my disdain for almost everything that doesn’t meet my strange version of paradise on earth,” he said with a smile.
She remembered the conversations he endured listening to her perceived failures. The deaths of her parents and her sisters, leaving her feeling scared and alone; her countless mis-judgements of her talents and abilities, along with his joyous outbursts of her many successes – he listened to it all with a patient heart. She, in turn, never judged his mistakes too harshly, never laughed at his nuttiness too irrelevantly, and always gently pushed him to continue to be the gentleman he was.
They held hands through the entire performance. He didn’t mind her breathing, her shifting of one leg over the other or the evidence of a tear. He didn’t mind at all.
The death knell of pancreatic cancer had been given to him. They both knew they would talk a few more times but tonight’s outing was their first and last visual of each other since they met twenty five years ago. Their final touch.
The concert ended. They both took one last look at each other on the same corner they had met a few hours previously, promising, somehow, to look out for each other.
He was a gentleman to the end, insisting he walk her back to her hotel. She gave him a kiss, held his hand tightly and gently shook her head as she leaned closer to him, holding him as she had held no other.
I shall be gone soon, he thought, and one of my most cherished memories will be of a love I have never known…but always knew.
Tonight’s musical offering:
Rachmaninov ~ Piano Concerto No. 2 ~ 2nd Movement
Evgeny Kissin and the London Symphony Orchestra