The attendees are leaving the church, some clasping my hands as they walk by, some ignoring me. As the last of the people go, I notice someone who looks like Greg. She has his soft mouth. She is walking away, and I follow her just to make sure. Or to watch her for a little while. As she stops in front of a thrift store and turns toward her parked car, I call, “Natalie.”
The woman turns around. She recognizes me; I can tell by the way her jaw immediately tightens. “Could we stop for a little bit of coffee?” I point to a small café across the street. She doesn’t nod, just turns and crosses the street. I can’t say much either, but I stare at her as we sit and order.
I can’t help but want to touch her. Her soft hair stained by silver, her tender young skin. My bony hand reaches unconsciously for hers, to hold it the way I remember, but she crosses her arms and sits back. Her eyes are fixated firmly outside the window. My hands retreat onto the lap of my black dress.
“Ah.” My hands open and close as I grasp for words. “How are Matthew and Henry?”
“They’re fine.” She is staring towards the parking meter across the street, where her sedan is parked. It looks like something I would drive, not Natalie. A dirty old toy dog looks forlornly from the back window of Natalie’s car. The mutt looks kind of familiar; did I see it at a street fair somewhere? I wonder what Natalie is staring at so intensely. The café is located on a quiet street, and the few people walking in the late afternoon sunshine are wearing black like us.
A waitress scrutinizes us as she walks by, and I suddenly notice the silence.
“Don’t put that dog there, you can’t see out the window.” I peek at her. Natalie doesn’t respond. “You shouldn’t drive like that. It’s dangerous. What if you have to look in your rearview mirror? It’s blocking your vision. Why do you have such a thing anyway? It might have lice— want me to buy a new one for the boys?”
“I put it away when I drive. And Matthew’s already in high school and Henry’s in college.”
The nosy waitress returns with our orders. Black coffee for Natalie, sugar-saturated coffee for me. Natalie smiles and calmly thanks the waitress, and I marvel at her dimples. Just a child, just a child. How long has it been? When she picks up the ceramic mug and starts drinking, I can’t imagine how she’s not spilling it like the juice from her favorite green sippy-cup. It had a defect that caused the lid to fall off every time Natalie tried to drink from the top part, but she kept trying. So many dresses were ruined like that…
But when she deliberately sets down the latte, folds her hands on the table, and looks at me, I wonder what I was thinking. Clearly, she is no longer a child. When I was her age… how old is she now? Her eyes press down on me— they are slightly swollen and no longer as bright as I remembered. I had no idea she was so close to Greg. I should have known, I guess. I expected that they would grow closer, but I never realized exactly how close they would become.
“So, what did you want to talk about.”
I’m not sure why I wish she was looking out the window again, instead of at me. My hand involuntarily reaches up to smooth my thinning white hair. Her eyes were always pretty. “I just wanted to see how you were doing… How the boys were… Greg told me about them, you know. Maybe, I could see them sometime?”
Natalie removes her hands from the table, her lips a thin line. “Why do you want to see them? Why all of a sudden?”
“It’s not all of a sudden, honey. I just think they should know their grandma.”
“Don’t you dare call me honey.”
I look down at my hands, speckled with dark spots and distorted by folds of skin. Greg’s last present, my old wedding ring, sits on the ring finger of my left hand. The gold band is slightly smudged, but the one tiny diamond that Greg worked so hard to buy still twinkled. It felt a bit too snug, but not really in a bad way. It was just— I wasn’t used to wearing it. I look up to see her looking at my hand.
“You’re wearing it.”
“Yes, I am.” I hadn’t realized she could see my hands from her vantage point. I’d forgotten how tall she was now. “Your father gave it back to me, you know, a few weeks ago. I hadn’t realized he kept it. And for so many years too.”
“Get back to the point.”
“Natalie, I know I shouldn’t ask for you to forgive me, but please. This past year, spending time with Greg, I can’t remember why I did what I did. I know I was wrong.”
Her oppressive eyes looked outside again.
“Natalie, please. Try to understand.”
“Understand?” She laughed, once. It was nothing like the chirp that I remembered. “Dad used those exact words when he found out what you did to us.”
“Natalie, please, I’m not asking you to forgive me. Just, please.”
“What, then why are you even wasting both of our time here?”
“What? Wanted some company?”
“— wanted to see how you were doing.”
“Fine.” Natalie stood up, and threw ten dollars on the table. “It’s getting late. I’m going.”
She walks out. I quickly throw another ten dollars on the table, and follow her across the street. “Natalie—“
Natalie glares at me as she unlocks her car. “What? I should listen to your selfish request? You just realized that you have no one left and you need someone else to latch onto. Forget it. You should have thought about all this before you walked away.”
She climbs into the backseat and viciously swipes at the toy dog. It flies from its perch, bounces, and lands on its feet on the leather seat, cloudy brown eyes connecting with mine. I remember now— it’s that stuffed toy I bought for Natalie on her third birthday. On closer inspection, its fur is falling out and the patches that were supposed to be white are closer to gray.
“You never even apologized.” Natalie slams the car door.
The little dog looks sadly at me as the car pulls into traffic.
Age 17, Grade 12
Stuyvesant High School