I was driving through the neighborhood and decided to stop by. I hadn’t seen Elliot since his wife passed away a few months before. He didn’t need me to check on him; his daughter lived across town and visited once or twice a week. I wanted to see how he was coping.

When I rang the bell the familiar clatter of the dog’s nails on the entry tile greeted me. Sammy bounced joyfully, tail wagging, tongue hanging out. He had not forgotten me and our play sessions in the back yard.  Elliot’s usual “hello, hello” felt full of surprise at seeing me.  Did I hear a less jovial tone in his standard opening? We exchanged pleasantries and moved on into the family room, his tall gaunt frame shuffling before me. I sat in her chair, the new recliner he had purchased for her so she could sleep there if need be. The fancy chair also could rise and help the sitter stand more easily, although she preferred that Elliot or I pull her up.  Gone were the blue and white moisture pads draped over chairs or on the floor. Gone was the expensive reclining wheelchair as well as the standard wheelchair we had used to move her from her chair to her bed.

Elliot eased himself into his recliner, set it in motion to a comfortable position and rested his hand on the dog’s head. Sammy sat patiently beside his master while we chatted. I asked about his health. He said it was the same, but I could see it wasn’t. He said he had tried walking the dog himself a few times, now that he was not tied to the house. Just around the block. That’s all his tired lungs could manage.

We talked a little about the family.  Their boys had arrived from out of state for the service and even the granddaughters from Alaska and Idaho had attended. Elliot had been surrounded by his family, for a time.

“No one wanted anything, though,” he said, waving his hand toward the rest of the house, full of the cute collectibles and knick-knacks she had gathered during her life and that were such a bother to dust. “Bobby took the bedroom set. Come and see.”

I followed him as he moved slowly down the hall and peeked in the room they had shared. Her hospital bed was gone. Only one single bed, a table and the TV remained.  When I had last seen it, the large master bedroom had been cluttered with oversized furniture, cases of wipes, moisture pads and paper goods. The king sized bed, the tall chest and wide dresser with its matching mirror were gone. Of the cases, only a box of toilet tissue remained. The bulky oak armoire stood forlornly in a corner.  The closet still held her clothes, those that had fallen off her thin body as she steadily lost weight, the dresses she could no longer go dancing in.

Once she commented that she was not dressed for dancing, and observed, “Neither are you.”  I assured her that was OK. Dancing was Friday and today was Wednesday.

“What will you do now?” I asked.

“I guess I will stay here as long as I can.  Bill invited me to live with them in Indiana, but he has his own children and grandchildren to visit. Besides, this is home. I grew up nearby.” Elliot paused as we moved back towards the seats in the family room, passing the more formal living room only the dog used now.

“Elena’s husband does not want me to move in there. They have young grandchildren visiting sometimes.”

Another pause as he eased himself into his recliner. “And she’s here,” pointing his head towards the cemetery. I remembered when Bill came to visit, and he and Elliot had gone to secure the plots. When they returned, she had asked about the location, the view, the atmosphere. Was it pretty? Was it quiet?

“Have you been there recently?” I knew with his macular degeneration he did not drive. “Would you like to go up this afternoon?”

He nodded. “Yes, that would be nice.” 

We took the dog, and I walked him up and down the rows while Elliot spent time with his wife. It was a peaceful, quiet spot on a spring afternoon. The rhododendrons in the borders were in full bloom, swaying in the breeze. She would have liked it.

“I miss her,” he said.

“Of course,” I sympathized.  They had been married over sixty years.

We stopped at the stuffed post office box on the way back to the house. I spent another half hour helping him sort out junk mail and bills, and watched him laboriously write checks with his magnifier, bright light and black marker. As I had occasionally done before, I agreed to take his prepared bills back to the post office on my way home.

“Would you like me to fix you something to eat?” I offered.

“No thanks. I have plenty. There are a few Meals-On-Wheels packages there and a casserole Elena made last week. I’ll be fine.”

There wasn’t anything else to say. I gave Sammy a biscuit from the jar and said my goodbyes.  I left the old man sitting in his recliner in an empty house, staring at a TV he could hardly see, his large bony hand resting on Sammy’s head.

It was several months later when I was again in the neighborhood. My passenger and I were searching for yard sales as a pastime. She usually found something she wanted for a corner in her home.

“Stop!” she squealed at the first sight of the estate sale sign. There were so many cars lined up to look for “deals”, we found a parking spot almost a block away. As we walked up the path I realized the sale was at Elliot’s house.

Estate sale:  All the cabinets emptied and dishes piled on the counter and table. The linen closet emptied, sheets and blankets spread on tables in the empty bedroom. Collectibles neatly organized, laid out on tables and priced – some quite reasonably.  I looked for signs of Elliot’s presence. Of course neither he nor Elena would be at the house while the estate sale people were doing their job.  But I saw no dog dishes, jar of biscuits or bin of kibble. No desk or elliptical in his office. Only her recliner in the family room.  

My friend arrived at my side clutching her treasures. She paid and we left. Walking away I noticed the “For Sale” sign being planted in Elliot’s yard.



Gretchen Keefer

Gretchen Keefer has always played with words and scenes. Now, after teaching English to adult speakers of other languages for a long time, she writes short fiction for fun. Her work has appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul – The Miracles of Christmas (October 2022), Rain Magazine, Voices from the Millpond, Vols 1 & 2, Seeds of …. An Anthology of Northwestern Writers, CommuterLit.com, and www.academyoftheheartandmind@wordpress.com.


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