I glanced up from my dessert and saw him. He was sitting at the next table, also alone, also eating French silk pie. Our eyes met. He stood, picked up his plate, and carried it to my table. Sitting down across from me, he asked, “You like French silk pie too?”
“Yes,” I answered, surprised by his boldness.
“You come here often?”
“Yes,” I said.
We stared at each other for a moment. Then, I picked up my fork and started eating again. Being a happily married woman, the last thing I needed was to be distracted by another man. Couldn’t he see the wedding ring on my left hand?
Finally, he extended his hand. “I’m Jack Baker.”
With an inward sigh of resignation, I put down my fork and took his hand. “I’m Jill Tanner.”
“Jack and Jill, how about that? I was transferred here a couple of weeks ago. I work at the Veterans Administration Hospital.”
“My husband was at the VA for a few days after his stroke. We weren’t too impressed with his care. We thought he’d be better off in a nursing home.”
“Yeah, I don’t blame you. Our nursing department has been short-staffed. I’m the volunteer coordinator, and I’m trying to recruit more people to help, but there isn’t much they can do unless they’re certified. It would be nice to get people who could fill patients’ water pitchers and do other tasks that don’t require certification. I already have a woman who’s blind and plays the guitar and sings. Those old guys really like that.”
“Linda was one of the few things we liked about that place. She has such a sweet voice. She knows all those old songs the men like, and she’s so good with them. Fortunately, she also volunteers at Fernwood Manor, so my husband can still listen to her music.”
“How badly has he been effected by the stroke?”
I sighed. “He can’t use his left arm or leg, and his speech is somewhat affected. His mind is still pretty good, but he might have lost some short-term memory. The therapists at the nursing home have been great, but the neurologist says there’s no telling if or when he’ll walk again.”
Jack reached across the table and took my hand. “I’m sorry. How long ago did this happen?”
I dislodged my hand and picked up my fork again. “A few weeks ago,” I answered.
“You look awfully young. How old is your husband?”
“I’m forty-six, and my husband’s sixty-four.”
He stared at me in amazement. “You don’t look a day over twenty.”
“I know,” I said, and I smiled in spite of myself. “but when I’m sixty-six, it’ll be a blessing.”
“There’s quite an age difference between you and your husband.”
“Yeah, when Don’s mother saw a picture of me, she accused him of robbing the cradle.”
He laughed. “How did you two meet?”
“I met him at a writers’ conference. I write romances, and he writes science fiction mysteries. I don’t like mysteries of any kind, and he doesn’t care for romances, but somehow, we hit it off. We both like to write, and that’s what matters.”
He looked thoughtful. “Wait a minute. Your husband is Don Tanner?”
“Yes,” I said.
“I love his stuff! I bought a copy of his latest yesterday and started it last night. He just had a stroke?”
“I’m afraid so. Before it happened, he signed a contract for another book. I talked to his agent, and he said he would see if he could get an extension, but I don’t know…”
As the stress of the past few weeks settled over me, I found myself looking deep into his blue eyes. After a moment of silence, he said, “Maybe I could be his ghost writer.”
“Have you done any writing?”
“I’ve had a few stories and poems published, but with a forty-hour-a-week job, it’s hard to find the time. This could be a big break. I’ve read most of your husband’s books, and I know his style. If I could meet him and get some idea of the direction he wants to go with his next book, I could write it for him.”
“I’m not sure how the ghost writing business works. Besides, Don has always been very independent. I’m not sure he’d like the idea of someone else writing his work, even though he may not be able to write it himself.”
“Are you finished here?” asked the waitress, as she started to remove our plates.
“Yes,” I answered, anxious to end this conversation. “Could you please bring us our checks?”
“Actually, we’re both on one check,” he said.
The waitress hurried away before I could protest. “You don’t have to do this.”
“Yes I do. I’m one of Don Tanner’s biggest fans. I’m not going to let a stroke interfere with his career. I’ve made up my mind. I want to help him.”
The waitress returned, and after she left with his credit card, he said, “Why don’t you come over to my place, and we’ll talk about it some more? We could even go online and do some research on ghost writing.”
I looked at my watch. “It’s late. I really should see Don. He goes to sleep early, and I like to talk to him while he’s awake.”
“I understand, but this is important. If we could work something out tonight, we could both see Don tomorrow, and I could give him a proposal.”
The waitress appeared. As Jack signed the slip, I considered making a run for it, but I happened to glance into his eyes. He looked so sincere. “Okay,” I said with a sigh. “I’ll follow you to your place.”
He lived in a red brick building with four apartments, two upstairs and two on the ground floor. His was on the second floor and had a balcony plus a living room, two bedrooms, and a kitchen. After giving me the grand tour, he asked, “Can I get you a drink?”
“No thanks,” I answered. I wandered into one of the bedrooms which had been converted into an office. The shelves were lined with books, and I was reassured to see some of Don’s titles. I sat in an armchair next to Jack’s computer, hoping he would take the hint when he appeared with his drink.
My heart sank when he said, “It’s more comfortable in the living room.”
“I thought you wanted to research ghost writers.”
“We can do that later,” he said, as he approached me, extended his hand, and pulled me to my feet. “Come on. The night is still young.”
With trepidation, I allowed him to guide me into the living room where we sat side by side on the couch. We talked about this and that, as he drank glass after glass from a bottle of Scotch on a nearby coffee table. I tried several times to steer the conversation in the direction of our project and suggested we get started on the research, but he kept putting me off.
After the third drink, he set the glass down and put his arm around me. I shouldn’t have been surprised, I thought. “Excuse me, but I’m a happily married woman,” I said, trying to pull away.
He tightened his arm around me. ”I find that hard to believe. Your husband is partially paralyzed. He may never be able to walk, let alone write, and he’ll never be able to make love to you like I can.” He pulled me into an embrace.
With my free hand, I slapped him hard on the cheek. Startled, he released me, and I jumped to my feet. “You bastard! My husband may never be able to walk or write or have sex, but I still love him, and he loves me, and that’s all that matters.” I snatched my purse from a nearby chair and hurried through the kitchen and out the back door, slamming it behind me.
My legs were shaking, as I descended the steep wooden staircase to the parking lot. I expected to hear the door open and his running footsteps behind me, but the only sound was the faint chirping of crickets. When I reached the car, I climbed in and locked all doors and windows. I took several deep breaths. When I felt calm, I started the engine and glanced at my watch. It was late, but I had to see Don.
When I reached the nursing home, I was surprised to find the main entrance still unlocked. “Hi Jill, you’re a little late, aren’t you?” said Beverley, Don’s nurse, as I passed the desk.
“Yes, I got held up.”
“I’m sure Don’s still awake. In fact, Bernadette might still be with him, although I doubt it.”
I’d forgotten about Bernadette, Don’s speech therapist, but would she be here this late? Because she worked somewhere else during the day, she came early in the evening to work with Don and other residents. In her mid-twenties with long blonde hair and blue eyes, she was also a fan of Don’s books.
The door to his room was closed. Thinking Bernadette was gone and Don was asleep, I inched it open and stepped into the darkness, stopping short at the sounds of kissing and voices. “Oh Don, even though you only have one good arm and leg, you’re such a lover,” said Bernadette.
“Ummm, you’re so soft, so silky, so delicious, my French silk pie,” said Don in the same seductive voice he’d used with me. “If I could write with the same part of me I use for loving, my troubles would be over.”
“Don’t think about that now. Just love me some more,” said Bernadette, and I heard more kissing. In shock, I cried out and flung the door open wide, flooding the room with light from the hall that illuminated the naked bodies on the bed.
The above story was published in this year’s spring/summer issue of Magnets and Ladders, an online journal featuring work by authors with disabilities. It won an honorable mention in the magazine’s fiction contest. It also appeared last year on Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
How to Build a better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver
We Shall Overcome
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