“I think I’ll wear my blue polo shirt today,” muttered the elderly gentleman. He was going on his several times weekly walk to the park. Ellie might be there. She always said his blue shirt made his eyes sparkle blue. He said his eyes were green, but Ellie said the shirt made them turn blue. She loved blue eyes. He also felt he needed a sweater. It was a little chilly this spring morning, so he pulled on a navy sweater to ward off the cold and set out.
Reggie, the doorman, held the lobby door open for him. “Good morning, Mr. Dawson,” he said as he always did.
“Good morning, Reginald. Lovely Friday for a walk.”
“Sure is, Mr. Dawson.” The kid always had a smile for him. I need to tip him more next Christmas, he thought.
The park was only a block away. It was a lovely oasis in this mammoth city. His apartment building wasn’t the Excelsior or the Dakota, but it was in a nice neighborhood. He crossed the street and shuffled onto his little patch of green. He could have dressed more casually, but today he felt like wearing his charcoal pants and shiny tassel loafers. He wanted to look sharp in case Ellie came along.
He found his usual park bench and settled down. The seat was a little cool to his behind, but soon warmed. He opened the little bag of breadcrumbs he always brought and began tossing little bits out to the pigeons. The birds were so used to him and others feeding them that they had become quite tame. They would sit on your arm or shoulder and let you feed them. He did NOT let the birds get on him. They were filthy, carrying God knows what kinds of germs. And they would poop on you without a moment’s notice.
The sun came out from behind a cloud and he could feel it warming his face. He closed his eyes, leaned his head back and inhaled. A nearby blooming lilac bush covered the automobile smells of the nearby traffic. It was so nice and peaceful. A simple getaway from the hurly-burly of life. He relaxed with the gentle cooing of the pigeons. This is nice, he thought, so nice.
As he soaked in the sun’s warmth, he noticed movement coming from the other side of the park. A lady was coming his way. He would recognize that walk anywhere. It was Ellie. His Ellie.
She approached him strolling sexily. She was wearing a green sundress. It was cool for it, but she didn’t seem to mind. It fit her beautifully. He always thought of her in the summer. She was a summer creature. Beautiful and blonde.
“Good morning, Henry. I’m so glad you came today,” she said by way of greeting.
“It’s a beautiful Friday morning. You knew I’d be out today.”
“Yes, I can always count on you. Do you mind if I sit for a while?”
“Oh, where are my manners? Please, please, have a seat.” She settled on the bench beside him, her hip touching his. She always liked to sit close. He did, too.
They sat in companionable silence, each enjoying the other. After a bit, Ellie tilted her head and rested it on his shoulder. Oh, he loved it when she did that. It made him feel so close to her. It brought back all the memories of their love.
She stroked his arm lying along her left thigh. Snowy white hairs covered his arm. Her skin looked so young in contrast.
“Ellie, you are so beautiful,” he said. “It’s been, what twenty years, and you’re just as beautiful as the day I killed you. You know how much I regretted that, don’t you?”
“Henry, it’s been more like sixty years. You’re starting to slip in your old age. Yes, my skin is still as supple as it was when I was thirty. And no Henry, I don’t blame you. What I did was unpardonable. But I was so angry, and you knew I was always a bit unstable.”
“Yes, my beautiful Ellie was so flighty. One of the many things that made me love you,” he grinned with the memory. Then his face darkened. “But, Ellie. Little Leonora? How could you? She was to be the best parts of both of us.”
“But she wasn’t. She was sickly. She cried all the time. It became so I couldn’t bear it anymore. And then, you and that secretary.”
“Now, Ellie, don’t misremember it. My secretary had nothing to do with it. That was all your imagination.”
“I know that now, but it was so real. I knew you loved her more than me. You would leave me and take Little Leonora away. Even though she cried all the time, I couldn’t lose the only piece of you I had,” Ellie said through sniffles.
Henry kissed her hair. “Well, it’s all in the past now. We had to move on.”
“Some of us,” she said. He could just catch a mischievous tone in her voice. He looked down and saw she was grinning. “I’m glad you got away with it. As much as I would have loved to have you here, I’m glad you had a good life and could come and tell me about it.”
“It was touch and go there for a bit. Good luck it was shoddy police work.”
“I didn’t come near you with that shot. You shot yourself after you took the gun and shot me.”
“You know how hard it is to shoot yourself? You’re trying to pull that trigger knowing it will be the worst pain you’ve ever felt. Only the grief I felt for Leonora and you was worse. I never thought I’d get over it. If you hadn’t been able to meet me in the park, I would have gone crazy.”
“I was the crazy one, remember? The ‘crazy heiress who killed her baby, tried to kill her husband and then shot herself’. A murder-suicide gone bad.”
“And thanks for the money. It has helped the business.”
“Oh, Henry. Let the business go. Stay here with me. It’s beautiful here. There’s a little Argentine bistro across the park. They have a band that plays tangos at night. Remember how we used to tango? Stay with me and we can tango again.”
“Ellie, you know I can’t stay. I have too many people counting on me. Maybe someday I can put it down, but not now. I’d feel so irresponsible.”
“Am I that unimportant to you now? Have you forgotten me totally?”
“No, Ellie. You’re the love of my life, the center of everything. But how could you respect me if I just chucked everything? That’s not who you or I are.”
“I know. It’s just that I miss you when you’re gone.”
“And I miss you. I miss you so much. Without you here in the park, I might have picked up that revolver long ago and finished what you started.”
“Do you still have it? Oh, do it, Henry. Do it.”
“No, Ellie. The police took it. And I’m getting old. We’ll be together soon enough.”
“I hope so, Henry. I do so miss you.” She laid her head back on his shoulder and sighed.
“And I you, my love.” He patted her hand.
Reggie Harris, in his sparkling white orderly uniform, stood looking out the window into the courtyard. A light snow was beginning to fall. It wasn’t sticking yet but would soon cover the dismal little patch of weeds with the bench in the center.
“Shouldn’t you go get your vegetable?” Orderly Denny Haskell asked, with a smirk.
“Don’t call him that. I like Mr. Dawson.”
“He’s a nutcase. Look at him. Sitting there in the snow wearing his pajamas and a ratty old bathrobe. He’ll probably catch pneumonia out there,” Denny said.
“He doesn’t know it’s snowing. Where he’s gone, it’s beautiful and warm and there are people who love him. He always comes back saying, ‘It was a beautiful day in the park. Ellie wore her sundress.’ Doc wants to force him back to reality. I say let him stay there. He’s happier there. All that’s left for him here is sitting in this dingy dayroom waiting to die. He’s over 90. He’ll die soon, anyway. Let him be happy.”
As they were talking the old man got up from the bench and shuffled into the dayroom of St. Anthony’s Hospital.
“Good day, again Reginald. It was a lovely day in the park. I saw Ellie today. She wore her sundress. Yes, she looks beautiful in that dress. Carry on.” And he walked off to his room.
Curtis A. Bass (Curtisstories.blog) is a writer of short stories in a variety of genres from the American South. He has been published in several online and print journals. When not writing he prefers to stay active ballroom dancing or downhill skiing. He is currently working on his second novel.
This story originally appeared in October 2019 in Ariel Chart Review.