She moved slightly, seeing not the empty room and the mess of papers spread out but the hard white light of a desert afternoon outside the dim hotel room. The bulk of him against the white doorway writing to his sister in the gloom; her yellow coat folded neatly over the plain wooden chair, spectator pumps primly together on the floor beside him at the table. Just another late afternoon on the road with him, the motels and meals in diners and reading in back seat in the shade of a cottonwood grove outside the plants while he was inside selling hose clamps and thermostats and voltage regulators.
For a moment her body didn’t feel the aches and indignities of eighty years. For a moment her legs remembered the good long muscular stretch after that hard day’s ride, her scalp the feeling of sun-hot silk over clean hair, the rough caress of the back of his hand across her neck that could still then – ten years after that first USO dance – make her belly tighten and her shoulders loosen. Just for a moment, sitting dry-eyed in silence, in her sensible grandma dress, she could feel the way he made her feel when he looked at her slantendicular with those hard mechanic’s hands on the steering wheel in the hot, bright afternoon.
And in that moment she missed him so hard that it crushed her chest, binding on her heart like a hose clamp binding a cracked radiator hose.
“Mom?” came Jeanelle’s voice from the front of the house. “We can’t wait any longer if we don’t want to be late for the service!”
Fifty years since they had last surprised each other, for good or ill. Fifty years leaving in the morning with a hard kiss and a cheerful admonition not to run off with the mailman. Only the last surprise of waking without him beside her, of the empty spaces around her, of the hard, hot pain within her.
“Coming…” she answered. She stood up and placed the paper back in the shoebox carefully.
“Goodbye, Bud” she said, and turned out the light.
(I wrote this six years ago in response to a friend's creation of a piece of art she called a "story box". Here's how I introduced it then: "This little story box is handcrafted by a gal in Texas who's got a whole pantsload of creativity. She calls this one "Bud and Annette, in her yellow coat". The other day she posted this picture on her blog and asked for submissions for a "back story" for the story box."
I liked what I wrote back then, I still like it, and I didn't want it to disappear in the netherlands of Blogger. So, for what it's worth, I'm reposting it. Enjoy. Or not; at the risk of seeming churlish, it's my blog and I'll write if I want to)
If you enjoyed the story you might enjoy the inspiration, as well. Here's the original "story box":