“He always knew what to say.”
Bobbi’s eyes broke away from mine, glancing down bashfully. She had beautiful eyes – what color were they anyways? Blue? Cornflower blue? She traced the edges of the table between us with a fingertip, cheeks flushing slightly as she fell into the memory.
“He’d come home, and it would be late. He worked such long hours, you know. We both did. It was before the babies came, but we still had trouble making ends meet. We both worked so hard. I’d be in the middle of making dinner – and I’d have all the burners going at once, trying to time it so it all finished cooking at the same time. It was so hard getting the timing just right.”
She raised her eyes to mine again – such a startling intensity for a woman well past 80. I wondered briefly what they must have looked like when she was in her twenties – Liz Taylor probably had nothing on Bobbi. She was looking at me, but I could tell she wasn’t seeing me. She was back in her kitchen – steam rising from pots boiling over, damp summer heat curling the hairs around her face.
“I wouldn’t hear him come in, sometimes. He was tall, but he moved so quiet. Always did. He’d come up behind me, and I would feel his arms slide around my waist, and I would drop the spoon. Always the spoon,” she laughed, as her hand rose up of its own accord to tuck flyaway hair behind her ear – hair that framed her face only in memory. “Every time, that damn spoon.” She laughed again, her eyes crinkling at the corners. ” ‘Why do you have to sneak in and scare me?’ I’d say. ‘I’m sick of having to rewash that spoon.’ It’d make me so mad.”
She looked anything but mad.
“You scared me,” I’d say, and I’d turn around to smack him… but he’d draw me into his arms.
‘Dance with me’, he’d say. I’d tell him to let me go. The spoon was on the floor. The pots were boiling over.
‘Dance with me,’ he’d say again.
“I wouldn’t want to. Who had time for dancing? I’d spent all that time, trying to get dinner going, so it would all be done at the same time. I couldn’t just let it burn, and if I turned the burners off, the pasta would be ruined. It’s not like we had lots of food in the house. The sauce needed to be stirred, and I still had to rinse off the spoon…. but he wouldn’t listen. He’d reach around behind me, and he’d turn off the burners, one by one.”
She raised her eyes, glancing up with a shy passion into the the eyes of a face that was no longer there. “And then he’d stretch his arm up to the shelf above the stove, and he’d twist the knob on the radio, slowly, and the music would get loud. ‘Dance with me,’ he’d say again.
“And he’d pull me into his arms, and I’d protest – but not for very long. The dinner would be ruined, but it didn’t matter. We would dance. The pasta would get cold, and the biscuits would be dry, but he’d hold me in his arms and we’d just lose ourselves in the music.” Her eyes snapped back to me, and she gave me a surprisingly girlish grin. “Of course, sometimes we wouldn’t even make it back to dinner.” The twinkle in her eyes let me know that she hadn’t been very upset about that, either.
“How long were you married?”
“Forty years. He’s been gone for more than twenty years now. Twenty years….” She shook her head, eyes darkening. “I should have danced with him more. The dinners didn’t matter. I should have danced with him more. For such a tall man, he moved so quiet.”
She looked away from me then, glancing around at the beige walls of the upscale retirement home. It was clean, it smelled of vanilla air freshener and the art in the sitting room was tasteful, but something about the lonely way she’d rolled right over to me, the moment I sat down, let me know that it wasn’t enough. I was waiting for someone to lead me back to visit my great-aunt, but after Bobbi’s eyes met mine, it didn’t seem right to just leave her. Alone.
“Twenty years,” she repeated, as she rubbed her hands on the worn armrests of her wheelchair. She stared wordlessly for a few moments at the fragile, wrinkled skin of her hands. “If I’d known I would have to be without him for so long…. I shouldn’t have said no, not as often as I did. Who cared if dinner was cold? ‘Dance with me,’ he’d say, and he’d spin me in the kitchen until the song was done, even it ruined his dinner. He never minded. So why did I?”
And then she was gone, looking off into the distance, lost in the memory of ruined dinners and the kind of love that lasts.