The shrill sound of the tea kettle shattered Max's reverie. He was remembering when he and Rosie met thirty-eight years ago. Sighing deeply, he looked down at the yellow mug and remembered the vision of the two of them rowing down the Charles River that May morning, the night after their first date, the first of many, before shocking everyone they knew by getting married one April weekend while still in their senior year of college. He had been attending Harvard and she was at Radcliffe, a few years after the two colleges had begun sharing courses.
He often remembered Rosie walking in on the first day of their Chaucer course. She had stood at the doorway and looked around the crowded room for a seat. He was immediately captivated by her pretty, oval-shaped face, high cheekbones and the serious intensity in her eyes as she scanned the crowded room, then the delighted, almost childlike smile when she saw the empty chair next to him.
She asked if he minded her sitting there, and he turned and looked around the room. "Well, there aren't any other seats in the room, so I guess it's okay."
He could still see her that day with her thick, bushy, brown hair and horn-rimmed glasses, an appearance so unlike most of the other women with their long straight hair, tailored clothes, aristocratic air, who looked as if they had just stepped out of an advertisement in Seventeen or Glamour. She wore a long flowery skirt that came below her knees and a baggy green turtleneck sweater, several rows of a beaded necklace and sandals. She looked, more bohemian than Ivy. When she sat down next to him, his heart leaped in a way that surprised him, having no idea at the time where that moment would lead.
Max poured the water into Rosie's yellow mug, then glanced over at her as she sat at the kitchen table, staring out the window, her chin resting on her hand. What is she thinking about? What is she trying to remember?
Dipping the Earl Grey teabag into the mug, he watched the water turn bronze-colored, knowing how strong she liked her tea and how long the bag had to steep before it was just right. Stirring in a little honey, he heard the little ping of the toaster-oven and noticed the orange light go out, then reached for the rye toast Rosie loved. He placed it on the plate with the blue lily enameled in the center. He made sure he served the rye toast on the same plate every time because of the way it made her smile.
She always said, "Ah, my favorite dish." He liked it when she remembered little things like that. He had brought out the raspberry jam and now he spread it on the toast. This was their four o'clock ritual—tea and rye toast with raspberry jam.
They would sit at their round oak kitchen table and watch the blue jays, yellow-headed finches and occasionally, doves, come to the feeder. He loved the way the birds made her smile as they watched quietly. "Oh, look," she'd say, "what's the name of that bird?"
Max could see by her squinting eyes she was straining to remember, trying to form the words, but they wouldn't come through her pursed lips.
"That's a dove."
"Dove, yes, that's it, a dove."
Her eyes widened as she nodded. A small smile formed on her lips then became a laugh. Her smile still warmed his heart and her eyes still had that twinkle.
"Drink your tea before it gets too cold, dear," he said, straightening the shawl on her shoulder.
"Oh, yes, the tea, thank you."
She looked down at her mug then smiled at Max. "You take such good care of me," she said, reaching for his hand, which he took and gently kissed her fingers. They looked at each other and smiled. She picked up a piece of toast and took a bite, leaving a speck of raspberry jam on her lower lip. Max took a paper napkin from the holder on the table and reached over to wipe the speck away.
"Oh, thank you, dear," she said. "This jam is so delicious. What kind is it?"
"Raspberry, it's your favorite."
"Raspberry, yes, raspberry, my favorite."
Max looked at his wife as she took another bite of toast. She seemed so fragile in the late afternoon sunlight, but he loved how the sun made her hair look silver, and how it felt as if his heart was melting when he saw how beautiful she looked sipping her tea.
He thought back to the first time they went for coffee after the Chaucer class. It was a month or so into the course before Max had the nerve and opportunity to ask her because ordinarily, as soon as the lecture was over, Rosie closed her notebook, picked up the heavy Complete Chaucer textbook, and rushed out of the class, usually nodding goodbye to him.
Finally, he had the nerve to ask her if she'd like to have a cup of coffee with him and so, sitting over coffee at the Coffee Nook Cafe, they had their first conversation.
Max learned she was from Philadelphia, was top in her class at Girls' High and had won a full scholarship. This was the only way she could have ever attended Radcliffe since her father was a tailor for a dress manufacturer, her mother a part-time librarian. She loved acting and had performed in a number of plays in college and was part of The Abbey Players, an amateur theater company. Max was dazzled by the way she suddenly started reciting the lines of the nurse in Romeo and Juliet, how she became transformed before his eyes as she became the character.
Their conversation flowed from topic to topic, an endless number of stories from their lives, their thoughts on everything. She made him laugh by mimicking different people when she told stories, and he marveled at how animated, alive and funny she was. After sitting there for three and half hours, he was more certain then ever that what he'd sensed when he first saw her walk into the class and sit next to him, was correct. Rosie was an amazing person and he was completely captivated by her.
"Oh, aren't those flowers beautiful?" she asked, looking out the window at the daffodils and tulips she'd planted over the years. "What kind are they? It's on the tip of my tongue," she added, moving forward so she could see the whole row of them by the fence.
"The yellow ones are daffodils and the red and white ones are tulips," Max told her.
"Oh, yes, daffodils," she repeated. "What day is it?" she asked picking up her cup and taking a sip.
"It's Thursday," Max answered, seeing her nod. "Leah called earlier to see how you were."
"Leah? Who's Leah? That name sounds familiar."
"She's our daughter," Max answered, suddenly remembering the time they had been in an elevator, going to see Santa Claus, and a large black man stepped in and Leah, who was three, said, "Mommy, I don't like black people," and Rosie said, "Well, you picked a hell of a time to tell me," which made the black man laugh.
Max was always amazed by how quick Rosie's mind was, how she made their friends laugh when they came over for dinner. Rosie was the funniest and most intelligent person he had ever known and seeing her brilliant mind withering into the fog of Alzheimer's right before his eyes was unbearable.
When Rosie finished her toast, she took a sip of her tea and looked at Max. "That was good." She sighed and reached over and took his hand, "You're a nice man."
"Thank you, dear, you're a wonderful woman," Max said, putting his hand on hers, taking it and giving it a little squeeze. "You've made me very happy."
"I have?" She looked at him as if trying to understand what he said. "Well, that's nice of you to say," she added. "I like how you look at me. You seem like such a kind man."
Max nodded, smiled and moved her hand to his lips again, kissed her fingers then sighed, looking at her. He picked up her dish with its piece of crust left and her yellow mug. He took them to the sink, looked out the window at the flowers and the bird feeder, then glanced back at Rosie, noticing her eyes narrowing as she looked around the kitchen, concentrating, studying it as if she was in a museum looking at a painting.
Max reflected on how she loved to cook, remembered her delicious carrot cake, the stuffed mushrooms she made as appetizers when they had guests over and thought about how she hadn't cooked for the last two years. Seeing the look on her face broke his heart, something that happened almost every day, and he wondered what would become of her as she faded further and further away from him and their life together.
Max often remembered how passionate their dating became. They had been together every day, studying together, taking walks, picnics, rowing on the river, making love every chance they had. He remembered how they surprised their parents when they announced they had just gotten married in the rabbi's office in the middle of the semester. The rabbi was reluctant, but then said, "Oh well," after seeing how determined they were. They had a weekend honeymoon at The Light House Bed and Breakfast on Cape Cod. The professor, Dr. Lewellyn, took roll when they returned to class on Monday, cleared his throat when he came to her new name and everyone in the room applauded their reckless abandon.
Finally, after the initial shock and disapproval, their parents met each other and held a celebration, inviting relatives and friends to a big party, the summer after Max and Rosie graduated. Max and Rosie were glad they hadn't had a big expensive wedding. Max was twenty-two and Rosie was twenty and they had no idea what they were going to do to support themselves.
For a while they worked as waiter and waitress at a small café, glad they could work together, but eventually, they went on to graduate school and lived in a tiny fourth-floor apartment, surviving on the small teaching fellowships they were awarded. Rosie got her Master's degree in Theater, Max in English, and she taught drama at the local high school until Leah was born, while Max taught literature and creative writing at the Montgomery County Community College.
Four years ago, the symptoms of Rosie's illness became apparent. Max had wondered why she'd taped labels to all the drawers in the kitchen with the words silverware and on the cabinet doors, the words dishes, cups, glasses. This baffled him because all she had to do was look inside and she would know what was there.
Then one day she called him on the phone and asked if he would come pick her up at the market. When he asked why she just didn't drive her car home, she said she was tired and didn't feel like driving. The next day, he drove her back to the market for her car and she followed him home. Soon, she stopped driving altogether and asked Max to drive her places and it became clear, she couldn't remember how to get to where she wanted to go.
When they went to see Dr. Goldstein, their family doctor, to determine what was going on, Max could see she was trying to hide her failing memory using her sense of humor.
"What's the name of the President?" Dr. Goldstein asked.
Rosie looked at Max and then answered, "Obama. President Obama." This was two days after he had been elected and they watched the celebration on television. Max and Rosie had talked about it during the drive to the doctor's office, but when he asked her what day it was, she said, "What difference does it make?" Her deterioration was slow but the forgetfulness became more consistent until Max had to teach part-time at the college. The day she was found in the backyard of a house on the next block, trying to open the door, thinking it was her home, it became clear she could no longer be left alone. Max couldn't afford to stop working completely or he would lose the full amount of his social security and they needed the health insurance the college provided. Still, he was in debt for the medicines they'd tried in an attempt to slow down the disease, realizing eventually, nothing would change the inevitable.
"Let's go for a walk," Max said, coming over to the table. "Let's go to the park and feed the ducks."
"Oh yes, the ducks, we haven't fed them, have we?" she said, seeming to vaguely remember that they often took a walk before dinner.
Max tore up some pieces of bread and placed them in a small paper bag. Rosie was still wearing her shawl and Max was wearing the blue wool sweater she had knitted for him ten years earlier. It was his favorite sweater.
"That sweater looks nice on you," she said, admiring it.
"You made this sweater for me over ten years ago."
"I did? Well, I like how it looks on you. You look so handsome."
Max laughed because she always told him how nice he looked in the sweater.
At the park, they sat on the bench where they sat every afternoon and threw pieces of bread to the ducks, watching them swim and swallow each offering. They laughed at the strange quacking sounds when the the ducks flapped their wings, then swam under water and then popped up.
"I like it here," Rosie said.
"I do too," Max said, wondering how long it would be before even feeding the ducks would be impossible.
At first, Leah came and took care of her mother on Tuesdays and Thursdays while Max taught his classes, but then she went from part-time to full-time at the mental health clinic she worked at, so it became essential to get outside help. Leah had called several agencies and was turned off by their questions and attitude and knew her father would be turned off too. She asked her colleagues if they knew anyone, then one day the director told her that his neighbor's sister was a nurse and had just arrived in town and was looking for work.
Leah met Robin at the food co-op for coffee and was not only impressed with the woman's credentials and experience, but liked her exuberance and sense of humor. She learned that they were both thirty-four. Robin had grown up on a farm in central Pennsylvania called Rainbow's End, had been home-schooled, or rather unschooled, as she described it, and was accepted by the University of Pennsylvania Nursing School. After graduating, Robin worked at Mercy Hospital in Trenton, New Jersey but had just moved in with her sister after breaking up with the man she had been living with for two years.
Leah enjoyed their conversation and thought Robin would bring some refreshing liveliness to the house and would be someone her father would enjoy talking to now that her mother was not able to have conversations of any substance. Robin was living at her sister's house while looking for a place of her own, but Leah suddenly got the idea to rent her old room to Robin in exchange for her taking care of her mother and helping take care of the house. In addition to the room, she would get seventy-five dollars a week for personal expenses. Having Robin living at the house was a win-win situation because it would be less expensive for everyone and her father wasn't the housekeeper her mother had been when she was well.
Max was resistant at first. He liked his privacy and didn't like the idea of someone else living in the house, but when he met Robin, he liked the way she looked at him with her blue eyes and her firm handshake. He noticed how she looked around the kitchen and seemed to be taking in everything at a glance. He loved how warmly she greeted Rosie as soon as she saw her, how she took her hand and gently rubbed her shoulder and how Rosie looked at her and smiled. He liked Robin's gentle manner, how healthy and radiant she seemed and he consented to the arrangement for a trial period.
Robin understood Max's reluctance and assured him she would respect his privacy, that she loved to read and was also a painter and would set up a studio in the bedroom if that was acceptable.
"Dad, this will be good for you, you'll see," Leah said before leaving that afternoon.
"My art supplies are being shipped and should be here in a few days," Robin told Max after putting her things in the bedroom. She immediately went back into the kitchen and sat down next to Rosie who was staring out the window. Max watched Robin, admiring the way her light brown hair came just below her shoulders, but he also noticed her slender body, how her breasts strained her green T-shirt and how her snug black yoga pants clung to her round ass, causing him to swallow and stare, before looking away. Those pants are so tight.
He looked up at the clock and saw it was almost four. "I was just going to make some tea. Rosie loves tea and rye toast with raspberry jam...would you like some?"
"That would be lovely," Robin said, glancing up at Max.
"It's our ritual."
"That's important, having rituals like that."
"She has a favorite dish." He held it up. "She likes the blue lily."
"Good. That's sweet of you to make her toast and serve it on the dish she likes."
"She used to know who I was when I served it but she's more confused now. I'm not sure if she really knows me."
"She's aware of something, I'm sure. It's hard to know what's she's thinking or remembering."
Max filled the kettle with water and got three mugs down. He opened the red breadbox next to the toaster-oven and took out several slices of rye bread.
"I'll just have tea. Just make the toast for her," Robin said. "By the way, I love to cook. I could make both of you a nice dinner tonight, if you would like."
"Really?" Max said, placing the rye bread in the toaster. "That would be nice. I'm not sure what we have. Rosie doesn't have much of an appetite and I usually open a can of soup or make a cheese sandwich."
"Well, she has to eat and so do you. Does she take supplements, you know, vitamins?"
"Yes, and she loves oranges. I always have oranges."
After pouring the tea and bringing Rosie the toast with raspberry jam and placing Robin's mug in front of her, he sat down next to Rosie.
"Robin's going to be living here and taking care of you," Max said, touching his wife's hand.
Rosie looked at Robin then at Max. "That's nice. Why is she here?"
"To take care of you and help around the house."
"Oh, that will be nice."
Robin made a tuna casserole for dinner and they ate together, then just before she took Rosie to her bedroom to get her ready for bed, she said to Max, "Now don't you do the dishes, just relax."
Max sat in the living room in his recliner reading the New Yorker, but was aware of Robin washing the dishes and humming while she put things away. She has a nice voice...this is strange having such a young woman living here. She's nice...pretty, seems like a good nurse. Maybe this will work out.
When she came into the living room, she sat down on the couch across from him. She was still wearing the same outfit, but took off her sandals and tucked her feet under her and looked around the room, then at Max.
"This must be so hard for you."
Max looked up and nodded. "She's really fading. She used to be so lively and funny. The funniest person I know. We used to listen to Jeopardy after dinner and she would have made a bundle if she had gone on that show...she was so quick. It's really hard to see her like this."
"I can imagine. I know I took care of one man who had dementia and it was hard for his wife, but she got really impatient with him, like she was angry at him for losing his mind. She was sarcastic and said mean things that he must have heard."
"Really." Max shook his head. "That's terrible."
"They didn't have a good marriage. Nothing like what you and Rosie have. Her name was Althea. She would turn on the TV in the morning and he sat there most of the day while she went around doing stuff. She went out a lot when I was there."
"I thought you worked at a hospital."
"I did but I got laid off when the hospital had to cut back and I got a job with this agency. I didn't live-in, but I came in the morning and left after dinner. It was sad seeing him fade away and she seemed relieved when he finally died. She didn't even cry when she saw me give the last shot of morphine then take away the oxygen."
Max listened, becoming more curious about Robin."Leah told me you grew up on a farm and never went to school before getting accepted to nursing school."
"Right, I was lucky to grow up at Rainbow's End. My sister Lark and I never went to school and my parents just let us play and learn what we wanted to. We had a lot of books in the house and we took care of the goats and chickens and helped in the big garden we shared with the other families who lived there. None of the kids on the farm attended school, but our friend, Tollie, got accepted to Harvard."
"Really, that's interesting. Both Rosie and I were pushed to do well in school by our parents so that we would get scholarships, and we both got into prestigious colleges and we made sure Leah kept up with her studies. She graduated near the top of her class."
"I tried ninth grade in the local school for two months, but it was the biggest waste of time. It was all memorizing, so I left so that I could read and do things I was really interested in like painting. Then I took the SATs and got into nursing school. I was going to go to art school but I'm glad I didn't. I love taking care of people."
Leah was right, Robin's lively presence added good energy to the house. She made Rosie laugh when she sliced up an orange for her and placed the rind over her teeth and smiled at Rosie. When she swept the kitchen floor and Rosie was sitting looking out the window, Robin gently swept Rosie's feet then said, "Oops," which made Rosie laugh hysterically. Robin often plugged her iPod into a speaker she had and played old songs from the seventies and it seemed like Rosie was remembering songs she liked. Rosie even moved her head from side to side. A few times, Robin got Rosie out of her chair and took her hand and they danced. Robin snapped her fingers and wiggled her hips and Rosie did the same thing and laughed.
Max enjoyed Robin's manner with Rosie and thanked her every day for all the things she did that were beyond the routine of taking care of Rosie's needs—showering her, taking her to the bathroom, combing her hair, making sure she took her medication and vitamins.
Several times a week, she would dress Rosie in one of her old outfits and let her look at herself in the mirror. "You look so beautiful," she would say. Rosie smiled as she looked at herself. Robin would then present her to Max who would look up at her and smile.
"You wore that dress when we saw Les Miserables at the Academy."
"Really, this is the dress I wore that night?" Rosie smiled and looked down at her outfit. "I think I remember that night."
Robin kept the kitchen and other rooms spotless. She made delicious meals and would sit with Max while she made up a menu for the week and together they would make a shopping list for him in order to save trips to the market. He did the shopping on Thursdays after his classes, but occasionally Robin borrowed Max's old Volvo and would do the shopping and pick up items she needed.
They settled into a routine and Max enjoyed Robin's presence in the house and the way she respected his need for quiet and privacy. She stacked Max's New Yorker magazines neatly and put them in a corner out of the way rather than leaving them in a sloppy pile on the floor next to his recliner. She brought Max tea while he was writing in his small office or going over his students' stories from his creative writing class.
Rarely did she join them for their afternoon ritual of tea and raspberry jam on rye toast, but many times she walked to the park with them to feed the ducks. "I love the fresh air and this park is so beautiful," she would say. She also picked wildflowers which she brought back and placed in a vase that she put in the middle of the round oak kitchen table.
Rosie was now in a wheelchair and Max would push it slowly while they went to the park, but gradually, Rosie stopped tossing bread and it was just Max and Robin feeding the ducks. Eventually, as it got colder and it appeared Rosie didn't know where they were or didn't care, they stopped going to the pond.
Leah came over several times a week to visit and after greeting her mother, would join Robin to drink coffee and chat. Leah would tell her about Ron, the man she had been living with and how the relationship wasn't going anywhere and she wasn't sure what to do. Robin listened and Max could hear their voices from where he sat in his office or the living room and was fascinated by Robin's perceptive comments. "What do you expect? He's a mama's boy and wants someone to take care of him. Don't be a doormat."
Not only did Max appreciate how well Robin took care of Rosie, he enjoyed looking at her while she cooked or cleaned. Rather than wearing a nurse's uniform, he liked how casually she dressed and noticed how her ass strained the tight jeans she usually wore, or the black yoga pants she'd had on the first day. Sometimes she wore shorts or cutoffs and tank tops or T-shirt and a few times he saw her dash into the bathroom at night wearing a short nightgown that barely covered her ass. She was unaware that Max was paying any attention, or how aroused he got because he hid his glances and pretended not to notice how she dressed. She felt comfortable in the house and as the months passed became more relaxed and casual around him.
Most nights after Rosie went to bed and the kitchen was cleaned up from dinner, they would have tea and talk, but gradually they started drinking the wine that Max began buying to have with dinner. They would finish the bottle which made both of them more relaxed. Sometimes, they would sit at the kitchen table and Robin would put her feet up on one of the chairs, stretching out, leaning back. Max would notice how her breasts pressed against her T-shirt and he could see she wasn't wearing a bra which caused her nipples to poke at the thin material. He'd look away but would find himself drawn to looking at her and wishing he could control his growing desire for her.
He couldn't keep his eyes off of Robin and became familiar with her wardrobe. He always noticed what she was wearing and became excited when she wore a particular T-shirt or blouse that turned him on. He pretended not to notice or sometimes said how nice she looked that day, relating to Robin in his usual casual, friendly way, but more and more he was secretly thinking...good, she's wearing that green tank top. I love her nipples, or, those jeans are so tight. Her ass looks so good in those jeans.
It had been at least three years since he and Rosie had sex and he recalled how awkward and uncomfortable he felt the last time because she no longer stroked his erection the way she used to. Also, when he rubbed her breasts or reached between her legs, he didn't know what to say or do when she asked in a bewildered frightened voice, "What are you doing?"
He wanted to give her an orgasm and have one, but couldn't because she became tense and stiffened when he tried to enter her and she squirmed away. Finally, he rolled off of her and masturbated. He remembered the confused and puzzled expression in her eyes as she watched him moving his fist up and down his hard cock and realized that Rosie, the passionate, somewhat aggressive lover he knew in bed, was gone. He still loved holding her at night before they went to sleep, but she was now just the woman who slept next to him, no longer his lover.
Max wondered if Robin was aware of how he looked at her, how his eyes roved over her body when she went about her day taking care of Rosie, how he loved seeing her ass straining her jeans when she wheeled Rosie around the house or out to the patio for fresh air. He wondered if she was swaying her hips for him when she walked into the living room after dinner, or if she could feel his eyes on her while she cooked dinner and whether she liked it. He noticed how she would look at him and smile, and he wondered if she knew what was going on, even though she didn't say anything.
Robin occasionally went to her sister's house for a few hours on Sundays or sometimes on a Friday night. Max was aware that her sister was inviting men over to visit or arranging dates because Robin told Max everything about the guys she met and the few dates she had. Their conversations became intimate and he liked that she felt so comfortable with him. She even told him when she made out with one of the guys in his car but that was it. She told him that one of her dates, a guy named Alex wanted to take her to New York City for a weekend, but she decided she couldn't because of Rosie.
Max wasn't certain how he felt about her dating and though he always said, "Have fun," he also wondered why he felt protective. Finally, he admitted to himself he was jealous and afraid she would fall in love with one of the men and was confused by what he was feeling. Why am I jealous? This is ridiculous.
Though he was old enough to be her father, he enjoyed the way she listened when he talked about world events or a book he was lecturing on. He liked that she giggled at his corny jokes, or nodded at his astute observations. He enjoyed the way she would punch his arm and say, "now you're being silly." Max was a master of puns and often made her groan. He could tell she appreciated not only his lively mind and keen sense of humor, but also his wisdom. When she read a few of his stories or the poetry he wrote, he valued her responsive comments. She always said, "Wow. That made me cry," or, "I couldn't stop reading," or "You're amazing...that was so wise and deep. I loved it."
Though it felt good to hear Robin's appreciation, Max remembered Rosie's praise as well as her useful suggestions. He still missed the way Rosie would look up when she finished reading something of his and smile before she commented, but he also remembered the way she'd close her eyes and take a deep breath before telling him what bothered her. He also missed listening to Rosie read his poetry out loud and the way she knew exactly how to emphasize certain words.
The routine of having conversations with Robin in the evening after Rosie was in bed became more and more enjoyable, and he could tell that Robin also enjoyed their growing friendship. They would sit at the kitchen table where they had tea or finished the wine from dinner, or she would sit on the couch with her feet up under her and sketch, while he read his New Yorker on the recliner. Occasionally she would make popcorn when they watched a movie and they would sit together on the couch. She liked scary movies and Max liked how she would clutch his arm or shove her face against his shoulder or chest when she was frightened. Sometimes it was uncomfortable for him when they watched a romantic movie and a steamy sex scene came on, and he could hear her breathing and would become aroused, feeling her arm and thigh pressed against his. He would wonder if she was as aroused as he was, but they watched it quietly, and when it was over, she would say, "Wow, that was hot."
They would sit together for a few moments after the movie ended and not say anything. Robin would look at Max and smile. They would gaze into each other's eyes, then Robin would sigh and pick up the empty bowl of popcorn and take it into the kitchen. She'd come back to the living room to say goodnight, and Max would smile and say, "Sleep well," or "Pleasant dreams," aware that he was trying not to look at her breasts or notice how the green tank top he liked revealed her cleavage. Often, when she'd walk away, he'd glance at her ass and the slight swaying of her hips and cringe at the sexual urges that swept over him.
After she'd leave the room, he'd sit back on the couch, aware of how aroused he would get when he looked at her, but then he'd shake away his thoughts and look around the living room at all that he and Rosie had acquired over the years—the lamp from an antique shop in Vermont, the vases, the couch, the recliner he sat in and the floor-to-ceiling bookcase filled with all of the books they had accumulated since their college days. He would sigh and turn off the lamp next to his chair then walk down the hall and into the bedroom he still shared with Rosie, but would glance at the closed door of Robin's room on the other side of the bathroom.
Rosie was always sound asleep and he'd listen to her quiet breathing. He'd lie next to her and while he could feel the warmth of her body, he'd look up at the ceiling and think about Robin in her room down the hall, but then he'd look over at Rosie next to him. He'd take a deep breath, aware of his confused feelings, then lean over and kiss the back of her head as she slept facing away from him. He smelled her fragrant hair, grateful that Robin used Rosie's Apple Blossom shampoo because he had told her how much he loved the smell when she washed Rosie's hair with it.
One day, Max looked at himself in the mirror after shaving and decided to grow a beard. I want a beard. What will Robin think? That thought surprised him, but he knew he wanted Robin to be attracted to him the way he was attracted to her. He looked into his blue eyes, remembering how people often commented on his eyes. He liked his eyes and wished he didn't need to wear the wire-rimmed glasses. He thought about his eye doctor telling him he was developing cataracts and how it would be a good idea to have them removed because it would become difficult to drive at night. He would have twenty-twenty vision again and wouldn't need glasses except possibly for reading. Maybe I should do that. I would look younger.
He looked at his wrinkled brow and noticed the lines around his eyes and wondered what he would look like with a beard. He had a beard when he first started Harvard, but had shaved it off two years before he met Rosie. He had a ruddy complexion and his skin was still smooth. He remembered how youthful his father looked when he was in his seventies and was grateful for the genes passed onto him. Despite his graying hair, people were surprised to hear he was fifty-eight.
He looked at his gray hair which had grown longer in the last few years because Rosie used to cut it. When she was no longer able to do that, Max let it grow. He didn't want to pay twenty-five dollars for a haircut and remembered how it used to cost two dollars when he was in college. From time to time he would take scissors and cut it himself when it was getting too long and shaggy.
"Your hair is long. I like it," Rosie said one day but never mentioned that she used to cut it. Leah just laughed and said he looked like an aging hippie.
"Are you growing a beard?" Robin asked three days after he decided not to shave. She narrowed her eyes and looked at the stubble on his chin, then chuckled.
"I think so. I had a beard when I was in college and thought, why not?"
"I like beards." Robin studied Max's face for a few seconds and smiled, then turned back to slicing an onion for the omelet she was making for Rosie's breakfast.
"Good. I'm glad you like beards."
"Why is that good?" She glanced at him, gazing into his eyes and had a playful smile on her lips.
"I don't know. It just is."
Max looked at Robin's lips, her playful smile and the way she looked into his eyes and wondered if she was flirting or teasing. He knew he was suppressing his urge to kiss her. I want to kiss her. Why is she looking at me like that?
Robin turned away and took the toast out of the toaster-oven and started buttering it. She threw the diced onions into the omelet, lifted her mug of coffee to her lips, then looked back at him and smiled."So you're growing a beard. Cool!"
When he was close to her, he could feel her energy and it made standing next to her strangely appealing, as if he was being drawn to her like a butterfly drawn to a flower petal. Her teeth are so white. She's so pretty...such a sweet smile. I wish I had the nerve to kiss her. I want to.
Normally, when he felt these urges, he would then do something to distract himself from her. He'd pour himself another cup of coffee, or sit down at the table and pick up the grocery list and study it.
But that morning, Max didn't sit down or pour more coffee. He wanted to touch her, hold her, express the attraction he was fighting against and take the chance that she would accept his touch. Instead, he asked, "How does Rosie seem this morning?"
"I've noticed she's sleeping a lot more," Robin said and faced him, her smile disappearing. "She doesn't seem good. Her appetite is gone. I'm concerned."
He nodded and the longing to kiss her dissipated with the serious tone in Robin's voice.
"I think you're right. I've noticed that too. What are you concerned about?"
"She's lost a lot of weight. I weighed her yesterday and she's lost twelve pounds in the last two weeks."
Robin put the omelet on the plate and placed it on a tray along with a cup of coffee and a small plate of orange slices. "She leaves half of her food."
"She has to eat."
"I know but this is a sign that she's getting ready to die. I've seen this before."
Looking at Robin, he sighed, closed his eyes and turned away, holding back tears. The thought of not having Rosie in his life was unbearable, and yet he knew she was hardly in his life, that the Rosie of their thirty-six years of marriage was no longer the woman he married. It was like living with a ghost and he was holding on to her spirit, or the spirit he remembered, but now it was like trying to hold fog. She was a specter, and who knew what she was experiencing when she was awake and didn't recognize him sitting next to her or feel him getting into bed at night.
He noticed her confused smile when Robin propped up her pillow and asked, "Can I get you anything?" or, "How are you Rosie?" It was as if she had no idea what Robin was saying and could only smile and even that began to fade as the weeks became months, and it took both of them to help Rosie into the bathroom or shower. While they did that, Max would feel Robin's hands, or her arm against his. He could see her breasts when she bent to help lift Rosie and he wanted to look away but didn't, and more and more he felt torn between their helping each other take care of his wife and his desire to take Robin in his arms and feel her body pressed against his and embrace her. What's wrong with me? How can I look at her like this?
When they took Rosie back to bed and got her comfortable, he would look at Robin and she would look at him. They would see Rosie looking up at both of them before closing her eyes and knew she had no idea who they were. Max knew he was falling in love with Robin and was certain she had no idea what he was feeling or thinking. Or did she, he wondered.
Sometimes he thought he saw her affection for him. He'd see it in her smile and in her gleaming eyes, but it seemed more like she felt affection for a member of a team working together to take care of his dying wife. The thought that she had sexual feelings for him, a married man, old enough to be her father, was too much to believe.
At night, in bed, or while they were sitting in the living room after dinner, he would think sexual thoughts about Robin and hate himself for his fantasies of suddenly fucking her over the kitchen table or coming into her room at night while Rosie slept, but then he would shake those thoughts away and ask her how her painting was coming along, or whether she needed anything when he went into town.
Sometimes, Max would look at Rosie sitting in her wheelchair at the kitchen table staring blankly down at her hands resting on her lap. He would look out at the yard at the blooming daffodils and tulips she had planted years ago, then at the blue jays at the feeder and the woodpecker pecking at the suet and remember how she loved feeding and watching the birds and how excited she would be when an oriole appeared, or a cardinal. "Look, an oriole!" she would shout, pointing. Now, she seemed oblivious to anything around her and Max would stare at her thin, pale face and bony arms and feel the burning ache in his throat and tears swelling.
One April morning, almost ten months after Robin had moved in to care for Rosie, he looked up at her at the sink taking dishes from the drainer and placing them in the cabinet. She was humming softly.
"What's today's date?"
Robin glanced at her cell phone on the counter. "April eleventh."
"Tomorrow's our thirty-seventh anniversary. April twelfth."
"Really? Thirty-seven years." She looked at Rosie sitting in her wheelchair barely conscious, then at Max. "Are you going to do anything?"
"Do anything?" He glanced at Rosie then at Robin. "What's there to celebrate? She doesn't know who I am or that we're even married."
Looking back at Rosie, he sighed deeply, wearily, something he was doing more of lately. Seeing her sunken face, he closed his eyes to hold back his tears. His throat ached from the harsh burning of suppressing his need to cry and the effort to keep the words I want my Rosie back from bursting from his mouth. Quickly, he turned and looked out at the bird feeder then back at Rosie. Unable to contain himself, he suddenly stood up, pushed his chair aside, squeezed past Rosie in her wheelchair and left the kitchen to be alone, unaware that Robin had followed. He was surprised when he felt Robin's hand touching his shoulder. He looked at her standing behind him and saw her blue eyes gazing into his eyes.
"You're such a sweet man. You've been such a good husband."
Max wiped the tears from his eyes with his knuckle then took a deep breath. Robin's words were like music. The passionate sincerity in her voice overwhelmed him, and the way she looked at him sent a ripple of warmth through him. He didn't know how to respond. It was all he could do not to reach for her. He loved how she was looking at him and thought he saw her eyes become watery and sensed more than concern. Does she feel what I feel? He knew he would never forget that moment.
"Thank you, Robin," he finally said. "She's gone. She doesn't know who I am. I miss her."
"I know. I can see how hard this is for you." Robin touched his arm then held his hand.
"Thank you. You've been a gift, Robin. I don't know what it would be like here if it wasn't for you." Her hand holding his thrilled him and his heart swelled.
"It's been good for me too, living here, taking care of Rosie, getting to know you and becoming friends with Leah."
Max nodded and smiled. "I'll be all right. I just lost it. I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry. You've been strong and holding in so much pain. It has to come out. It's good to let yourself cry."
"Let's go back. I don't like leaving Rosie alone."
He took another deep breath and walked toward the kitchen. Before entering, he stopped and looked at Robin behind him. "You're wonderful."
"Thanks...you're pretty wonderful, too." She smiled and touched his arm again.
When they entered the kitchen, Max touched Rosie's shoulder then bent over and kissed her forehead. She opened her eyes and look up at him.
"Tomorrow is our thirty-seventh anniversary, dear." Max sat down on the chair next to her wheelchair and took her hand.
"That's nice," Rosie answered. "I think I should take a nap."
Max glanced up at Robin and sighed at Rosie's response. Robin stood behind Rosie then turned the wheelchair around. "I'll be right back. How about making a pot of coffee?"
While the water was boiling in the teakettle, Max put four scoops of coffee into the French Press then walked over and looked at all of the photos on the refrigerator door—snapshots of Leah when she was eight or nine sitting on his knee while he had his arm around Rosie. He moved closer to look at Rosie's face, her big smile, the wire-rimmed glasses she started wearing instead of the horn-rimmed ones she wore in college. He knew the picture was taken when they were in their forties and her curly brown hair was long. She was wearing her old plaid flannel shirt, tan Bermuda shorts and the yellow bandana she wore over her hair when she gardened. The picture had been taken by their neighbor, Gordon, who often stopped by to kibitz with Max, but who he suspected had a secret crush on Rosie.
He looked at a photo of Rosie wearing a one-piece bathing suit and posing with her hand on her hips like she was in a beauty contest. He thought about the way they loved going to Long Beach Island for two weeks every summer and how she'd made a delicious dinner with the bluefish he caught that day.
The teakettle whistled and Max poured the steaming water into the glass pot just as Robin came back into the kitchen and reached for two mugs from the shelf over the counter. Her arm brushed his and the touch made him realize how he desired her and wished he didn't. Between feeling the memories the photos awoke and Robin's presence next to him and the thought of the woman he had loved for thirty-seven years slowly dying before his eyes, he was being yanked back and forth between the past and the present like in a game of tug of war. Why am I being faithful? Would it be cheating if she's no longer able to be my wife?This is nuts? I love Rosie but I love Robin too. I don't know what to do.
"She's asleep," Robin said and poured the coffee into their mugs. When they sat at the table, Max looked out at the bird feeder and then at the daffodils just beginning to bloom. They sat quietly and sipped their coffee in the late afternoon sunlight coming through the window. Max glanced up at the clock and noticed it was ten after four.
"This is when we used to have tea and toast with raspberry jam."
Robin looked up at the clock and at Max. "That was then and this is now. Be in the present. I know how hard this is, but it's important to try to accept what is happening and make it as good as possible."
Max smiled and nodded.
"I've been lonely. I don't know what I would have done if you weren't here."
"Well, I'm here and have been for over a year."
"Funny how things happen. Sometimes I think it's destiny, but then I think things like this just happen." She took a sip of coffee. "There's no plan. No destiny."
Max nodded. "Who could have known that Rosie would get Alzheimer's and I would need someone to take care of her and you would show up?"
"Right, life happens...sometimes it's horrible and sometimes it's good and sometimes it's both. You never know." Max shrugged his shoulders.
Robin picked up her mug and lifted it to Max as if offering a toast and he picked up his and tapped them together.
"To luck," Robin said.
"I'll drink to that." Max took a sip and lowered his mug to the table then sat back in his chair. He looked at Robin then sighed. "Robin, I have to confess something."
"This is hard for me to say."
"What? Tell me."
"I'm very fond of you." He wanted to say more but couldn't He knew he was falling in love with her and wanted to embrace her, kiss her, feel her body responding to his desire, but that was out of the question. How can I? Why can't I? I don't know what to do.
Robin smiled and looked down into her coffee. She gripped her mug with both hands then lifted it to her lips and sipped. "I'm fond of you too. You're pretty amazing. You really are."
Max wanted to take Robin's hand and hold it but didn't.
Robin finished her coffee, stood up and went to the back door. Max knew she probably wanted to change the topic and shift the conversation. He did, too.
"I would like to plant some vegetables out there...a small garden. What do you think?"
"Really. That's interesting."
"We had a big garden at Rainbow's End. My mom and dad grew all of our food and my sister Lark and I helped. Everyone there gardened and we shared the fruit from the orchard."
"I've missed gardening. I wonder if I'll ever go back there. All the houses are off the grid and everyone tries to live as self-sufficiently as possible. Our parents are all around your age, getting older and I know they would like us to keep it going."
Max got up and stood next to Robin. He looked out at the backyard and saw the two peach trees Rosie and he had planted fifteen years earlier. The pink blossoms would be bursting to life soon and he remembered how the sight thrilled Rosie. He remembered filling up baskets with peaches and bringing them into the house then proudly looking at them sitting on the counter.
"How many people lived at Rainbow's End?" he asked, shaking away that memory.
"I don't know how many are there now, but, when I was growing up, there were three other families and we each had an acre of land and shared the orchard and common land and worked together on projects. We had a barn for the goats, but we all had a flock of chickens. My goat's name was Ruby. Molly still lives there with her family in the house she grew up in. Her parents, John and Mildred, started it when they gave this woman, Jenny an acre. She was their apprentice and she married Michael. They have a son, Tollie, who went to Harvard. I don't know what he's doing now."
While Robin spoke, Max remembered the small vegetable garden Rosie had tended and the peach preserves she made. He remembered how proud she was of the tomatoes and peppers she grew and how she would say, "Everything in this salad came from the garden." He saw the small area where she'd had the garden. It was now covered with weeds and the wire fence she made to keep the deer out was a shambles.
"Rosie had a garden out there. I bet we could get it back in shape."
"Great. I didn't know she had a garden."
"How could you? She doesn't remember it, and, until I looked out there, I didn't remember."
Max closed his eyes and again tears swelled in him as he pictured Rosie on her knees with that yellow bandana and how much she loved her garden. He sighed and noticed Robin look up at him and smile when he wiped away the tears. Why is she looking at me like that?
"So, do you think you'll ever go back to Rainbow's End?" Max asked, snapping out of his reverie.
"I hope so. I want to, but right now I'm here taking care of Rosie...who knows what I'll do when I'm no longer her nurse."
Max didn't say anything, but suddenly the thought of Robin not living in his house stunned him. She'll be gone when Rosie dies.
"It will feel strange when you're not here and the house will be empty except for me."
"You'll be fine. I'm sure." Robin smiled at him. "You'll be able to finish that novel you've been writing."
"I guess. We'll see."
"Well, tomorrow is your anniversary and in a few days we will resurrect Rosie's garden. What do you think?"
Max took another deep sigh and looked out the backyard, then at Robin. "I could use the exercise. I like the idea."
While standing there, they heard a car park in the driveway and a door slam, then saw Leah carrying flowers. When she came into the kitchen, she kissed her father on the cheek. "These are for your anniversary, Dad. They're snapdragons. Mom's favorite."
"Thank you, but Mom won't know what they are."
"I know, but I wanted to buy them for her and you. I have to run. Ron and I are going to a movie, and I'm already behind schedule. I'll call tomorrow."
At dinner that night, Robin fed Rosie the chicken soup she'd made. Max sat across from them, watching how Robin held the spoon in front of Rosie's mouth as if she was feeding a child. "Open wide, this is good for you."
He admired Robin's patience, how she smiled every time Rosie sipped and swallowed the soup. When she finished, she wiped Rosie's mouth with a napkin, and then went to the refrigerator and took out the vanilla ice cream and served it to her in the same green bowl she used every night. Max loved how Rosie licked her lips and closed her eyes as she savored the taste of the ice cream and the look of pleasure on her face sent a warm sensation through him.
"She really loves that ice cream," Max said. "Let me feed it to her."
Max took Robin's seat and lifted the ice cream to Rosie's lips. "You like this ice cream, don't you, dear? Remember when we always went to Russell's Ice Cream Parlor on Ridge Avenue after a movie?" He knew she had no idea what he was saying but hoped somehow his words registered. He also knew he was holding on to the tattered remnants of their life.
He turned to Robin sitting next to him. "That was a ritual—going for ice cream after the movies."
"Nice," Robin said, nodding and smiling.
After Rosie went to bed and the kitchen was cleaned up, Robin and Max sat in the living room. He read the latest issue of the New Yorker and Robin made a list of the vegetables they would grow and drew a little plan. She read him the list and Max nodded then said he would get the tools from the garage and prune the peach tree.
At breakfast the next morning, he saw that Robin had dressed Rosie in a white blouse with ruffles and a flowery long pink and blue skirt, one that she hadn't worn in many years. She'd put lipstick on her and combed her hair so that it was smooth.
"Happy Anniversary," Max said, kissing Rosie's forehead and cheek. He lifted the vase of flowers. "Leah brought these here yesterday. They're snapdragons. Aren't they pretty? Leah knows how much you love snapdragons."
Rosie looked at the flowers and at Max and then looked down at the skirt she was wearing.
"We've been married for thirty-seven years." He looked at her hoping for some sign that she understood what he was saying. He moved the flowers closer to her nose. "Smell the flowers. Don't they smell good?"
She continued looking at the flowers then up at Max and Robin watching her.
"Happy anniversary," Robin said. "Would you like some oatmeal for breakfast?"
"Oatmeal?" Rosie repeated.
"I'm going to make oatmeal for you."
Max poured her a mug of coffee and brought it to her. He put in a spoonful of honey and stirred it, then held it to her lips for her to sip.
Just then the phone rang and Max picked it up. "Happy anniversary. Let me talk to Mom."
"It's Leah," Max said, handing the phone to Rosie, who held it to her ear, listened, then handed it back to Max.
"I just wanted to wish you and Mom a happy anniversary. Give her a kiss for me."
"I will. Thank you for the flowers."
Max looked down at Rosie sitting next to him in the wheel chair and could see she had no idea what was going on, but she stared at the flowers and had a slight smile on her lips.
When he hung up, he leaned over and kissed Rosie. "That's a kiss from Leah."
Rosie's smile broadened. It was the first time she had smiled like that in a long time. He looked up at Robin.
"I saw. That's nice...sweet."
She poured the oatmeal into a bowl, brought it to the table and fed Rosie.
Two days later, Max pruned the peach trees and Robin started turning over the soil in the garden, digging up the weeds and placing them in an old compost pile she found in the corner of the yard.
"We'll start composting the garbage."
Each day, while Rosie slept, Robin and Max worked in the garden and it felt good to be outside and feel the warm sun. Max had fixed the wire fence and mowed the grass. Within a few weeks, the lettuce and spinach came up and they transplanted the tomatoes and pepper plants they bought at Chapman's Garden Center.
As the weeks became months, Rosie continued to fade away, hardly eating, sleeping most of the day, going to the bathroom in the potty on her bed. She was disappearing more and more from his life as his feelings for Robin grew stronger.
When Robin gardened, she often wore a faded blue baseball cap and her hair in a ponytail to keep it out of her eyes, and Max would stop what he was doing and watch her. He loved how vigorously she worked, how she looked in the tight cutoffs or jeans. She would look up and see him leaning on the shovel or rake, looking at her and she'd say, "Hey, dreamer. Get to work." He loved how she came into the kitchen with dirt on her cheek and gulped down glasses of water.
At night, while Rosie slept in the hospital bed they had rented, Max slept in the bed they once shared and thought about Robin and how much he loved her and wished he could make love to her. He was torn between his desire for her and wondered how crazy it was that he was still being faithful to Rosie when she didn't know who he was. They were married, but it no longer felt like a marriage. He felt guilty for thinking about her death and how relieved he would be. He wondered if he loved her or the memory of her, and it became more and more painful to see her look at him with a blank look in her eyes. Sometimes he stood by the bed while Robin adjusted it and he felt her energy, her caring for Rosie and it made him love her even more. I wish I had the guts to just go into her room at night and make love to her.
He knew it wouldn't be long before Rosie would die. He didn't know how long, but knew it was inevitable that he would no longer need a nurse and Robin would leave. The thought confused and disturbed him. It also filled him with guilt and dread. I don't know what I'll do when she leaves.
He cherished how they sat together after dinner and talked about this and that, but mostly they talked about the garden and how Rosie was that day. Robin enjoyed cooking for Max and they were having salads from the garden most nights. Often, Max helped by slicing the onions and Robin would see the burning tears in his eyes and would laugh and say, "Thanks for slicing the onions."
Sometimes they would go out on the patio and look up at the full moon and Max would think about how he and Rosie loved to sit out on the patio on summer nights and look at the moon and the fireflies and listen to the crickets.
"Rosie and I used to sit out here like this, night after night."
Robin smiled and nodded. "That must have been nice. It's beautiful here."
Many nights, Max and Robin watched movies on the couch. They sat close to each other and shared popcorn, then they both checked in on Rosie. Max still kissed Rosie's forehead every night and said goodnight before he turned off her lamp. Robin watched and smiled, then they would go back to the living room or kitchen and talk until it was time to go to bed. Max would say goodnight and watch her walk down the hall to her room and wished he had the nerve to go with her, or that Robin would just take his hand and lead him there.
Leah came over a few nights a week to see Rosie and talk to Robin. They had become good friends. Often the three of them sat in the kitchen and had coffee or tea and Max could tell that Leah knew how close he and Robin had become. She admired the garden and told them she could see how proud of it they were and she seemed to note how animated their conversation was when they talked about it. She could probably tell by the way they laughed and looked at each other that something special had grown between them that was different than it was months ago, but she never said anything.
After a while, Max would excuse himself and go into the living room to read and let them talk to each other. Sometimes he could hear their conversation. Mostly Leah talked about her relationship with her boyfriend, Ron and how she knew she didn't want to marry him and wondered whether they should break up.
One night, several weeks after a hospice worker started coming, he heard Leah say something that startled him.
"My mom's going to die soon. What's going to happen with you and my dad?"
"What are you saying?" Robin asked.
"I don't know. You two seem so close."
Max put down his magazine and listened.
"I don't know what's going to happen. I'll probably try to find another job."
"It's weird, but I think my dad is in love with you."
Robin didn't respond.
I don't believe she said that.
After a few seconds, he heard Robin say, "He's a very special person. It's remarkable what a wonderful man he is and how devoted he has been to your mom."
"This has been such an ordeal for him," Leah said. "I think he's going to be completely lost when she dies."
"He'll be fine. It will be hard at first, but he's a strong man. He'll probably go back to teaching or work on his novel."
"Want to hear something weird?" Leah asked, then chuckled. "I had the thought that if you two got married, I'd be your daughter-in-law and you'd be my stepmother."
"That would be weird, but what makes you think he'd want to marry me?"
"It was just a weird thought." Leah laughed. "You and I are the same age."
"I know. It's funny, I think I would miss him. It might be hard for me, too."
When Max heard that, he suddenly thought that she might have feelings for him that he was not aware of. It thrilled him. It also frightened him.
* * * *
Rosie died on a Sunday morning a month later. It had been clear the end was near. Max had sat with her the last few nights and was with her all Saturday night, aware that she was hardly breathing. Robin administered morphine to eliminate the pain and relax her. Max held her hand and kissed her forehead. Robin let them be alone, only coming in from time to time to see how he was.
Hospice took care of everything and when she was taken from the house, Max stood at the door and watched them drive away. He was sobbing. Robin and Leah stood in back of him.
Friends called. Max and Rosie were not religious and he did not sit Shiva, as was the Jewish custom, but people stopped by and brought food. They all shared memories of Rosie and there was a lot of laughter as people remembered how funny she was and how she remembered their birthdays and always called, how she helped on some of the plays that Leah was in when she was in school. They remembered her carrot cake and stuffed mushrooms.
Robin had already started packing and Max's awareness that she would be leaving brought even more pangs of sadness. He would look out at the garden and the drooping sunflowers that bordered it. The hospital bed in his room was now gone. Hospice had it removed two days after Rosie died. When he sat on the edge of his bed, he could hear Robin in her room humming while she worked. He sighed and walked down to her room to see if she wanted any help, though he knew that was silly. How could he help?
When he stood in the doorway, he noticed she was wearing the same black yoga pants she'd worn the day she arrived over a year ago and liked how they strained at her ass. There were still some clothes in the closet. The lemon-colored bureau had the drawers open and he could see they still had her T-shirts and underwear in them. He noticed the small wooden box where she kept her bracelets had not been touched. She had brought in the boxes from the garage and one of them was filled with her art supplies, but the other was empty and her brushes were still in the large mason jar where she kept them. Several canvases she had painted were still on the walls of her room, but two were leaning against the wall.
Max said, "I'll be right back."
A few minutes later, he brought her the painting she had hung in the kitchen. It was a painting of the garden.
"Don't forget this one," he said.
"That's for you. I want you to keep it."
"Really? Thank you. I love this painting. I like the way you included the peach trees in the background."
While Robin gathered her belongings, Max looked around the room that had once been Leah's and admired the way Robin had arranged things. He saw photographs of Robin's parents on the wall near her bed and there was one when she was a little girl feeding the chickens. He remembered how he liked looking at it the few times he visited her room. He noticed that Robin was making small piles on the floor and on the bureau, but she was moving slowly and didn't seem her usual efficient self. She seemed distracted, confused.
"I hate packing," she said and stood in the middle of the room holding the green tank top he liked.
Max was quiet and noticed she seemed upset and kept biting her lower lip and taking deep breaths. He didn't say anything and was surprised when she sat down on her bed and looked down at her lap and started to cry. She looked up at him in the doorway.
"Max. I don't want to leave."
When he saw the tears, he was bewildered but also unable to move.
Suddenly, she came to him and put her arms around him. He immediately held her and felt the strength of her arms and her breasts against his chest and before he knew it, they were kissing. It was all so sudden, but Max's sadness suddenly became passion and all that he had been resisting swelled and became his embrace. His lips and the way he held her close to him said more than he could have ever expressed in words.
They pulled their mouths apart with a gasp for air. They gazed into each other's eyes, realizing they had crossed a threshold.
"I don't want to go," she said through trembling lips.
"I want you to stay. Please stay."
They kissed again, harder, more passionately and somehow stumbled to the bed and fell onto it. Their kissing became wilder as if unleashing unspoken feelings that had been building for months but could not be released while Rosie was still alive. Max lay between Robin's legs that were wrapped around him, pulling him against her, and he wanted her like he had never wanted anything more. The last few years of Rosie's fading from his life and his growing desire for Robin had taken all of his strength to resist but now poured out of him in a torrent of passion.
When he rolled off her and pulled off his jeans and gray sweatshirt, Robin squirmed out of her yoga pants. She smiled up at Max while he reached for her white panties, pulled them down her legs then from her bare feet and tossed them over his shoulder. Realizing it had been at least two years since Robin had made love, he fell back into her arms and gently entered her, feeling her tightness but soon was thrusting deep into her warm wetness and loving the soft whimpering sounds she made as they made love for the first time. They kissed and he reveled in the feeling of their tongues and their bodies moving slowly at first then faster and harder until he felt her tensing, trembling and screaming, "Oh my God. Oh yes. Oh my God...oh, I love you. I love you. I love you."
Her words filled Max with the urge to thrust harder and harder. With her legs wrapped around him, her hands on his ass pulled him deeper into her and brought him to an overwhelming orgasm that erupted in gushes that filled her and dripped onto her thighs. He writhed before collapsing on her, unable to budge as they both wallowed in the warm afterglow.
After a few moments, Max lifted his head and gazed into Robin's smiling eyes. No words were needed. He kissed her, then slid onto his back, gathered her into his arms and loved the smell of her hair as she laid her head on his shoulder.
"I'm happy," she said softly.
"I am, too."
"What will Leah think?" Max asked.
"I'm not sure, but I think she will get used to it. She and I are the same age. It might be a little weird, but I think she already suspects there was something going on between us."
Later that day, Robin put her clothes back in the closet and straightened up her room. Max hung the painting she had given him back in the kitchen. They couldn't keep their hands off each other and Max felt he had been reborn. Robin made a delicious chicken dinner and a Greek salad with feta and olives. Later that night after slow dancing in the living room to an old Tony Bennett record, Robin and Max made love again in the bed he had once shared with Rosie and they fell asleep in each other's arms.
Though it felt strange not having Rosie in the house and their routine changed dramatically, a month later, they had the urn with her ashes. Max placed it on the mantel of the fireplace in the living room. He knew what he wanted to do with her ashes but kept it a secret until April twelfth the following year, on what would have been their thirty-ninth anniversary. He called Leah to meet him at the pond where Rosie and he had always fed the ducks. He remembered how much she loved that spot. He asked Robin to drive his car so that he could hold the small but heavy pewter urn on his lap. With Leah on one side of Max and Robin on the other, they stood on the shore of the pond. After glancing at the ducks, Max opened the urn, reached in and lifted a handful of Rosie's gray ashes. He closed his eyes, saw a kaleidoscope of memories flash, and thought how her vibrant life had come to this...dust in the palm of his hand. Leah and Robin reached in and held her ashes in the palms of their hands. Both Leah and Robin looked at Max, and then silently, each with their own thoughts of farewell, threw Rosie's ashes onto the dark water.
May 22, 2018 in romance