Every morning I went out for my walk, I would see an old couple holding hands and walking to the park. The woman was always chattering away happily. The man would smile, nod and listen. It was, literally, the sweetest thing ever and I watched them for eight years.
One morning no one was walking, and for many mornings after I saw neither old man nor woman. I felt worried, but I had no way to contact them, not without seeming very strange. The best I could do was keep watch. After a few weeks, I saw the old woman, but not the man. She walked slower now and, of course, said nothing as she walked. She carried with her a single carnation flower.
I followed her, careful not to let her notice me. Her strides were even and purposeful as she walked through the park and entered the cemetery that rested on the other side. My heart dropped to my stomach. I got a little closer, and listened as she placed the flower on the gravestone.
“For 53 years we walked together, Harry. How am I going to do this without you?” She rested both hands on the gravestone and started to cry.
I had to say something, I couldn’t watch this agony without saying SOMETHING. “Ma’am,” I said softly from behind her.
She looked at me and wiped her eyes. “Pardon me my dear, I thought I was alone.”
I smiled, ”No ma’am, you are not alone.”
“Oh, I am now.” he pulled a gramma tissue from her purse and wiped her eyes. “Harry is gone, I am alone.” Her mouth twisted up, she placed her hands over her face and the tears fell again.
I reached out to touch her arm and she grabbed my hand and placed it to her cheek and cried even harder. When she composed herself she said, “I’m sorry, I haven’t really cried since I lost Harry. I have been caretaker, mother, sister and grandmother through all of this and only right now, standing here, do I feel like a widow.”
I squeezed her hand. “Will you walk with me please?” I asked. “I could use the company.”
The old woman smiled, “Bless you my dear, what is your name?”
“I’m Nathan, what’s yours?”
“Mary. Mary Allan.” She squeezed my hand back.
“Mary and Harry, I bet you two got some flack for that,” I said with what I hoped was a disarming grin. I offered her my arm and she took it. I walked all the way to her home, hugged her and thanked her for everything. She looked at me in surprise.
“Why would you thank me? It should be the other way around,” Mary said baffled.
“I have been walking by myself for years, this is a very pleasant change. Do you come out here around the same time everyday?” I asked “innocently”.
“Oh yes, exercise is very important to Harry.” She smiled sadly. “Was.”
“Well then the best way to honour him is to keep walking. I hope you won’t mind if I join you occasionally,” I said tentatively.
Her bleary eyes widened and she smiled, “No my dear, I don’t mind at all.”
So for four years Mary and I have been walking to the cemetery to place a carnation on Harry’s grave. I know everything there is to know about Harry and I have to say it’s a real shame I didn’t get to know him. But it’s been an honour to get to know Mary. She has the ability to endlessly talk about anything in the most magical and wonderful ways. She has never failed to bring me out of a bad mood, or to blow my mind with incredible insight and wisdom. The grandmother I never had, so-to-speak.
And now today, as I tie my running shoes, I have two, carnations by my side. I can’t seem to stop crying as I lock the door and head down the sidewalk.
Mary does not meet me. My strides are even and my purpose is clear. I walk through the park to the cemetery. I go to Harry’s grave first and place a carnation down. Then I turn and right beside him is Mary. I lay the flower down, lean over and kiss the edge of the stone. “I miss you,” I choke out, and sit down for another good cry. My umpteenth cry.
I stand and touch the stone with my hand, a soft sigh escaping my lips. “I expect both of you to be walking up there,” I say and head home in silence.