Thinking of Others
He was a man of seventy, give or take a year or two. He was the age he was supposed to be. At that time. His hair was grey, his face showed the wrinkles of age, his skin a pale pink. When he smiled, his face curled into itself like a soft wave at the shoreline.
As he entered the elevator, the muted lighting shone above him and around him, pushing into him like a forced glow. He smiled at the man before him, a tall man in a yellow t-shirt with too many words, and a swirl of pink and brown lines he could not follow. He reached behind the tall man and pushed a button for his floor and stepped backwards toward the opposite elevator wall. The tall man was resting his hands on a stroller and inside the stroller slept a little girl. She was angelic, with soft hair that fell and curled in wisps. She opened her eyes, looked up to him. She reached out with her hand, her tiny fingers outstretched. He smiled. How could he not? A child, a little girl like that melts you, he thought, instantly, entirely. A grandchild he never had. So full of life, of hope, of possibility.
As he looked down at her bright blue eyes, he was suddenly awash in a flood of memories, tumbling upon him like light, overflowing. One memory after another, thoughts, feelings, sensations. Being so small, so like this little girl, looking up at his mother, standing at the kitchen counter, listening to the sound of her chopping vegetables. Holding his father’s hand, walking along the lake. As a fifth-grader, a first kiss behind a neighbor’s garage, next to some chopped wood and two silver garbage cans. Falling in love with Gloria Stewart one spring day as they read each other’s essays in a high school English class. Seeing her on their wedding day, her veil lifted above her head, feeling his heart explode inside his chest like a starburst. That day, ten years later, when Scottie was only seven, drowning in the lake at their summer cabin. His life, their life, ripped apart, forever spinning afterwards. And then losing Gloria only late last year to cancer, after eleven years with Alzheimer’s.
Memory after memory, from nowhere, and everywhere, washed over him. He closed his eyes and steadied himself against the wall. A ding rang from above and then the large, heavy elevator doors slid away from each other and with his extended forefingers, he pushed himself from the wall. He moved past the man, past the little girl in the stroller and crossed into the hallway. The little girl watched as he took two steps forward and stopped. The glassy interior of the apartment building overtook him and suddenly, he vanished. As if he were never there.
The little girl smiled in his direction, at the thought of him. She knew she would never dream this man again.