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As a musician, he was solid and reliable, but unimaginative. His chief talent lay in being in the right band. He enjoyed drinking and taking drugs, still in the initial phase of an addiction that would later ruin him. But for now, he was a young musician in a college town, so he had his choice of beautiful young women.
His attraction to the old woman surprised him. The bar was closing. The other musicians had packed their gear and stepped out for a smoke before going home, and there she was, sitting on a bar stool, looking at him. She had long white hair, a thin wiry body, and steel-rimmed glasses that almost hid the bright blue eyes that seemed to be seeing him more clearly than he was used to being seen.
They went back to her place, a small house on the edge of town. At the doorway, they kissed, moved to the bedroom and fumbled with each other’s clothes. But she suddenly stopped, removed his hand from her half-open blouse, and shook her head. She said she was sorry, but she couldn’t go through with it. She thought she could, but that time of her life when she could make love with a stranger had passed. She hoped that he wouldn’t be angry, and she wouldn’t blame him if he left, but she’d like for him to stay the night, and in the morning she would make him breakfast.
He was relieved. He had had far too much to drink and wasn’t sure whether he could rise to the occasion. They talked for a while, and he fell asleep.
The next morning he woke in a wide bed alone. Out the window, he could see a scrim of shadow cast on the bright snow by tree branches. Beyond the small fenced yard, a cornfield with broken stalks and in the distance a house with smoke rising against a blue sky. The bedroom was tidy and sparse with a surprising lack of the dolls, stuffed animals, and cute knick-knacks he was used to seeing in young women’s bedrooms. He got dressed and walked into the kitchen where she stood at the stove, her back to him.
Years later, he would remember her like this – her long gray hair falling down her back, the floral robe, the soft blue slippers, the smell of bacon and coffee. The kitchen was small and neat with copper pans hanging on the cedar walls. The floor was made of unfinished planks worn smooth. He put his arms around her, and she leaned her head back against his shoulder.
Many times through the years, he remembered the woman. The memory became smooth and fixed, like a stone he would pull out and hold in his hand to comfort him. He played in hundreds of bars and clubs. Although he never got much better at the guitar, and never learned another instrument, he became more versatile, able to do a credible job at a Polish wedding or a rock and roll school reunion. He played in a country-western band off and on for a few years, wearing a wide-brimmed Stetson. He eventually let go of his fantasy of having a big hit, and just tried to get through each gig without embarrassing himself, sipping beer and saving the hard stuff for later. And when the club was closing, he often looked over at the bar, half-expecting her to be sitting there, looking at him as if she’d known him forever.
Copyright 2017 Michael Simms