She could see him sitting on the park bench, where he always sat in the afternoons. Whether the sun shone bright or rain drizzled down, he was always there at this time. He did not slump in his seat, but sat tall, staring at the surface of the water. A family of mallards swam along the edge of the bank, and occasionally he would toss them a chunk of bread.
She walked over and sat at the other end of the bench beside him. It made him nervous if she sat too closely. They sat in silence, watching the baby ducks swim alongside their parents. Every now and then they would duck their heads in unison below the surface, and the water would ripple towards the shore.
He did not look at her. But he acknowledged her presence by sliding a slice of bread along the seat of the bench so that she could feed the ducks with him.
Moments passed, and then he broke the silence. “I met my wife in a park like this one. Did I ever tell you about my wife?”
He had, many times, but she shook her head negatively. “Was she beautiful?”
“She was stunning. The most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I was walking through the woods, and the path I was on led straight to a pond, just like this one. Lilac bushes were planted near the water and their scent was strong that spring. She was standing near one of them. She picked a sprig and tucked it into the band of her hat.” He smiled, remembering.
“I just stood there and watched her hands play over the flowers, caressing them. She wore a yellow sundress and her hat matched. It stood out so bright against her dark hair. She must have heard me, because she turned to look at me and smiled. She had a beautiful smile.”
He tossed the last piece of bread to the ducks and stood slowly. The sun was beginning to set, and he looked towards the brick building that was his home.
“Would you like to walk with me to dinner?”
“I would love to,” she said simply. She slipped her arm through his as they started their way back. “So did you go up to her?”
“I did. I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t have any other choice. I introduced myself and we sat together on a bench by the pond.” He looked back at the bench they had just left, his eyes sad. “We talked for hours. About music, about literature, about our families. It was like we had known each other our entire lives. And when the day ended, I asked her to dinner. I knew life would never be the same. I knew she was the one.”
They fell into silence. Him, lost in his memories. Her, in wonder again at the love this man and his wife shared. She knew that they had been married for fifty-three years before she passed away last fall. Some days it seemed as if she would never find anyone like that who would fit so seamlessly in her life.
She escorted him through the residence, to the dining table complete with settings waiting for him. She gave him a hard hug, and he returned it. It was uncommon for him to allow such close contact, but he held on and buried his face in her hair, bringing tears to her eyes. He slowly released her and sat heavily in his chair. A woman strode briskly past, leaving a cup of coffee in front of him.
She watched the woman work around the room. She knew she had to go, but her hand lingered on his shoulder. He reached up and patted her hand, then turned to his coffee. Not really knowing why on this day it was harder to leave than others, she walked to the door.
She came here twice a week to visit him, but her heart weighed heavy in her chest as she left. He would not remember her visit the next time she saw him. He never did. Just like all of the residents here, his memories were often stolen from him. Some could remember moments from the past, though, as he often did. He could not remember what he did or who he saw the previous day, but he could remember the day he met the beautiful lady in the yellow hat.
* * *
The birds were singing as she walked through the door, a bag in her hands. She had not slept well all night, tossing in bed with her covers twisted around her. Not usually an early riser, she gulped her coffee down and ran out to the store before returning back to the home to see him again. This time, bringing something that would perhaps cheer his heart and spirits.
She looked in the sunroom, but he was not sitting in his regular chair reading the paper. Breakfast had already been served, and the staff was clearing the tables. She wondered if he’d gone to the pond for a morning walk and headed towards the side door that led to the bricked pathway.
Before she could reach for the handle, she heard her name being called from down the hall. She turned and smiled at the nurse that worked there, but it died on her lips when she saw the look on her face. He’d passed in his sleep, the nurse told her. Just eased away in his dreams.
Her hands felt cold as the truth settled in. No more walks together. No more smiles from across the room when she appeared.
She found her feet leading to his room. The door was standing open. Photos were placed carefully on every surface in his room. Various captures of him and his family throughout their lives. One photo was on his nightstand. She smiled through tears as she saw him standing with his wife, standing proudly together in their wedding outfits in front of a lilac bush, with a pond sparkling behind them.
She withdrew the yellow hat from the bag and laid it gently on his bed, putting the small sprig of lilac on the brim.
Walking away from the room, she wiped away her tears. She knew they were together again. Perhaps they were sitting on a bench in front of the water, holding onto one another. Never to let go again.