Wanderers – 5

Note: There are 12 sections to this story that will be posted starting December 26, ending on January 6, the day of Epiphany. “Wanderers” can also be found in my book “My Best Christmas and other stories of the season” at Amazon.com.


Betty did a lap around the small dining room meeting the needs of the customers before landing back at Ruby and Tom’s table.  She circled their table, coffee pot in hand. As she poured some of the black brew into Tom’s cup she leaned in, put her hand on his shoulder  and whispered, “Thinking of you, Tom, with your anniversary and all.” 

Tom’s usual ever-present Saturday-morning-breakfast-at-Betty’s smile faded a bit. He looked at Betty and said, “Thanks for remembering. You are the best.  It’s been five years now, you know.” His voice faded into silence. Thomas thought back to the tough times when Betty stuck with him, no matter what.  And even now, she still…  He turned momentarily towards the artwork on the wall to hide the telltale moisture in his eyes.  Then he turned back to Betty.  The look on his face said, “You’re a good friend.”  Ruby glanced at the pair.  With a quiet growl, she said, “I miss Grandma…”  Weary already of Thomas and Betty’s conversation, she got up from the table and shuffled off to explore the artwork on the walls.

Changing the course of the chat, Betty said, “Did you hear about Harry?” Her bushy eyebrows arched into hairy question marks.

“Yeh, I heard.” Tom said,“That’s too bad.” He remembered how Betty befriended her former boss when he was going through his dark days. She hung with him no matter what he was going through, right up to the end.  Tom rubbed his chin, took off his hat and ran his fingers through his hair, thinking. “Or maybe it was a blessing, too.”

Harry Spaulding had owned the diner since forever ago.  After meeting Betty one awful but wonderful night, somewhat after forever-ago, he offered her a job. Some time after that he offered to sell the diner to Betty, making a too-generous offer considering Betty’s circumstances at the time.  Over time Betty had become the closest person Harry had to family.   So, considering Harry’s situation and suspecting what they did about Harry’s condition, the two of them worked out a deal.  It was a deal that not only led her to taking care of the diner; she’d also take care of Harry.

Over the years, Harry went from business owner to coffee pourer to Saturday morning patron.  And now he was no longer a Saturday morning regular at the diner.  At some point in the past he stopped driving. He stopped coming to the diner.

Since a too-early-age Harry’s once organized mind had slowly become a tangle of confused thoughts competing with his reality.  His memories of actual recent events would evaporate into the unusable recesses of his Alzheimered mind. They would be replaced with fictions.  Images and scenarios not unlike those dreams one has that make no sense.  Dreams that leave a person chuckling or maybe prickly with unease. And, sadly, during the course of his last days at the Starbright Nursing Home, his brain was no longer able to keep up with the demands of his basic life necessities.  Now Harry was gone.  The memory of Harry and who he was and what he did remained firmly planted in the hearts and minds of Thomas and Betty … and soon, that grouchy twelve-year-old, Ruby.

Betty gave Thomas a knowing look. “I know what you mean, what with him fading so at the end.” She looked away.  “It’s sad, but at his funeral, I realized that it’s for the better.”  She looked back into Thomas’ eyes, “If you know what I mean.”

“I hate funerals,” Ruby wandered back to the table for a bite of a cinnamon roll, forgetting her mother’s admonition to be polite.  “They’re awful!” Ruby remembered her grandmother’s funeral five years ago, after she died of a sudden heart attack. “They’re so sad,” she said. “I miss Gramma.” Her voice trailed off. She picked at her cinnamon roll, then took a bigger bite. “What’s all that over there?” She said.

From their table, Ruby’s sleep deprived eyes began to waken a bit.  Gazing at the various paintings that decorated Betty’s establishment she slipped out of the booth once again and made her way to the nearest one, letting the adults continue their conversation.  She scanned the walls, amazed at how many paintings there were, mostly pictures of people.  

What intrigued her twelve year old mind was that these pictures weren’t like typical photographs from a camera. There seemed to be much more to them. They showed more. Her grumpy, sleepy brain couldn’t articulate what. There was just more. What she did see as she examined each one, was a small rainbow and the name ‘Betty Williston’ scrawled somewhere in the corner of each one. Surprise, fueled by her twelve year old curiosity, pushed her to continue to explore.

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