“Hi, Toots,” Ed smiled as he kissed Gracie on the cheek. “How’s my dream girl today?”
Gracie sat staring into space, her fingers twisting the yarn knots on her lap quilt. Ed cupped her face in his hands, forcing her to look at him. Her eyes, which had danced and sparkled for so many years whenever she saw him, now peered at him with childlike inquisition.
“Who are you?” She seemed annoyed. “My husband won’t like it if you’re here.”
“He knows I’m here, Gracie. He said it was okay. I brought your favorite muffins. Is that all right?”
Gracie ignored the question, but seemed eager to see what was in the box. Ed carefully produced the blueberry muffins and placed them on her tray with a napkin. She quickly took the napkin, wadded it up and put it in her pocket. She began picking the blueberries out of the muffins, lining them up on the tray, One by one she inspected them, as if she were sorting pearls – then, she began poking them back into what was left of the muffin before finally popping them into her mouth.
“Do they taste good?” Ed asked as he watched her rubbing the crumbs between her fingers. No use handing her another napkin as it would be crumpled and added to the ones already filling the pockets of her robe.
When she was finished, he wiped up the tray and cleaned her face with a washcloth. She seemed to like the feel of the warm cloth pressing her cheek. She closed her eyes and smiled.
“Shall we do a manicure or a pedicure today?” Ed asked. These were the two indulgences Gracie had allowed herself before the dementia set in. She had never been one for high fashion or jewelry or even makeup for that matter, but, she reckoned, she had tramped enough and scrubbed enough to have her hands and feet “bee-yoo-tee-fied” as she called it.
Gracie didn’t answer, but she held her hands out and wiggled her fingers at him. Ed retrieved the basin, towel, and other supplies from the closet.
“Pick your color,” he said as he lined up bottles of varying shades of red.
She picked up a bottle with the name “Scarlet Love” on it and handed it to Ed.
He took her right hand in his, relishing the softness of it, remembering the electric pulse it had generated so long ago when they had held hands for the very first time. He stroked the now wrinkled, sun-blotched skin and pressed his lips to it.
“Beautiful,” he whispered. He set to work - filing, buffing, and painting – humming one of the songs from their wedding.
“Were you at the wedding?” Gracie asked. Ed was pleased that she recognized the song.
“Oh, yes, Gracie. It was our day – the beginning of all our days.”
“I was there, too. Was it last year or the year before?”
“It was last year and the year before and forty more beyond that.”
“I thought it was last year. I was there.”
“Yes, Gracie, you were there and you were beautiful.”
“Bee-yoo-tee-ful!” Gracie wiggled her red-tipped fingers.
“Shall we do a pedicure, too?” Ed asked. She was in good spirits today, so he wanted to keep the moment alive.
Gracie pulled her right foot out of its slipper and held it up giving assent to his offer.
The pedicure was really Ed’s favorite time with Gracie. Being on his knees, he was naturally inclined to meditate on his blessings and to thank God for his life with her. She had loved him and served him so faithfully for so many years; he considered it a joy to do whatever he could to make the rest of her days as comfortable and pleasurable as possible.
During his breadwinning days, he had been a slave to his career, yet Gracie never complained or begrudged him. He had a way with words, so he had showered her with poems and love notes from time to time. She had kept them and they still remained in her top dresser drawer, though little good they were to her now.
The “Scarlet Love” had set on Gracie’s toes, so Ed helped her into bed for her mid-morning nap.
“See you for lunch, Toots.” He kissed her cheek. “I’m making your favorite – grilled cheese and cream of broccoli soup.”
Gracie turned on her side. She gazed at the shiny, red-tipped fingers on the white pillow. “Bee-yoo-tee-ful,” she whispered.
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