Trevor Helfand carefully brushed what was left of his white hair.
When he'd been young it had been full and chestnut colored. But at least his light brown eyes still sparkled behind his trifocals and the cleft in his chin hadn't fallen too far from its original place. He'd shaven very carefully that morning and was wearing a sweater vest of rich maroon. The crease in his tan trousers was sharp and he'd put a shine on his old two tone shoes.
Squinting at himself in the mirror, he thought he cut a pretty good figure for eighty. That is, if you overlooked the expanded middle, the curving back, and the arthritic walk. His mother had told him as a boy that she'd named him after a dashing silent film star. Trevor couldn't remember the actor's last name anymore. But as a young man, he'd done his best to be dashing too.
That was a long time ago, of course. Before he'd met his wife Irene. Before they'd had two children. Before the kids grew up and moved out of state with their families. Before Irene passed away. Before he got lonely.
Trevor put on a tweed jacket over his vest and slowly ambled down the stairs from his second floor walk-up apartment. He felt lucky nowadays that he and Irene hadn’t chosen the apartment on the fourth floor that had been available at the same time so long ago. He could never hope to climb four flights now. One of these days even this one flight of stairs would be too much for him. But for the moment he figured they were still good exercise. He was headed for the local grocery store. He lived in a big city and there were three of them within walking distance. The Grand Union was his favorite and he went to it several times a week.
He got himself a cart, not so much because he planned on buying a great deal, but because it was comfortable to lean on as he walked along. He started with the bread aisle first because it was the one nearest the front entrance. When he finally saw the brand of wheat bread he wanted, he grasped it in his stiff fingers and raised it to his nose. It had been a long time since he could actually smell the scent of fresh bread, but that did little to change his routine. So what if his postnasal drip kept him from smelling things? At his age routines were important.
Suddenly, a much younger man swept down the tiny aisle on his way to the check-out. He was in a hurry, like most young people in the city. Shopping was a necessary burden to him, a chore to be rushed through as quickly as possible. He made a clucking noise with his tongue as he squeezed past Trevor's cart, letting Trevor know that he was taking up entirely too much room and moving far too slowly.
Trevor didn't care. He had no intentions of being rushed. He took another sniff at his loaf of bread, tossed it in his cart, and continued shuffling along. As he turned into the next aisle, his eye was immediately caught by the sight of someone he knew. Her name was Molly and she was his age, with the same shrinking frame and stiff fingers. She was talking to a tall young woman who happened to be passing her.
"Excuse me, Miss," Molly said in her thin voice, "Could you reach that jar of salt-free peanut butter for me?"
The young woman hesitated for a moment, as if calculating how much time this act of kindness would cost her. Then, she reached up and pulled down the requested jar.
"Thanks so much," Molly said, "at my age things always seem out of reach. You get shorter as you grow old, you know."
"Yes." the young woman said with a strained smile.
"Or maybe it's just because they're trying to save space in the market. So, they build up instead of out. Things are so crowded in city stores. Space is at a premium, you know."
"Yes." the young woman said again. But this time she threw the word behind her as she fled down the aisle.
Trevor was glad to see the young woman go. If Molly had succeeded in starting up a conversation with her, it would have been harder for him to find an opening. Now the field was clear. He straightened his tweed jacket and the paisley clip-on bow tie he'd put on as a last minute accessory. Then he pushed his cart down the aisle with a step much quicker than the one he'd used just a moment before. "Molly!" he called out to the white haired woman on the other end, "How are you today?"
Molly Everson turned in the direction of his voice, her eyes lighting up. "Oh, Trevor! I'm fine. Just picking up a few things." She showed him her plastic shopping basket as evidence. It held the salt-free peanut butter, a quart of skim milk and a container of cottage cheese.
"Still watching the figure I see." Trevor said, with a wink.
"Oh, you." Molly said, a light blush spreading to her wrinkled cheeks. Self-consciously she rearranged her jacket with its antique pin and smoothed her freshly ironed dress. She was outfitted just a touch too well for "picking up a few things."
"It's been several days since I've seen you," Trevor said, "I was beginning to worry."
"Oh, my daughter was in town and she insisted on doing all my shopping."
Trevor wanted to say, "Too bad." But he was afraid his meaning might be misunderstood. Instead he said, "Are you free for lunch? I could pick up some cold cuts. And we could get a coffee cake. What do you say?"
"All right," Molly said with a beaming smile, "But you must let me buy the coffee cake this time."
Leisurely, the elderly couple made their way to the check-out, gossiping about their children and grandchildren and the collection of old biddies at the senior center. They loaded their few groceries on the counter one at a time and finally rid themselves of the shopping cart and the basket.
Meanwhile, the young people waiting in line behind them sighed with impatience at each deliberate move. They just didn't understand that for Trevor and Molly, grocery shopping wasn’t just about groceries. It was an opportunity for socializing. And maybe it was even a kind of "meet" market, where neighbors just "happen" to run into each other.
"You know," Trevor said, as they stepped out into the sunshine with their packages, "The next time your daughter is in town, you should let me know. I'd like to have you both up for lunch."
This was a new step for them. Before this all they'd done was talk for a bit when they’d seen each other at the senior center, or had lunch or coffee when they’d "accidentally" run into each other at the supermarket. It had all been very innocent and sweet, marking them as friends and nothing more. Meeting family members would put the relationship on an entirely different level.
"Absolutely," he said, taking her hand. It was the first physical move he’d made on her. As he did it, he wondered if he could try and steal a kiss later, at least when they parted. "When a man reaches my age, it's not often he gets to have lunch with two beautiful women."
"Oh, you." Molly said, squeezing his hand playfully. “I’m sure my daughter would love to meet you.”
Trevor tightened his fingers around her hand. "Besides, if you bring her over for lunch I won't have to go without seeing you if she decides to do all your shopping again."
"It sounds very nice," Molly said, "I think I'll take you up on it."
And the couple walked off, hand in hand, their eyes lit with the hopefulness of new love.
Copyright 2009 by Mary Anne Gruen