of dahlias and lilies. The theme for this year’s show was “Springtime in
Autumn”; it featured a veritable armada of chrysanthemums, as well as
a horticulturist discussing breeds of tulips and daffodils that blossomed
year-round. As a bachelor, Kappelschnitzer might have dismissed the
exhibits as superficial, a bounty of commercial kitsch. But in his widowhood, on the arm of Marilyn Loeb, he was able to appreciate how others
might take pleasure in such displays.
Marilyn certainly did. She voiced an encomium for virtually every
geranium, heaped accolades on the trellises of begonias. But her praise
was always vicarious: Shirley would have swooned over this, Shirley
would have rhapsodized over that. When they arrived at the “bouquet
of the day”—a tower of orchids and cascading jasmine—she said, “Now
Shirley would have thought that just grand. Absolutely grand.”
“And you?” interjected Kappelschnitzer. “What do you think?”
He hadn’t meant the words as aggressively as they sounded; he’d
merely wanted to shift the conversation to a more familiar topic. But all
the joy melted from his companion’s face like the air escaping a balloon.
Crowds swept around them, jostling. For an instant, Kappelschnitzer
feared she might faint.
“I think I’m still in shock,” she said. “Forty-nine years . . .”
And then, much to his amazement, she was weeping. And he was
comforting her. And all around them strangers shot uneasy, curious
looks. The notion struck him that these bystanders believed they were
witnessing a breakup, and he let Marilyn cry into his lapel.
“I’ve been impossible, haven’t I?” she said. “Bossing you around. I’m
sorry. I was only trying to be useful.”
“Honestly, I don’t mind being bossed around a bit.”
A smile flickered briefly below her tears. For a moment, he sensed
that their connection might run deeper than Shirley, that they might
have a future of their own, but he realized that was just the fantasy of
a confirmed bachelor. He was out of practice, that was all. Misreading
signs. Sort of like the medical students after their summer breaks, fear-
ing every blip on an EKG to be an MI.
His companion’s hair had fallen in front of her eyes, and he considered brushing it away, but instead he offered her his handkerchief to dry
her tears. Soon enough, she was smiling again—but it was a far more
tender, vulnerable smile.
“Can I say one last bossy thing?” she asked.
“Sure,” said Kappelschnitzer. “But it will cost you a dollar.”