When he knocked on her door six weeks ago, Theresa thought it was a ghost from the past. “Henry?” she said. “My god, Henry!”
Theresa had to sit down for a few moments. The man with silver hair, a mustache, and horn-rimmed glasses walked into the kitchen, fixed her a cup of tea and sat beside her on the couch.
He was her new neighbor. “Just moved to Ohio from Charleston, West Virginia.”
“You look like Henry,” she said.
He smiled: “That’s my name, too.”
Theresa invited him to stop by the next day, then the next and the next, until he had a standing invitation to stop by whenever he wanted. She knew it was a coincidence that he had the same name as her late husband. She also knew that his favorite food was not pot roast and that he was not fond of ballroom dancing. Still, it was nice to have a Henry around again.
Since he had a car, Theresa rode with him to do her grocery shopping. And soon, she began accompanying him wherever he went. One Tuesday, before her bridge game, she joined him at the thrift store. It smelled like mothballs and liquor, she thought.
He held out a faded green shirt with writing on the front. The words blurred despite her thick glasses.
“Look at this—Inverness Lions, Florida. I wonder what a shirt like that is doing way up here in Cincy.” He took the hanger out then tossed the shirt into the waist-high basket of the shopping cart.
“I don’t know, Henry. I suppose somebody must have moved here from there.”
“I’d like to know who.”
She brought her wristwatch close to her eyes then asked, “Are you almost ready to leave?”
“I’m going to look over the paperbacks for just a little bit.”
“Ok, Henry. I’m going to go sit on the bench over there, dear. I’ll be right there if you need me.”
She would have preferred one of the department stores in the mall across town. But the thrift store was where he was driving. When she considered those other stores, she thought instead of how much she enjoyed his company, wherever they were.
“Did you find anything, dear?”
He showed her an accounting book from 1978. Why would anyone want such a book? Since it was only ten cents she smiled. The register totaled $2.68.
The starter turned over as he turned the key, but it took a time before the engine revved up. She turned to him as he studied the rear view mirror.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“I thought we would stop by the park on the way back and watch the children play. Then I can drop you off at Roberta’s.”
“You’re an angel… straight from heaven!”
“I guess you know me pretty well,” he declared with a short stuttering laugh.
“Yes, Henry. Now let’s go to the park and watch your children play.”
* * *
Roberta and the other women all lived in a retirement complex on the north side of town. They wanted Theresa to move there, too, but she refused to leave her Winton Place apartment.
Helen and Anne won the first two games, and a 700-point rubber. Roberta asked Theresa where her head was: it was her fault they had one under-trick last game.
“You overbid,” Theresa replied. “My two clubs was a closeout.”
Roberta sighed, loudly. She took these games more seriously than the others. Theresa came mainly for the company; and now that she had a friend close by, she wondered how much she needed the weekly meetings.
Theresa was dummy in the next hand. That meant she could sit back while her partner played out. “Henry bought me a watercolor set.”
“Oh?” Anne didn’t look up from her cards.
“We had so much fun painting the other day. I think I’ll buy a picture frame for a clown he did. He’s very talented, you know.” When no one responded, Theresa continued. “He took me to a thrift store, this morning.”
“A thrift store?”
“I thought it a bit strange, myself.” She began to shuffle the extra deck of cards. “But you cannot imagine how inexpensive that store is! Henry bought a book on accounting for a dime. The slacks there, two dollars each. You can buy an entire new wardrobe for under thirty dollars!”
“That’s wonderful Theresa, but I’m trying to concentrate.” Roberta was eyeing the board. After some time, she laid down her last three cards, all trump, satisfied that she had bled all the trump out of the opposing hands.
“That’s five. Good game. You cut off our leg!” Anne put down one hundred points under Roberta and Theresa’s column, and then drew a double line to indicate a new game.
“Whose deal?” Theresa asked, still shuffling the deck.
“Theresa, dear, you’ll end up putting those back into order,” Helen said, not quite smiling. “Though I believe it’s yours.”
She began passing out the cards. “I’m cooking dinner for him tonight. Chicken Tetrazzini,” Theresa said proudly, still dealing. “I found the recipe in the newspaper. Oh dear, who did I last deal to? How many cards do you have, Anne?”
“I have nine cards,” she replied after a moment.
“So do I,” said Roberta, then asked, “Helen?”
“I only have eight.”
Theresa dealt a card to Helen, then herself, and continued with the deal.
Anne broke in right at the end of the deal and read from her book, “‘It was the revelation of a substitute provided by God and therefore acceptable unto Him. It opened wide the door to an experience which is so stupendous that only the Holy Spirit can reveal it to us, individually, with all its eternal implications.’ Now doesn’t that sound nice?”
* * *
It had been ages since she prepared a meal for anyone but herself. Theresa hoped he would like the chicken tetrazzini.
“My right hip has been bothering me,” he said holding a glass of wine to his lips.
“Oh,” she replied. “Did you ask the doctor about it?”
“I haven’t yet. Of course I saw him just last week but it has only been bothering me for a couple days. It’s probably nothing,” he said looking away from the meal for a moment. He looked back at his plate then continued, “I have had some problems paying my medical bills recently what with all the appointments.”
“Do you need to borrow some money?” She said, not thinking first.
“Oh, I have the money but it is spread out a bit, that’s all. I just have to cut back somewhere else.” There was a pause as Theresa waited for him to continue, hoping he wasn’t expecting suggestions. “I did some figures and with half of three months’ rent I could pay off the medical bills. Then I’d have some left over to cover any other doctor appointments for another three months.”
“What are you saying, Henry?”
“Well, supposing a young girl like you and a guy like me were to move in together, I mean, we could save some money, not that money is the big idea. I’ve been thinking about this a lot and even asking is a big deal. God, you would figure at my age it would be simpler but it just isn’t. To tell you the truth, I was fifty-fifty about whether or not to even propose it.”
The chicken was getting cold; he’d only eaten about half of his. But he seemed to like it all right. It struck Theresa that she would be able to make dinner for him every night, if he moved in. “You mean to live here, with me?”
“It can get complicated, so lets just say three months and then figure out later what to do long term.” He shoved a bite into his mouth and smiled.
* * *
“Four No-Trump,” Roberta said with a smile.
Theresa stared at her hand. She’d barely had enough to open bidding, and now Roberta was nudging for a slam. Blackwood was a bridge convention, a way for a player to ask her partner how many Aces she had. “Five diamond,” Theresa replied, which meant that she only had one. Theresa would be happy to play dummy in this hand, while Roberta took care of the tricks.
“Pass,” Anne said.
“Six No-Trump.” Roberta bit her lip. She always did that when she had a particularly good hand.
After Anne set down a 10 of clubs, Theresa laid out her cards. When Roberta saw the whole hand, she gathered up her own cards and put them down on the table emphatically.
“For god’s sake, Theresa. How many years have you been playing this game? Heck, you’re the one that taught me the rules! Have you forgotten how to count? I don’t know that we should even bother with this hand. It would be a waste of everyone’s time.”
“Now, now, Roberta.” Anne put down her own cards. “I’m sure it’s not that bad. Let’s just play this hand out. Try to make the best of it.”
The three women—Anne, Roberta, and Helen—played out the thirteen tricks, while Theresa sat back and watched. Her partner only got eight tricks, four short of what she needed.
“I’m sorry, Roberta. I didn’t think you’d raise it to six, and you never mentioned clubs.”
“It’s ok. We’ll get them in the next hand,” Roberta said. “Though you do seem rather distracted.”
“Yes, how is Henry doing?” Helen asked. “Last week you said he had been to the doctor twice that week for tests.”
“He’s waiting for the results. They’ll call when everything is done.”
“Do they have any idea what is the matter?” Anne said pausing between shuffles. “You said first his hip was hurting, now his hands and feet are getting numb. Sounds like diabetes, to me. My sister, God bless her soul, had the same symptoms just before she was diagnosed.”
“Well they’ll find out what’s wrong and then everything will be ok. Henry has decided to stay two more months because the tests cost so much. I’ll be happy to have him around. In fact, I’ll be quite sad when he moves out again. I may just ask him to stay, permanently.”
“We’re all glad for you,” Helen said as she finished dealing the cards.
“Yes,” Theresa said. “So am I.”
* * *
Theresa was alone in her apartment when a young woman called asking for Dave Emil.
“I’m sorry, you must have the wrong number,” Theresa said, then put down the receiver. Ten minutes later the phone rang again.
“Mrs. Merchant?” the person said on the other end. “I talked to your landlord, Mr. Wildman. Your name is Theresa Merchant, right?”
“Yes, that is my name, may I ask who is calling?”
“David Emil, my father, was living in the Mellwood apartments, in 3B, for about six weeks. Then he calls to say he’s moved one door down to live with you. Your landlord gave me this number. My father hasn’t called this week like usual.”
“I know a Henry Emil. Is he your uncle?”
“Ma’am, if you could just leave a message for Dave to call Molly, he has my number. I’m just wondering if he got any of the test results back, yet. Actually, never mind the message. I’ll just call back tonight, when he might be home.”
Theresa hung up the phone and then walked over to her recliner. It was across from the couch that unfolded into a bed that a man had been sleeping in for over three months. In a few minutes, she got up. There were dishes in the sink that needed to be washed and food that needed to be prepared.
She picked up a brown mug, the insides crusted with dried cocoa. On the outside of the mug were the letters HAM—her late husband’s initials—as well as a picture of a pig. Theresa had told her current roommate to use that mug, because it insulated better than the rest. She washed it clean, set it in the drying rack next to the sink, and finished the other dishes.
It was five o’clock. He would be home in less than an hour, and Theresa still hadn’t started dinner. She rummaged through the pantry and cupboards looking for something suitable. Finally she took a prepackaged meal from the freezer, put it in the oven, and set the timer for twenty minutes. It was an easy meal, but he seemed to like those best. He was different from Henry in that regard.
“Theresa!” he said, as he always did, when he walked in the door. “Theresa, where are you?”
She listened to the front door shut, and his footsteps against the wood floor. She pictured him walking into the kitchen and, seeing that she wasn’t there, opening the oven to see what she had made. Now he was walking toward the bathroom. He knocked at the door.
“Theresa? Are you in there?”
She opened the door and walked out of the bathroom, said hello, and asked if he found anything interesting at the flea market. He showed her a Nixon pin.
“Isn’t this great? Now I can honor the man who disgraced our nation,” he said, smiling. “Who would wear something like this?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Dinner should be about ready.”
“Great! I’ll set the table.”
Theresa pulled the Stouffer’s lasagna out of the oven and set it on a potholder. Then she watched as he took plates, silverware, and glasses out of the cabinets, knowing which items would be in which cupboard before he opened it. He had gained weight since he came here. Not a lot, maybe fifteen pounds or so, but enough to make his face a little rounder and gentler.
“No candles?” he asked.
Theresa shook her head. She waited for him to sit down, and then served them each some food.
“I take it no one called from the doctor’s office.”
“No,” she said. “Although Anne seems to think you have diabetes.”
“Perhaps,” he said. “There are worse things.”
“Yes, Henry. There are.”
* * *
“May I speak to David Emil?”
“He’s not here right now,” Theresa said to the phone. “Can I take a message?”
The person on the other end, a man, paused. “Is this his wife?”
“Yes,” she said. “I’m Mrs. Emil.”
He was Dr. Macintosh from North Bend Medicine. “I’m calling about some tests your husband took.”
“Yes, yes,” Theresa said, nervously. “Is there anything you can tell me?”
He explained that David had Type II diabetes. But no need to worry, because that was the more common and less severe form of the disease. “A healthy diet and exercise are his two best weapons. You take care of him, ok?”
Theresa said she would.
“Tell David to call my office if he has any questions.”
Later that afternoon, when he came home and asked if there were any calls, Theresa shook her head. No one had called for him, she said. He was anxious about his test results, but Theresa told him not to worry. Everything would be just fine.
* * *
“Now, we deal out the entire deck, clockwise starting with the person to your left. Thirteen cards apiece. Then you arrange your cards according to suit and rank. Hearts together, Diamonds together… Me, I like to put Clubs farthest to the left, then Diamonds, Hearts, and Spades, according to the rank of the suits. See, Spades are worth more than Clubs.”
He nodded. Theresa was teaching him how to play bridge at the most basic level. She explained how the players went around in a circle bidding, trying to come up with a contract. “It’s like a dialogue between partners. You’re trying to communicate what you have in your hand, based on your bid. For example, if I open bidding with ‘Spade,’ I’m telling my partner that I have at least four Spades, at least two of which are face cards. Then he or she can bid accordingly.”
He continued to nod as Theresa explained trumps, Club conventions, and other fundamentals of the game. She taught him enough to join the girls at bridge, becoming the fourth player while Helen was visiting her sister in California.
“You’re wonderful,” he said to her.
When they got to Roberta’s, Theresa insisted that she partner with the new person, and Anne would play with Roberta. “It’s only fair,” she said.
Theresa could tell that the others were taking it easy. They bid two clubs when they could easily have gone for a small slam.
“We saw the most fabulous bracelets on Dynamite Tanzanite, the other day,” Anne said, passing the deck to Theresa to shuffle. “Did you watch?”
“No,” Theresa said.
“Oh, well, we bought four bracelets if you’d like one. There was a special deal, buy three get the fourth half-price. Henry, you should really watch these. You’ll find the best bargains.”
He smiled and finished dealing. The four players gathered and organized their cards. “I pass,” he said.
“Three Heart,” Roberta said, biting her lips.
Everyone passed, and Anne laid her cards on the table for Roberta. Anne had a strong five-card spade suit, some high diamonds and clubs, but a void in hearts. Theresa thought Anne should have raised the bid to three spade, because that would have been the proper response to Roberta’s bid.
“Henry, have you finally gotten your test results?” Anne asked, standing to get a book to read while she was dummy.
“I’m all clear on the cardio front!” He smiled as he threw down a three of spades. “I got some more needles stuck in me last week, though. Still waiting to hear from the doctor.”
“Nice finesse,” Anne said, as Roberta took a trick with her queen of clubs. “More tests, you say?”
“Yes, these ones are to see if I have diabetes or gastrointestinal problems.” He put down a trump to take the trick.
Roberta tapped on the table. “Your lead, Henry.”
He sloughed, throwing a six of diamonds. “Anne, you said ‘nice finesse.’ What’s a finesse?”
She turned to Theresa. “You call yourself a bridge instructor, and you didn’t explain the finesse to Henry?”
“It’s rather complicated,” Theresa said. “I figured that he should master the fundamentals, first.”
Anne patted him on the shoulder and said that Henry seemed to be doing just fine. “Do you remember a couple tricks ago, when Roberta took it with a queen? Neither the ace nor king had been played yet. That’s a finesse: when you take a trick with a lower card when there is a higher one outstanding.”
Roberta added, “You have to have a keen awareness of what’s going on in the game, of what’s been played, and who’s holding what cards. A good finesse can be the difference between making game and getting two under-tricks.”
“Does that make sense?” Anne asked.
He thought so, but he didn’t know if he’d be able to play one in a game.
“The point is,” Theresa said, “to get rid of your opponents’ high honors, like the king and ace, in order to make your lower ones, such as the queen, worth something. Once the ace and king of spades have been played, the queen of spades is the highest one out there.”
He nodded and set his jack on the table. Roberta scooped up the trick and said, “That’s game! Good first effort, Henry. Helen is still away next week if you want to join us again.”
“Sure,” he said. “I’d like that.”
* * *
He was getting anxious that his test results hadn’t come back yet. He stopped whistling in the mornings and going to thrift stores in the afternoons. “I don’t know, Theresa,” he said. “I just don’t know.”
She told him not to worry, just to eat up the salad she prepared for supper.
“Is the rest of the meal in the oven?”
She shook her head. “But I have a light ranch dressing if you want it.”
He got it from the refrigerator and drenched his salad with the oily white stuff.
“I thought after dinner we might go for a walk around the neighborhood,” she said. “It’s such a lovely evening. Besides, the exercise will do us good.”
Theresa continued to feed him salads and rice cakes for snacks, with the occasional indulgence in fish or baked chicken.
Theresa heard him call his daughter on a Wednesday night. Theresa was in her bedroom reading and he was in the living room, speaking in a soft voice.
“Still no word,” he said to the phone.
The next day, he called the doctor’s office, and a nurse told him his test results: Type II diabetes, the less severe form of the disease. He didn’t understand why the doctor never called, but Theresa assured him that sometimes people just make mistakes.
“I don’t suppose you’d want me living here once this month’s rent is paid up.”
“Why would you say that?”
“Well, I’ll have most of my bills paid off and I can afford a place of my own. Or my daughter offered me her spare bedroom down in Tennessee,” he said. “I don’t imagine that you want to be cooking special meals for an old fart.”
Theresa pulled off her glasses and cleaned them with her blouse. She could make out the silver hair, dark-rimmed glasses, and tall stature, but she could not recognize the details of his face. She knew he had a dark mole on the right side of his forehead and two drooping ear lobes that moved when he laughed. There was also a dent on the tip of his nose that he rubbed when he was nervous, as if trying to smooth it over. But without her glasses, this man could be Henry.
“If you want to stay,” Theresa said, “I’d love to have the company.”
* * *
Anne finished dealing out the deck, but finished one card short. “Count ‘em,” she said. Each player had thirteen, except Anne, with twelve.
“Can’t we just play with one deck?” Theresa asked.
“Takes too much time, if you can’t have someone shuffling while the partner is dealing. Let’s just figure out what card is missing and write it on one of the extras,” Roberta said.
While Roberta and Anne were sorting the cards, Theresa pulled her partner away from the table. “It’s a blessing that you were named Henry when I first met you. But now I feel a bit strange calling you the same name that I called my late husband. Would you mind if I called you something else? I’ve always liked the name David.”
Anne called from the table, “It’s the queen of spades!” She pulled the joker from the card box and, using an ink pen, drew a Q and a spade in two of the corners.
He smiled and said, “Ok, Theresa.”