This fellowship hall is full of fried chicken and people. Men wear camouflage caps. Women wear blue jeans and T-shirts.
If you were to show up in, say, khakis, you’d be grossly overdressed. Take me, for instance, I am grossly overdressed.
There are enough deep-fried goods on the buffet table to short circuit the U.S. House of Representatives. Hot biscuits. Field peas. Sliced tomatoes. Hallelujah.
There is an old man. He is skin and bones. He has an oxygen tank with him.
The woman with him is old. Her hair is a bright white. She helps him walk toward an upright piano.
Their trip across the tiny room takes a fortnight. He holds her for balance. She keeps her hand on the small of his back. He shuffles.
Nobody is paying much attention to them. Most folks are doing what I’m doing—using a biscuit to shine my plate.
The old man sits on the piano bench and looks at the keys. He’s trying to catch his breath.
She rubs his back.
He starts to play, but he’s rusty. He punches out more wrong notes than right.
She keeps her arm around his shoulder and smiles. He can’t find the energy to finish the song.
She touches his face. I wish I could hear what she’s telling him.
He picks up where he left off. He plays to the end of the song—I don’t recognize the tune. He has more strength this time. Whatever she told him worked.
He plays another.
“There’s Just Something About That Name,” is the title of the melody, they tell me. A few ladies at my table hum along.
The woman kisses the man on the cheek. It’s just a peck, but it carries weight.
He plays something lively.
“There is Power in the Blood.” A guaranteed foot-stomper.
He misses several keys, and stops a few times. But I can hear what he means. And it’s good.
A woman at my table says, “He used to play for our school programs every year.”
I’ll bet he was something.
When the music finishes, the man stands on unsteady knees. No one in the room but his best girl is paying him any mind. She walks him to the table.
They sit. He is winded. She brings him a plate. He holds a plastic fork with a shaking hand. He has a hard time eating. She dabs his chin with a napkin, and helps him hold his tea glass.
Some folks try to make conversation with him. He doesn’t have the lung fortitude. He can only chew and breathe bottled oxygen.
“That was incredible,” one woman tells him.
“Sure was,” another agrees.
He struggles. His voice is a low whisper. I can hardly make out what he’s saying.
His wife holds her ear close to his mouth. He can’t seem to do it. The heart is there, but the wind isn’t.
“It’s okay,” his wife tells him. “You don’t have to talk, sweetie.”
“This woman,” he finally says, grabbing his wife’s hand. “This woman is everything to me.”