The old woman is lying in a hospital bed in her living room. The hospice nurse sits in the corner keeping an eye on her. Today is a big day.
“Is he here yet?” asks the patient.
“He’s coming,” says the nurse. “Your daughter said he texted, his plane just landed.”
“How much longer?”
“You know how traffic is.”
These are the final stages of her life. She was an English teacher once. She taught high-schoolers to read Hemingway, Clemens, and Steinbeck. And how to love them.
Local students said her class was the best thing about their one-point-five-horse town. Especially when she used to get students to reenact “Huckleberry Finn.” The English teacher always played the part of Huck while wearing cutoff overalls, straw hat, and painted freckles.
The old woman says, “What time is it now?”
“Same time as when you asked thirty seconds ago. Relax, Miss Adeline. He’s coming.”
She is hazy from medication. “What if he changed his mind?”
Forty-three years ago the English teacher’s husband was unfaithful. He had been having a relationship with her best friend for years. It ruined her. Their marriage shattered like plate glass and their family split in two. The Leave it to Beaver image died. And June Cleaver traded in her pearls.
“Miss Adeline. How’s your pain level? You comfortable?”
The old woman tries to swallow. “I’m thirsty.”
“I’ll get you some water.”
The nurse leaves. And the old woman is left with memories. Some good. Some not. She never remarried. She never spoke to her ex-husband again, either. Not once.
She never used his name, never acknowledged him. She moved to a different part of the state. He moved across the country. They have been strangers for four decades. But that was a long time ago. And pancreatic cancer has changed her perspective.
Then a doorbell rings.
“That’s him,” says the old woman. “Maybe this was a bad idea.”
The nurse turns to the chaplain who says, “Miss Adeline. You’ve been preparing for this.”
In a few minutes she has company. The man who enters is elderly. Tall and lean, dressed in a button down. They are given privacy.
“Hello, Adeline,” he says.
The old woman gestures to a chair. “Randall, please, sit.”
They run through the typical forced pleasantries. “How was your flight?” “How’re the kids?” “How’s your life?” “Wow, you look different.” “I don’t look old, you look old.” Together they ogle photos of grandbabies on mobile phones. Never mind the forty-three years of bitterment between them, they are making chitchat now.
Finally, the mood becomes serious and they get down to cutting bait.
“Adeline,” he begins. “God. I don’t know why you’d wanna see me.”
The old woman is undaunted, she has been rehearsing this scene for weeks with her chaplain. She will never be more ready than right now.
“Randall, listen. I wanna say this, and I don’t want you to interrupt. And it’s important I say this to you.”
He remains silent.
“I’m sorry I hated you, I’m sorry we were hateful to each other, I’m sorry I was angry for so long, and… I’m just sorry. I should have apologized years ago. I don’t want to die without you knowing how sorry I am.”
Randall is now a blithering mess. He removes his glasses. “God, Addy.”
She holds his hand.
“God,” he says through tears. “I’m the one who’s sorry. I wish it was me lying in that bed.”
She smiles. “You know something? Me too.”
He looks at her. He’s not sure how to react. Then they both erupt into laughter. Real laughter. Together they laugh until their vision goes blurry.
“I’m gonna miss you.”
“I have missed you.”
“We had some good times.”
He wipes his face with a sleeve. “God, when I took you to prom I thought I was ten foot tall. Everyone in the whole school was jealous.”
She laughs. He always was a great embellisher.
The old woman asks permission to touch his face. He grants it. It’s been a while since she’s done this. And here comes the next part she’s been rehearsing. “I love you, Randall.”
The pair of one-time sweethearts spends another hour rehashing ancient memories. All smiles. No pain. And sometime around 3:09 P.M., as soon as they finished, everyone within the household would claim something happened. Something filled the home. Something sweet, like the smell of drugstore perfume, like a cake baking. A deep peace.
The old woman’s daughter says she could almost sense this peace drifting through the hallways, the living room, the bedrooms, out into the yard, and upward into an eternal place.
A place where wrongs are not remembered, where mistakes are not recalled. Where, I am told, trespasses are forgiven. And where we forgive those who trespass against us.
Rest, Miss Adeline. Rest in peace.