Bob stared in the mirror and for the first time in years, he took a long hard look at himself. He felt as though he was staring down his enemy. Who have I become? He looked closely at his gray hair, his receding hairline, the massive dark bags under his eyes, and his face resembling an infrastructure of peaks and valleys. At age sixty-eight, he thought he looked more like ninety. “Damn it!” he scoffed, then looked down at the sink unable to look at himself a second longer.
After being a surgeon for thirty-seven years, he wasn’t sure retirement was going to work out for him. Maybe working twelve to sixteen hours a day wasn’t so bad after all. It didn’t leave much time to think about anything else. His first two weeks of retirement had given him more than enough time to figure out the countless ways he’d made a mess of his life.
“Bob, dinner is ready!” he heard is wife, Cindy, yell from the kitchen.
He glanced in the mirror again, inhaling the permeating aroma of Cindy’s delicious beef burgundy. He tried to recall if he’d ever eaten it right after she had made it – fresh off the stove. He usually heated it up in the microwave when he returned home late at night after a busy day at the hospital, or after spending the evening with Karen. He ran his hand through his thinning hair as feelings of regret and despair consumed him.
Suddenly, Cindy appeared in the doorway. She put her hands on her hips and laughed. “You’re just as handsome as you’ve always been. Stop looking in the mirror and get your ass to the table. I’ve made your favorite meal.” She abruptly turned and headed for the kitchen.
He couldn’t help but smile. He immediately turned off the bathroom light and walked toward the kitchen. Cindy had just put their plates on the table when he entered the room and took his seat.
Before she sat down, she asked, “Can I get you a glass of wine? There’s a bottle of chardonnay in the refrigerator.”
“Sure,” he replied.
After pouring them both a glass of wine, she sat down opposite him and they began to eat. He took a few bites and realized that the number of meals they had eaten together over the last thirty-six years of marriage paled in comparison to the number of times he remembered sitting in this very seat eating alone, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning.
He continued drinking his wine and eating, occasionally glancing up at Cindy. He thought she looked particularly nice, and finally asked, “Did you do your hair different or something?”
“No, silly. This is the way I’ve always worn it – for at least the last five years anyway,” she replied, rolling her eyes at him.
“Oh, it looks nice.”
She glanced at his empty wine glass. “That sure went down easy. Can I get you a refill?”
“Sure, thanks,” he replied.
He watched her closely as she got up to retrieve the wine from the refrigerator. She sure looks fit for a sixty-four-year-old woman.
She filled his glass, then set the bottle on the table. “I’ll leave it here, just in case you want some more.”
Their eyes met occasionally while she ate. Suddenly, she stopped and put her fork down. “What in the world are you staring at? Eat your dinner before it gets cold. Is something wrong? Does it taste okay?”
“Yes, yes, it’s great. It’s just…oh, nothing.” While he ate, he pondered why he seemed unable tell her what he really wanted to say – that the meal was fantastic, and she was a wonderful cook. He had eaten her meals almost daily for the last thirty-six years and had taken every one for granted, devouring them and moving on to the next thing in his life. He never took the time to savor each bite. On this night, however, he had nothing else to move on to. There were no surgeries scheduled, he wasn’t on call for emergencies, he didn’t need to research a new ailment, and no Karen to slip off to for an evening rendezvous. He suddenly found himself wondering if Cindy ever suspected he had harbored a mistress for almost ten years. If she’d known, she sure hadn’t let on, he thought, carefully concealing the smirk on his face as he recalled the moonlight shining through Karen’s bedroom window after they had made love and she lie nestled in his arms. If Karen were still alive, he might be devouring this meal as well. A sudden pang of remorse brought him back to reality.
He chewed on a savory piece of beef and stared at Cindy again. God, she really is a beautiful woman! Why exactly had he taken a mistress? Cindy looked like she could be his daughter. Of course, the stress of his job had taken a toll on his appearance. Plus, not having the time to do much else than work, his young physique had been replaced with that of an elderly man who ate too much fast food and failed to exercise and take care of himself like he should have.
Cindy finished her meager helping of beef burgundy and looked up at him. “You’ve hardly eaten anything! Are you sure everything is okay?”
“Yes. Wonderful,” he commented, still deep in thought.
She stood up and took her plate to the sink. “There’s a show on TV tonight I thought you might like. It’s a documentary on rare diseases. I know how you like documentaries,” she said, chuckling. “I’ll even watch it with you if you want.”
Bob tried to remember the last time they’d watched TV together. He began feeling nostalgic as he recalled renting videos with her the first few years after they were married. They would get a pizza, a bottle of wine, and a movie. He smiled as he recollected the numerous times they ended up making love and missed the ending. At that moment, he vowed to rent a movie the next day; not one he wanted to see, but one Cindy would like – a chick flick.
Yes, that’s it, he thought. Tomorrow.
He smiled, proud of himself for conjuring up such a thoughtful idea. Then he paused and tried to figure out what her favorite pizza was and what kind of wine she liked. On the few occasions when they had gotten pizza over the past few years, she always asked him what he wanted – a thick supreme with extra meat. That’s what they always ordered. And wine? He liked chardonnay. That’s what she always drank, too. Was it because that’s what he had always wanted?
Cindy’s cell phone rang. She left the kitchen and went to the family room to answer it.
He finished his meal just as she returned to the room.
“That was my brother on the phone,” she said.
“Oh! How is he doing?” Bob scolded himself for not asking her how Jack was doing the past few months since being diagnosed with cancer.
“He’s doing great. I’m going to take him for his chemotherapy next week. His doctor told him it was going very well. We’re encouraged.”
“And how has your mother been lately?” he asked, attempting to be interested.
“She’s okay, you know, just goofy. I’m going to go see her tomorrow afternoon if you’d like to join me. On second thought, you have a golf game scheduled with Jim and Larry, don’t you? You should do that instead. I’m sorry. I know you hate going to see my mother.”
Bob suddenly felt guilty. It was an odd feeling. Working sixty hours a week had served him well in getting him off the hook for most of life’s mundane obligations. There were countless funerals, weddings, birthday parties, and church activities Cindy had attended alone, graciously extending his condolences, congratulations, presents, and prayers. At that moment, he decided he would cancel his golf game and go with her to see her mother. It had probably been well over two years since he had seen Wanda. He really needed to go with Cindy to The Willows tomorrow.
Yes, that’s it, he thought. Tomorrow.
He finally got off his chair and carried his plate to the sink.
Cindy grabbed it from him. “I’ll take care of that. Go relax!”
He stood there watching her as she cleaned the kitchen. When she finished, Max approached her, wagging his tail and looking at her with a pleading look on his face. She reached down and rubbed his furry head affectionately. “Awe, you poor thing. It’s past time for your walk, isn’t it.”
She went to the closet and retrieved his leash.
Bob’s thoughts drifted off to the night he had brought Max home almost nine years ago. Karen’s dog had puppies and she didn’t know what to do with the one remaining in the litter. He was the smallest, and no one wanted him. Bob had thought he looked adorable, so he took the dog home as a present for Cindy. He had made up a story about a patient not being able to care for it. Cindy had been livid! She took great care in keeping the house in order, additionally, she was busy with their four kids and had no time to train and care for a puppy. But, she finally resigned herself to the task and Cindy and Max became inseparable. After their kids moved away, Max turned out to be a great companion for Cindy when he worked late.
She returned with the leash and hooked it to the dog’s collar. “Hey, would you like to go with us? We can make it a short walk if you’d like to come. I know you have things you need to attend to.”
He realized he should go on the walk with her and Max, but he was anxious to get to his den and email his golf buddies to cancel the game they had scheduled for the next day. “I would love to go with you, but I really need to shoot off an email to Jim and Larry.”
“That’s fine, maybe another time. We’ll be back in about half an hour.”
“Okay, have fun.”
As he sat at his desk to compose the email, he thought to himself, tomorrow night I’ll go with Cindy and Max on their walk.
Yes, that’s it, he thought. Tomorrow.
Over an hour later, he heard the door shut. “We’re back!” Cindy yelled from the foyer.
A few minutes later, she stuck her head in his office. “Do you want to – ” She stopped midsentence when she realized he was on the phone.
When Bob finished his phone call, he could hear the TV blaring in the living room. He promised himself he would watch TV with her tomorrow. Tonight, he had something more important to do – order some flowers. After surfing the internet for the perfect bouquet for his amazing wife and ensuring it would arrive exactly at 5 p.m. the next day when he would be out getting a movie and pizza, he turned off his computer. He was shocked when he looked at the clock. It was almost midnight! Where did the time go?
He turned off the light in his den and walked past the living room on his way to the bedroom. The TV was off and the room was dark.
When he walked into the bedroom, Cindy was asleep on her side of the king-sized bed. Damn it, he thought. He had hoped to finally go to bed the same time she did. He went to the bathroom, brushed his teeth, put on his pajamas, then instinctively slid into bed without waking her, just as he had done for over three decades.
He tried to rest, but sleep was elusive. A million thoughts were running through his head, slicing his heart like daggers as he recalled the countless ways he had disappointed his wife over the years. The trip to Paris they had planned a few years ago popped into his mind. He cancelled at the last minute because Karen had lost her son unexpectedly and needed him. Cindy was devastated when he told her he wasn’t able to go. He made up a lie about needing to perform a life-saving operation to an ill patient. He insisted she take Pat, one of her close friends in the neighborhood she’d been spending a lot of time with. When she returned from the trip, she was glowing and couldn’t stop talking about the sites they had seen – the splendor of the Eiffel Tower, the amazing Seine River cruise they took, soaking up the acclaimed French culture of the Palace of Versailles, as well as visiting the Louvre Museum and the Notre Dame Cathedral. He remembered feeling regretful while he listened to her rant about the illustrious way the city looked at night.
Tomorrow, he thought. Tomorrow he would schedule another trip to Paris, and this time, he would accompany her. Nothing could stop him!
Yes, that’s it, he thought. Tomorrow.
He finally calmed his mind knowing he had many tomorrows to right the wrongs he had committed against the wonderful woman who slept peacefully beside him. Tomorrow he would tell her how incredibly beautiful she was; how much he appreciated her raising their four wonderful children to be kind, responsible, and loving adults; how grateful he was for all the times she benevolently attended events alone; and, how very much he loved her. He would even complement her on how skillfully she had taken care of the household chores throughout the years all on her own, never complaining about anything. He would also make sure he apologized for all their anniversaries he had missed or postponed because he was too busy working or playing golf.
Tomorrow, he thought as he slowly drifted off to sleep. Tomorrow.
Bob woke up the next morning and cheerfully glanced over to the other side of the bed. It was empty. He smelled the tantalizing scent of bacon frying and fresh brewed coffee percolating and smiled, knowing Cindy was making a special breakfast just for him. He called out to her, “Cindy, I’ll be right out. It smells wonderful!”
There was no answer.
He could hear the morning show host on the TV in the kitchen talking about a new exercise program and realized she probably couldn’t hear him. He yelled louder, “Cindy! I’m on my way! Smells great!”
Still, no response.
As he climbed out of bed, he felt a piercing pain in his head. It was as if a knife had sliced directly into his cerebral cortex. He tried calling out to Cindy one more time, but his lips wouldn’t move. He tried to move his body, but he couldn’t even lift a finger. Both sides of his body were totally paralyzed. Being a doctor, he was quick to acknowledge he had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. He knew time was of the essence to get lifesaving medical treatment, but he couldn’t move; nor could he speak to summon assistance. He began mentally willing Cindy to discover him. Please come into the bedroom! he chanted over and over in his mind.
Bob could hear Cindy as she went about her morning chores. He heard her humming as she start a loaded of clothes. He heard her talking on the phone to her brother. He heard the door slam as she took Max out for a walk. An intense feeling of relief washed over him when he heard her return and place the dog’s leash in the closet.
A few moments later, he could hear her walking toward the bedroom. Finally! he thought.
The sound of her footsteps on the wooden floor stopped abruptly, followed by the horrific sound of her gasp.
“Bob!” she cried as she ran to his side and started shaking him. “Oh, my God! Bob!”
He heard her pick up the telephone on the nightstand. Great, he thought, she’s dialing 911. Help would arrive shortly, and he would be rushed to the hospital and given a hefty dose of Activase to help dissolve the blood clot.
He listened carefully to her end of the conversation. “I think my husband may have had a heart attack. Yes, yes…no, he’s not responsive…5346 Gardenview Place. Yes, please come quickly!”
A second later, he sensed she was dialing another phone number.
He heard her say, “Please answer, please answer, answer, damn it!”
A few moments later, she said frantically, “Pat! Thank God you finally answered! I need you to come over. Bob is…I think he may have had a heart attack or something. It looks like…like he’s dead. Yes, yes, I’ve called 911. Just get over here. I need you!”
Bob desperately wished he could say, I’m not dead! I’m paralyzed! But, he was glad she had called her girlfriend for moral support.
A few minutes later, he could hear loud footsteps approaching the bedroom. He then heard a man’s voice say, “Hey, hey, I’m here. It’s going to be alright.”
Bob knew they were embracing. What the hell! Pat is a man? She went to Paris with a man? On my buck? He instantly became enraged.
Cindy started sobbing. “I can’t bear to look at him like this!”
“Shhh, I’m right here. I’m not leaving you,” Pat said, reassuringly.
Everything was silent for a few moments.
Then he heard Pat say, “I’m so sorry this had to happen on your birthday, hon. Really bad timing on his part, huh?”
“No kidding. I don’t think he even had a clue it was my birthday today,” she said sadly.
“I’m so sorry, Cindy. I’ll help you through this, whatever happens.”
“Thanks, you’re always there for me. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“You do know how much I love you, don’t you?”
“Yes, of course I do. You tell me every day. I love you, too.”
Bob heard the sound of sirens approaching as they walked down the hallway. He thought to himself regretfully, tomorrow was much, much too late.