When I hit the 5K mark, I consulted my heart monitor and saw my heartbeat was only 135 – an improvement from my last outing. Then again, I took a five minute break to work out a kink in my knee. Perhaps I should do that more often. Feeling energized, I felt I could go another mile, but my good sense intervened, and I settled into a walk. At fifty-six there’s no sense in pushing it.

Since I ended up downtown, I decided to pop into my favorite eatery for lunch. Gwen, my usual waitress, is one of those ultra-marathoners who logs a ridiculous amount of mileage every week.  “Just come from the gym?” she said, looking askance at my sweaty mug.

“No,” I said. “Running.” 

“Really?” she said, “How far did you go?” 

“5K – but I’m like a car valet jogging to fetch a car.’ 

“Excellent. How’s your knee?” she said, pointing to the brace I was wearing. 

“Good. Had to stop for a spell but then everything lubed up. No problem.” Then I ordered a chicken Caesar salad, dressing on the side, and downed two glasses of water. 

“So, how’s things?” I asked Gwen after I rehydrated. 

“Hubbies’ in the hospital.” 

“Oh no,” I said. “What for?” 

“Hip replacement. His third.” 

“Ouch. He got a card to get through metal detectors?” 

“Oh yeah.” 

“I hope he recovers quickly.” 

My salad arrived and I tucked into it with gusto. As I ate, I browsed the news headlines on my phone: Gaza, Ukraine, Biden vs. Trump, the former President’s legal saga, a nifty article about life aboard an attack submarine, and how college campuses are trying to hold graduation ceremonies under the threat of student protests. One of my volunteer’s grandchildren is graduating from college next week and she’s worried sick that they won’t be able to walk with Pomp and Circumstance if people act up. “She didn’t have a high-school graduation because of COVID,” my volunteer said. “I hope things go smoothly this time.” When I asked her what college her grandchild attended, she named a small school in the hinterlands of Pennsylvania. 

“Not every college had protests,” I said. “I’m sure things will be fine.” 

“I went through this during the Sixties,” my volunteer said. “It was bad then too.” Smiling I thought of my sweet seventy-something volunteer wearing a tied-dye shirt and love beads while protesting against “The Man.” 

Noticing my mother has called, I shut of the “Do Not Disturb” feature in case she called again and texted that’d I’d ring her after I was done with lunch. There was also a text from my hospitalized buddy. So far, so good. I made a mental note to send him the article about the submarine. My friend served on a “boomer” in the Navy and likes to joke that he now glows in the dark as a result. Putting down my phone, I listened to the clatter and chatter of a busy restaurant during the lunch rush. You couldn’t pay me enough money to strap on an apron again, but I sometimes wistfully remember weaving between tables, busboys, and the occasional rambunctious tyke while grooving to a rhythm only I could hear. Then I remember why I now have flat feet, a gimpy knee, an undying hatred of entitled assholes, and the feeling passes like a nostalgic fart. 

After paying the check and leaving Gwen twenty percent, I asked for another glass of water to top off my tank before walking home. As I sipped, I remembered that I came here a couple of hours after my father died, seeking comfort in a greasy patty melt with sauteed onions and French fries. When bad times hit, my diet is usually the first thing to go. But I know I didn’t just come in that day for comfort food. I came looking for the friendly and familiar energy a clean well-lighted place provides when the unfamiliar and sorrowful strikes. 

“See you next time, Steve,” Gwen said. “Keep running.” 

“Thanks, kiddo. Have a good weekend.” 

Walking home, I called my mom. She’s doing okay, but sometimes the unfamiliar and sorrowful gets to her too and she needs person to lean on. After fifty-seven years of marriage, that’s to be expected. Then again, I need people to lean on too. After ending the call with a promise to visit her tomorrow with granddaughter in tow, I arrived home, just in time to witness the cleaning ladies finishing getting my house ship shape.  A bit of an extravagance, perhaps – but it’s cheaper than marriage counseling. 

“Adios, Senor,” the cleaning ladies said as they got into their car. “Muchas gracias,” I replied. “I hope it wasn’t too bad this time.” Laughing, the ladies got into their car and drove away, heading to what I imagined was a bigger home and better paying gig. Opening the front door, I felt a twinge of sadness when I remembered a dog wouldn’t be there to greet me, tail wagging. Nor would I be able to call my dad and hear his voice for that matter. “Many great dears are taken away,” I muttered. “What will become of you and me?”

When I walked into my house, my blue mood suddenly took a backseat to contentment. The ladies had left all the blinds open, and the afternoon sun glinted with a warm glow off the newly polished floors. Inhaling deeply, I smelled the smells of a clean well-lighted place and enjoyed seeing the order the cleaning ladies had wrought out of my familial chaos. Looking at my watch, I realized the school bus was coming and decided it was a fine day to take my daughter to the playground to burn off her seemingly limitless energy.  To be honest, taking Natalie out to play is a good balm for my soul too. For, as the man said, “Play is the exultation of the possible.”  The past couple of months have been rough, but even in grief, clean and bright possibilities always seem to appear. 

I hope I take advantage of them. 

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