With trepidation John snapped shut his laptop. He sat on his chair and stared downward at his quivering liver-spotted hands. Before today he merely ignored the age spots and wrinkles but that was before he had typed the word, yes, into his last message.
An English teacher for more than thirty years John Rowe, now retired, had always impressed on the vulnerable young minds of his students the fact that words most definitely are important. No one knew better than him that once a word is spoken there is no taking it back. He could not deny that in his messaging with Mary he had perhaps exaggerated.
Throughout the six months he had been sharing on-line messages with Mary he had easily convinced himself that he was, indeed, a young sixty-two. Sitting alone in his library tap, tapping the words onto the screen he had found it quite an easy matter and sometimes a downright amusing one to create an attractive, adventurous character whose attributes were far removed from those he possessed.
Moving away from his desk John left the library and walked down the hallway to his bedroom. He stood before the mirror which hung on the wall behind his dresser. His weak blue eyes noted the sparse white hairs atop a face whose skin was sagging downward toward total collapse upon his goitered neck. He considered a wig. Did he have time to buy one? Or perhaps he could run out to the shop and buy some hair dye. He wished he had not told Mary he had black hair.
And why did he fabricate the story about the Caribbean cruise and tell her he was deeply tanned? He wondered if this was something else he could buy in a bottle to disguise the purple veins that ran atop his nose and the deep etches on his forehead. When did the wrinkles become etchings? He couldn’t remember.
John did remember his grandsons who, with childhood audacity, boldly stated, “You sure have a lot of wrinkles, Granddad!”
“And I earned every one of them, lads!” John replied. “If you work hard and deal with life’s trials you will earn some wrinkles too.”
Perhaps the wrinkles became etchings when Margaret died. His beautiful Margaret with the flowing brown tresses was murdered by cancer in the prime of her life; too soon to become acquainted with the young boys who called him Granddad or sometimes Gramps when in a more playful mood.
John forced his mind to return to the present. Mary would not be overjoyed to meet a balding Gramps for dinner that evening.
Thinking about dinner caused his stomach to rumble. He was hungry. He left his bedroom and walked further down the hallway to the kitchen at the back of his old house.
Margaret had been a fine cook. Since her death he had learned how to keep himself alive by opening cans and nuking frozen dinners. Occasionally his daughter poked her head into his life and stocked his freezer with remnants of the meals she prepared for his grandsons. Once in a while she would stock the refrigerator with fresh fruits and vegetables but she soon got tired of tossing her purchases into the garbage can when she later discovered them rotted in the crisper. She ceased buying fresh vegetables in favour of the frozen variety that John simply needed to heat up atop the stove in a pot filled with a little water.
Since Margaret’s passing John spent his long days in a methodical fashion. He was 50 years of age when she died. He was too young to retire and decided to continue teaching for another ten years. At the age of sixty he checked his bank balance and being mortgage-free he made the sensible decision to stop working.
Since retirement John would breakfast at eight a.m. It was always Cheerios with a spot of milk, a glass of orange juice and a slice of toast with raspberry jam.
After breakfast he would go for a walk-about through the small town’s residential streets until he came to the park where he would sit on the bench and stare out at the lake. Even on rainy days or blustery winter days John would keep to his routine. If necessary he would carry his big, black umbrella or don a toque to keep the cold from penetrating through his thin white hair to his pink scalp.
By ten a.m. he would be home again. Before he impulsively bought the laptop he would spend his morning puttering about the house; dusting a table or watering a plant. His laundry would mysteriously disappear from the clothes hamper and re-appear neatly folded in his dresser drawers or hanging in his bedroom closet while he occupied the park bench. Yes, Margaret had done a fine job raising their daughter. She had kept her own key to the family home long after she had moved into her own home with her husband who helped to raise his lively grandsons.
By noon John would be hungry and ready to eat his lunch.
His afternoons would be spent lounging in his easy chair with a good book until three p.m. when he would switch on the television to catch the BBC News which he was convinced was the only reliable news broadcasting station. At precisely four p.m. he would leave the house and walk into the commercial part of town where he would rent a movie; usually an action film or a science fiction drama into which he would escape each evening after supper. Once the movie finished John would take his daily shower after which he would climb into his pyjamas and go to his bed. He always kept a book on his bedside table and he would often, though not always, read until he fell sleep.
Everything changed six months ago when John bought a laptop. He’d been on his way, as usual, to the movie rental store to rent his daily video. A new computer store had opened up in town. It was situated right next door to the video store. John impulsively wandered into the new store and surprised himself when he put the purchase of the laptop on his credit card. One thing seemed to lead to another. He needed to hire a fellow to come in and hook everything up. He needed to hire an internet server. He needed to learn a whole new language, not an easy thing to do when you are seventy-eight years of age, but achieve it he did.
Words such as e-mail, surfing the net and googling became an integral part of his vocabulary. But what brought about the dramatic awareness of wrinkles, brown-spotted hands and purple-veined nose was John’s discovery of the Senior Chat room.
The laptop turned his life upside down. No longer did he dust the tables, rent the movies or pay attention to the BBC News.
Instead he chatted.
And he had been chatting with Mary for nearly six months. He became very creative in expressing himself in the chat room. He drew a picture of a man that he had only read about or watched perform in his daily movies. He introduced Mary to an affable, well-travelled, middle-aged man; well, maybe not middle-aged at sixty-two, but certainly not the old gramps his daughter checked in on every day to be certain he was eating and staying alive.
The chatting was fun. It was something John relished and enjoyed but now she had invited him to meet in the real world. That was all well and good. But, even though he knew he had done so, John found it impossible to believe he had said yes. He had agreed to meet Mary that evening at five p.m.
Now in his kitchen he put together a ham and cheese sandwich. He knew he had no choice but to disappoint Mary. If he didn’t meet her she would be hurt. If he met her she would be even more disappointed to meet the old man he truly was.
Mary had described herself as a recent retiree in her mid fifties; a pretty, slim woman with dark hair and brown eyes. She was young enough to be his daughter. John felt like a fool.
He decided to visit the restaurant at the appointed time for no other reason than to see her loveliness. Later he could type into his laptop an appropriate excuse for standing her up.
At five p.m. John stamped the snow off his boots and entered the tea-room. He recognized her sitting alone at a table near the back of the room. Mary looked exactly as she had described herself.
John knew he should leave but he couldn’t resist the opportunity to gaze at her beauty. He decided to sit down and have a cup of tea.
Assured of a clear view he slid onto a seat across from an ordinary plump, grey-haired woman who sat alone sipping her tea. As he did so the old lady looked up, smiled warmly and greeted him, “Hello, John. At last we meet!”