The Passerby Page 2

Hester Tetreault

"My wife is not so good," he told me when I asked about her.

I want to jump in, offer help, be friend, but I had already pushed myself upon this stranger. Reserve ruled the moment. I pointed to my house. "Please," I said, leaving the next overture to his discretion, "stop in and have a cup of coffee with me sometime when you are out walking."

I didn't see him after that, but I thought about him often. Was he housebound or sick? Had his wife's health deteriorated suddenly? If only I knew his name, or where he lived. My invitation mocked me with its ineptitude. I had so wanted to be a friend.

Months went by before I saw the familiar limp and swing. He moved slowly, shoulders slumped, and one foot twisted so that the heel did not stay in his shoe. His pale face was thinner than I remembered, but his eyes still twinkled, and he smiled in recognition as I reintroduced myself. I learned his name was Paul.

I don't walk as far as I used to," he explained. "My wife, I cannot leave her very long. Her mind is going," he grimaced with a touch to his forehead, "she forgets things." He gestured toward a green and white wood-framed house across the street and said, "Would you like to come in and see my drawings?"

"Im on my way to pick up my car from the garage," I said regretfully, "but I'd love to see them another time."

"You come this evening, then?" He looked hopeful.

"Oh yes," I said, "I'll come this evening."

The pungent smell of damp fir needles permeated the chill, sulky evening air. Paul stood expectantly by the window. When he opened the door, he was groomed for company.

His wife, slender and frail, came from the kitchen, tucking wisps of white hair back into a tidy bun. "Come in, come in," she bid, with a smile full of the grace of her generation. She reached out a worn, soft hand.

"This," Paul said, "is my wife, Bertha." He straightened and grew in stature. "We've been married fifty- six years."
That evening I was introduced to Paul's pen and ink sketches. We went from room to room. Pictures hung in modest frames, pages were tucked in drawers. There were sketches of celebrities, scenes, anything that took his fancy. Each had a story.