When Manny lost his wife, he lost his best friend.

Manny had had the perfect life for over forty years. He hadn’t longed for other company besides that of his wife. He’d always assumed he was a loner and had no great need for companionship.

He was wrong.

Rose had tethered him to the world all those years, and he hadn’t known that until she died.

Manny was a quiet guy. He went to work and came home. He puttered around the house, fixing things for Rose, and puttered around the garden, keeping it neat. Sometimes, he’d watch a baseball game with Rose sitting beside him, knitting. They’d take a walk every night after dinner. It was Rose’s idea. She said it helped her digestion. Rose was his only companion and had always been everything he needed.

Rose had had lots of friends, women with whom she’d go shopping or see a movie. She belonged to several clubs. 

He and Rose had had some couples they were friendly with, of course, but these were Rose’s friends and their husbands. The husbands were just along for the ride. The men weren’t really friends with each other. They’d all go out to dinner together or have a barbecue in the backyard. Sometimes they’d go on a day trip to some event “the girls” wanted to attend. This was enough of a social life for Manny.

Rose started feeling poorly about eighteen months ago, and soon after, she received a diagnosis of aplastic anemia. She died of viral pneumonia eleven months later. It devastated Manny.

After the funeral was over, Manny realized Rose had been his only friend. No one phoned him to ask him to come over for a barbecue or go out to dinner or to a ball game. No one stopped by to see how he was doing.

He was doing okay physically, but he was lonely. Manny continued to putter around the garden and the house. He learned to cook for himself and to clean the house. He went for the after-dinner walk by himself. Without Rose to talk to, Manny started noticing his surroundings more. There was a group of people who often played volleyball in the park. There were some panhandlers at the entrance on Main Street. As the days got longer, the sunsets got prettier. His walk now often included sitting on a bench to watch the sunset. He was loath to return to the empty house.

About four months after Rose died, Manny noticed George around the neighborhood, their paths crossed at regular intervals. It seemed to Manny that George was also alone and at loose ends. One evening, Manny saw George sitting in the park, enjoying the sunset, so he sat down on the bench next to him. They acknowledged each other and then sat quietly and watched the sun go down.

Manny and George met several times in the park over the next few weeks. George, like Manny, was not a garrulous sort, but Manny was sure that George enjoyed his company. They would sometimes watch the volleyball players in the park or simply sit quietly, each with his own thoughts. At other times, they’d meet on the path, do a round of the park and then go their separate ways. Manny didn’t know where George lived, or if he had a home at all. There were certain signs that told Manny that George might be homeless. But George seemed proud, so Manny didn’t pry. George, it seemed, expected nothing from Manny but his company.

One evening, Manny had made a pretty good meat loaf from one of Rose’s recipes and had had two helpings. He decided a walk would do him good and maybe he’d get an ice cream cone at the end, after he had walked off some of the dinner. He walked around the park and then realized that he hadn’t seen George. In fact, he hadn’t seen George for more than a few days. Manny walked around the park again and then spotted George by the fountain that stood near the Main Street entrance. George was sitting near the fountain watching children sailing boats in the water.

Manny walked up and said hello. George looked at Manny, clearly happy to see him. Manny noticed George looked thinner than he had the last time they had met, as if he had missed a few meals.

“Hey, listen, I’m going to go get an ice cream cone,” said Manny. “Would you like one? My treat.”

George quickly stood up to join Manny, and the two of them walked to the cart across the plaza. As they sat eating their ice cream, Manny looked at George and made a life-altering decision.

“I have some leftover meat loaf at home. If you want to, you can come with me. You look like you could use a good meal.”

An understanding passed between them and they stood up, Manny leading the way. As they walked, Manny started talking as if all the words he would have said to Rose over the last few months had filled him up and were now overflowing. He found he could not stop them from spilling out of his mouth. He told George all about Rose and about how much he missed her. George seemed to realize that all Manny needed was an ear to pour all these words into and he was more than happy to oblige, especially with the promise of meat loaf at the end. Manny had been right. George direly needed a good meal. In fact, George needed a place to live. If he played his cards right, Manny might help him as much as he was helping Manny right now. George walked silently next to Manny, letting the words flow over him.

When they reached the house, Manny turned to George and smiled.

“You’re a good listener. After dinner, you can have a bath if you’d like,” he said.

Manny opened the door, and they walked in.

“Tomorrow we can buy you a collar and a leash,” said Manny, as he reached down and scratched George behind his ear.

© 2018 Liza Cameron Wasser