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Fiction #320
(published March 8, 2007)
Maybe Next Year
by Wayne Scheer
At the stroke of midnight at the Evergreen Pines Retirement Village's 2006 New Year's Eve party, Herb Rousch kissed his wife, Florence. Then he turned to a friend and said, "The best thing about being married is you always have a date for New Year's Eve."

"So what am I going to do with him?" Florence asked, wheeling her oxygen tank behind her. "After fifty-three years, I'm just his date?"

Nearly a year later, Herb sits in an overstuffed chair in his overheated condo listening to the sounds made by the refrigerator.

The doctor had told them Florence's heart was failing. She was having more and more trouble breathing. Still, she was determined to attend the 2006 New Year's Eve party.

After the party, as they prepared for bed, he remembered her saying, "Do me a favor. When I go, find someone to tell your jokes to."

Herb took her delicate hand in his, afraid to squeeze too hard. "You think it'll be easy replacing you after all these years? It'll take me at least a week."

Later that night she was rushed to the hospital. Three days later the children were making funeral arrangements.

Herb sits on his chair fighting back tears. "Ahhh," he waves his arm as if someone might see.

After some time, he realizes the telephone is ringing. It takes two tries to push himself off the chair.

Martha Horowitz is on the phone asking how he feels.

"With my hands. How else should I feel?"

She laughs a little too much, Herb thinks. But it's a good, hearty laugh. Herb starts telling her an old joke about a rabbi and a priest in a whorehouse. He remembers telling it to her years ago. Or was it yesterday? He tells it anyway and Martha laughs like she never heard it before.

When Herb and Florence first moved to Evergreen Pines, Martha and her husband, Jake, introduced them around and made them feel welcome. They even joined a bowling league together and took a trip to Atlantic City. But when Jake died, Martha said she felt like a third wheel going out with the two of them. They didn't see much of her after that and Herb missed her laugh. Now she called nearly every day.

Martha asks, "The New Year's Eve party at the clubhouse, are you going?"

Herb thinks how nice it would be to get out of his little apartment and be with people. Martha is a good friend. He's always liked her. Florence would want him to get out and tell his jokes.

Then he remembers how at midnight everyone is expected to kiss.

"No, Martha. Maybe next year."

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