By Shoshauna Shy
Peg lay in bed waiting for Keith to finish brushing his thick white hair, and slip in beside her. All three bay windows were swung open to the lake, and she could smell the softly-falling rain.
One morning about two months ago, a semi-stranger—this Keith—unexpectedly appeared at Peg’s screen door. He lived on the lake down the block, had entered widowhood a mere handful of seasons prior, as she did, and while they occasionally crossed paths at the grocery co-op or dry cleaners, they were only peripherally acquainted. Their children had run in the same circle at Lamley High decades ago.
Puzzled by the knock, Peg invited Keith in, and he quietly took a seat at her kitchen table.
“There’s this book I read, a novel,” he began, after accepting the cup of coffee that she poured. “They made a movie out of it.” He went on to describe the plot, that it was about two older widowed people much like themselves who were not well-acquainted. But as a hedge against loneliness, they agreed to share her bed at night.
“Without actually knowing each other first?” Peg asked.
“Well,” his voice softened to a whisper, as if he feared someone else might be listening. “It’s not what you think. It’s more about companionship, conversation. Falling asleep more easily.”
Peg smoothed her dry hands over the cotton skirt draping to her calves, her ankles crossed with the white straps of her neatly-buckled sandals.
“So, I was wondering,” Keith said, “would you—might you maybe want to do that with me?”
Peg looked away, swallowing with difficulty. “Don’t you have anyone else to ask?”
His shoulders sagged.
“I’m sorry. That came out wrong.” Peg touched him lightly on the wrist. “I meant to say, there are probably women you’re more familiar with.”
Plenty of them, she figured, would welcome not only Keith Rydell’s company, but the chance to wake up in his Civil War era house perched on Lake Sinclair, the only house with spacious grounds privileged to border the shore. His wife Elaine had been reclusive, and few women in their age group had visited the house. The rest of the shoreline was a public park outlined by evergreens so thick you could believe you were in the countryside, not actually in one of Indiana’s county seats with a bustling hub a mere mile away. Women in town knew Keith was alone again.
“Well, the truth is, I asked you because what little I know of you, I like. You seem to have a—a very pleasant countenance,” Keith said. “And this worked for Louis and Addie.”
“Addie. The people in the story.”
“This worked out?”
“For the most part.”
“Which part didn’t?” A slow grin teased Peg’s mouth, which made Keith laugh outright.
He finished his coffee. “Just give it some thought, Peg.”
He closed the screen door behind him. “And no obligation to stay in the morning. This isn’t about breakfast, either.”
She watched him walk to her gate and gently let himself out. The latch clicked securely in place, and then he went on.
Peg was moved by the simplicity of his suggestion. He himself had a pleasant demeanor for a man on the other side of—65? 70? Plus he smelled good, like Ivory soap and cinnamon. She had noticed him over the years, thought of him as boyish and woodsy, not her type. His wardrobe came from Farm & Fleet: checkered wool jackets, carpenter’s jeans with a loop on the side to hang a hammer. She imagined him more at home in a tool shed than a dining room, meals eaten on porch steps, not at a table. She never saw him at the concerts she attended or at the public library.
So, what might she be getting into? This was different than when she was a teenage girl eager to earn the envy of older sisters by getting asked out by Nicky Credico in the tenth grade. And this was a far cry from weighing the pros and cons of particular potentials with whom she might raise children, choosing Wayne DeNiro with his sturdy gait and broad hands from her economics class at Indiana State U.
Nor was this like being seduced by Tom Lalor, the man who became her second husband, who trained for marathons and possessed enough stamina to kayak Alaska. Those days were long gone.
The more Peg thought about it, it didn’t have to matter whether Keith had been a patient father or a lousy one; excelled at a career or just endured it; made a caring lover or a scornful husband. She wouldn’t need him to keep her bank account replenished, and there’d be no dish duty debates, no arguments over in-laws, no gassing up the tank of a shared Subaru. All that would matter, if he meant it, would merely be showing up to share a measured kindness at the end of the day, maybe even listening without judgment sometimes.
She recalled the way he had fidgeted with a button on his shirt cuff as he described that story to her. Not a man used to making proposals to women he hardly knew. Clearly he had stepped out of his comfort zone to come here.
The next evening, Mrs. Peg Lalor stepped from her porch in the soft June light. Tucked under one arm: a pair of floral print pajamas.