Silent Partners

A Valentine’s Day Story for Guests of the WordFeeder
Sunday, February 14, 2010

“Hand me another napkin, Honey,” Henry thought to himself, referring to Elaine, his wife of 52 years. He didn’t bother to take his eyes off the article he was reading in the technology section of the paper. The napkin holder had been shoved to her corner of the table, behind the packages of sugar, the ketchup and the salt and pepper shakers, when the waiter/busboy had dropped and slid their plates on the old Formica table at their favorite booth, the one where they had a late breakfast every Sunday morning. They liked that particular booth at the noisy corner deli because of the view it had of people coming and going through the park across the street and the way the sun came through the glass walls even on a cloudy day.

Elaine finished the last few lines of the article she was reading about agri-product futures, and refolded the business section. Henry liked to hold the entire paper in front of him. She used to ride the subway to work and had become very skilled at folding and refolding the paper in quarters which she did to find the rest of the piece on an interior page. Reaching to the napkin holder, she pulled the first one out, which tore because they always do, and then two more. “Here,” she handed them to her husband, accompanied by a voice only he could hear. “Anything interesting?”

“Well, that young couple at the counter keeps staring at us.”

“I meant in the paper. What are you reading?”

“They’re wondering if, when they get to be our age, they’ll have stopped talking to each other.”

Elaine looked up at him, over the rim of her reading glasses, and smiled. “What do they know?”

“It’s an article about what the scientist here calls ‘Brainwave Synchrony’ or ‘Entrainment.’”

“Yeah, what’s that?” Elaine asked without looking up.

“They’ve discovered that people, some people who live together long enough, their brains become synchronized and they begin feeling and experiencing things together, in synch.”

“Like the way women living together in a dorm start having their periods at the same time?”

“Something like that, only more mental, more psychological.”

“No kidding. And exactly how old is that scientist you’re reading about?”

“I think he’s twelve,” Henry laughed, and so did Elaine.

“He hasn’t a clue, the kid scientist, does he?”

“Not a clue.”

“He sure as hell hasn’t been married as long as we have, has he Henry?”

“No.” This time he did look up and so did she back at him, relishing one of the great secrets of a long, long-time marriage. And then they went back to reading the paper. “Do you remember when all we could do was complete each other’s sentences?”

“…and how you used to be wrong most of the time.”

“Anything else I can get you?” the waiter/busboy interrupted, without the least hint of friendly customer service, impatient to get his tip and the table ready for another patron or two.

“No thanks,” Elaine looked up at him.


“What, Henry?”

“Out loud. …You’re just staring at him.”

“Right,” she answered him, and then looked up at the waiter/busboy again, pausing this time to wonder how his apron could have gotten that dirty, and its implications for the breakfast he’d served them. Out loud this time, “No thanks. Just bring us a check.”

And they started putting their paper back together and getting ready to leave. “You up for a walk in the park?” Henry thought to himself, reaching for his wallet.

“Sure,” she reached across the table and touched his hand. “Buy me some flowers for the kitchen?”

“How ‘bout something in a pot, something long-term that won’t shrivel up in a couple of days?”

“Done, but something small. Our apartment is this close to being a jungle.”

“Okay.” Henry glanced at the check and tossed a few bills on top of it. “Maybe something with coconuts?”

Except for talking to the waiter/busboy, they hadn’t said a thing out loud since they got there.

On their way out, Elaine paused for a second next to the young couple sitting at the counter, busy eating and talking to each other. “Ask her to marry you, Numnuts,” she thought to herself.”

“What?!” The young man turned quickly and looked up at her. “What did you say?”

“Bobby,” the young girl he was with grabbed her boyfriend’s arm, “she didn’t say anything,” but he kept looking at Elaine, certain he hadn’t imagined it.

Elaine stared back, smiling ever so slightly. “You heard me,” she thought to herself, and then turned to leave, Henry tugging on the arm of her coat.

“Show off,” her husband thought to himself. He leaned over, kissing her on her cheek, while an incoming customer held the door for them.”

“I love you, too,” she smiled back at him.


P.S. By the way, the cartoon at the top of the story is from a Valentine’s Day card my wife bought me, …before she read this story which I wrote for her, ..before I got the card. And you probably thought I make this stuff up.

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