Ada was magic. She could dance, she could dress, and her rump, tight as a cabbage, fit perfectly in the palm of Jack's hand. They saw each other three times a week. Sunday nights, Jack took her to the Jefferson Orleans Hall to dance to big band records and drink. Ada liked her highballs, but limited herself to two. Two helped her sleep. Any more and the sugar kept her awake. Her sugar wasn't bad enough to need shots, but it wasn't normal either.
The one thing wrong with Jack was his hearing, and he
had taken care of that problem with an aid that fit in his ear as neatly
as a raw oyster.
Bad circulation had taken his best friend Roy's legs; Roy couldn't go any place with stairs. Every day, Jack high-stepped in front of the full-length mirror to celebrate seventy-three years of health. He marched up-close to see the Stultz eyes. Then backwards, for the full picture: straight as a pine, thin, extra handsome under the straw boater with the paisley band.
Jack stood in front of the mirror, watching television in the reflection. The man was trying to get the camera to come in close on a music box. "In tight, Chuck," he whined. The tips of his fingers looked fat on the TV screen. "Closer would ya? I have to show them the work."
The man was selling everything but Ada's present: tiger's eye pendants, tool kits, luggage. Jack called the number on the screen.
"Why don't you hold up the Pope on a Plate?" he asked.
"I did this morning. You weren't watching," the man said. "What's your shopping number, babe?" He called everyone babe.
Jack watched the man write his number down. He was a d.j. on the country music radio station and not much to look at. All voice. He put wooden boxes out on his desk with carousel horses painted on them.
"I don't want those either," Jack yelled into the phone.
"You're tying up my line, babe."
"Put out the next item," Jack said.
"How can I do something new when I have these boxes to sell? Shoppers - pick up your phones and call and then maybe I can put up something new for this man."
"You have anything for a woman not quite sixty?" Jack asked.
"I take them out, one by one. I don't even look in the box before I put them up on the desk. Now hang up, babe, because you're tying up my line." The man punched down a button for the next call.
Jack held up three
fingers at the TV. "Read between the lines, mister,"
he said. Another call
"Jack? I heard you on TV."
"Who's the woman almost sixty? Just tell the whole world why don't you that I'm an old lady."
"Giblet? Is that you?" Jack asked. Ada liked nicknames. He was using chicken parts this week.
"When're you coming over?" she asked. "I have news."
Jack looked at the calendar on the wall. "I'm not due until tomorrow," he said.
"Come sooner. This birthday's starting early. I'm jumping in with both feet."
"At your service," Jack said, and he hung up the phone. He put on a clean shirt and patted down his hair with vegetable oil.
Ada met him on the walk outside her house. She grabbed his face and kissed him flat on the mouth.
"I'm on a roll," she said, bringing him inside.
Ada's house was small and sunny and full of pillows. At Ada's, he could sit anywhere and put his feet up on the coffee table, so he did.
She looked good. Her hair was fresh from the beauty parlor where she went once a week. She had on a lavender jogging suit and fuscia polish on her fingers and toes. Jack liked her shape in that suit.
"Sit right here by me," he said, patting the sofa. Ada sat on his hand.
"That's the best I've felt all day," he said.
"You're bad," she said, laughing. "What can I get you? How about cold tea?"
She ran into the kitchen. When Ada was in her house, she jogged from chore to chore. She brought back drinks in scratched glasses.
"Did you make me something?" he asked. "Something sweet?"
"Did I!" she said. "I made you ten days worth of lemon desserts because next week, I'm a gone pecan. I'm leaving the country," she said. "I'm going to a little town in Mexico to see a miracle. Teenagers are talking with the Blessed Virgin Mary - face to face - and I want to see it. We're putting together a charter - Val, and Phyllis and me - for the girls at work."
"Isn't that far away?" he asked.
"Yup. We're stepping out into the world," Ada said.
"I already know about the world." He had been a quartermaster in World War II, keeping the troops in Europe supplied with uniforms, sea rations, shovels, tents, and boots and socks. And when he came home, he had worked as an agent in the Port of Embarcation.
"I've seen ships come and go from all over creation," he said.
"Well, we're flying," Ada said.
Jack took a sip of his tea. "Why am I not invited?" Jack asked.
"It's just the girls, honey."
"And what do I do while you're gone?"
"Well, you can eat those desserts."
"Alone, but not for long."
Jack sighed. "So what does She say?" he asked.
"Mostly to pray for peace," Ada said.
"That's original," Jack said.
"Don't be disrespectful. See why we don't want men on the trip? She's giving them nine secrets," Ada said.
"How am I supposed to know?" Ada said. "How does a horse eat an apple?" she asked, laughing. She squeezed his leg at the knee.
"That hurts, Ada, like your funny bone hurts. Don't do that." Jack put on his best long face.
"What a grouch. I'm figuring out what to pack." Ada walked into the bedroom.
Jack followed her. "How do you dress for a miracle?"
"Rubber soles. Pants. Shoulders covered. Drip-dry. I'm leaving room in my luggage for petitions. I've got them by the dozens. And I'm buying a gross of rosary beads, because She's turning them from silver to gold. They say the sun dances in the sky and you can watch it for as long as you want without burning your eyes."
Jack drove home with the lemon desserts on the seat beside him. He missed Ada already.
The alarm in the glove compartment went off. It was 3:15 in the afternoon and schools were letting out. He slowed down and tipped his hat to the crossing guard. A line of children passed in front of his car, plastic schoolbags slung over their shoulders. Some held hands.
"Walk, don't run," the crossing guard said.
Jack held his breath until they were safe. For those few seconds, between the white lines of the crosswalk, they were 100% protected. What jumped out of the bushes or over the curb at them once they left the crosswalk, that couldn't be controlled. He worried so much about children. He and Elaine had two boys who lived out of state, and he prayed deeply every night for them and for other people's children, too. When Elaine, died, he felt tricked. Maybe he should have prayed more for his wife.
For seven years, Jack and Ada had passed each other in the aisles at the SuperStore. Tuesday morning was their time to shop.
They had spoken, only once, at the lemon bin.
"Here," she said, and handed him two good ones.
"I'd say this is the best smelling fruit of them all, wouldn't you?" Jack asked.
"I put lemon on everything, including myself," Ada said. She held out her hand and introduced herself. Her palm was soft and dry.
Nothing more happened, but when Jack's wife died he stopped shopping on Tuesday mornings. He didn't feel right about seeing Ada, so he waited six months. Then he went back to the SuperStore. He shopped every day for a week until he saw her on a Friday afternoon.
"You changed days, I see," he said. She looked trimmer and her hairdo was different. Curlier.
"I read about Elaine," she said. "I saved the clipping. I'm sorry."
"I waited six months," he said.
"Who doesn't know that?" she said. Her face glowed pink. Jack wanted to stand as close to her as he could.
"Let's go back to Tuesday mornings," he said, "and why not have dinner together?"
Ada was gone and he was staying home. She took his health for granted, he thought. Any combination of problems could happen to him while she was out of the country. Strokes hit like lightening. A blood clot could be spinning through his veins like a tumbleweed. Cancer could be covering his red walls, dense as moss.
There wasn't even a phone where Ada was going. What happened to him while she was gone would be old news by the time she got back.
He had seen Ada and her girlfriends off at the airport. Ada kissed him longer than usual, right there in front of everyone, but Jack was distracted.
That kiss hadn't sunk in to Ada yet, but maybe on the flight over to see the miracle, in the town with the rocks and the magic teenagers and that dancing sun, maybe that half-hearted kiss would sink in.
Elaine never left Jack alone.
He ate the lemon pound cake first. Ada had given him the keys to her house, so he brought the desserts back and sat at her kitchen table. The house looked silly without her in it. The fringes and pillows and candy jars seemed cheap.
Elaine kept a simple house. She took the leftover money they had and put it in the bank for the boys' college. All day long, she moved from room to room, picking up clothes and newspapers and plates, so the house was always clean. Elaine never had time for ruffles and bows.
Sitting in Ada's kitchen, Jack missed Elaine. He thought about her napping in her chair, every afternoon, before dinner, her face slack, a quiet, dry snore that meant she was sleeping deeper than she meant to, because what she always said was "I'm just resting my eyes."
Elaine in her chair was an image he could depend on. Elaine napping.
Jack ate a lemon tart.
Ada would tell Jack how she had stared at the sun, but Jack would be sick. He would be confined to the bed. When she walked in the door, he'd be propped up by pillows and wearing his pajamas.
Jack tried to remember the last time he had been sick. He dug into the lemon bundt cake and ate the pudding out of the middle.
The flu would work, but he would have to run a fever. A migraine would be better. He'd wait in a dark room for cold compresses and Ada's gentle voice.
When Ada came back from the miracle, she would find him
in that condition. Jack put a lemon turnover into
the toaster oven. He thought, again, about Elaine in her chair, just
resting her eyes. He prayed for her soul in heaven, and then he prayed,
hard and loud this time, for the love of Ada.