A Toast

By Cora Bosse

Bernard Allen spent a solid hour trying to pick out the right combination of suit jacket, pocket square, shirt, and tie. He didn’t want to look like one of those old widowers who were falling apart. After all, Lola had been gone for three years. That was plenty of time to stop leaving socks in the middle of the floor for days, or newspapers splayed open on the couch. He had gotten tired of the perpetual sink full of dishes, so he switched to paper plates. He had never known how many coffee cups and carving knives and cereal bowls she must have washed until it was too late to thank her. 

Not that Bernard was a bottomless pocket that she stowed her care and her hot tea and hopes in. Every Sunday evening, to keep her from feeling blue, Bernard would bring her flowers. He would take her coffee in bed and make excuses to their neighbors and the other waitresses about why she couldn’t come to some dinner party, fundraiser, baby shower, whatever. Lola’s “gray times,” as she called them, were infrequent during the first few years their marriage bloomed.  Bernard would have still married Lola if he had known about the gray spells beforehand, of course. Even if he had known that none of her family would attend the wedding, and she would only live twenty years after.

Bernard always said that they took the scenic route finding one another – they were forty and forty-two when they got married. That was plenty of time, though, for them to each separately realize that they wanted a spouse to tell dirty jokes to, and split apple fritters with and read the paper together. 

Bernard had always believed in hope. He truly believed that they could conceive a child together. “It’s not too late for us,” he would say breathlessly. “Imagine showing someone the world, teaching them to read, to play the piano, even.” 

Lola always told Bernard that he was just trying to get her in bed. She wouldn’t admit that she hoped, too. 

By the time he went to dinner that night, Lola hadn’t told him anything in years. That was a shame, too. She knew all sorts of things about how to tell when it was going to storm, and how long – to the second – that a merengue needed to stay in the oven. She had always told Bernard that she didn’t want a funeral. “I don’t want anyone to look at me dead, and no one but you would show up anyway. Just think of me whenever you order a mint julep, or there’s a good frost on the ground, or a little girl is throwing a tantrum in the supermarket.” Bernard respected her wishes. He learned how frequently the grass hid under a white carpet, and how many pigtailed tyrants wanted their ice cream now, dammit. 

He settled on a moss-green shirt, with a gray tie and pocket square. Lola always said that green was his color. He insisted that it made him look like asparagus, but Lola kept buying him green shirts and pajamas and scarves anyways. When she had days where she wouldn’t get out of bed, wouldn’t smile, wouldn’t gamely ask “who’s there” when Bernard tried to cheer her up with a knock-knock joke, he would be sure to put on as much green as possible. He figured that looking like a stalk of broccoli might cheer her up. 

She would have loved the green shirt, of course, and the charcoal overcoat Bernard chose. The night was cold. Although he was free to think about his wife whenever he wanted to, Bernard was hoping for a frost that morning. He also hoped that, if Lola could see what he was doing, she would be happy. 

Bernard walked outside of their bungalow and pulled back the top of their baby-blue convertible. The lady across the street, Myrtle Anders, peered between her blinds curiously. She was sitting at home that New Year’s Eve, like always. Myrtle didn’t care for crowds or kissing or champagne. 

Bernard slid into the car and let it idle for a moment while he planned it all out. The breeze, the starry velvet sky, the way Lola would have lit up at the idea of flying, even if it was only for a moment. He backed out of the driveway almost reluctantly. He knew it was for the best, though – he may soon be too brittle or tired or agoraphobic to do it. 

As he reached State Route 53, Bernard reached over and loosened the top of the rose-patterned vessel. He passed it over his body carefully and held it up, letting the crisp breeze blow his wife into an ivory trail. Bernard had thought she would glitter somehow, but she didn’t. His wife was a fine powder, like a breath exhaled in the cold. 

When Lola was lost in his rearview mirror, Bernard carefully set the urn back on the passenger’s seat and sped up. 

He wondered if she would have liked it. There was no way his Lola would want to wait out eternity on some mantle, or worse, in a cardboard box. Who would even keep a box of their things, though? Bernard’s brothers were dead, and Lola’s family hadn’t spoken to her in years. She never could explain why. 

Bernard wondered if her twin sister knew that she was dead, or scattered, or that she had passed away in her sleep, albeit far too soon. As he pulled into the parking lot of the lounge, he straightened his tie and resisted the urge to ask the empty urn how he looked. 

Bernard had never confessed this, but he didn’t enjoy the taste of mint juleps – he only ordered them because that’s what she guessed he was going to order on their first date. Over the next twenty-odd years, several hundred mint juleps failed to impress him, but that was never the point. 

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Cora Bosse is an over-caffeinated Midwesterner with a flair for the cliché. She does her best writing on her back porch, watching her dog fruitlessly chase squirrels.