Dream Quest One Second Writing Prize
- SUMMER 2015
of Ft. Myers Beach, Florida - USA
In Her Own Way
Although still relatively fit and beautiful, Lena was very aware that she was closer to eighty than to seventy.
It was time for her to make some decisions about the rest of her life before others made them for her. Her husband, Ben,
had died three years ago and since then, her life was very lonely. She and Ben had traveled the globe together through the
years collecting pieces for their small antique shop on East Seventy-Eighth Street in Manhattan. They enjoyed wandering the
narrow streets in small towns in Italy, Portugal and Spain searching for hidden treasures. Holding hands, often getting
lost in a maze of winding alleyways, they found joy on their so-called business trips. Eating cheese and fresh crusty bread
and sharing a bottle of local wine, they dined on church steps and in old court yards in all of their favorite countries.
The languages and the cultures many have been different, but their exploring routines were always the same. They created
their own tours and cherished each other’s company. Those pleasures ended when Ben passed away.
A few months after Ben was gone, Lena sold all of the contents of the store at
auction and closed the business. She kept only a few small items to remind her of the wonderful trips she and Ben had taken.
He daughter Merrill, who lived in Westchester, wanted nothing from the store. She repeatedly asked her mother to come live
with her and her husband Daniel and their two teenage daughters. Lena thanked her for the offer, but told her she needed
her independence. She sternly requested that her daughter not ask her again.
It took a while, but slowly a plan developed in Lena’s
mind. The thought of a nursing home or an assisted living lifestyle in her future horrified her. She got her paperwork in
~ Page 2 ~
She updated her will and left instructions about scattering her remains, her ashes, in the ocean, any ocean. Sitting
on a park bench, looking out at the boats on the East River, she sudden knew what she was going to do. She decided to sell
her apartment and furnishings and travel around Europe until her time came. It was certainly a better plan than spending
her remaining years in an old age home. Money was not an issue or a problem. She had enough to do whatever she wanted. Her
daughter could have what was left over. Although her wealth after liquidating all of her assets was considerable, it did
not take away the loneliness. She needed to visit those places that she had shared with Ben. She wanted to relive some of
those experiences. Lena was sure that this trip, her last, would bring her inner peace. She made no plans to return. She
told her daughter that her travels would be open-ended, but Lena knew that she would not be coming back to the States.
In her plans, she made some concessions to age. There would be less walking, perhaps, and more
taxi rides. There would be no shopping, except for possibly wine, cheese, bread and irresistible desserts. There would be
no newspapers read. The horrors of wars and tragedies would not touch her world. She sent all of her jewelry to Merrill by
post except for her gold wedding band. She also wore a pair of dangling beaded earrings and a love bead on a silver chain
around her neck. Ben had bought them for her in the late fifties on Bleeker Street in Greenwich Village. They had spent
a wonderful evening listening to folk music at The Bitter End and two or three other havens for the sweet sound of young
voice. They were young, too, and very much in love. The earrings and necklace were reminders of the magic of that night.
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On this, her last trip abroad, Lena was finally able to pack light. All
that she needed; her simple black dress, her good walking shoes, her fisherman’s knit sweater, jeans and of course,
blouses and underwear all fit in one suitcase. Her carry-on bag, containing her heart medication and other items to keep
her engine running, was packed carefully. Another concession to her age was that this new suitcase could be pulled along
on wheels. Ben would have laughed at the sight, she thought.
On this trip she wanted to see, to taste, to smell and to touch the places
she had once traveled. She had heard the story of a woman who spent her remaining years on a cruise ship, so her plans did
not seem like such a crazy idea. She looked forward to the journey even though she knew that it was to be a self-creating
The reality of it all came to her as she boarded the plane to Lisbon.
She enjoyed a glass of red wine with her meal on the plane in preparation for the wine she planned to savor abroad. She
anxiously awaited walking the winding hilly streets in the Alfama district of the city. On her first night in Lisbon, she
put on her black dress, pulled her gray, almost white hair back into a bun, and tied with a black ribbon. Then she rode
in a taxi to find a café in the old district where she could listen to Fado music. She had to come to love
the sad Gypsy sound of Maria Da Fe and Amalia Rodrigues from her first trip to Portugal. She and Ben had brought their recordings
to New York and listened to them often.
As she sat at the table near the small stage, a she noticed a man sitting
alone at a table across from her. He was wearing a black shirt and trousers that were in sharp contrast to his rather long
white hair. He had a thick white mustache that also contrasted with his deeply tanned and lined face. He took a long look
at Lena, too, and seemed to enjoy her simple beauty. Before the woman singer began, he came over to Lena’s table and
motioned for permission to sit. She nodded “yes,” and he raised his glass to toast, “To the music and to
your beauty, Madame.”
She smiled, thanked him and sipped the rich and warm tasting ruby port
that he poured for her. They listened to the fado music together so much more meaningful. She appreciated how wonderful
it was to have a romantic moment at her age. She wondered if he felt the same.
music, the setting, the company and the port all seemed to belong together. It took her loneliness away. When the singing
ended, they touched hands across the table and she said, “Obrigado,” to him and he lifted his glass
as he rose from his chair and said,
“Thank you,” in English, back to her.
It is never too late to make a new memory, she thought. When she left the bar, she walked the
dark, empty streets alone, but unafraid. She was emotionally fulfilled by the fado music and the sweet moment with
a handsome, port bearing stranger. The first night in Lisbon convinced her that the idea she had traveling to her favorite
places in Europe was a good one. It was not to be a whirlwind tour. The itinerary and pace were whatever life allowed Lena.
Before she boarded the train to Madrid to continue her odyssey, she methodically re-visited the experiences she had shared
with Ben in Portugal long ago.
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She ate bacalhau a bras, a salt cod fish fried with
eggs, onions and potatoes. In the same small restaurant she had grilled sardines, fresh from the sea. Both meals were washed
down with “Vino Verde,” a wonderful young local wine. Pieces of “pasties de nata,”
a custard-filled pastry, completed each meal. The dishes seemed to live up to her precious memory of them. She rode the famous
number 28 trolley that toured the hills and very narrow streets of old Lisbon. She took the train rides from the Rosario
Station to Sintra and Escoril. She looked at the people around her more intensely than she ever remember doing. She absorbed
more of the beauty of the countryside, too.
When she arrived in Madrid, the happiness that she was experiencing continued.
The oil paintings in the Prado Museum seemed more beautiful. Her walks in the Retiro Park and the many city squares were
a joy. The paella and rioja wine in a side street café were wonderful. The pleasures she was absorbing were
more heightened than in years past. She was aware of missing Ben, but in her heart, she knew that he would be happy for
her. When she went on by train to Barcelona, she registered at the same hotel on the Ramblas where she and Ben had stayed
many years ago. She did the same and sat on the balcony overlooking the street and watched as the crowds walked by and the
street players performed. Lena, as before, thought Barcelona was a glorious place. She had planned to visit some of the
towns along the Costa del Sol, but she was anxious to get to Italy. Perhaps she felt a need to move on while her energy level
and enthusiasm were high.
The flight to Rome was tiring, but there were so many places she still
wanted to see. She took a taxi tour of the sights to spare her feet. After tossing a coin into the Trevi Fountain, she decided
to move on.
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The Ponte Vecchio and Duomo in Florence beckoned her, and so did the gelato. She remembered sharing
cones with Ben as they strolled the streets. She and Ben took bus rides from Florence to Sienna, Lucca and Pisa. She did
the same. She still had the image of a bakery owner tempting Ben with warm cookies on a tray fresh from the oven. They munched
on the bag of cookies as the studied the old architecture of Lucca. Although the bakery was gone now, Lena could still remember
the taste of those cookies. She had a satisfied feeling as she stared out at the Arno River as the sun went down.
Venice was her next stop and it was a continuous series of rides on the Vaporettos. She went to
the Lido, the beach area, Murano to see the glass blowers and Burano to see the lace. She bought nothing, but used her eyes
more than the last time she visited these scenic places. She walked around St. Mark’s Square and had an expresso in
Julian’s. She spoke to a few people on this trip, but listened more. The splashing of the water, the snippets of conversation
and the sound of the life around her were like a symphony to Lena. She found beauty where it had never been before. The
canals of Venice made her long for the sea. Sorrento became her next port of call.
Although her body had held up well during the many miles that she had traveled, Lena was beginning to get weary.
When she settled in the same hotel that she and Ben had stayed before, it felt good just to sit on that small balcony and
stared out across the Bay of Naples. With Mt. Vesuvius in the distance, she fell asleep in the soft chair. Her dreams were
probably filled with sweet reminiscences of all of the wonderful places and things that she was able to experience one more
time. She had not felt loneliness since setting foot on the ground in Lisbon. Her life had a fullness, a completeness that
she herself had created. She had written the ending of her own play. Ben would have been proud her. The smell of the lemon
groves and the sea blended to put her into a gentle, permanent sleep.
# # #
A short story by: Henry