Riverfront ​I’ve been retired for 10 years and live on the 10th floor of an apartment building right next to a riverfront. My favorite pastime, among many, is to sit on my 10ft balcony to drink my coffee, eat cookies, smoke cigarettes, and face the riverfront. These are my two achy knees that do not go down the stairs unless absolutely necessary. The elevator is a bit finicky and I can’t recall the last time it was in working order. People-sketching is one of my all-time favorite pastimes. I sketch joggers, runners, bikers, rollerbladers, and couples just sitting on the benches every day either embracing or making out. The street is a two-lane, two-way with a median and decorated palm trees, and is generally quiet except for the occasional honk at a bikini. Weekend evenings are full of lighted cars and foreign music up to eleven, but I’m in bed watching a movie by then.

The loneliness has overwhelmed me sometimes since my wife passed away. I try to find some enjoyment in balcony activities, re-reading books, and sketching on some collected notepads. During my career as a corporate auditor, I traveled all around the US. I was a Gold Super Elite member on all major hotel chains and airlines with so many bonus miles and points to last me a lifetime. Sarah, my wife, disliked my job and my absence. “I wish you’d write me! It makes me feel like you’re thinking of me.”, she would honk about in a naggy tone. I always ended up taking a notepad, hoping to write something later. I accumulated innumerable stacks of notepads from hotels, offices, conferences, and airlines. Sarah passed before my retirement leaving me with a million useless forgotten points and notepads.

Mirna, a young neighbor, has been kind enough to help me bring me groceries once a week. I eat mainly vegetarian, so it’s not a lot. Veggies go a long way. My diet consists mostly of veggies, pasta, and rice, soft foods for my soft gums. I’ve been thinking of passing on all my sketches to her as a parting gift when my time comes. “I got you carrots, your favorite. Make a nice soup, it’s great for your soul”, she said as she put them away. I can feel that time encroaching on my soul. Since my retirement my limbs have been growing tighter and tighter, getting up in the mornings has been a growing effort and taking up more time out of my day. The mirror seems to be lying to me as I begin to become a foreign reflection of myself, grey overtaking my melon and a long beard now covering my neck. “I gotta go, but I will see you later”, she said as her fingers combed my hair back. I try to enjoy the little things before that time comes.

After a lifetime’s worth of travel completed, I’m jaded to travel for pleasure. Besides, it’s a hassle leaving the house and I’d only want to travel with my Sarah. Don’t get me wrong, my home is not a prison. It’s a cream-colored calm room with a window to the outside world on demand. If I want, I can always close the curtains and recluse myself back into a dream world, reminiscing about the good old days when I’d come home to Sarah and she’d give me a great big warm hug. I’d never looked at another woman like her until the day I saw her.

I recall it was a Monday, with lows of 50, and highs of 75. The sky was a pale blue and the sun shined without burning your skin or eyes, softly, as a blanket straight out of the dryer. A woman entered my field of vision from the west, walked slow and unabated with a long white clean dress, and long dark jet black hair. Skateboarders and pedestrians flowed around her as she walked, avoiding any collisions with her sedated pace. She stopped right in front of my apartment building and faced my direction. I was leaning over the rails, sitting, with my chin on my hands.

She stood there, perhaps reading a sign on the building, or looking for someone. A dress in a familiar shade of white, flowing with the wind. I drank my coffee and smoked half a pack throughout the day until it became clear that she hadn’t moved. “What an odd thing”, I thought, trying to remember if she had been in that position, or maybe I had been so busy with other observations that I didn’t notice. It felt like all afternoon until sunset we just stared at each other. The sky’s palette softened to a mild orange as the sun neared the horizon. She turned east and walked off at the same pace until disappearing behind the palm trees obstructing my view.

Day after day, this repeated. I mentioned this to Mirna that Friday when she stopped by with my pre-approved grocery list of things. “Come, see for yourself”, I said as she followed bewildered. The cigarette shook in my hand nervously, possibly, as it wasn’t cold enough for shivers. My eyes darted to and fro, awaiting her entrance. Mirna broke the silence with a strong reassurance that nothing was wrong and hinted that I might be going senile. This was definitely not true. “It’s okay, don’t worry”, she smiled, her fingers combing my grey hair. After only a couple of minutes, she needed to get going for class and other young person things. I walked her to the door, paid her for my groceries, and bid her adieu. “I left some almond milk in the fridge and threw out the old one. Finish this one, okay?”, she smirked as she hurried off.

I hurried back to the balcony where my heart skipped a beat. Chills ran down my limbs. The woman was already there. I sat down for our now customary staring contest. A notepad and pen were handy so I sketched her again, by now it seemed like by heart, from head to toe. From my high vantage point and distance, I had to take artistic liberties such as implying she was wearing sandals, details on her dress, or maybe different necklaces and bracelets. For the weeks that followed, she was my model, and I, the artist. My sketches grew in detail with each passing day. The oddity of standing for hours in front of my building dissipated and just somehow became accepted as my volunteer model.

Mirna asked about her every week and I would show her my sketches, each week more detailed than the last. “Why don’t you draw her face?” she asked. “I, I don’t..”. How could I not realize this? My brain short-circuited as I tried to come up with a reason, but I couldn’t. Overwhelmed, I sat down and she patted my back. “It’s okay, forget about it.”, she said with a sigh and helped put up my groceries before leaving. What did her face look like? It’s been months. Dozens of notepads were used. Not one with her face. The next day I decided to write her a message. Perhaps as an excuse to see her face up close. She’s certainly aware that I’ve been observing her daily.

The first message was a simple “Hello, my name is so and so. I’ve been watching you”. I spent all day on it. Realizing how this sounds, I spend the following weeks sketching and writing a better message to go with it. What if she never sees them? That didn’t bother me, but it just felt like the right thing to do. So I wrote every day, each day with more detail than the last. Not good enough. If I were to make my way down by elevator or worse, stairs, I’d have to craft the perfect letter and sketch. How can I give her a sketch without her face?

Over the next few weeks (I think?), I’d spent more time with her. I’d converse with her as if she were next to me to try and figure out her face. Our make-believe conversations gave me an idea of what she looked like. I started with the mouth, rounding out the lips, with a defined M shape in the upper lip. Her nose has a bulb tip, slightly slanted with oval nostrils. Her cheekbones are rosy and soft and her eyes are a familiar hazel brown with a slightly arched brow. Over many iterations, I’d finally finished her face. I felt warm all around and I smiled to myself.

I woke up early the next day, sitting on my bed. I built up the courage to go down and outside to meet her. I gathered my things, writings, and sketches. Combed my hair properly, and wore my Sunday shoes. As I walked out and made my way to the elevator, Mirna ran to me from the hallway. “No, no you can’t leave”. “But, I’m going to see her today,” I explained. “I finished her sketch and letter”. Her expression changed when she saw it. She escorted me back, sat me down on my recliner, and knelt next to me.

“Dad, that’s mom. Do you remember Mom?”. Confused, I shook my head and tried to make sense of what she was saying. My head spun a bit and I felt dazed. “It’s okay Dad, don’t worry. Just sit here”, small tears ran down her face, and kissed my forehead. I was facing the wall, with an oil painting of a riverfront hanging there. “I love you Dad”, she whispered, combed my hair with her fingers, and left.

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