Myrtle stepped off the city bus and was careful not to trip over her cane. Her 86-year-old body was brittle and worn from a long but exciting life. Months of staying inside began to tear down her mental health. The four walls of her apartment only seemed to exasperate her loneliness for people.
Her husband, Dan, died of a heart attack six years ago. They never got around to starting a family, so she didn’t have children or grandchildren to fill her days. Most of Myrtle’s friends had died within the past decade. The word “alone” never entered her vocabulary until her husband left this plane of existence.
Arthritis ravaged Myrtle’s joints making her fingers crooked and painful, but that didn’t stop her from living. There would come a time when she couldn’t venture out on her own.
She stood in front of the local coffee shop and admired the murals painted on the walls outside of the building. Looking at them made her happy. A middle-aged man held the door open for her. She thanked him and hobbled into the shop.
A gray-haired man greeted her with genuine enthusiasm. “Myrtle, I am so happy to see you. How long has it been?”
“Oh, my goodness. John, I thought you would have retired by now.”
John laughed, “Believe me, my wife keeps on me about retiring daily, if not hourly.”
“How is Charlotte these days?”
“She’s okay… it’s hard for her to walk after knee surgery. So, what can I get for you?”
“Well, you know I love my coffee strong and bold.”
“You got it, Myrtle; I’ll be back in a minute. Would you like a blueberry scone? I remember what you like.” He winked.
“No, I think I’ll just have the coffee this time.” Myrtle’s appetite wasn’t like it used to be.
The coffee shop was busier than she expected it to be. As she glanced around, she saw people of all ages. Her eyes stopped on a woman in her thirties with long wavy, light brown hair. Long bright pink colored tendrils framed her face. The lipstick she wore matched her hair. A computer sat on the table, and her fingers attacked the keyboard as if thoughts ran down her arms. For a brief moment, the woman glanced up, and she smiled at Myrtle.
The woman took off her jacket, exposing two fully tattooed arms. She noticed Myrtle staring at her. “Would you like to join me?”
“Oh, no. I’m sorry to keep staring. I am admiring your tattoos.”
“Oh! Well… can I come and join you then?”
“Yes! Yes, of course. I hope I haven’t disturbed your work, though.” Myrtle shifted in her chair, worried that her staring had made the young woman uncomfortable.
Waving a hand, and high-fiving the air, the young woman said, “No, not at all. I need a break anyway.” She closed her computer, shoved it in her bag, and moved to Myrtle’s table.
“I’m Nancy. It’ll be refreshing to talk with someone. I need time away from my novel for a while.”
“It’s so good to meet you, Nancy. My name is Myrtle. What kind of novel are you writing?”
“It’s a thriller that borders on horror. You might not like it.”
“Oh, I think you’d be surprised about the books I like to read.” Myrtle glanced at Nancy’s left arm, covered with brightly colored peacocks and dragons. “Your tattoos are fascinating.”
“Thank you. My 12-year-old daughter wants to be a tattoo artist every time she examines my arms. She loves to draw. I think I have a couple of her drawings.” Nancy reached inside her bag and pulled out a brown folder. “Yes, here they are. Isn’t she talented?”
“These are lovely,” Myrtle admitted. “Except, tell her to be careful of the placement of her shadowing. The lighting is a bit off in this area.”
“Do you draw also?” Myrtle’s comment surprised her, and she couldn’t picture this old woman as an artist.
“I draw and paint, or at least I used to. That was before my hands betrayed me. They’re all kinked up and painful now. Do you see those paintings on the wall behind the counter?”
“Yes. Are you telling me that you are the artist behind those paintings?”
“That’s what I’m telling you.” Myrtle tilted her head to the left and smiled. People’s reactions tickled her when they found out those were her paintings.
“Those are amazing. I can’t believe I am meeting the person who painted those. My favorite is the man wrapping both hands around his coffee cup and smiling. You captured his mood perfectly.”
“Thank you. It’s one of my favorites too. I remember that day. He and his wife were so playful, always laughing and full of energy. I witnessed a magical moment that day. I drew his face while I was here and painted the rest from memory.”
The two women, young and old, shared their experiences with art and writing. Myrtle gave Nancy ideas for stories, and Nancy gave Myrtle the human connection that she needed. John kept the coffee cups filled, and at one point, sat to join the conversation. Another hour went by, and the conversation began to wind itself down.
“This has been so nice, Myrtle. But, I need to pick up my daughter from school. Would you mind if I had your phone number? Can I call you sometime and invite you over for dinner? My daughter would love to meet you.”
Myrtle put her hand on Nancy’s, “I’d love that. Could I have yours also? This old woman needs some younger blood around her.” They laughed, hugged, and said goodbye. The next bus would arrive in forty minutes, and Myrtle was ready to go home. Myrtle believed in fate. Her sense of loneliness stemmed from being alone for too long. The only place that could bring her comfort was the coffee shop. A part of her soul hung on the walls. Myrtle’s desire to leave the house today brought some special people into her life. The magic of art and conversation will fill her remaining years of life. Even though she lives alone, she will never truly be alone.