A hand stretched out before Jerald. It was done in such a way that he would have no choice but to acknowledge his company. Slowly, to emphasize his disinclination, he raised his head. His features tightened into a stern, intimidating stare.
The woman who stood before him was unfazed by his unwelcoming behavior. Short, greying hair framed her round, rosy-cheeked face. Her cordial smile was encased by deep lines beginning at the sides of her small nose and ending at the corners of her thin, pink lips. She waited patiently for him to accept her greeting.
He had hoped to avoid social interaction, but that appeared impossible while seated in a crowded, dining room. There was a clink of his fork against his plate as he abandoned his intentions of a pleasant, unbothered meal and shook Sunny’s hand. She smelled strongly of lavender.
“Jerald Peterson.” He said coolly, hoping his impertinence would cause her to forsake her scheme. Unfortunately, it did not.
“Can I sit with you, Jerald?” Her voice was gentle, sweet.
Irritation welled within him like a boiled blister. He did not want a companion, and he had half the mind to say so, but he was not childish. Therewithal, Sunny did not seem to be a woman who could be easily dismissed. He lifted a hand over the chair beside him and motioned for her to sit.
She did so with glee, her smile widening.
Jerald resumed his meal, ignoring his guest. He had barely taken the fork from his mouth when an uncomfortable itch trailed up his neck: he sensed that Sunny was watching him, scrutinizing him.
He replaced his silverware on his plate, straightened his posture, and, in no attempt to conceal his annoyance, looked at Sunny with his utmost grim glower.
Her dark, almond-shaped eyes widened in embarrassment, and she devoted her attention to the large, paned windows behind him. Her pink cheeks were illuminated by the murky grey light of the day.
Moments passed with her gaze fixated on the view beyond Jerald. Unbeknownst to her, he could practically see her mind whirring as inscrutable, subtle expressions flickered across her face. He contemplated whether he should resume eating or abandon her to her thoughts. Before he could choose a resolution, Sunny inhaled as if she was preparing herself to speak. However, she seemed to have decided against it when she released her captured breath and shut her mouth.
He would leave her, he determined, but just as he moved to lift himself from his chair,mshe finally spoke.
“Do you like the fog, Jerald?”
The inquiry was so odd, so unexpected, that Jerald remained in his seat. She had not evenmglanced at him when she questioned him. He peered behind him, following her interest. A great, unyielding wall of grey consumed the scenery of what was usually a flourishing garden on the other side of the glass. The gloom seemed quite uninviting, ominous as if anyone who traveled into it would lose their way. For a moment, his eyes unwillingly lingered on the brume before he turned to Sunny.
“I do not care much for the weather,” he said boredly.
“It frightens me,” she confessed. There was a pause before she added quietly, “How someone could get lost.”
She echoed Jerald’s thoughts just as if she had read them.
He curiously considered her and noticed a sorrowful tenderness etched into her profile: the corners of her mouth were slightly downcast, and her gaze had become absent, glossed. She looked at him then, her expression composed, her ache concealed.
Jerald did not ask what troubled her, nor did he wish to. Rather, the question he posed was in the ambition that Sunny would recognize his irritation: “Forgive me,” he said apathetically, “do I know you?”
There was, again, the sadness in her features. It lasted only an instant before she masked it with a smile and shook her head.
“I don’t think so.” Her face flushed. “I wanted to introduce myself, but I’ve done it poorly, haven’t I?
She breathed an unnerved laugh and lowered her gaze, abashed, or, at least, Jerald assumed she was. That theory was discarded when she timidly lifted her head to reveal that her face was reddened and tearful. It seemed she could no longer hide her pain.
“I’m sorry.” She choked and pressed the back of her hand to her nose. “I didn’t—I hadn’t meant to—”
Jerald gave his unused napkin to her. He did not speak a word but watched silently as Sunny dabbed at her damp cheeks and nose.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
Silence grew between them and so did unease. Sunny began to anxiously twiddle her fingers, and Jerald scanned the room. Selfishly, he felt that he could not leave now for he would appear cruel. He hoped that she would dismiss herself to address this tension or, at least, she would continue the conversation. Unfortunately, she did not, so Jerald begrudgingly took it upon himself to relieve the stress.
He folded his hands on the table. “You mentioned you wished to introduce yourself. Why?” he asked, ignoring her troublesome display of emotion.
“I—I,” she struggled for a response. For a moment, she thought, calmed herself, and then composed her answer clearly: “I saw that you were alone.”
A groan nearly escaped Jerald’s mouth, but he could not control the deadly expression of annoyance that contorted his lips and scrunched his brows. The purpose of seating himself at the back of the room was to be alone. He enjoyed privacy, quiet, and fresh air: all aspects which Sunny intruded upon.
Sunny noticed Jerald’s indignation, and she began to twist her fingers again. However, Jerald perceived it was not her fingers she wrung but a silver band on one of them: a wedding ring. He studied Sunny’s face. She regarded the dull metal longingly and dolefully. Quickly, he averted his stare, troubled by what he discovered. Her behavior was understood now: it was not of embarrassment but grief. She had not joined him out of pity for his loneliness but because she felt lonesome.
Guilt pinched his stomach, and shame heated his face. His callousness was undue and regretful. He unentwined his hands and placed them in his lap. With genuine sympathy, he apologized, “My sincerest condolences.”
Sunny straightened, perplexed. “What?” She glimpsed at the ring. “Oh! He—uh—Thank you.”
As if they were doomed to awkwardness, a silence settled between them once more. It seemed to drown the commotion of the other dining guests. The discomfiture persuaded Jerald to ask, “What was his name?”
Her lips shaped the name, but no sound came from them. She began to quiver.
“Please,” Jerald interjected. “It is none of my business. I should not have—”
Sunny waved off his apology. “I’d thought this would be easier”—she pressed the napkin to her nose—“but it isn’t.”
She lifted her eyes to the ceiling and blinked, ceasing the flow of her tears. Upon returning her attention to Jerald, she smiled sadly.
Briefly, they wordlessly looked at one another, bearing the weight of Sunny’s words, until Jerald spoke.
“Tell me about him.” He did not know what compelled him to utter such an insensitive command, especially after Sunny divulged her struggles. The sentence had rolled off his tongue before his mind could even devise it.
Surprise appeared on Sunny’s face, and Jerald suspected she was distressed, but she swallowed, breathed deeply to withhold a sob, and began her account of her late husband.
When I first met him,” she said slowly, thoughtfully, “he wanted nothing to do with me.” She chuckled softly. “He was quiet, reserved. I met him in a—”
As Sunny recounted her memories, Jerald was entranced by her narrative. His surroundings were lost to him: the chatter of companies and the clatter of silverware all faded into nothingness. Only her voice filled his ears.
The story, the man that she recalled seemed intimate to him. He felt as if he knew the tale, but how, he could not comprehend.
For hours it appeared Sunny narrated, and Jerald listened tirelessly. His exasperated temperament had long since evaporated. Sunny spoke with confidence and delight. That was until a young man dressed in scrubs came to stand beside her. Sunny’s assurance faltered slightly, seemingly flustered by the nurse’s arrival, but she ignored the man’s presence.
“Mrs. Sunny.” The man addressed her delicately.
Sunny did not glance at the nurse when she addressed him. “I’m aware of the time. Just a minute more.”
“You know that isn’t allowed.” His tone attempted to be comforting, but there was a hint of frustration within it. “It’s time.”
“Please.” She turned to him now, pleading. “It’ll work. Just a minute.”
The nurse sighed; he appeared to be well acquainted with Sunny’s stubbornness.
“Visiting hours are over. Mr. Peterson has to go now.”
Abruptly, she looked back at Jerald, her face composed of many distinct emotions: desperation, longing, anticipation. Jerald shifted in his seat, uncomfortable under Sunny’s intense observation.
He appeared to lack what she searched for since she rose from her chair sullenly.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Sunny,” the nurse whispered as he assisted her in her leave.
Hesitantly, Sunny took a few steps from Jerald. She glanced over her shoulder hopefully, and, confusingly, Jerald felt as if he could not bear to see her depart. There was a shift in his brain.
“Sunny?” His voice was distant, uncertain.
She hastened to his side. “Yes, Jerald?”
He did not respond. Instead, he studied her, examining the pink of her round cheeks, the silver of her hair, the gleam in her chestnut irises.
“Sunny.” A whisper, a breath that barely passed his lips; it was faint, small but burdened with significance: recognition.
“Jerald!” Sunny gasped as her bittersweet gaze grew misty. She threw her arms around him. Lavender, the lovely, familiar scent of his wife’s perfume, filled his nostrils.
He slid from her embrace and caressed her face. Shakily, his fingers ran along her jaw, her nose, her brows. He held her face in his hands and beheld her with newfound clarity as if the sun had dawned upon him, thinning the gloom in his mind. Sobs erupted from his throat.
“My Darling,” he wept. “My Darling.”
“Yes, Jerald. Yes,” Sunny cooed. “It’s me.”
Joyously, she cried, her tears trickling into his palms. She placed her hands upon his, then pressed his to her lips.
Suddenly, the world warped. The face before him distorted; its features unrecognizable. All was shrouded, abstract, frightening. He tore his hands from whoever held them captive. Clamorously, his chair toppled to the floor as he sprang to his feet.
“Who are you?” Fear laced his question.
Motionless, a woman stood before him. Her mouth hung slack as if in shock. Then a choked, gurgling noise escaped her throat. “Please,” she wailed. “Please, Jerald.”
“Who’s Jerald? Get away from me!” he shouted as she approached him. Hastily, he receded from her, and his back collided with a structure cold and smooth: a window.
“Sunny. Remember?” the woman asked, trying to compose herself, but when he did not answer, she grew hysterical. “I’m Sunny! My Dear Jerald, remember!”
A man dressed in scrubs took her by the arms and gently forced her departure.
“He remembered!” she exclaimed desperately. “He did!” She swatted at her captor. Her fight was futile, however, as he unyieldingly proceeded across the room to the exit. All the while, she screamed, “Let me speak to him! Stop it! Stop!” until her shouts dissolved into shrill, wild
A stifling stillness was left in her wake.
The disoriented man, his back pressed to the glass, wearily eyed the strange spectators.
None dared to speak. Their expressions, nevertheless, proclaimed everything their tongues did not: pity, astonishment, dismay. He did not understand why they looked at him in this way; their stares bore into him, burning his flesh.
His heartbeat quickened, pounding thunderously in his ears, but it could not drown the shrieks of the woman that echoed in his skull. Panic overwhelmed him. He shouted unfathomable utterances, his words slurred by frantic distress.
Soon, he was confronted by unknown faces who reached forth with cold hands. They seized him. He fought as he was pried from the window. His anguished pleas for an explanation, for understanding were ignored as he was escorted to the egress.
The room he left was dim: the fog was thick beyond the windows, devouring the light of