“No, that doesn’t sound crazy.”

She looks me in the eye, knowing that I am doing the same thing, knowing that I am just as lost as she was. I want to convey to her that I like where I am in this. I don’t want to move forward.

“It is crazy, elsie,” she says. It is pointed but kind. “steven is alive in my heart and nowhere else. and when I moved his things out of my eyesight, I could live my life for me again. But you do what you want. you’re on no one’s timetable but your own.”

“Thank you,” I say.

“Just remember that if you wade too long in the misery of it, you’ll wake up one day and find that your entire life is built around a ghost. that’s it. I’m off my soapbox. I’m in no place to tell you your business. I just feel like I know you.although, I realize I don’t.”

“No.” I stop her. “I think you do.”

After lunch, susan drops me off at my apartment and kisses me on the cheek. Before I jump out of her car and make my way up my own steps, she says to me, “If you ever need anything at all, please don’t hesitate.” she laughs in a sad way, as if it’s funny how pathetic what she is about to say truly is. “you’re the only person I have left to be there for,” she says.

I unlock my door and settle in, staring at Ben’s wedding ring on the counter. I think about what susan said. We were or are, technically, family. What happens to the relationship you never had with your mother-in-law when your husband dies?

I sit down, holding Ben’s wallet in my hands, rubbing the worn edges. I take off my wedding ring, put his around my ring finger, and slide mine back on to hold it in place. His doesn’t fit. It’s a thick band many sizes too large, but it feels good on my finger.

I look around the house, now seeing it through susan’s eyes. so many of Ben’s things are strewn about. I see myself twenty years from now, sitting in this very place, his things stuck, frozen in time. I see myself how I’m afraid others will see me. I am a Miss Havisham in the making. and for the first time, I don’t want to be that way. For a fleeting minute, I think that I should move Ben’s things.and then I reject the idea. Ben’s things are all I have left. though it does occur to me that maybe susan knows what she’s talking about. susan seems at peace but hasn’t lost that sadness about her. as long as I have that sadness, I still have Ben. so if susan can do it, maybe I can too.

I go to the refrigerator and pick up the hot dogs.the package is soft and full of liquid. simply moving it from its place on the shelf has elicited some foul, rancid reaction.the entire kitchen starts to reek. I run to the garbage cans outside, the liquid from the bag dripping on my floor on the way out. as I put the lid on the garbage can and walk back in to clean up and wash my hands, I laugh at how ridiculous it is that I thought Ben lived on through rancid hot dogs.the hot dogs are gone and I don’t feel like I’ve lost him, yet. score one for susan.

When Monday comes, I feel the familiar relief of distraction. I go to work, eager to start research on the new display case for this month. Most months, lyle tells me what to feature, but lately he’s been letting me choose. I think he’s still scared of me. everyone here treats me with kid gloves. at certain times I find it charming or at least convenient; at other times I find it irritating and naïve.

I choose Cleopatra for this month, and start pulling together facts and figures that I can show easily with photos and replicas. I am hovering over a book containing images of what the currency looked like in her time, trying to decide how relevant that is, when I am stopped by Mr. Callahan.

“Hi, Mr. Callahan,” I say, turning toward him.

“Hello, young lady,” Mr. Callahan says.

“What can I help you with?”

“Oh, nothing. I find myself a bit bored today is all,” he says

Slowly and deliberately. I get the impression his mind moves faster than his body can at this point.

“Oh! nothing striking your fancy?”

“Oh, it’s not that. I’ve just been stuck in the damn house for so long, walking back and forth to the library. I don’t have anywhere else to go! nothing else to do. the days are all starting to fade away.”

“Oh,” I say. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Would you have lunch with me?” he asks. “I’m afraid if I don’t spend time with someone or do something interesting my brain is going to . . . decay. atrophy. you know . . . just . . . wither away.” I pause before answering, and he fills the void. “there’s only so many goddamn sudoku puzzles a man can do, you know? excuse my language.”

I laugh and put the book down. I look at my watch and see that his timing is almost perfect. It’s 12:49 p.m. “I would love to, Mr. Callahan,” I say.

“Great!” He clasps his hands together in a rather feminine way, as if I’ve given him a pair of pearl earrings. “If we are going to have lunch together, though, elsie, you should call me George.”

“All right, George. sounds like a plan.”

Mr. Callahan and I walk to a sandwich shop nearby, and he insists on buying my lunch.to tell the truth, I have leftover pizza waiting for me in the office refrigerator, but it didn’t seem appropriate to mention that. as Mr. Callahan and I sit down at the small café table, we open our sandwiches.

“So, let’s hear it, miss. tell me something interesting! anything at all.”

I put down my sandwich and wipe the mayonnaise from my lips. “What do you want to know?” I ask.

“Oh, anything. anything interesting that’s happened to you. I don’t care if it’s sad or funny, scary or stupid. Just something. anything I can go home and recount to my wife. We’re starting to bore each other to tears.”

I laugh like I think Mr. Callahan is expecting, but to tell the truth, I want to cry. Ben never bored me. God, how I wish I’d had time to find him positively mind-numbing. When you love someone so much that you’ve stuck around through all the interesting things that have happened to them and you have nothing left to say, when you know the course of their day before they even tell you, when you lie next to them and hold their hand even though they haven’t said one interesting thing in days, that’s a love I want. It’s the love I was on target for.

“You look sad,” he says, interrupting my one-person pity party. “What’s the matter?”

“Oh, I’m fine,” I say. “I just . . . got a funny bit of mustard I think.”

“No.” He shakes his head. “you’ve looked sad for some time. you think I don’t see things because I’m an old fart, but I do.” He brings his finger to his temple and taps it. “What is it?”

What’s the point in lying? Who benefits from it anyway? propriety says not to discuss such intense matters in public, but whom does that serve? this man is bored and I am broken. Maybe I’ll be a little less broken in telling him about it. Maybe he’ll be a little less bored.

“My husband died,” I say. I say it matter-of-factly, trying to work against the intensity of the conversation.

“Oh,” he says, quite surprised. “that’s heartbreaking to hear. It is interesting, like I asked, but just terrible. I didn’t realize you were married.”

“You met him,” I say. “a few months ago.”

“No, I remember. I just didn’t realize you were married.”

“Oh, well, we had only just married when he died.”

“Terrible,” he says, and he grabs my hand. It’s too intimate to feel comfortable, and yet, it doesn’t feel inappropriate. “I’m sorry, elsie.you must be in such pain.”

I shrug and then wish I could take it back. I shouldn’t shrug about Ben. “yes,” I admit. “I am.”

“Is that why you were gone for a while before?” he says, and my face must change. It must convey some sort of surprise because he adds, “you’re my favorite person here and I’m here every day. you think I don’t notice when my favorite person isn’t around?”

I smile and bite into my sandwich.

“I don’t know you very well, elsie,” he says. “But I do know this: you are a fighter. you’ve got chutzpah. Moxie. Whatever it is.”