At seven that morning, as she did every morning before work, Alma Day lit a candle for her husband and set it on the small altar she had made for him in her grief support group. Then she walked to work, as she did every day, even before Albert died.
That day was clear and sunny, a bit cooler than usual for late May, brisk even, one might say, and she had forgotten her wrap. She rubbed her bare shoulders, and sped her pace along the sidewalk to warm up. She thought about heading back inside to get her wrap, but decided against it. If it were still cool at lunch, she would get it then. Probably by then it would be warmer. No need for a wrap. And besides, walking faster was already getting her warmer, and to work sooner.
She worked in an office two blocks from her home. It was a small office, twenty people at most, yet she didn’t know everyone’s name.
It was still early when she opened the office door, and walked past the empty receptionist’s desk. She smelled coffee brewing in the breakroom. She would get coffee later, after she checked her email.
She stepped into her office, sat at her small desk, turned her computer on, and waited for it to boot up. She shivered. Her office mate, Brian, had turned down the thermostat. The AC hummed quietly. She should have brought her wrap after all. Her screen lit up.
Brian clomped down the hall, his footsteps echoing in the still emptiness.
She stared at her screen. A list of unread email had popped up, a short list for a Monday.
Brian lumbered in, but stopped at the doorway.
She looked up at him. His face was almost all dark beard. “A bit chilly this early.”
He lowered his coffee from his mouth and stared at her. His eyes were wide. He said nothing.
“You okay? I said it was a bit chilly.”
“Um… ah… yeah?” He looked away from her. “I’m sorry — I’m sorry for staring.”
“For staring? What? What is it? What are you talking about?” She looked down at herself then. “Oh — oh, my.” Her face flushed. She smashed her hands against her bare breasts, crossed her legs, shrunk as far as she could in her seat.
Naked. You’re naked. What have you done? she thought.
Despite her embarrassment, she managed to look up at Brian. He was turned away from her, shrugging his shoulders. No. Not shrugging his shoulders. Shrugging his shirt off. Wide hairy back, folds of skin under his armpits. Barely thirty, he had an old man’s body. Much like Albert’s.
His stubby hands reached to his waist, pushed at his jeans until they were over his hips, over his pale, pimpled buttocks. Jeans piled at his ankles, he hopped around on one foot, and then the other, almost falling as he pulled off one shoe, and then the other. Rolled off his socks and tossed them in the trash.
Striptease over, he stood naked before her. Not lewdly. She wasn’t threatened in the least by him. His own face went flush and he reached a hand out toward her.
She took it, let him pull her up. Because that’s what he was doing — pulling her up from the haze she had been in since Albert died. Pulling her back into life.
“Come on,” he said.
He held her hand as they walked across the office toward the front door, their bare feet slapping the cold office tile. He held the door open for her, like a gentleman.
And they walked outside, hand-in-hand. Naked and unashamed. Alive.
Todd Glassock writes fiction and journalism. His most recent publication was “A Good Life” at Every Day Fiction. You can also find him in blog form at Exile on Ninth Street, where he writes about writing, books, and whatever else strikes his fancy. He lives in Fort Worth, Texas.