Ed and HazelEd and Hazel were two months shy of their 44th anniversary. Their bedtime routine was so set as to be carved in stone: she bathed in the tub in the master bath, spit-curled her hair, brushed her teeth and emerged to pull down the spread just as Ed walked in to drop his dirty clothes into the basket by the door. Since the children had been gone, he had taken the guest bath as his own and in the time it took Hazel to bathe and do her hair, he had soaked his dentures, used the pumice stone on his feet, spent a few minutes on the throne and showered. When he was done, he rinsed his teeth and slipped them back into his mouth, ran a comb through his hair, gathered his clothes and headed back down the hall for bed.
Every night, as Hazel stepped into the bedroom, she all but bumped into Ed. This was their nightly symphony for the past … oh, who knows how many years. They bathed separately, each in their own manner, coming together at just the precise moment to start the second half of the movement. Ed dropped his clothes in the basket, took two more steps and picked up his corner of the spread and, together, in step, they pulled down the spread and laid it on the chest at the foot of the bed. On top of that went the pretty throw pillows and then, lastly, Hazel’s ratty ole robe. She would take off her slippers and, with a soft thud, they would land right where they had landed for years.
But this evening, all that would change. This evening, when Hazel strode out of the master bath in her cotton gown and matching robe, skirt-skirting across the carpet in her slippers, she made it all the way to her side of the bed and had her hand on the spread before she realized she was alone. Ed was nowhere to be seen. She stood for a moment, looking around to see if he was in the door way and, when he wasn’t there, she walked back around the bed and turned into the hallway.
Before she reached the guest bath, she could smell it; one of the boys had given him a nice toilet set for Fathers Day a few years back – cologne, soap, deodorant, all matching scents – a real high-end gift, she had thought at the time and a very nice scent, too. And here it was wafting out from under the door, smelling ever so nice.
Even more, Ed was humming. She knew that song – it was their song!
Hazel crept forward, quietly turned the handle and, holding her breath to ward off any possible squeak, eased the door open just the tiniest bit. There stood Ed, back turned to the shower, his head thrown back, eyes closed, vigorously shampooing his hair. When he snatched up the back scrubber and began to sing into it, Hazel nearly fell over backwards!
Eyes still closed, he belted out “Goin’ outta my head ... over youuuu!” Hazel could hardly stifle a giggle when he shuffled his feet and wriggled his hips, crooning “day and night! night and day! wrong or right!” His shoulders swayed and he began to hum again, turning his head to rinse.
Hazel shamelessly and wantonly lurked at the door, watching her husband shower. How long had it been since she had seen him the way she once did? Before the children, the grandchildren. The second mortgage, second cars. Plant closings, bills and tuition overdue. Working part time jobs til full time opened up again. A million small cuts that can bleed a marriage dry, the one thousand and one nights that saw them too tired for intimacy. Hard times of grits and gravy when a cold beer split between them was a high time.
Like many couples of their generation, they had not complained. They had stubbornly faced their storms head on, trudged through long nights to emerge, bruised and sore, into an uncertain morning. At times, the sun had greeted them through the kitchen’s cheery lace curtains as Hazel poured their coffee. As often as not, dawn broke amid dark, ponderous clouds, the weight of a thousand worries acknowledged only by a morning kiss just that much deeper, a hug just that much stronger before he stepped into his workday and she set about her morning chores.
They had weathered it all, faced every storm and come through to see another morning.
The last payment was made a few years back, the house was theirs free and clear. They had traded in two old cars for one nice one. Along with his pension, Ed got a few shares of company stock when he retired. Hard times had long since been over. They had settled into their comfortable chairs, turned on Wheel and life went on around them.
Until now, when Ed turned, reached for a towel and took Hazel’s breath clear away. While he dried his hair, her eyes moved down the arms that had carried her across the threshold of their first home, moved lovingly to his chest where she had laid head til the sun woke her the following morning.
That second time, in the early light, she had blushed to see him naked under the sheets of their honeymoon bed. Now, 44 years disappeared and she felt the heat rise to her face again. Hazel slowly closed the bathroom door, leaned against it on shaky legs, blinked her eyes once or twice and felt the blush on her cheeks deepen and head south.
She might’ve run back or, oh hell, she could’ve floated on gossamer wings but the next thing she knew, Hazel found herself back in the master bath, waist deep in warm, sweet- scented water, lathering her shoulders with the lavender soap that she had kept for a special occasion.
Between Ed’s humming and her blushing, and if their toiletries didn’t overcome them, this evening would, indeed, be that special occasion.
Hazel stepped out, wrapped a towel around herself and padded over to the vanity, taking the bobby pins from her hair as she sat down and peered into the mirror. She decided on a pretty ribbon, reached up and gently pulled her hair back from her face and tied it, letting the ribbon fall behind her. Ed had always liked her hair down but, for this evening, she wanted it out of the way.
She dusted some of the lavender-scented powder across her shoulders, leaning down to dust a bit on her ankles, behind her knees and, oh why not, inside her thighs. She stood and reached for her cotton gown, her arm stopping in mid-air as she thought, no not tonight and reached instead up to the very top shelf of the closet and brought down a box, dusty and somewhat squished.
She put it on the vanity, lifted the top and peeled back the layers of pink tissue paper til her fingers touched satin. One of the daughters-in-law had slipped it in amongst the other gifts at Christmas too many years ago. Hazel had been stunned by the loveliness of it - the robe in pearl white with long flowing sleeves, the matching gown, sleeveless and nearly sheer with an empire waist trimmed with tiny pink roses and seed pearls. There were even matching panties and slippers tucked in the box and a perfumed padded hanger.
For a brief moment, Hazel considered re-folding the pink paper and returning the box to her closet but her hands just wouldn’t move to do it. Sighing with the anticipation of the satin against her skin, she gently lifted the robe and gown from the box, placed it onto the hanger and hung it on the back of the bathroom door. She shook a bit more powder onto her hands and rubbed her legs, up her thighs and over her hips before sliding on the satiny panties.
She reached for the gown and pulled it over her head, felt it cascade across her breasts and down her hips, stopping just short of her toes. She slipped her arms into the robe, tied the sash just so and turned back to the vanity to see that years had melted away. She was older, that was true. She had birthed children, had earned the marks and scars of motherhood that had kept her undressing in the dark for years. Long gone was svelte and luscious; solid and practical was her new black. But the satin, the fall of the gown, the roses and pearls, the sweet-scented powder, the blushing cheeks, bright eyes and red lips– the woman that looked back at her was sensual, vibrant - ready, not to recapture the lost years, but to leave them behind and go forward in a new light, a new path.
Hazel slipped her feet into the sassy lil slippers, tappedtapped over to the door. She thought for a moment and then, with a smile, reached up and pulled the ribbon from her hair. Ed liked it down, so down it would be.