A Walk With Mr. Newman

March 3, 2009

Lydia Archer is a quiet woman to most. She is fairly tall, 5' 8' the last time she checked. She has long, silky, brown hair that lingers at the middle point of her back. She loathed Halloween. Well, she didn't loath it. She could tolerate it, but she certainly wasn't fond of it. It would be her first Halloween in her apartment. She finished graduate school at Stanford, yet somehow she's working at the local Starbucks. She always feared her life was going nowhere. She wasn't sure if kids would stop at her house wanting a handful of candy. So, she went to a CVS around the corner, and grabbed two bags of Tootsie rolls. She then drove to a Wal-Mart to purchase a pumpkin to set on her cement stair steps, so she wouldn't seem like the dullest neighbor around. She picked a bright orange one with a little dirt on it. It was a little smaller than a normal pumpkin so it would fit on her stair steps.

When she returned from her errand, she cut the bags open with scissors. She poured them into a big punch bowl, until it was so full there was a well-sized mound on top with little bits of candy tumbling down, like kids sliding down a snowy hill. She set the bowl on her counter top. As she was doing this, her phone rang. She walked to the phone, and picked it up.
'Hello?' She said, still trying to catch her breath.
'Lydi?' It was her sister, Anne Archer. Her sister always called her Lydi, and was the only person who called her this. Lydia noticed her sister was sniffling, she must have been crying.
'Oh, hey.'
'Lydi, you have to come here.'
'Come where?'
'To Troyes.' Anne was speaking nonsense to Lydia.
'Anne, what are you talking about?'
'Grandpa had a stroke.' Lydia stopped speaking for about eight seconds. Before she could comprehend what she had just said.
'Well, no. He, he had two.' Lydia dropped the phone from her hands. When the phone fell to the floor, she jerked a little, and then picked it up.
'Yeah, I know. I'll book a flight online.'
'Okay. See ya.'
'Bye.' She hung up the phone.

She opened her laptop that resided on her desk. She searched cheap tickets to Troyes, France. She found a site, and found a reasonable price to Paris, which was just Northeast of Troyes. She bought the ticket online, and then headed toward her room to pack her clothes. This all seemed so abrupt. It was almost as if she was hit right in the face with a pie, a pie in which the ingredients included two strokes, her grandfather, a phone-call, her sister, and Troyes, France.

The next day, she awoke from her dining room table. As she rose from her sleeping position, she noticed there were two books on the table, the one she finished last night, and the one she started last night. She just finished The Portrait of a Lady, for the third time. She first read it in the ninth grade for pleasure, the second time her second year in college for an assignment, and the third, now. She loved Henry James. He was probably her favorite author. She always had a connection with him, after all her last name was the last name of the heroine. Her first name was Isabelle. Little did her parents know, the name Lydia is the name of Isabelle's enemy in the book. The book she had started was War and Peace. She thought it would be a good book to read at the airport and on the plane.

She grabbed her suitcase, and her bag. She hopped into her car and drove toward the airport. When she arrived at the airport she went through a series of procedures that involved her taking off her jewelry, her watch, and her belt into a plastic bucket to be scanned. She forgot she still had her keys in her pocket so she was commanded by a man in a black suit to step to the right. He scanned her a second time. Then she remembered her keys were still in her pocket.

'Oh, I have my keys in my pocket,' she said, humiliated.

'That would be the problem, Miss,' he said, sounding a bit irritated.

As she left to amass her items and reassemble them on herself, she heard the man who examined her say, 'First timer,' to another man. She was not in fact a 'first timer'. She had been through this procedure countless times with just the same loathing for it as she felt for it now.

Lydia sat in one of the torn up leather chairs in the waiting area for flight 17. She soon grew rather hungry, so she rose from her seat, taking her purse with her, and headed for the food court. She entered a line for Starbucks, and contemplated what she wanted to purchase. When it was her turn in line, she purchased a 'Grande' regular coffee with room for milk, and a lemon scone. She walked back over to her seat, and noticed people were starting to board the plane. She took her purse, and snack, and entered yet another seemingly endless line.

When she arrived on the plane, she began to search for her seat. She finally reached it, 31 B. She noticed a man in the seat next to her's. He was old, probably in his late seventies. His stomach was plump, and his hair was nearly all gone. He was wearing a suit and a tasteful tie. She liked it when men had good taste in ties because most men she knew never wore a descent tie in their life. She approached him and said,


'Oh, hello there,' he said sounding very friendly. 'I see you brought a snack with you.'

'Yes. Would you like some?'

'Oh no, I have diabetes.'

'Oh.' She didn't know what to say. Then she noticed he was reading something.

'What are you reading?'

'It's a book by my favorite author, Michael Cunningham. It's called Flesh and Blood.' She actually knew that author; she'd read something else by him.

'Oh, I'm actually quite fond of him. I read a book by him called The Hours.'

'Ah yes, that was his Pulitzer Prize winning novel.' She could see this turning into a good literary discussion.

'Yes, it also won the Pen/Faulkner award.'

'Yes it did. I guess I should read it.'

'Oh, you haven't read it?'


'I assumed you'd read it because of your great knowledge of it.'

'No, I think I shall read it after this. What are you reading?'

'I'm reading War and Peace.'
'Ah, a war in itself.'
'Well, I just started it last night thinking it would be good to pass the time away.'
'Well Tolstoy doesn't disappoint good readers.'
'I'm sorry, what's your name?'
'Oh, my name is Christopher Newman, but I'm not too fond of my first name, so you can call me Mr. Newman. And what might your name be? Wait, let me guess! Let's see, by your personality and visual appearance, I'd say your name is Isabel.' Lydia found this shocking and ironic. She'd always thought her destined name should've been Isabel, from The Portrait of a Lady.
'No, my name is Lydia Archer.'
'Ah, a lovely name. But I'm quite certain you're an Isabel.' Then the plane began to accelerate. She truly and honestly hated flying. She gripped the seat handle with a full amount of pressure, and sealed her eyes shut, and Mr. Newman read his book calmly.
They arrived in Paris just 302 pages away from finishing War and Peace. They emerged from the plane, and went their separate ways. Lydia took a deep whiff of the fresh Paris air. She had never been to Paris before, so she wanted to take it in. After her bus ride she was finally in Troyes. She called her sister so she could pick her up.
'Hello?' answered her sister.
'Oh hey, Lydi!'
'Hi, can you pick me up?'
'Oh yeah, are you at the bus station?'
'Okay, I'll be there in about twenty minutes.'
'See ya.'
So after about only three minutes longer than the twenty she'd estimated, her sister showed up. They drove to a hotel for her to stay in.
'Here's your stop. Remember, I'm going to come and get you at five thirty to have dinner at grandpa's hospital.'
'Okay, sounds good.' She took her things out of the trunk and walked into the hotel. She has always wanted to stay in a French hotel. A door man opened the doors and she was blown away. Everything about this place was beautiful, the marble floor and pillars, the gorgeous statues, and the huge glistening chandelier that hung above the whole entrance. She just stood there for a moment, and looked around. Then she noticed what a complete tourist she looked like. So, she immediately walked over to the registration counter and received the keys to her room. She went to the elevator, and pressed the button that would lead to the seventh floor. The button became gold, and the elevator accelerated upward. Then the elevator doors revealed her floor. She found her room number, and unlocked it. She wrangled her suitcase through the doorway and set it on the bed. She set out her clothes, and saw gorgeous candles that filled the room. She was about to light them when she noticed an awful stench, but she couldn't locate its source. She then realized that the stench was coming from her. She immediately found the shower, and hopped in. When she was done cleaning herself, she noticed the clock on the nightstand read five twenty seven. She quickly got dressed and dried her hair. Her sister arrived while she was still straightening her hair. Lydia heard the knock on the door and walked over to answer it.
'Hey, I'm sorry, I'm still straightening my hair.'
'Oh, that's fine.' Anne walked into the room and inspected.
'Do you like the place?'
'Yeah, I love it.'
'Well, it's gorgeous.'
'So, how's Grandpa doing?' She sounded more serious now. She didn't hear a response. Lydia thought maybe she shouldn't have asked that so abruptly. The long pause waited out too long, so Lydia stepped out of the bathroom, and saw Anne sitting at the foot of her bed crying.
'I'm sorry. I should have told you sooner about the first stroke. I didn't want to, I, I don't know what I was thinking.'
'Anne, it's okay. You were probably just scared to tell me. I would have been to.'
'Okay. Can we go now?' Anne said, sounding a little calmer.
'Yeah, let's go.'
They drove down to the hospital where their grandfather was, and while her sister was driving, Lydia felt sick to her stomach. She didn't want to see her grandfather like this; she wasn't sure what she was supposed to say to him. The car pulled into the hospital's parking lot, and it felt like she was about to face reality. She opened the car door slowly, and lifted one of her legs out of her sitting position and placed it on the cold, hard gravel, and then did the same with the other until she was completely out of the car and ready to enter the hospital.
They entered the hospital, and Anne led Lydia to where her grandfather resided in his condition. She led her through a series of elevators, hallways, and doorways, until they reached his door. She opened it, and the first thing she saw was her mom and dad and an old man sitting on a chair with his backside toward her. They all seemed to be laughing at something. Her mother and father looked at her with two big, sympathetic smiles that said, oh, you finally found out, let me give you a hug.
'Oh, hey Lydia.'
'Hi.' She walked up to them, and they embraced one another. Then her eyes veered to her grandfather. He was asleep. Then the old man in the chair turned toward her.
'It's you!' It was Mr. Newman.
'Oh my gosh. It's you!' Her mother and father looked confused.
'I didn't know you knew my Grandpa.'
'Yes, I'm a friend of William.'
'Wait, when did you two meet?' asked her mother.

'We met on the plane. I didn't know he knew Grandpa.'
'Well, are we going to eat?' asked her mother again.
'Yes. Let's go.' said her dad.
They went to the first floor and headed for the cafeteria. The cafeteria consisted of lines with different types of food in each one. Lydia chose the soup line. Her sense of smell was delighted while walking through the soup line. She purchased a bouillabaisse. She had no idea what that meant, but it was a seafood soup, and she loved seafood. She also got a baguette, and an Evian with the soup. She met up with her family and Mr. Newman at a round table in the cafeteria.
'Well, how's the food?' said her mother.
'Everything is wonderful!' said Mr. Newman very warmly.
They ate and talked for a little over an hour, until it was seven seventeen.
'Well, I'm growing a bit tired.' said Mr. Newman.
'Well, we better get going.' said Lydia's mother.
'Me too.' said Anne.
'Anne, can I go see Grandpa before you take me?'
'Sure.' Lydia rose from her seat, threw her plate away, and went to the elevator to see her grandfather. She reached his floor, and she walked over to his door and opened it. He was still sleeping. She was almost relieved by this. She could say more of what she wanted if he wasn't awake. She walked over to his bedside gingerly, trying not to wake him, and knelt right beside him.
'Grandpa, I love you so much. I always have, even though I never visited you here. But I'm here now, and I love being here.' Tears were slowly and subtly coming down upon her cheeks. Then he slowly awoke.
'Yes, it's me.'
'Oh, darling I'm so glad you're here. I only wish you could have seen me under different circumstances. But you're here, and that's all that matters.'
'Oh, Grandpa, I love you.'
'I know you do. I love you, too. It's okay if you never visited, you were busy. I understand.'
'Thanks, Grandpa. I'm gonna go now, okay?'
'Alright, darling. Good Night.'
'Good night.' He closed his eyes softly and sweetly, and Lydia left the room.
Her sister dropped her off at the hotel, and said goodbye. She walked into the extravagant foyer and into the elevator. The elevator led her to her floor and she saw Mr. Newman coming out of one of the rooms.
'Mr. Newman?'
'Lydia? I didn't know you were staying here.'
'Yes, I am.'
'Well, good night.'
'See you in the morning.' Mr. Newman went into his room, and Lydia did the same.
The next morning was Halloween. Lydia was relieved she didn't have to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters. Her phone rang, so she walked out of bed to pick it up.
'Happy Halloween!' It was her sister. Her sister loved Halloween. It was close to being her favorite holiday.
'Anne, we're in France, the French don't celebrate Halloween.'
'Well, we Americans can.'
'Well then, Happy Halloween.'
'Well, I'm going to check up on Grandpa.'
'Okay, tell me how he's doing.'
'I will. See ya!'
'Bye.' Lydia went to the bathroom to wash her face. She changed her clothes and brushed her hair. She walked out of her room to see if Mr. Newman was out and about. She didn't see him, so she walked back into her room. She poured hot water into the mini coffeemaker in her kitchenette. Then, there was a knock on her door. She opened the door, and it was Mr. Newman.
'Hello, Mr. Newman.'
'Hello, Lydia. I thought I might drop in to say good morning.'
'I'm going to make some coffee, do you want some?
'Yes, I think I do. Actually, would you take a walk with me?'
'Of course, a walk sounds very refreshing right now.' They stepped outside the hotel and into the brisk weather. They walked to the Rue Champeaux.
'So, how are you dealing with your grandfather?'
'I don't know, I mean I talked to him last night and that was good. But, I still feel like I have so much catching up to do. I haven't spent much time with him, especially since he moved here.'
'So, you're afraid that you haven't spent enough time with your grandfather.'
'Yeah.' They just entered the Rue Champeaux, and Lydia was truly amazed. It was so vintage, and old. It was like it was trying to say something to her.
'Let me tell you something about your grandfather. When he was about fifty years old, he told me his daughter was having a baby, you, and he was so excited. He already had one grandchild, but he couldn't wait for another. When you were born, he had the happiest, warmest, most dear face I had ever seen.
'All you have to do to be close to your grandfather is think of the strongest memory you have with him, and he'll always be there.' This was the best piece of wisdom she had ever heard. Then she took his advice; she stood still and remembered when she was maybe six years old. She was in her parents' house, and her grandfather was there. She had just taken a bath after dinner, but she wanted to play outside. Her mother told her she couldn't because it was getting late, and she didn't want her to get dirty after taking a bath.
Then her grandfather came up to her and said, 'Let's go out the back door.' They snuck out, and he picked her up and started running all across their closed yard. She felt so happy to be with her grandfather running around together. Lydia opened her eyes and said to Mr. Newman,
'Thank you.'
'The pleasure is all mine.'
They returned from their walk, and entered the hotel. When she entered her room, she took off her coat, and checked her messages on her phone. She had one new message. It was from Anne. She knew it was probably something about her grandfather. Instead of listening to the message, she put her coat back on, and went to the hospital. She arrived in the parking lot, and entered the building. She went up the elevator, and went to her grandfather's room. She opened the door, and saw that he was resting. She also saw her sister, mom, and dad sitting on his bed, crying. That's when it hit her. The second pie had come into her face. The first was realizing her grandfather had two strokes, the second, was realizing her grandfather had died.

The funeral was six days later in Troyes. The rest of his family was there, and Mr. Newman. After the service, there was a reception at the church he had attended. Lydia had a croissant, and an Evian. After the funeral, she packed up her things to leave Troyes. Her family was going to say goodbye to her at the hotel because they were leaving a little later, and Mr. Newman was going on a flight the next day.

'Goodbye honey.' said her mom.

'See ya Lydi!' said her Anne.

'Bye guys.' said Lydia as she stepped onto the bus that would take her to the airport. When she arrived at the airport she went through the same procedures as she did in the airport in New York. Then she stood still in the metal detector. She had a sudden feeling, a sensation, a revelation. She decided to move to Troyes and not go back to New York. She went to New York to put all her things into boxes to move into her new apartment in Troyes.

Two days after she had moved into her apartment, she walked around the streets, and saw a gelato stand. She walked up and ordered a lemon gelato, and lemonade. Then someone tapped her on the shoulder. She turned around and saw Mr. Newman.

'Hello there.' He said.

'Wow. Hello!'

'Visiting again?'

'Nope, I just moved in two days ago.'

'I moved in yesterday, so I guess I'll see you around.'

'I guess so.'

'Our lives are positively ironic.'

'They truly are.'

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