Talking About The Tango ~ Rochelle Distelheim


She brought him home from the hospital in June, bumping up the back stairs from the garage, his tall, too thin body leaning against her for support until, exhausted, he collapsed onto the wooden bench in the front hall and, in spite of his pale face and labored breathing, grinned up at her with his hey-kiddo-aren’t-we-wonderful smile that always put a squeeze on her heart.

The hole was the size of a fat lentil bean. Not a hole. A space. Where brain tissue had  been. Kneeling to help Will kick off his shoes, Ellie made a deal:  Give us five years, okay? Just five. Four?


“We got it all,” the doctor had told her immediately after the surgery. “A stubborn son-of-a-gun, but it’s gone.”

A wonderful man, this doctor, everyone said so. The best neurosurgeon in Chicago, golden hands, a hundred awards and degrees wallpapering his office, arranged among photographs of him shaking hands with Nelson Mandela, kissing Mother Theresa, patting Christopher Reeves’ arm, but Ellie didn’t believe him.

Gone? As in, okay folks, go about your business. At the  count of three,  every-body smile and get back to normal living. One, two…  She couldn’t be that lucky. She’d used up her share of good luck, more than her share, two years ago, when she’d said yes to a friend who asked to give her phone number to her sister’s brother in law.

Divorced?” she’d ,” asked. “Or widower?” Her friend ‘s eyes were avoiding her eyes.   “Not a fifty three year old bachelor living at home with his mother…”

“He hasn’t dated since his wife died, a car accident. Gone, like that. Alice. A terrific lady.”

“So, I’m therapy?’

“Nothing like that. Just meet him. You’ll see.”


She saw, and she liked what she saw. As hard to explain, and as simple, as that. They had dinner somewhere dark and expensive that smelled Italian, or was it French?

Ellie wasn’t sure. She’d been busy listening and talking, mostly talking; something she did well. Which was why she went to law school after Vicky went to kindergarten. The other reason: by then it was clear she wouldn’t be growing old with Les, her then husband, and she’d better find a way to make money. Enough money so her mother wouldn’t say – and say – “Be sure you’re not trading one problem for six others.”

When they said good night that first evening, Ellie tried acting casual, the way a woman who always had dinner with attractive, interesting men –- men who asked good questions and listened to the answers –- would act. Instead, she blurted out: “Someone just gave me two tickets for the Lyric Opera for next weekend. Butterfly. Do you like Verdi?”

“Puccini,” Will said. “Yes.”

The next day the ticket scalper told her, relax, three hundred bucks apiece for two last-minute Lyric was a bargain. He had plenty customers happy to pay two hundred, three.


She’d stood at the door of the recovery room watching Will doze, until he moaned and turned toward her, as though the string on his toe tying him to the string on her toe had just been tugged. Too foggy to smile or nod, he put his hand out to her in feeble recognition. Even now, even here, he looked handsome: the salt-and-pepper hair, the arching eyebrows, the long, straight nose.

Ellie moved toward him. What if she climbed into his bed right now and wrapped herself around him, tubes and wires jangling, monitors beeping?  She’d wave the nurse  off and bolt the door.  Hey, just go away, leave us alone! This room costs ten thousand dollars a night, we can do whatever we damn please in it, and what pleases me is to hold my husband, hang onto what’s left of him under that half-masti antiseptic, idiotic night short with the dumb flap in the back.     

“They got it all,” she said, looking at the I.V. tube clamped to his arm, so she wouldn’t have to look at him. She was a terrible liar; sweaty palms, an itchy throat. Which was why she never took on criminal defense cases. But this wasn’t a lie, was it, the kind Les had been good at telling, pale blue eyes wide with false innocence? This was the truth. The doctor with all the diplomas and friends around the world who loved him said so. Even if she thought it was bad luck to count on it. Even if she  knocked on wood and  repeated ptooey, ptooey, ptooey three times, her grandmother’s sure-fire defense against  evil spirits.

Will nodded and made a circle of thumb and forefinger, as though reading one of his own blueprints for a new office building, one he especially liked. His eyes were closed, his face wholly relaxed in an attitude of rest. Or surrender.

She needed a shower, but she’d settle for a cup of coffee if that meant she could scrunch up and cry at one of those scratched steel-gray formica tables in the hospital cafeteria. She’d been watching people cry there. No one seemed to notice, as long as the rules weren’t broken: sit at a table in the corner, don’t make noise. Tuna fish salad on whole wheat, cinnamon sweet rolls and coffee, and suddenly a woman was wiping her eyes and staring out the window at Lake Michigan.

If she were a believer, she’d go down to the chapel instead of to the cafeteria, slip a few dollars into a box, or light a candle. Maybe both. Say something to whomever was in charge of these things; pretend she was addressing a jury. Ladies and Gentlemen who art in heaven, hallowed be thy judgment. Now, with your indulgence, may it please the celestial court, I’ll give you three good reasons my husband, William Arthur Seltz should go on living.

But she was a lapsed agnostic and Will called himself a devout skeptic. She’d have to open her speech with introductions, apologize for past laxness, then document Will’s inherent sweetness and acts of loving kindness. Exhibit A. Look how happy he’d made her, look how hard he worked at understanding his son who, by heavenly standards, was a challenge, and end by promising they’d both do better in the future. If there was going to be one.

She moved toward the door, but heard Will call her and turned. He was propped up on one elbow. “Hey, kiddo. Thanks.”

“For what?”

“You know…” He fluttered his fingers, then sank back against the pillows. A harsh, steady pulling in of air told her he was asleep.

After her divorce she’d dated every man in Chicago over fifty who told long, hard-to-follow stories about their childhood, or about when they were just starting out, and all they wanted was success, medicine, law, accounting, but now all they wanted was the love of a good woman who appreciated a good man. Evenings that felt like a dozen lifetimes of smiling at stale jokes, making getting-to-know-you small talk, looking interested in golf, tax-exempt bonds, root canal therapy.

So what if her hair, under its “Sure-Fire Auburn” wash, was sprouting gray, and those laugh lines at the corners of her eyes, the ones the women’s magazines warned about, looked like wrinkles? There had to be someone in a city this size who read an occasional book and didn’t fall asleep when the theater darkened; someone who hated getting dressed up, but looked comfortable enough in a dinner jacket to stand next to her at her firm’s annual dinner. Preferably a liberal Democrat, but she’d tolerate a moderate Republican if he was a good dancer and liked Masterpiece Theater.


The first days at home were hard. Ellie tried not to, but she found herself standing in their bedroom while Will napped, memorizing his face.

She thought about Les more than she had since the divorce, although the two men had nothing in common, one reason she’d married Will. But Les, too, had been ill, just as she was planning to leave him. A no-name virus brought a fever and aching muscles, memory loss; then mysteriously vanished, leaving him exhausted and wary, leaving her strangely happy in a way she couldn’t name, then understood. She could never have left him if his illness had turned permanent, disabling. She’d have stayed, even if that meant clenched  teeth for the rest of their lives, and remembered thinking it was funny, but not really, that then, at least, she’d know where he was nights.


After her first date with Will she’d called Vicky in New York. “If I had to describe him in one word, I’d say decent.”

“That doesn’t sound romantic.”

“You weren’t married to your father.” Ellie hesitated. “Okay, sexy, too. Just enough.”

“What does he look like?”

Will’s kind, angular face flashed across the screen of Ellie’s mind. “He’s aging well.”

“Does that mean flat stomach and full head of hair, or good teeth and smooth skin?”


“Any children?”

“One son, Charles. Nick-named Chip, for the killer chocolate cakes he bakes.”


“Forget it. He lives in Los Angeles and writes for television, when he isn’t playing the jazz trumpet or chanting in Hindu.”

“Did you tell Will about your spinster daughter copywriter who works sixty-four hours a day and can’t lose weight?’

Their offices were in Chicago’s Loop, three blocks apart, and that first Fall they’d meet for lunch in the Art Institute’s cafeteria, then wander through the museum, beginning with the Renaissance collection, working their way toward the Abstract Expressionists.

By January they’d arrived at the sixteenth century and Rubens’ creamy-skinned women —  “You know the type,” Ellie later told Vicky, “naked, with lots of rouge and Dutch padding on the hips.” —  and she saw the first sign that Will’s interest in her might be serious.

That day he’d stopped at a painting of an angelic, but voluptuous, woman, her only clothing chiffon wisps floating in the vicinity of breasts and hips, and studied it in silence, his chin resting on his hand, before turning to Ellie, who had come up behind him. “Now, there’s a woman I could fall in love with.” Ellie scrutinized the painting.     “She’s, she’s…” Will shaped the air with his hands. “…so real, not one of those skinny, anorectic types.”

“Seeing her, I feel I’m looking in the mirror,” Ellie said.

“That’s what I meant.” Will pulled her to him and, glancing at the uniformed guard,  who was adjusting the humidistat on the wall, kissed the tip of her ear.

She’d never felt this happy in the Art Institute. “Now where?” she said, not knowing exactly what she meant.


At first, Will didn’t leave their bedroom. The pills that sang him to sleep wrapped him in a soft cotton fog, so that, asked if she should open the blinds, or could he manage a cup of soup, he’d look confused.

She took a leave of absence from work and spent mornings cooking his favorite dishes: vegetable lasagna, grilled salmon steaks, gazpacho soup, Ceasar Salad. Food had been important to them from the beginning, when Will called himself a passive vegetarian and Ellie asked if that meant he said no to lamb, but yes to chicken.

“How did you know?”

“It takes one to know one.

He loved to cook, he said, all the men in his family did. “One time, on a trip to France, Alice and I…”  He didn’t finish, but poured more wine for both of them.

There it was, the elephant in the room. Finally. Ellie sipped, waiting.  Should she say, tell me about that trip to France.  Should she swallow her questions along with the wine? Should she say what she wanted to say, but  knew she wouldn’t. –- We have to talk about Alice.  Do I make you as happy as she did? Would I like her, would she like me?

Or: To hell with stories about Alice, I’m here and she isn’t, and that counts something, even if I don’t know what.  

By August Will felt stronger and went to his office very morning. When the treatments began, Ellie drove him to the hospital’s outpatient clinic –- three Wednesday afternoons on, one off –- where he lay on a narrow cot, and what he called a witch’s brew,but the oncologist called their best chance, dripped into a vein in his left arm.

The three or four days following the treatment vanished in a blur of nausea and a chilling fatigue until, as though the earth had rearranged itself after an earthquake, he was whistling in the shower, eating, bending over his drafting table.


It was Valentine’s Day, one month after their first date, and Ellie said, call her corny, but this was her favorite holiday.

Will said, “I prefer Halloween.”

If he didn’t mind a rusty cook, she’d fix dinner and tell him about the time in third grade she got sixty-three valentines and one of the boys tried kissing her on the way home from school. She bit him so hard his mother wanted her to have a rabies test.

Will arrived carrying an enormous pot of white flowers. “Early hyacinths,” he said.

“No one has ever given me hyacinths in February,” Ellie said, hoping this meant they’d end up in bed.

“The florist said he forced the bloom, or something that sounded equally macho. I  don’t understand botany.”

They didn’t bother with dessert, and carried their wine into the bedroom. Ellie put a Streisand C.D. on before disappearing into the bathroom. When she slipped into bed, where Will was waiting, he said, “Not so fast.” He wanted to see if Rubens had been right on target but, when she shimmied up and was sitting, she brushed her foot against his, discovering that he was wearing socks.

“No way!” She tugged at his leg until, laughing, they rolled around the bed.

“You’re beautiful,” he said, cupping her face in his hands.

“In the dark, who isn’t?” She hoped her happiness stuck out all over her, like a rash.

Then there was a giddy confusion of arms and legs and, afraid he’d think her too bold,  a hussy — or didn’t men call women hussies these days? —  Ellie moaned and reached for him, feeling him swell under her touch.

Almost as soon as he entered her, it was over. He groaned, pulling away. “God, Ellie…” Will slapped his forehead. “…I’m sorry, it’s been a long time. I’m out of practice.”

She put her hand out and found his chest, rubbing up-down, up-down, feeling the pleasure of goose flesh springing to life under her fingertips. “Who isn’t?” She stretched toward him and kissed one of his nipples, then the other, thinking, call me hussy, call me anything.

“Hey – you!” Will groped, gently pulling her to him. “Come on over here, all the way over here.”

That was when she knew: If he didn’t ask her to marry him, she’d ask him, or die of a cracked heart, even if fifty-six year-old women with cellulite didn’t usually die of heartbreak.


They’d had their first fight the following month. Ellie’s niece was getting married at the Ritz-Carlton, a “twenty-one gun salute of a wedding,”  – Vicky’s  description – and Ellie invited Will, assuring him it would be fun. “The Ritz knows how to put on a party and, if I know my brother’s wife, she’ll go all out to impress the new in-laws.”

Will said, “Sure, I enjoy a bacchanal as well as the next hedonist.”

He looked the way Ellie liked a man to look in a tuxedo; at ease, but mildly starched. During dessert, the orchestra slid into a medley of Frank Sinatra songs: My Way, That Old Black Magic, I’ve Got You Under My Skin. “My favorites,” Ellie said, and got up, putting her hand out to Will.

“Mine, too,” he said, “to listen, not to dance.” He remained seated. “I don’t.”

Annoyance layered over disbelief  rouged Ellie’s cheeks. “Don’t – or won’t?”

“Same thing.”

His calm was like a match set to dry tinder. “Try,”  Ellie insisted. Her hand was still out. Flustered, she thrust it behind herself, aware that her brother, Stanley, seated at the next table, had swiveled around and was watching. “I’ll teach you,” she said.

She was being unreasonable, but something wouldn’t let her back down.. A man who wouldn’t dance? Where was his joy, his wish to please her? Maybe she’d misjudged him,  given him high grades too soon, not using enough critical appraisal, as though she were desperate.

Will looked amused, but resolute. “Lets take a walk in the lobby, get some fresh air.” His shoulders were suddenly squared into irreversible refusal. Vicky had come back from the ladies room, and was next to Stanley, watching. .

“There is no fresh air in the lobby.” Ellie’s voice had a hard edge to it, her look-here-ladies-and-gentlemen-of-the-jury voice. She hated it, but he should at least explain: Sorry, I have flat feet. Sorry, I hurt my Achilles’ tendon playing tennis. She needed just cause, evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Stanley coughed into his fiist. Ellie recognized brother-to-sister signal: lighten up.

Alright, when facts fail, disarm your opponent with humor. Leaning down, she whispered,  “What’s the matter, dancing’s against your religion?”

“No, against my better judgment,” he said. “I look lousy on the dance floor. Let me buy you a drink.” He reached out and caught her wrist, holding onto it gently, running a finger across the top of her hand. Stanley brightened and sent a thumbs-up signal.

Ellie, straightening up, sighed.

“Did you say something?” Will said.

“No, just stretching after all that food. Make that drink champagne, please.  I hate being bought off too cheaply.”


Chip sent a Wynton Marsalis tape, spirituals performed on the trumpet. Some nights, when sleep skittered just ahead of her, but couldn’t be captured, Ellie slipped out of bed, covering Will, kissing his hand where it lay on the quilt, and went downstairs, drank  coffee and paced, then glided to the tape’s hypnotic repetitions; back, then forth, back and forth. She and Will were dancing, touching at the shoulders, hips, knees, their arms clasped around one another, the two of them inside the music, surrounded  by the lush, yearning chords.


“Let’s visualize. ”Five weeks into his recovery.  Ellie wagged her fingers in the air to signal elaborate quotation  marks, poking fun at what she was asking him to do, even as her eyes showed how much she wanted him to do it; do anything, fight back, tell the witch’s brew, the oncologist, the technicians, the cold, steel poles and plastic tubes, the damned drip-drip-drip: Ha-ha! I’m still here, still standing, going strong.

But today Will wasn’t standing. He was in bed, see-sawing between dozing and waking, everything but the top of his head hidden by a pile of newspapers and books. Ellie glanced at him and glanced away, avoiding the sight of his beginning baldness, telling herself what she’d been telling him: Hair, after all, who needs it, anyway? Rain slanted  against the windows, a steady beat that sounded like sorry, sorry, sorry.  She held up a pamphlet. “From Chip.” Will opened his eyes. “A psychologist he knows.”

“A psychologist he knows professionally or socially?”

“All right, romantically, one of his many women. Stop being sarcastic and listen.” There it was again, that red-hot button that took over her gut every time she snapped his head off, even if he’d just snapped hers off. He covered his face with the sheet, his way of telling her, go away, not today. Please.

Eye contact, absolutely essential. Lose it in the courtroom during summation to the jury, and kiss your happy ending goodbye. She should have guessed he’d close his eyes   and headed him off. She was, after all, the original due diligence freak, nick-named by her law school friends. Her moot court preparation usually more fastidious, her facts more fine-tuned than anyone else’s. Super-ready to handle any calamity, to parry any surprise from the other side, research organized by topics, by sub-topics, her notes meticulously outlined on two legal pads –- big pad for major points written in red, smaller pad for subtext written in green –- everything laid out on the counsel’s table in front of her when she rose to speak. Clearly not so in this case, because –- because Will wasn’t a case.

“Anyway…” she began again, “…this woman leads a crisis support group in Santa Monica. Seventy-five dollars an hour, people are breaking her doors down.” A twitch in her left eye. She wasn’t as confident as she sounded.

Will grunted, pulling himself up, and peered at her over his half-glasses, but his face had a non-committal, closed-off look. She wasn’t sure if his move meant yes or no.    Shoving the layers of newspapers and magazines aside, he got out of bed. “I’ve met Chip’s friends,” he said, “no, thank you. They eat poisonous junk like barbecued tofu and pickled bean sprouts and talk a kind of nonsense new-age mumbo-jumbo.” He struggled into his robe. She saw how bony he’d become. “They look like they’re meditating,” he continued, “deep, important thoughts. What they’re really doing is sneaking in a nap.”

Ellie started to say something about not being glib. How could he, how could anyone, judge the mystery of other peoples’ faith? But something, something in the way his usually soft eyes had narrowed to a dark squint, and his jaw, whose strength she’d always admired, jutted at a belligerent angle she’d never seen before, told her to let it go, to smile,to say, “This young woman seems different.”

“Different?” He swung around to look at her. “How?”

“Her name, for one thing.  Martha. You can’t get any more sensible than that.” She knew her voice sounded cheerful in a false way, as though she were humoring a cranky child who desperately needed a nap. “I’d trust a Martha any day, wouldn’t you?”


“Will said something that sounded like harrumph, and moved toward the bathroom.

“I said, wouldn’t you?” Should she offer to help him in there? God – this illness had taken  their lives over, like a mugger.

Will hesitated, looking confused, as though he’d forgotten why he was out of bed, then sighed and leaned against the dresser, tapping it with his fingers.

Ellie waved the brochure. “Mind exercises, sweetheart, Martha swears they work.”

She stepped toward him. “I’ll do them with you.” He looked like he was considering her offer. Move ahead quickly when you see the slightest possibility of overpowering your opponent. She grabbed the wicker tray-table she’d brought up with his breakfast and, carrying it to the desk at the window, sat down and took out a pen and paper.

“We should think of the, the…” She struggled for the right word, something honest, but not blunt, nothing cutesy. Will hated cutesy. “Think of an army that’s invaded and needs to be routed out.”

“Oh, brother!” He jerked upright, as though he’d been hit, one hand cutting through the air. “Listen to you. You’re not talking to a jury —  I’m going to die!” He must have seen her stricken face. His voice trailed off and he looked away. “Maybe,” he added, looking at her again. “And you’re talking, talking about – Jesus!” He closed his eyes and seemed to be trying to catch his breath.

Ellie’s sorrow shot into anger and, snapping the brochure from the tray, she slapped it against the desk, then crumpled it and threw it toward the waste basket, just missing.

“Come on, Ellie, you know I’m right.” He seemed steadier, more lucid. “What’s this…” Will waved his arms to take in the room. “…that…” –  pointing to the ruined brochure where it lay under the desk —  “…got to do with anything happening to us?”

“I’d do the exercises if you asked me.” She hated the way her voice had slipped into a whine.

“Well, great, but you’re  not the one who’s sick.”

“Ouch.” She felt slapped, but forced a smile. “Sometimes I think that would be easier.”

He started toward her, and stopped. “I’m just damned scared…” The words sounded like they’d been pulled from him. “…and too big a jerk to say so.” He frowned and shook   his head. “No, not scared…”

“Yeah, scared. I am.”

“Something else.” Tying and untying the belt of his robe. “It’s been only two years.”

“And four months.” She wanted to pick him up and rock him until they were both out of tears. “My first marriage was so awful.” Blinking, Ellie stared at the rain before looking at him. “This has been, well…” Shrugging. “…you put me back together again.”

“You aren’t too terrible for me, either.” His voice had that teasing, ironic tone she’d always loved, his way of being ardent without being what he called sappy. But, when he looked at her, his face was dark, helpless. “I want to…” He raised, then lowered his shoulders and a shudder seeped out of him. “…I don’t want to think so hard, I want to just be, for however long – for whatever’s left.”

“I know.” No longer blinking back tears, Ellie flexed her hand and put it out in front of her, as though pushing the air away, as though signaling: But we can’t do that.


Two weeks later the doctor called to say Will needed another cat scan. He’d  seen something shadowy on the last M.R.I. plate. “It could be anything or nothing. We can’t ignore it.”

Ellie wanted to say, “Sure we can. Will and I can ignore everything except each other,” but she knew that wasn’t true. This doctor was a decent man, it wasn’t his fault he was a messenger with a terrible message. It wasn’t her fault she couldn’t like him.

“We’ll come when Will’s stronger,” she said, “maybe next week. Just going to the bathroom wears him out.”

“Yes, well – don’t delay too long.”

She was about to tell him to kiss Nelson Mandela for her, or was it Mother Theresa? Someone important, but she heard a click at the other end.


The next day was a good day for Will. He wasn’t losing his glasses or books and accusing Ellie of hiding them. He wasn’t confusing his syllables, calling the kitchen a chicken. After lunch he asked to be closer to the garden, it looked like a holy kind of bonfire, all those brilliant oranges and reds. She helped him down to the porch swing where, cuddling up against one another, they swung and admired the geraniums, blooming like scarlet banners in their square white boxes.

“God, I can smell the sour, rotting leaves,” Will said, “it’s great.”

“What’re we going to do first when the treatments are over and you’re perfect again?”

“Anything, everything,” he said. “You go first.”

“A week in Paris.”

“Two weeks in Paris. The first week for staying in bed, the second for sightseeing. Then we’ll try skiing.”

“With your knees and my back – ha! Rent a house in Santa Fe for a summer, a small white one…” Ellie’s hand cupped the air. “…a casita with horses and a cactus garden.”

“Too expensive.”

“But worth it. Your turn.”

“Take dancing lessons.”

She whooped and hugged him. “You hate to dance, isn’t that what you always said, ‘Ellie, I’d rather have root canal than go dancing?’”

“Well, in honor of your sixtieth birthday.”

“Sixty!” She elbowed his ribs and he winced, making her shiver and lose track of her thought until, feeling his eyes on her, she forced herself to say, “Fifty-seven.”

“Eight, fifty-eight, and holding.”

“The tango,” Ellie said, leaning over far enough to blow into his ear before kissing it.

“Why the tango?”

“Oh, you know…” Swaying her shoulders. “…I’ve always loved the way it looks…”  Pulling away from him to give herself room.  “…all that sexy arm and hip business, if you do it right.” She raised her arms over her head and grimaced, then wiggled, sending the swing skittering to one side. They laughed until he coughed, the soft, bubbly nighttime sound, and Ellie went inside for tissues and water.

“Then we’ll do it,” Will said, when she sat down  again.

“Do what?”

“The…” He snapped his fingers. “…what you just said, the tango. Next, we’ll try the rhumba, the mambo, the samba.” He began humming, Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby, then a melancholy tune, one Ellie didn’t recognize.

“What’s that?” She twisted around to look at him. His face seemed suddenly blurry at the edges, as though turning transparent, getting ready to disappear. A boulder settled in her chest.

“Mendelsohn’s something-or-other. We’ve got the C.D. A violin concerto, or maybe it’s cello. I can’t keep them straight.”

“Don’t,” she said, her voice so harsh it startled her.

Will stopped humming and stared at her.

“Mendelsohn’s so, so…” Ellie jumped up and looked around the porch as though searching for something she’d lost. “…oh, I don’t know.” Crossing to one of the geranium boxes, she plucked some yellowed leaves and shoved them into her pocket. She could feel him waiting for her to say more. “Mendelsohn’s all right,” she went on, “usually.  “Listen, I love Mendelsohn!” She pinched off an enormous geranium and began shredding its petals. They watched the brilliant bits float downward and settle on the porch floor. “I want to take dancing lessons, damn it,” she said, wheeling around to face him. “I want to talk about the tango.”

Will sat still, his face impassive. Then, grasping the side of the swing, bracing his weight on his arms, he pulled himself to his feet. “All right, kiddo…” Moving toward the porch railing, he shuffled, then straightened, eyes fixed on the hedges edging the front walk.

“Hey…” Ellie put her arm out. “…be careful.”

Without looking at her, Will began a slow, graceful slide across the porch, his arms opened wide, as though embracing someone. “Step, glide,” he said softly, more to himself than to her, moving now with cautious assurance. “First you step, then you glide. That’s it, isn’t it, step and glide?”

He closed his eyes and sucked in his breath, and Ellie started to say something about  time for his pain medication. But then he opened his eyes and, smiling, made a smooth half-turn toward the geraniums. “You just glide,” he said, “then hold.”