by Ruth Z Deming

They'd had nothing but trouble since they moved into the Pines Nursing Facility. Make that, she did. She couldn't sleep at night. She was nervous eating in the Pinewoods Dining Facility and her hands shook so bad she spilled the chicken noodle soup or Veal Parmesan onto the table cloth. She couldn't move her bowels and needed an aide to come in - for a hefty price - to give her an enema. He moved into the other room in disgust.

They celebrated their Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary at Bella Mia's Italian Restaurant. Stella and Charlie looked radiant. Her white hair was piled up in a French braid and her smile was exuberant. She had taken a seat at the head table as she didn't want anyone to see her walker. One hundred friends and family members gathered on their behalf.

"You look like two teenagers in love," said Joan, who came over to their table, leaning on her cane.

Stella held out her hand. "Thanks for coming all the way from University Heights," a suburb of Cleveland. "Are you enjoying the food?"

"Heavens, yes! Only the best for our Charlie and Stella Baumann."

Charlie's family were Nazis back in Germany. Stella wasn't crazy about the Jews either, but she was getting used to them. Most of her doctors were Jews as were her physical therapists.

Stella's far-reaching blue eyes sought out her son, Horst, and his lovely Jewish wife, Naomi, and their three children, Hailey, Noah and Morgan.

"Where dyou suppose the kids are," she whispered to Charlie.

"Give em time," he said. "The kids are probably popping all the balloons and eating as much ice cream as they can find."

A large waving hand appeared in the ball room.

"Oma! Oma!" cried their son, Horst, leading the entire Baumann clan to their table.

Little Morgan, in a pretty pink sundress, said, "Oma, why don't you have parties every year?"

"Come into Oma's arms," said Stella, who embraced the little girl and dabbed the ice cream and cake crumbs off her mouth. Amazing how Jewish she looked, thought Stella.

"Thought so," said Morgan. "You've got your walker folded under the table."

Stella blushed. "That's not nice to say," she said. "Besides, I'm learning to walk again."

Before they moved into Pines, Stella had been in a hurry at home, and tumbled down the basement steps to put the clothes into the machine. Besides blacking out a few moments, she had left a trail of blood of the steps.

"Stella," said her husband. "It's like a crime scene in NCIS."

That clinched it. Move they must. Their house on Robbins Street was on a hill. Two flights of steps to get into the house, then a big step up to enter. The Sun Room out back off the kitchen had nary a stair, but to get upstairs to the three bedrooms, twelve steps must be climbed. It kept Charlie spry, but Stella dreaded the up and down trips.

"Dear," she said to her husband at the party. "Do you think we could get doggie bags to take home?"

"I'll see to it," he said.

They heaved a sigh of relief when they were back in their two-bedroom suite at The Pines.

It was twilight.

Stella wielded her walker like a pro.

"What's the big deal with not wanting to use the walker?" said Charlie. "You could probably play basketball in the Disability Olympics."

She gave a mock swat at him. He came over and took her in his arms.

"Did I ever tell you how much I love you?"

"I love you as much as all the stars in the sky," she said.

"What about the moon?" he said.

"Well, not counting the moon," she laughed.

She stroked his cheek. Then ran her hands in his salt and pepper hair.

"My man. My beautiful handsome man, who will never leave me."

They went into the bedroom and lay on the bed. He helped her remove her party dress. A breeze blew in the window. Fireflies flickered like tiny jewels outside. Stella knew her husband was so smart he knew the science behind their phosphorescence.

Daringly, she asked, "Did they have fireflies at Majdanek?"

He laughed. "Can't really remember what Opa Baumann told me about it."

"It was wrong, Charlie. It was wrong, very wrong."

"Of course it was. The Jews are nice people."

Soon they were both asleep.

Their grandfather clock they'd gotten fifty years ago for a marriage present, chimed, and woke them up.

Pressing herself toward Charlie, she got off the bed and grabbed her walker.

"Stella! You don't need that damn thing in the house."

She walked out the bedroom pushing "Clark," as she named it, for Clark Gable and a terrible feeling came over her. Clark was not obeying her. He was going his own way. Damn, what was wrong with him?

She fell onto the blue carpet in the dining room. Clark punched her in the chin, tossed her like a pine cone, onto her back, where she hit herself on the leg of a chair in the dining room, piled high with leftovers.

Her first thought was "Oh no! I was so looking forward to eating more of the cake and those Toll House cookies for the kids." At her age, seventy-seven, she and Charlie indulged themselves. They would look dreamily at one another at the dining room table, as they ate their favorite foods.

"Another damn crime scene," thought Charlie.

He opened up the medicine chest and got some Bactrin, which he applied to her bleeding parts, patted her mussed-up French braid, and said, "Darling, you will be all right."

"Please don't call an ambulance," she said.

"You think I'm gonna let you die here on the floor?"

"Why not? I'll never heal. I'll never heal."

He dialed 9-1-1 on his phone.

She was transported with great care to Abington Hospital.

Charlie rode over in his black and shiny Mercedes.

She was in the ICU, where they bandaged her up.

Stella returned home in a week. Miss Amy Gross, a lovely physical therapist came out to their suite again, as did blond Peggy Bloomberg.

Slowly, she began to heal, though she still used her walker.

When the grandchildren came to visit, she made sure to hide the books Charlie had bought for her from Barnes and Noble. William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Night by Elie Wiesel, and The Diary of Anne Frank.

A fast and comprehensive reader, she surprised herself by foregoing her walker more and more.

When the little ones visited again, she gave the eldest, Hailey, a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank.

"I think you're old enough to read this now, darling," she said.

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