The Greeter by Ed Ahern

Conrad Hightower wore a dress shirt and jacket once a week, to church. For the other days he pulled mismatched pants and shirts from his closet, drawing from a declining stash of clothes that weren’t yet frayed and discarded.

He was a greeter, and always arrived at the service early. Before his wife died, she’d come with him. That was ten years ago, and her mental image was fading with his clothes, but he still twirled the ring on his finger like a Tibetan prayer wheel. 

Conrad had skinnied down over the decade since her death, and prided himself that he had the same waist size as he’d had when they’d gotten married. Which meant that all his pants were voluminous. 

Estelle also arrived early, and the smile cracked across his face every time she entered.

“Hello, Estelle, really good to see you again.”

“Hello Conrad, really good to still be seen.”

Estelle was petite to his tall, and slightly plump, which may have kept the facial wrinkles at bay. She alternated between four or five different outfits on Sunday, but always wore the same double strand of pearls. A gift from her husband, she’d told him once.

Conrad leaned toward her. “How’re the kitchen repairs coming?”

“Thought I’d told you already, all done, cost way more than I could afford, but at least I have water to the sink and refrigerator again.”

“That’s right, you did. Here’s the prayer book.”

“Thanks, Conrad. Have you had a chance to try out that restaurant I told you about?”

“No.” He hesitated. “No one to go with.”

They exchanged a few more words and she went into the church. Conrad felt awkward about sitting near her, and once the service started, sat several rows behind her where he could still see the back of her head. On two afternoons he’d driven past her little house, but she’d never been out and he had no excuse to knock. He realized that he’d never touched her.

Just before the service ended Conrad got up and went to the back of the church so he could say goodbye to those attending. Estelle came out, bunched in with several others. He took the prayer book from her, and quickly cupped her hand. It was warm. As he turned to lay the book down she took a step toward him, detaching from the group.

“Any movies you know of that I should go see, Conrad?”

He put his hands together and began twirling his ring. “No, I, ah, don’t get out much. Safe home, Estelle.”

She took a step back. “Thanks, Conrad, likewise.”

He drove slowly home and went in, then took off and carefully hung his slacks and sport coat. He pulled on corduroy pants with a worn-down nap and a plaid shirt missing a button on the front. “Maybe next Sunday,” he muttered.

Ed Ahern resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. He’s had over three hundred stories and poems published so far, and six books. Ed works the other side of writing at Bewildering Stories, where he sits on the review board and manages a posse of nine review editors.