"Mavis, do you feel like taking a side trip to the Falls?"
It wasn't the hypnotic lure of Niagara Falls that made Bert suggest it. He'd seen them plenty of times. It was just that it had been a quiet ride in the car—a nervous kind of quiet. He thought it was a good way to stir up some conversation and jog the mood to something more vacation-worthy. He took his eye off the interstate traffic for a moment to glance at Mavis, silent in the passenger's seat, looking out her window.
"Niagara Falls is about halfway," he explained. "We could have lunch on the Canadian side. After that, we can pick up the QEW outside of town and be on our way to Toronto. We would still be there in plenty of time."
He finished passing the truck on his right. He pulled back into the lane and glanced at Mavis again, who hadn't yet answered him.
"I haven't seen the Falls in such a long time," she admitted. "Phil and I took the children to see them before he got sick. That must have been at least twenty years ago."
"Well, we've got the time, like I said, and it's a nice day. It's September, so with schools back in session the crowds shouldn't be bad at all. Whaddya say—Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds? There's a nice restaurant that overlooks Horseshoe Falls."
She sighed. "Thanks for the offer, Bert. Mind if I pass? Maybe we can stop on the way back."
Her answer was a disappointment. If she'd accepted the offer they would find that convenient time-out opportunity he thought they needed. Not to his liking, they were on Grand Island already, approaching Toronto too fast.
"Too many memories? It's okay; I understand, Mavis."
"It's not that, Bert," she replied. "Phil's been gone for eighteen years. The children are grown up, too. Life moves on. We can visit Niagara Falls some other time."
"Why not, then?" Bert asked her. "Is there a garden near the hotel that you want to take in before nightfall?"
He'd agreed to take her to Toronto to tour the public gardens with the autumn flowers blooming. He had nothing against flowers, but he didn't know an aster from a pansy. Gardens were her pastime, not his. She'd hinted about it several times. It was a good excuse to get out of town for a few days. So, there they were, swiftly approaching their destination; a widow and a widower on their way to Canada to see the flowers.
"No, nothing like that," she murmured. "I think we need to get to where we set out for."
Bert thought that she sounded like a convict hurrying to the gallows. He harrumphed to himself. At least he understood things better after that comment. The quiet mood, refusal of the side trip to Niagara Falls—it all made sense.
"Mavis," he said, "maybe getting the single room was a mistake. There's no reason to push this thing. We can change our minds and get a second hotel room when we get there. I think the whole thing is getting on our nerves."
Out of the corner of his eye he saw her frowning at him. He tried to read her expression. At first it looked like grim determination, and then confusion, fading to sadness.
"Putting pressure on something like this is always a mistake," he continued. "We could see if they have adjoining rooms. Then, if the moment seems right..."
"We've been seeing one another for a year, Bert. It's time," she pronounced and then crossed her arms and resumed staring out the passenger window.
Her declaration affirmed the sentence; there would be no appeal; the gallows awaited and were directly in their charted path.
"It's not always like that with things of this nature," Bert appealed, in spite of the edict. "I'd like to think there'd be a natural time to just—you know, come together—all spontaneous-like."
"I'm not as romantic as you are, Bert," she answered, and then retreated back to silence.
To Bert, the refusal seemed more than a difference of opinion. It was rejection of sorts— and confusing, too. Bert wasn't the most experienced guy around—women-wise—but he knew how they liked things done the romantic way.
He drove another mile before answering her. "Actually, Mavis," he began, "I'm happy just to be with you. It's going to be a nice trip—just the two of us. Even if we don't—you know, uh—make love, it will still be a nice trip. We can talk; get to know each other better."
He congratulated himself on saying just the right thing in the moment. It wasn't easy. It had been years since deciphering the feelings of a woman had been up to him, and he'd considered himself to have done so with great aplomb.
"It's because I'm too old," she retorted at once. "You don't want to because of that."
She didn't say it in an angry voice, but in one that was rather soft and sad. It was more a statement of fact than an accusation. She said it as though she was informing him of something he needed to understand. It caught Bert off-guard. He felt that she was hurt and it was his fault. As he recanted his earlier self-congratulations, she spoke again.
"You're no younger than me, Bert."
There it was; finally, he felt he understood what was on her mind. First, was the confession of self-doubt followed by the preemptive counterattack-in-advance—a sharing of insecurity
"I know how old I am," he thought. "I'm old enough to know better."
With that he fixed his eyes on the road and decided to say nothing further. It occurred to him that he'd never seen this insecure side of her before. After thinking about it, he realized he hadn't foreseen her non-romantic side, either. He believed that he detected stubbornness in her, too. She had never seemed insecure or stubborn in the twelve months they'd been seeing one another. All-in-all, he felt justified in his second thoughts about the whole trip.
Bert thought some more and remembered that they'd never shared any kind of intimacy. There had been the time he'd appreciated her backside in secret. He judged it to be nicely rounded, albeit shrouded in a pleated skirt. She was bending over the oven to tend a pot roast she was cooking for him and he was standing behind her. That, however, had been a one-way encounter. He kept his comments about that to himself.
"It's a nice little bottom, even if she thinks it's an old one."
However one-way the encounter might have been, it wasn't long afterward that Bert did agree to the trip to Toronto. It was between courses and there was a pause in conversation. Then, she began hinting about the flowers again. Before he'd realized what he was saying he posed the idea of the trip to her. They made plans over apple pie á la mode.
"She seduced me with that apple pie," he declared to himself as he shook his head.
"Is that a 'no'?" she demanded, and that shook him from his private thoughts.
"What're you talkin' about, Mavis?"
"I saw you shaking your head," she answered.
"Sorry; I didn't mean it that way." He had to think fast. "I was just trying to figure out these kilometers. We're crossing into Canada, you know. I'm used to miles."
"Oh," she nodded, "I thought you meant something else."
What she said made him feel bad, and he was glad to have thought of the little white lie in the spur of the moment. He still had some savvy left. He reached over and patted her hand.
"Don't worry, Mavis. These things have a way of working themselves out. You'll see."
She didn't say anything; she answered with a smile. Bert knew he'd said the right thing. It relaxed him and that allowed him to see things more clearly.
He was assured by his reverie; it was not the ravages of her fifty-five years that made him hesitate. He just didn't like pressure about these kinds of things. Perhaps there were other reasons, too. They were for him to know. Everyone had a right to one's own secret thoughts. His recollection of her shapely bottom wouldn't go away. He reconsidered his doubts.
"Maybe she's not really insecure and stubborn. I'll bet she's just nervous."
"Hey, Mavis," he said out loud, "let's not spoil everything before we even get there." He hesitated a moment to make certain she was listening. "I didn't mean to offend you; I don't think I explained myself very well."
"You're right, Bert," she answered. "It would be a shame to fight."
They had crossed the river at the Lewiston Bridge a few minutes before. There was a queue to go through Canadian Immigration.
"It's probably a good thing that we didn't go to the Falls," he observed as they looked out over the line of waiting cars. "Who knows how long this will take."
Their conversation halted for a minute or two while they fumbled with their papers.
The inspector was a young woman in her early thirties. She was slim and attractive, wearing the uniform of the Canadian Border Service. She looked pleasant and business-like at the same time, in that Canadian kind of way.
"Good afternoon; welcome to Canada," she smiled. "Papers, please!"
Mavis passed her driver's license and birth certificate to Bert. He had a passport. He handed it all out the window. As she turned and walked to a little office building the thought suddenly occurred to him.
"Omigosh! She'll look at the names and addresses and realize we're not married."
He reasoned that it was too late to worry; and, although it didn't worry him he drummed his fingers on the steering wheel while he and Mavis waited in the car.
The officer returned to them after a few minutes. She was smiling, which Bert thought was a smirk.
"What's your destination?" she asked in her pleasant-businesslike voice.
"Toronto," Bert mumbled.
"And will it be business or pleasure?" was the rejoinder.
.... There is more of this story ...