Souvenirs collected during decades of marriage were washed, dried and shined ‎the morning Baruk stopped working. He admired them as he replaced each one in ‎precise order inside the china closet. "Memories," he whispered, recalling he'd ‎reached age sixty-five, the watermark year when memories soothe the nest one ‎is taught to build for self and family.‎ It was his first day of retirement. Suddenly, after all the financial planning and ‎midnight talks with Behira, his wife of forty years, he had no plans. No one ‎depended on him, no one demanded anything of him and little was expected ‎from him. "Freedom," he joked, "the art of choice." ‎

Behira had left for work early. She was gone by the time her husband awoke. ‎She would retire in six months at age sixty-two, taking a reduction in social ‎security benefits for the privilege of traveling when and wherever the two ‎decided.

Baruk loved his wife. He was proud of her petite presence. She was quiet and ‎took a back seat to his wishes and schemes. He noticed for the first time this ‎year her soft auburn hair was turning gray. Small brown spots appeared, ‎seemingly overnight, on the backs of her delicate hands. Her simple gold ‎wedding band had been wrapped with pink yarn to keep it from accidentally ‎slipping off her finger when she began loosing weight as a result of her new diet. ‎

‎"I've never been so successful with a diet," Behira stated one morning as she ‎stepped on their bathroom scale announcing she'd lost thirty pounds.

Baruk ‎worried as his wife continued to reduce in size. It was important for her to look ‎nice, to embark on their senior years of non-stop traveling as a youthful, ‎attractive sixty-something. Still, late one afternoon, Baruk embraced his wife and ‎was shocked at how thin she'd become.‎

Behira explained this week would be difficult. She was finishing her last project ‎before leaving her life as software engineer behind. She'd become short-tempered in recent months. She was not getting enough sleep. Her family ‎noticed she was tired and preoccupied. There was no reason for her to keep ‎working. She could retire the same day as her husband; but everyone ‎understood her need for a long goodbye. Each detail she'd created in her thirty ‎year career would be stored in its proper place before she allowed the door to ‎close behind her. ‎

Baruk wiped his hands on the tea towel—the set the couple purchased in ‎Lithuania the previous fall. He drained water from boiled eggs and chopped ‎them into a tablespoon of mayonnaise creating an egg salad he'd take to Behira ‎for lunch. It would be good to surprise her. ‎

At the office everyone was preoccupied with responsibility. No one paid attention ‎to the tall, elderly gentleman as he stepped off the elevator and headed toward ‎his wife's office. He'd visited his wife's workplace as often as he'd seen a solar ‎eclipse. When he approached her door, he was not alarmed when the name ‎plate advertised someone else. ‎

He approached the secretary's community desk clutching the lunch box ‎containing simple sandwiches, sliced apples and slender wedges of berry pie ‎wrapped tightly in plastic wrap to keep from losing an appetizing shape. "Please, ‎ma'am, can you direct me to Behira Katz's office? I seem to have forgotten ‎where she is?" ‎

The secretary was an attractive woman in her late twenties. "Who are you ‎looking for, sir?" ‎

‎"Behira Katz." ‎

‎"I don't know anyone by that name." The secretary spoke quickly, annoyed with ‎anything slightly historical. "I'm new here." ‎

‎"Behira Katz. K-A-T-Z." ‎

‎"As far as I know, no Behira Katz has worked here for the past month." ‎

‎"But that's impossible. She's worked here thirty years. What do you mean she ‎has not worked here for a month?" ‎

‎"Maybe she quit, Mr. Katz. I can't help you. I don't know where your wife is. There's such a thing as confidentiality and I can't give out information even if I ‎knew where your wife is—which I don't. Please, you need a security badge to be ‎on this floor and I can't give you one. You'll need to leave. I don't want to call ‎security. No one here knows where your wife is." ‎

Baruk had no choice but to descend to the lobby of the giant building. He wanted ‎to escape into the spring air and scream his wife's name into the civilized work ‎world they'd carefully planned to flee. Had she escaped without him? Was she ‎traveling without him? Perhaps she no longer loved him. He walked to a park ‎constructed to make the lunch hour pleasant for downtown employees and sat exhausted on a green enamel-painted bench. ‎

He wondered how he'd approach his wife that afternoon. What would he say to ‎her? Would he be angry, compassionate; was there a secret involved he was ‎not ready to hear? A thin woman with soft gray hair caught Baruk's attention. ‎

‎"Behira!" He cried. "Behira! What's happening, where have you been? Why ‎aren't you at work?"

The elderly woman glanced toward the advancing stranger. Her surprised facial ‎expression changed in support of the natural kindness of her soul. "Who are you ‎looking for, dear?" She spoke as though apologizing for disappointing someone ‎whose respect she craved.‎

‎"Behira! It's me, where have…" Baruk stopped in mid-sentence as he ‎approached his wife's twin. Suddenly, the elderly man felt so weary, no amount ‎of sleep could give him rest. "I-I'm sorry," he confessed. "You look like my wife." ‎The possibility he would melt into ignominious sorrow in a public place, at the ‎feet of a stranger was unimaginable and the old man fought for clarity and ‎control.‎

‎ "Abba." A familiar voice reached from the noon clouds into the park bringing ‎with it hope and comfort. ‎

‎"Abba, Abba." The voice kept calling and a young man placed his muscular arm ‎around Baruk's shoulders. "Abba, it's time to go home. You're looking for Ima ‎again." Baruk recognized his son, Ben-Yamin. ‎

‎"Bennie. Ima quit her job; she's not at work. No one knows where she is. She ‎has not been to work for the entire month. Bennie, we must find her."‎

‎"Take it easy, Papa. We found Mama; we know where she is." The couple's ‎only child, was a kind, patient man in his forties. He gently escorted his father ‎from the park, apologizing to the sensitive stranger mistaken for his mother. ‎Father and son approached a small car.

Baruk slipped his stiff body into the passenger seat of the compact car and ‎began sobbing. He turned to his son who had taken the driver's seat. "I made ‎her lunch, her favorite: egg sandwiches, apples and pie." ‎

It's hard for a son to witness his father weeping. It's the time in a son's life—no ‎matter what his age, no matter how many pennies he will save in his lifetime; no ‎matter how deeply he will love or how long he may covet freedom—it is the ‎moment a son believes the secrets that live inside dreams and memory.‎

‎"My Abba." Ben-Yamin gently touched his father's shoulder, brushing white hair ‎from the elder's forehead, as though he were the father, the strong parent. He ‎reached into the backseat, retrieving a large book. "Remember these—our ‎pictures?" The son handed his father their recorded past. Baruk opened the ‎album and remembered.‎

"Behira made us collect these pictures," he sighed.‎

"Yes, she did. We argued every time she made us pose and talked some fool ‎into snapping the picture." Both men flipped through the black and white photos ‎that abruptly turned into color as the family aged. ‎

Baruk looked at his son; his aging, blue eyes a steely gray that hid secrets the ‎way clouds protect what should be clear and easily realized. "Mama is gone, ‎Bennie, isn't she?" ‎

‎"Yes. Her funeral was three months ago. But just last week I thought I saw her walking ‎ahead of me, singing some song I barely recall from childhood. I'm lonely for ‎these melodies and that is why I can not say goodbye. Sometimes I believe if I ‎remember every note Ima ever sang, she will be satisfied and disappear beyond ‎an unfamiliar street corner and I will stop searching for her in crowds."‎

Following a strong silence, Benny turned the ignition key and his father hummed ‎a familiar lullaby Benny recalled from his days as a toddler. Before long, father ‎and son began their journey home and not one instant was lost as they filled the ‎air with the songs of children, the memories of the old and the freedom to travel ‎wherever they wished.‎