Sunday Stories: “Company”


by Ronna Wineberg

Elaine sat in front of the computer, typing answers to the questions on the Silver Singles website. She was sixty-seven years old, divorced after a long marriage, looking for a man, a companion. Experimenting, really, to see what an online dating search would be like.

She had to give her history of relationships—married, separated, divorced, single, never married. She felt as if she was often considering the history of something. At the doctor’s office, she recited the history of medications, diseases. On Amazon, she scrolled to check the history of her purchases. At the repair shop, she told the mechanic the history of her car’s problems. She was often amassing information from the past and using it to create a future.

Now she stopped before answering the question about relationships. She checked the box for “divorced,” but that wasn’t the whole picture. A dating website wasn’t interested in nuance. She was divorced, it was true, for five years, but she’d been involved in an affair. She considered Todd her primary relationship, her boyfriend. He lived in New Mexico, and she lived in Chicago. When they began their love affair, they were both married to other people and teaching at the law school in Chicago where she still taught part time. He was still married. It wasn’t a linear relationship in the sense that they’d courted, fallen in love, and married each other. They would probably never spend long periods of time together, but still, Elaine didn’t want to let him go. She was in love with him. 

She stared at the computer screen, then looked away. She had recently decided to try to find a companion here, not to replace Todd—that wouldn’t be possible—but as a supplement. Just for company. She mentioned this to Todd on the telephone. “It would be nice to have someone here to do things with,” she said.

“What kinds of things?” 

“Oh, someone to go to the movies with or to dinner. Nothing else.”

“Well.” He paused. “Movies often lead to something more, to sex.”

“That might be true,” she said, then laughed. “But that won’t happen.” She didn’t think she’d meet anyone who would interest her.


She had always admired the breadth of Todd’s knowledge about the law, literature, art, politics, the ease with which he spoke, his warm smile. He was tall and handsome, with an angular face and blue eyes. They had been friends before they became involved. Elaine’s husband had left her once, twenty years ago, but they reconciled. He left for another woman. Elaine had been crushed by the separation. She had felt lonely then and wanted something just for herself. In an uncharacteristically impulsive moment, she made an overture to Todd. He was then married to his second wife and happy, he said. Even so, he responded.

She fell in love with him and continued the affair after the reconciliation with her husband. 

She had now been in love with Todd for twenty years. It was extraordinary, she sometimes thought, to have sustained a relationship with him for so long, despite its limitations. 

But Todd belonged to someone else. She had known this but had begun to viscerally consider this piece of their history. What did it mean to belong to another person? To link your life with someone else’s? She did not have that with Todd. This hadn’t concerned her when she was younger and married or even when she was first divorced, but now it crept into her consciousness.

There was a hiatus in their relationship when the pandemic intruded. Books and movies were filled with failed love affairs, Elaine knew. Todd said to her on the phone during the pandemic, “People have love affairs. And then they’re over. We haven’t seen each other in a while. I could think, well, that was nice, and just go on. But I miss it.”

She was relieved he felt this way. She wanted to say: Why can’t we be together? Even though she could say anything to him, she didn’t say that.

He had moved to New Mexico ten years ago for work. She had been to his house there. His wife was out of town, and Elaine went to visit him, staying at a hotel, spending time with Todd at the hotel, on hikes, at his suburban house. She relished seeing how he lived and, at the same time, felt excluded, on the outskirts of his life. Photos of the blended family sat on the mantel, square photos, rectangular ones, all in silver frames: husband, wife, three children, smiling. Artifacts of an entwined and committed life. She was on the outside. She didn’t belong here, she knew. He was the center for her.

Now he was coming to Chicago next week for a two-day conference. She navigated away from the dating website. She would concentrate on the present. Even after all this time, she couldn’t wait to see him.


Elaine visited her granddaughter every week. Zoe was four with silky brown hair. Today Elaine read to her, and they had lunch together. Todd would be in Chicago tomorrow. After the visit, Zoe ran to Elaine and flung her arms around Elaine’s legs, hugging her fiercely—at the height Zoe could reach. “Oh, I love you so much,” she said, burying her head in her grandmother’s legs.

When Zoe released her, Elaine knelt to look at Zoe face to face. “I love you so much, too,” Elaine said. She kissed the top of her granddaughter’s head.  

On the way home, Elaine thought about Zoe’s spontaneous hug. This seemed the essence of pure love. Elaine considered the different kinds of love. Love for a grandchild, a child, love mixed in with a kind of awe and gratitude, and sometimes, disappointment. Love for a parent, in her own case converging with some unmet expectations. Romantic love was a different realm, the stirring she felt for Todd, an irresistible force inside her, pushing her toward him, toward a kind of completion. With him, she felt she’d found the other half of herself. She would never tell him because it sounded absurd even to her, romantic and dreamy. 

As she walked into her apartment, she missed Todd in a visceral way, as if her body was overtaken suddenly by sharp pain. 


The next day she opened the front door, and Todd stood in the hallway. He looked just as she remembered him: tall, that easy smile, his lanky walk. He seemed like a young man to her, though she could see he’d aged, and she knew she had, too. A few more wrinkles on his face. The hairline had receded. None of this mattered to her. She had aged, too—a thicker waist, a colony of wrinkles beneath her eyes.

He wrapped his arms around her. “I’m happy to see you.”

They talked for a few minutes and then went to bed. This was where they were most honest, most intimate with each other.

She slid close to him, and he swept his hand across her breasts, the waist, to her legs, and she moved her hand on him, reaching for his penis, long and firm despite the insults of age. 

Oh, she had missed this pleasure. Whenever they made love, every time, hundreds of times—fucking, as he liked to say—she never tired of touching him, being close to him. When he touched her, she was an instrument, creating the sweetest chords. After a while, she felt herself come, a feeling both familiar and surprising. And he came. Making love—creating love, he once said—never became old or stale or rote with him. It was a wonder to her.

Afterward, they lay side by side. “I’m grateful,” she said, “for this. Us.”

“This was how we were meant to be,” he said.

“The best part of life.”

He nodded. “For some women, some couples, at our age sex is over.”

“Not us. Why do you think a person is attracted to someone? Like you and me?”  

“I don’t know.” He looked at her, his eyes steady on hers. “You make me feel young.”

“Not everyone makes you feel that way.”

“Not at all. Who knows? Pheromones?”

She lay her head on his shoulder. She felt complete. Happy. He unleashed something in her, a comfort. He expanded her body. Her soul, she thought foolishly. He made her feel valued, closer to herself. She hoped he could tell, and if not, it was a gift he gave to her without being aware of it. 

They talked about their work, children, grandchildren.

“I have less energy than I used to have,” he said. “I don’t like to admit it but it’s true. We’re both getting older.”

“You have plenty of energy. Of everything. It seems to me.”

“Not like before. It’s a fact of life.”

“Sometimes I feel that,” she said. “At least you’re healthy.”

“For the moment.”


In the late afternoon, she walked with him along Lake Michigan. It was a breezy April day, and the sun was shining. Finally, he stopped. He had to hurry back to the hotel and make a presentation tonight and tomorrow.

“I’ve got to go prepare.” He held her hands. “I’ll call.”

“I hate for you to leave.”

“Just for the moment. We’ll talk.” 

“We will.”

He kissed her and then hurried in the other direction.

She liked to savor the sight of him, the confident walk, the way his arms swung against his sides.  He was running now. But finally, she turned away. She didn’t want to watch until he disappeared. It seemed too much like an ending. She strolled along the lake toward her apartment, looking at the white sailboats bobbing in the water.


Her apartment felt emptier than before. She collected their lunch dishes from the table—two coffee cups, two glasses, the forks, plates, crumpled napkins, his used but folded; he was neat. She put all this in the kitchen sink. The plate with the one remaining piece of apple pie. He loved apple pie, and she had wanted to make the lunch nice for him, had baked the pie and bought foods he enjoyed.


She wanted something from Todd that he couldn’t give. Or wouldn’t. Permanence, commitment, something she couldn’t even name. Even so, she was grateful for him. She wanted more, and she was grateful.

She thought of a story she’d heard once. A folktale. Elaine didn’t recall where she’d heard it. The story of the two wolves. “There are two wolves within each of us,” an Indigenous grandfather told his grandson. “One wolf has the worst traits—hatred, greed, jealousy, avarice, and so on. The second wolf has every positive trait. Generous, understanding, supportive, compassionate, loving. The two wolves are fighting inside us.”

“Which wolf wins?” the boy asked.

“The one you feed,” the grandfather said.

Elaine didn’t think the story was true. But the emotion felt true. She considered this. One day she would tell the story to Zoe and talk about conflicted feelings people have inside themselves. It reminded Elaine of her own feelings for Todd, the battle within her sometimes. She wasn’t a wolf, of course. But there were two parts of herself. Wanting more from Todd, being grateful for him. Feeling jealous of his time, his life, his wife. Feeling generous, compassionate, loving—in awe, really, of what she and Todd had together, despite the limitations.

She remembered, too, something from long ago that she hadn’t thought of for years. Part of her history with Todd. She had been sitting with him and his wife Sandra before Todd and Sandra were married, when the two were married to other people. Elaine didn’t recall where they were, at a gathering for the gymnastics class their kids attended or at the law school maybe. But she remembered sitting at a table with them and the way Todd’s gaze was fixed on Sandra. His flirtatious smile. Elaine had noticed the attention he gave Sandra then, and wished he was giving it to her, Elaine. A primitive wish. Elaine realized she was a little in love with him. She had studied him, looking at his dazzling blue eyes, the dark lashes, the way he tilted his head toward Sandra, listening intensely. Elaine had always admired how he crafted legal arguments with precision, how he knew about law, politics, and art. She was drawn to his intellect, his easy laugh and smile—really, to his essence. She had been taken aback, sitting there, as she noticed the feelings for him stirring inside her. She was an observer. Observing Todd, observing Sandra’s responsive laugh, the way the woman nodded with delight at Todd, her shining, blond hair framing her face.

Finally, Elaine excused herself. She needed to talk to others, and her husband Philip was there. As she walked away from Todd and Sandra, Elaine glanced back. They were leaning toward each other, exchanging intimate information.


Elaine was part of a text and email chain with her children, her ex-husband, and his new wife. She didn’t know who created the chain—maybe he did or one of the kids—but from time to time messages popped up from his new wife. Elaine cringed to see the woman’s name on the screen and often didn’t read the woman’s messages. Elaine’s kids were announcing something about the family or sharing information. She didn’t have the heart to say she didn’t want to be part of the text exchange with the new wife. No, it wasn’t a matter of heart; Elaine didn’t want to disturb the uneasy accommodation they had all made to the divorce, that she’d made. She didn’t want to stir up her anger, disappointment, and the hints of sorrow that still remained inside her about this particular loss, loss of family as it had once existed. The feeling, however illusory, that she, her ex-husband, and two children were a united front, fortified against the uncertainties of the world. Even when things were rocky with her ex, she had tried to hold on to that feeling.

She supposed that this loss led her to Todd. He had cushioned her fall, offered her asylum. Sanctuary. This was part of their history.


Three weeks after Todd visited, Elaine sat at the computer, looking at the dating site again, resuming where she’d left off. She would rather be with him, but she was becoming realistic, experimenting. She wanted to fill her time, and she wanted to experience every stage of life. Including this—senior citizen, mother, grandmother, divorced, on her own.

She debated whether to pay the yearly fee. She wondered if the men had to pay, and if it was worth it to put money into this. This whim. But she decided to finish the questionnaire.

She read the next question: What is important to you in a relationship? There were twenty possible answers, multiple choice again, and she began to consider them: Openness. Honesty. Our Chemistry.

The cell phone rang, interrupting her. 

Todd’s name appeared on the screen. “Hi,” she said, pressing the phone against her ear as if this would bring him closer.

“Thought I’d say hello,” he said.

“You don’t usually call now. It’s nice you did.”

“What are you doing?”

“Not much.” She glanced away from the computer screen. “Fooling around on the computer.” In a sense, she was.

“Fooling around? If I was there, we’d fool around for sure.”

“I’d love that.”


“No, shopping.” That wasn’t a total lie. She never lied to him. She felt herself blush. “Window shopping.”



He laughed. 

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“That project for work. It made me think of you.”

“That’s nice. Why?”

“You know, we used to talk about reparations. When we taught together. And I’ve been thinking of you since I saw you. I had a little time. Wanted to hear your voice.”

“It’s great to—”

“Oh.” His voice dropped. “Hold on a minute.”

Elaine heard a woman talking now, his wife, she surmised, but she couldn’t make out the words, then Todd said, “Do you need something?” 

The woman spoke. He replied, “Sure, if you need me to help. Be right there.”

After a minute, he said to Elaine, “I’m sorry. My window has closed.”

“It sounds that way,” she said, disappointed. 

“I’ll talk to you soon. Don’t overspend on that shopping.” 

She set the cell phone on the desk. The two parts of her began fighting. One was jealous of Todd’s wife and amazed that she, Elaine, had allowed herself to be in this situation. And the other felt love and gratitude for him. She faced the computer, feeling vaguely guilty. She supposed some women would be hurt by Sandra’s interruption, the accommodations Elaine had to make. Elaine was hurt. Sometimes she thought: where is this relationship with Todd going? She knew that after twenty years, the relationship wouldn’t veer in the direction she wanted. He made accommodations, too. She didn’t know what kind and she didn’t need to. He arranged what he needed, and she did the same. This was how she had chosen to live her life.

She often wondered what went on in Todd’s mind, if he was dissatisfied with his marriage. Did the affair keep the marriage together? Last year, Elaine had said to him, “What are we doing? You and me?”

“We love each other,” he said.

“Would you ever…leave your wife?” Elaine had never asked this before.

“She doesn’t…” He paused. “Doesn’t deserve to be hurt. Sometime, maybe, if…”

There was silence. Elaine hadn’t pressed further. She didn’t know where the discussion would lead. She didn’t want the relationship to end. But the question lingered in Elaine’s mind. 

Emotion for him rose in her now, like a vibration that trilled everywhere inside her. 

She walked around the apartment, and then went back to the computer. When she didn’t talk to Todd, she felt something was missing. Here she was, lost in her thoughts, and there he was, somewhere in the cosmos, immersed in his life. She didn’t feel depressed, exactly, and it wasn’t anger. She felt—what was it? A flatness. After all—what did she have to complain about? She remembered when she was a child at the dinner table, her mother would insist everyone finish the food on their plates. “Children are starving all over the world.” And then she or Elaine’s father would list the places where children were hungry. Ethiopia. Afghanistan. India. Even in Chicago. Be grateful for what you have, her parents said.

Elaine had once told Todd about this dinner-table conversation.  

He had said, “Some things don’t change. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Hunger is always current.”

“Now it’s called ‘food insecurity,’” Elaine had said. “A euphemism.”

“An attempt to cushion the reality a little. Does it matter what you call it?”


Elaine finally joined the dating site and men contacted her. She spoke to a few on the phone, and one, named Keith, seemed interesting, so she met him for coffee. He seemed like a decent enough man, she thought, sitting across from him at Starbucks. He was in his early seventies and a patent lawyer. “Close to retiring,” he said.

He was Elaine’s height and had gray hair, pockets of wrinkles beneath his gray eyes. He was stocky, wore a blue blazer and khakis. He had been married twice, divorced now for ten years. He had been on the dating site a long time. 

They were talking about their children. She asked what his did for work.

“My daughter lives in Sweden,” he said. “She’s from my first marriage. She teaches English to shy Finns.”

“Shy Finns?” Elaine laughed. “Is that some kind of subset of the population?”

“That’s how they advertise it,” he said seriously. “People who are unconfident, who…” He paused, considering Elaine’s comment. “Who may be too shy to even speak. It’s an unusual niche but it works for her. My daughter is very skilled at teaching.” Then he told Elaine about his son, from the second marriage.

When he went to the restroom, Elaine watched him walk across the room, his hesitant pace, arms grazing his sides, the slightly stooped posture. Then he disappeared into a hallway. 

There was company, Elaine thought. And then there was love; there was sex. If you were lucky, you had experienced love, and if you were really lucky, the love and sex went together.

She opened her purse and pulled out her cell phone. A family text was waiting for Elaine but she didn’t look now. She felt a sudden need to text Todd and tell him she loved him, but she couldn’t write something so blatant. He wasn’t the only one who might look at it. So she wrote: Just checking in to see how you’re doing, how the law review essay is coming along. Love, Elaine. She might hear from him tonight or tomorrow or the next day. Just texting him made her feel alive.

When Keith came back, they resumed the conversation.

“How long have you been divorced?” he said.

“Five years.”

“So you’re ready to jump back into the fray again.” 

She didn’t contradict him.

“You should know something about me,” he said, sipping his latte. He smiled and his white teeth gleamed. His lower teeth were crooked. “I like being in the fray. But I’m spontaneous. I don’t usually make plans in advance.”

He was telling her something but Elaine wasn’t sure what. Was this a brush-off? Or was he telling her this so she wouldn’t have unrealistic expectations? Whatever he was telling her was fine. She realized he didn’t look at her with intensity or desire, and she didn’t feel them for him. 

The conversation drifted to other things. Maybe all they each wanted was just some company, Elaine thought—to help ease whatever difficult feelings lurked inside them.

After a while, she felt a spark of interest, unexpected but insistent. A sense he was attractive. This surprised her. She couldn’t quite tell for sure, but his interest seemed to perk up, too. 

He leaned toward her and eyed her intently.

Could company become desire or even affection? Elaine usually discussed something philosophical with Todd but she wouldn’t this time.

“I’m enjoying our conversation,” Keith said. “More than I thought I would.”

She laughed. “That’s both a compliment and a warning, I guess.”

“Just being honest. I value honesty. And it is a compliment.” Keith brushed his hand against hers, resting his hand there, testing the waters.  

She nodded. She liked the shape of his long fingers, the warmth of them. 

Her cell phone binged in her purse. A text. Maybe from Todd. She debated but didn’t move. She would look later. 

“I told you, I’m spontaneous,” Keith went on, “but I want to break my rule and make another date. Spend time with you. Soon. What do you think?” He smiled and lifted his hand from hers.

Would this frisson of interest linger? she wondered. She wanted to see if his feelings mirrored her own. If there was a flicker of possibility with him. After all, he was here, sitting across from her. “I’d like that,” she said. “Let’s make a plan now.” She paused. “I’m ready.” She smiled back at him.



Ronna Wineberg is the author of Artifacts and Other Stories, a collection of stories, which was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award; Nine Facts That Can Change Your Life, a collection of stories, which received Honorable Mention for the Eric Hoffer Book Award; On Bittersweet Place, a novel, winner of the Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book Competition; and a debut collection, Second Language, winner of the New Rivers Press Many Voices Project Literary Competition. Her stories have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Colorado Review, American Way, and elsewhere, and have been broadcast on National Public Radio. Ronna was awarded a fellowship in fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts, a scholarship in fiction to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and residencies to Ragdale Foundation and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is the founding fiction editor of the Bellevue Literary Review and lives in New York City. She is completing a novel about a public defender and the insanity defense.

Image source: Amador Loureiro/Unsplash

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