The path meandered more than he remembered but he was the first to admit his memory was never his strongest suit. It didn’t help that he had consumed two margaritas at lunch, and even he didn’t believe the excuse that this was a slow day for him, still sober at two in the afternoon. But he wandered the path, for that is what paths were there for he was certain. He had no idea where he was going, and realized that he would have no idea when he got there. Still he had great faith in mathematics, that was his training, his brilliance,such as it was, and he knew that if he merely wandered aimlessly without thinking, he would eventually cross his own path, bump into his former self and they, together, could devise a plan to find their way precisely they were intended to be.
It should be more of a surprise, on this day that you turn ninety but the mirror, as you see it, has you looking as you did twenty two years earlier, and twenty before that, unchanging in any meaningful way, yet those around you laugh when you tell them what you believe.
Not a day over sixty-eight you say, and time to go off and write for an hour, then the three mile walk, a shower, some physical therapy for . . . well one of the joints which has osteoarthritis, and a salad, heavy on the greens for lunch.
Nothing much has changed in your mind, and when you awaken from the dream, see your sixty-eight year old face in the mirror, you only wish you could see the younger face that only dreams allow, but time outside of dreams is always, unfortunately, unforgiving.
He walks with what he considers a swagger. He will gladly stare you in the eye, and you will look away. He prides himself on constancy, knowing you will arrive each day, knowing you will bring nothing in response to his request. He’ll turn his back on you and ignore you once again. Then he will waddle back to the pond, quacking his farewell.
As the last of the wine glasses is put back on the shelf the Brut recorked and the dishes set in the tray to dry we take a slow walk after the meal hoping the arrabiatta sauce will be less angry, the pasta less weighty, when we arrive back home to the sofa and the purring cat distracting us from the beckoning of the bed.
They walk slowly, each step measured as to both length and cadence. The need not speak, they have long been synchronous, now cannot avoid being so without great effort.
They say nothing, words have grown superfluous, and would only interrupt the slow procession of the clouds, the ducks swimming against the river’s flow, the birds playing tag, each claiming to be it in turn. Each day they turn together, at different spots along the river walk, and return home, amazed at all that is different on the journey back.
They are arrayed like so much stacked cord wood, pressed against walls indifferent to their presence. They watch the double doors leading to the examining rooms with trepidation, wanting to be next, wanting more not to be here at all, knowing the options are none. He isn’t bothered by it all, this is old hat to him, he knows them, several of them know him by name. He will no doubt be here again and that doesn’t worry him, for here he knows he will walk in and walk out, the alternatives are far less pleasant, some involved simple pine boxes or urns suitable for a mantle, but none of his family have fireplaces and he would hate to be lost for eternity amid the toys and tchotchkes that so define their lives and homes. While others stare nervously, he hears his long dead grandmother whisper “Remember, boychik, pain is God’s way reminding you that you’re alive.”
He is bent over, walks with a shuffling stumble. He follows the path, inscribing it center or as close to it as he can get. He wants to say hello to those who would acknowledge him. He doesn’t understand why his mouth refuses to smile, refuses to form even the simplest of words. All he sees is her face, he sees it clearly when he walks each morning as they used to, and he will follow it until he sees it again the loamy soil they will share soon enough.