“Knock first,” he had told me, “then come in. I’ll be at the computer.”
I knocked, and opened the door.
“Mr. C?” I called, glancing around at the immaculate house. The walls were mint green–a dark pastel like the dinner mints that used to sit by the cash registers of many fine dining establishments around 1972. I could hear the strains of “And the Angels Sing” coming from a room toward the back of the house and wandered beyond the quiet living room. Cords for the oxygen ran across the pink-beige shag carpeting that started just past the kitchen. Mr. C was sitting at his computer with a big screen television to the side set to the easy listening radio station.
“I could use a little help,” Mr. C told me. He told me about the arguments, the near-deaths, the losses, the housekeeper who had not yet paid back the loan he offered to her. He told me, in fact, what it is like to be ninety years old and dying.
“My life is such a mess,” he sighed, then taking out a picture.
“Now this one…” he started.
“I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for this one.”
Mr. C’s wife had died a few years ago. He showed me a picture of their burial plot, space waiting for him with her, the words “Together Forever” above both of them at some point–he had expected to go first, years ago. He took out the picture of the woman again.
“Oh.. but we looked at one another and that was it.”
“She’s beautiful,” I told him. “How long has she been gone?”
“Oh–this isn’t Agnes. Agnes died six years ago.” Mr. C set the picture back by his computer.
“No.. well, it’s a long story. One of the guys brought her over one day, said I’d like to meet her. So we talked, and then she and I started having lunch. Of course, she should have told me a little sooner that she was married.”
“But I like her husband. He calls to talk sometimes.”
Mr. C said that the arguments he mentioned had started when his daughter saw the unmade bed, the bed where an old man lay on foam wedges with his friend, both curled up to nap together in the afternoons.
Arguments, but I wonder what it was that upset the daughter so much. Was it as Mr. C told me–that she thought he was betraying her mother? Or was she–are we?–uncomfortable to think that we can face death and face love at the same time? How wonderful, though! how beautiful to be reminded that we are never too old, too sick, too anything to enjoy not only a warm heart, but a warm body, as well.