11
Sep
10

You Never Know

On rickety legs and sturdy canes they cross the parking lot. Well-groomed but unassuming. The old man sporting a crisp white shirt and bolo tie; the old woman in a newly de-pilled green cardigan. She is not wearing a head scarf because she is not Russian and the weatherman has not predicted rain. (She has several at home though. One is very similar to that worn by Helen Mirren in the film “The Queen”. Another has been treated with a Japanese water repellent which according to the label renders the scarf impervious to rain, snow or sleet.) Neither is he, in truth, a cowboy but he likes the affectation and- on days they go to the doctor- it gives the young receptionists something to comment on and to talk to each other and to him about while his wife is digging in her purse for their insurance cards.

Today they are going to the doctor. No one pays them any attention except a small middle-aged woman who seems to think she’s a French sailor. She looks them up and down then winks. The old man and old woman nod pleasantly at her in greeting and all three continue on their way. The middle-aged woman- being the kind who likes to have a story to tell about wherever she happens to have gone and whomever she may have met- will later describe the couple to her friends and they will say “aw” and coo about how sweet they sound and how wonderful it is to find a soulmate and lifelong companion in this mean old world. The old couple, on the other hand, will never think of her again.

After the doctor’s visit they may have lunch at the community center set up especially for old folks- they’re known as “50 or Better” as if Life were one big poker game and you had to waste half your years sitting by without being able to open- or they may go home and have some soup and a sandwich or some leftovers. Then the afternoon stretches before them like a patient anesthetized upon a table and their choices are limited only by their energy and the amount of gas in the car. Bingo, bunko, movies, classes, museums, shopping- they are 70 or better with disposable income so the world is their oyster. Today they settle on liver and onions at the community center then staying for a showing of a remastered copy of “It Happened One Night.” Tomorrow it may be lunch eaten watching the barges on the river then a walk along the banks looking for the new family of ducks.

But every night at 8:30- except for Wednesdays when they go to prayer meeting at the church- they put the car in the garage, lock all the doors, and flip on the porch lights. He puts Richard Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” on the stereo and turns the volume up so it fills the house, very nearly shaking the vases on the end tables and the special occasion dishes in the china cabinet. The old man and old woman go to their bedrooms and close the doors. When they emerge minutes later, they have been transformed! They are wearing black pants and white ruffled shirts made from the finest silk which has been harvested from the most select silkworms who were cruelly and unceremoniously plunged into hot water to meet their deaths. (This does not bother the couple because someday- they have no doubt- they too will unceremoniously and possibly cruelly meet their deaths.) The old woman has tucked her hair under a large hat with an even larger feather on it. Thus attired they advance towards each other until they are only a few feet away. They bow. They turn their backs to each other, walk three steps, pull the lower third of their canes away from the handle end, and shout “En garde!” Then they fence. The roaring and crashing of the instruments performing Wagner’s masterpiece barely drowns out the clanging and shouting of the swords and those wielding them.

After perhaps twenty minutes of their clash, their bodies dampen with perspiration and their elderly throats grow dry. The old man pours each of them a glass of chilled wine, they quaff it and take up their weapons again. Wagner rages as they fight and drink deep into the night until they are too tired or stiff or glowing to go on. Then the old woman turns off the stereo and the old man sweeps her up and into his arms, deliberately dislodging her hat so that her silver locks tumble down to frame her face then to tickle his forearm where it peeps from his shirt sleeve. He carries her the half-dozen steps to the bottom of the stairs, they climb at their own pace, and she stops at the top to wait for him to sweep her up again and carry her into the guest room.

They shed their clothes with great eagerness- music still ringing in their ears and wine flowing in their veins. Some nights they make love then; other nights the intimacy is spiritual and emotional instead. Later, one after the other they’ll rise to visit the bathroom and make the quiet return to their own bedroom to sleep the rest of the night.

In the morning, they’ll awaken, dress, breakfast, and go about their errands, indistinguishable from any other couple a decade or so past middle age that you might happen to see. Then again…you never know.

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1 Response to “You Never Know”


  1. September 15, 2010 at 08:40

    Found this rather interesting piece to read…but somehow at 50 they seemed much older than their years.


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