I knew it was one of “those” days the very moment I woke up, my head spinning as dawn clustered around me calling for attention, trying to snap me back to a real encounter, not the lingering touches of darkest night I had no control over.
The scene repeated itself until it had my complete attention, alert to every sound, every sight, every nuance of an event of extreme importance, a most worldly encounter with a man never seen before, never spoke to, never tried to guess his name or his whereabouts, including where in heaven or hell he had come from, the incident leaping back for its beginning, as if there had to be a beginning to all of this.
And there was, in a park someplace I must have known, feeling comfortable in from the outset, a kind of familiarity with park benches, trees casting shade on certain benches, pavement neat and solid in memory, the paved surface smooth as a pastry topping, and a man sitting on the next bench to me, the couple of us under the same tree shade as if protecting us from other visitors; we were alone, and he was muttering to me all the while as if he was a friend of long standing and I didn’t know him from the old hole in the wall, as my grandfather, the Irish poet and dumpmaster, used to say in such situations; “I don’t know that man who kept insisting his wife was dying any better than I knew anything about the damned hole in the wall.”
He was a normal looking gent of the lot you see in parks every day, as if they belonged there from day one, and was there every day, bar none, as long as there was no snow on the ground to shrivel things up, drive a person back into his overcoat the way some men can disappear in a hurry, like you aren’t even there near him or even beside him. And he kept saying, in a strange tone of voice, the strangest that I could remember, “My wife is dying. My wife is dying, that dear girl of near 40 years of our lives, that sweet lady is dying.”
He said it so many times I wanted to kick his mouth shut; one sweet kick could clear the matter off the books, as my grandfather also used to say almost part of every conversation,
The way he handled certain situation with a well-worn cliché, one borne for the incident, one that covered what he wanted to say in other words but nothing could beat a cliche to the punch, not in so few words, like one or two words loaded with a broadside infliction, the way short cuts get things done in a hurry, no matter what the occasion is, no matter who or what is involved, but getting something said in a rush.
“Why don’t you stop talking about her dying and go back and spend some time with her, for God’s sake?” I was at the brink of kicking his mouth shut, or employing some containment device, when he said, “Oh, she died yesterday, poor girl, sweetest girl ever, she died yesterday.”
“Why are you slobbering all over this park and not back there taking care of things for her?”
“Because it is happening again. It happens again every day, that’s why, every day, and she can’t let go and I can’t let go and she dies every day as she sits near me every day and won’t or can’t let go.”
I looked around me and him and then the whole park came into view and I could not see her anyplace in the park, and surely not beside him or beside us on our two benches.
“It’s like it’s happening again is all I can say; It is happening again, each day, every day, so sweet is she, so sweet she can’t let go, but dies again. It happens every day, like clockwork, like God has a hand in it, or the Devil himself because of some transgression of mine, some stupid folly that will not go away, so she dies every day, each and every day, the poor sweet thing not able to let go. You can’t imagine how sweet she is, that lady, for more than 40 years of our being together,
“It is so simple, sir: you have to let go.” I emphasized the You as much as I could.
“What are you saying? That I should let her be by herself in this awful world. Let my sweet lady be by herself? What horrors could be inflicted on her if she is left alone to make a go of it wherever all by herself, my sweet lady of 40 years like it was and is forever all at once, and her not being with her love no matter where she is or goes, or in what direction, all by herself. Heavens forbid, is all I can say and can do, though you bring me into all the rough parts of the everlasting and you still here so you cannot have any idea what is there beyond us.”
When I saw his picture in an obituary in the newspaper more than a year later…., not having seen him in the park for a whole year or more, I knew sweet lady had company in her travels, that sweet lady of more than 40 years, and her unforgetting soul of a loving friend, in the chase of forever and then some.