“I wish that we didn’t have to go through this,” said William. He staring at the tremors which almost imperceptibly shook him, particularly when he was upset.
Cathy took hold of his hands and brought them to the side of her face. “I’m afraid of it too, but we have good lives. I wouldn’t trade what we’ve got for anything.”
The after-effects of the talks weren’t as positive as the Village would have hoped. They were meant to assuage the emotional discomfort which research had shown people experience in their 70’s. The talks were an opportunity for reality realignment. A serene acceptance seemed to come over people once they reached their 80’s, but the preceding decade was as tumultuous as adolescence and maybe more so.
“I’d trade it,” said William. He didn’t look up into her face. He wasn’t even sure that the words had come out. They had begun as a thought and he didn’t remember making the decision to express it. But when he felt her wince he knew that he had.
“I’m not sure what you think you could trade me for at this late date.” She gave him his hands back.
“That’s not what I mean.”He straightened himself the way he did when he was trying to explain what he was really thinking or when he was trying to rationalize something that he had done. “I mean that I’d trade what we have now for the chance to go back and live it over.”
That night Cathy dreamt of the family that she had when she was growing up: her uncles, her aunts, her mother and father and her grandmother. She hadn’t dreamt of her grandmother in such a long time and the vibrant dream visited a wonderful holiday dinner that was complete with smells and kisses. Cathy smiled deeply in her sleep and thought that if she could just stay where she was there would never be a need to wake up.
At breakfast the next morning, she told William about her dream. He listened tenderly and asked questions that helped Cathy remember more and more of it. She remembered Uncle Dutch’s string tie and the way her Aunt Mina put a flower in her hair for special occasions. She wished that she had been able to taste the food. She hadn’t tasted that cooking for almost fifty years and, as William asked about how the table looked, she felt her mouth begin to water. Then she started to cry. William held her in his arms and patted her shoulder. He gave one of her breasts a reassuring squeeze and they exchanged a smile and a giggle.
Later that afternoon when Cathy said that it was time to go over to the library for their meeting of the residents’ council, William said that he didn’t want to go. Cathy wished that he’d change his mind, so that she wouldn’t have to answer all the questions about whether he was feeling well and whether or not anything was the matter, but she knew how the previous day’s lecture had upset him, so she didn’t try to convince him to come with her.
William was sitting at his desk. Even though he no longer did much writing. It was where he would go when he wanted to be by himself and think. Cathy rarely came around him when he was at his desk. William switched on his computer and began sliding through menus of information hoping that something would distract him. Absently, he typed in words and did subject and source searches on them. The speed at which the information burst onto the screen made him nauseous.
When Cathy came home from the meeting, William was still surfing and scanning. Cathy told him that it was getting close to dinnertime and William asked her if she would mind bringing him something back from the kitchen.
“What are you doing there?” she asked wandering over to the back of his chair.
“I’m working on something. I’ll tell you about it later.”
“Are you writing a story?” Cathy’s voice sounded hopeful.
“No,” said William. “Will you be OK at dinner?”
“Except that everybody will now be absolutely certain that you’re gravely ill or that you’ve left me,” said Cathy, joking about the second half and annoyed by the truth of the first part of what she was saying.
“Tell them that I’m working myself up so that I can jump your bones when you get home.”
It was well after midnight when William finally went to bed. It was like he wanted to absorb everything one more time. Cathy felt his weight and opened her eyes. “What were you doing all this time?”
“I don’t know. Looking for something without knowing what it is.”
“You did that for a very long time.”
“I want it very badly.”
“What do you think it is that you want?”
“Something better than memories.”
“We’ve got each other and we feel pretty good.”
“We’re old and by both of our honest accounts our lives suck compared to what they were.”
“You can’t compare things like that.”
“Because it’s pointless.”
“Cat, that’s just another way of saying we shouldn’t think about things that don’t have nice answers. Tell me the truth; wouldn’t you rather have your life again than your memories? Wouldn’t you like to sit at that holiday table and be with those people for real and dream dreams of the future the way a young person does? Wouldn’t that be better than those dreams that neither of us really wants to wake up from?”
“I know how you feel,” said Cathy. “You’re not alone with this.”
“There was a time when neither one of us was frightened of being alone, Cat. And I don’t think that it’s something that we did to each other. It’s this god-dammed aging crap. I hate it. I hate it more than I’ve ever hated anything.”
As he lay back she gave him her hand. Quietly, she said, “I hate it too.”
They fell asleep holding hands, which they sometimes did now but had never done when they were younger. This night, they were ready and the dream came to them. It came to them both together. There wasn’t a face or a voice; it was an understanding. At first she was resistant because the idea of losing him at all was overwhelming to her. They looked into each other’s souls in the dream, and they looked into their own souls too. She could see how deeply the wish lived inside of her. He may have expressed it more readily but it was every bit as much there in her. The understanding wasn’t cruel but it did seem final. They could have the years over but they might not have each other. They had to go back to a time before they met. When she agreed there was a trembling in her sleeping eye and a tear rolled down her cheek and dropped off onto the pillow.
Then she heard her mother’s voice calling her and something childlike moved her toward the voice. William watched and, as she left, he saw her become a young girl who was returning from a day of play. After that William heard a barking dog and saw his aunt sitting on the back porch. He tried to hold onto an image that was the sight of Cathy but in an instant it was gone.
The Village didn’t talk a lot about people after they died, but everyone thought it so romantic when they found the two bodies, still holding hands.