As I walked through the door my man said, Hello, my lovely, and I thought, how wonderful: every day for forty-two years he has greeted me the same way. Bending down to slip off my Dr. Scholl's, I asked my darling what he'd been up to on this very fine afternoon. Cataloging the kitchen staples, he told me. Did I know we had three boxes of Bisquick and six unopened jars of red raspberry preserves? Excellent, I replied, and asked if he might whip us up a delicious surprise. Fidgeting and perplexed, my darling turned to the other items in the pantry as if seriously pondering what he might create using two boxes of Shake 'n Bake, four cans of wax beans, several pounds of sprouting potatoes, and half a dozen beef bouillon cubes. Gordon, our irascible 30-year-old son, was coming to dinner, and it really wasn't right of me to give my sweet forgetting man more of a reason to perspire.
Happiness typically abounded at our small table for two, but the last time Gordon popped in with four hoops along each eyebrow, a tattoo of a maimed torso on his neck, and a crooked little pout on his nice square face, the unsettling ensued. It was, you might say, a ridiculous scene of nerves and failing memory: my darling's being slowly thieved by dementia while our son sat catatonic from whatever thought-altering substance -- what's the latest: crank, crack, smack? -- he'd bought on the streets. Just imagine the two of them at opposite ends of the table, drooling onto their helpings of tater tot casserole, and there I am in the middle of it all saying, "Gordon, this is your father. Darling, your son."
Knowing, or rather hoping, Gordon would arrive within the hour, I set my darling about the business of setting the table while I poured myself a tiny drink. Liquor for levity I always say, though I do try to keep it to two gin fizzes on an empty stomach. Much to my satisfaction I had stumbled upon a Greek restaurant on the way home from the geriatric clinic, so to avoid having to fry up a chicken I stopped in and bought kielbasa, three squares of baklava, and sixteen ounces of plump Kalamata olives, several of which I partook during the cab ride to counter my blood pressure medicine, which can make me a bit woozy.
Normally at this time I would have insisted we do our evening exercises: I encourage my darling to recite the alphabet forward and back in an attempt to keep his mind sharp while I get out the fencing gear and practice balestras, gracefully launch counter attacks against the menacing floral-print high back. Oh, we are spry in our old age, save for the slipping sense. Procrastinating, however, had become my most recent virtue, and I saw no reason why we couldn't shake those small tasks off for a time.
Queer as it sounds, I had a feeling then, a sense that something with dear Gordy was awry. Rough and tumble as his life was, he'd avoided the predictable: gun shot wounds, evictions, prison, jaundice. Still a mother knows well enough when something's being taken away, and as I sipped my second gin fizz and watched my darling sitting in his wrangled recliner, I felt a cold dig at the heart. Time passed wretchedly slow as we waited (my recently replaced hip made sitting for long stretches dreadful, and my darling was accustomed to eating dinner early, thus he kept putting odd objects in his mouth to ward off starvation), but finally at nine p.m. we devoured the kielbasa and killed the gin along with the fizz, and still Gordon didn't show. Until dawn I sat near the window and watched the gilded city sky slip out of its posh evening gown and into the pink silk it would wear to sleep the wee hours away. Vociferous as Gordon could be, I did still fret for the soft boy he had been when he played the hammered dulcimer back in high school, and as I watched the streets below, I seemed to see my son's many faces mingling with the figures passing along the sidewalks. When day broke and my darling tottered out of the bedroom in his corduroy slippers, kissed me on the forehead, and said, Hello, my lovely, I thought, Here we are again.
X, you see my little dearies, is the place he kisses me every day of this sweet life, X the spot where our bodies fall and get back up again, X the hour when we hear a rap at the door and find our dearest, our only child, clammy and blue at the threshold whimpering, Mummy, Daddy, Mum. You think these sorts of thing aren't going to happen in your banal little world. Zoom in and take a closer look, dearie: this is it, your life, and you do the best you can.
About the author:
Leslie Busler, originally from Texas, now lives and works in Boston. She has recently finished her thesis in short fiction. This her first publication.