I never knew there was a woman inside that big white house. I never knew there was a woman lying in a bed near a window on the top floor. A woman with iron-gray hair.
The old man and I talked a lot through the years after our conversation at the pond. We spent most of our time sitting on that same stone bench. Each day would be a continuation of the dialogue that I thought had ended. But I soon learned that ultimately, our conversations would have no end. They were merely parts of one long tale, broken into sections. Sections that were easily structured and absorbed by a young mind such as mine.
The old man’s wife was ill – she had been for many years. Looking back, I seem to remember my father mentioning her once or twice to my mother over dinner. It wasn’t any of our concern, so we, as children, didn’t do much listening when my father had private conversations across the table.
But she was ill. I was never told what was wrong with her either. She didn’t mention it, he didn’t mention it, but it was known through the house – the old lady was ill. So ill, that she would never recover from what was ailing her.
I did spend time with her though. I spent time with her beginning the afternoon I was visiting the old man and found him roaming around the property looking for something to do. Or, at least that was what he told me he was doing. Roaming around because he was bored.
I found him on the front lawn, the same lawn I had attempted to rake years earlier and had actually raked years since. I found the old man walking through the grass looking down towards his feet. It was as if he was simply strolling around looking for a lost piece of jewelry. Looking through the grass, attempting to peel back each and every blade.
I had parked my car and had started walking towards the office to get my list when I saw the old man’s hat bobbing up and down in the distance. A distance that led me towards him on the front lawn of that big white house.
When I approached the old man and let my presence be known, I was surprised that I had startled him. Apparently, he hadn’t heard my car travel up the driveway or the sound of the door closing. He hadn’t heard my calls past the cluster of pine trees and hadn’t heard my footsteps on the grass. It seemed that the old man didn’t hear anything that day. He only heard me when I said that we should go inside so he could get some rest.
We both made it through the front yard and up the driveway, with him holding my right arm, as if we were heading into a school dance. He was holding onto me to keep himself steady because as I could tell, he was acting strangely. He insisted that I bring him inside and to stay calm. He was all right and if I made a fuss, well, that would be it for me. I listened and kept my eye him.
Once we made our way inside and I seated him in the living room, I went into the kitchen to make us some tea. The same tea the old man had told me about so many times through the years. The same tea the old man drank when he was upset about something. The tea that would hopefully cure the old man from what was bothering him that day.
As I was making the tea, standing there in the kitchen alone, I heard a soft voice call from upstairs, calling the old man’s name. It was so soft and so helpless – and so sweet. It was almost a whisper, calling the old man’s name over and over.
As I was bringing the tray into the living room, I saw the old man stepping off the bottom step of the staircase, coming down from the floor above. The old man looked upset and continued to make his way to the couch.
He looked at me and said with a shaky voice:
“I’m going to lose her too.”