I try and try, yet I cannot remember anything from that day. Hazy, unfocused images come swooshing into my face and disappear. Voices, too. I cannot make out what they say.
Now when I think of it, I wonder if the signs were there. If, that morning, I had worn the shoe on the wrong foot, or if I had worn Rick's trousers instead of mine would I have noticed? If the clouds had hung about smiling and showered coal tar on my salt-and-pepper-hair, would I have seen it as a sign of something that would happen? Whether, Nice or unpleasant, something was about to happen?
Rick is here. He has brought me grapes again. I have no idea why, even after twenty-five years of our marriage, he still forgets that I dislike grapes. I just cannot stand them bursting open in my mouth, the seeds grating against my teeth.
But as always, he has brought me grapes and I will say 'Rick, I don't eat grapes' and he will offer a surprised expression and say'Oh, Elena, I forgot. Well, looks like I will have to finish them off now'. This dialogue is one of the thousands of dialogues we indulge in. Through all the years of our wedded bliss, we have rehearsed and perfected the art of continuing our life of togetherness, interspersed with such simple scenes of domestic bliss. Kissing each other goodbye every morning before he is off to work. Patting down the couch before we sit in a place that has been vacated by the other. Brushing our teeth together in the bathroom. The regular taken-for-granted things we indulge in everyday. Funny, how I remember all this and yet nothing of that day.
Like I said, were the warning signs blinking on and off like the lights on a truck on the road?
"Are you better now dear", Rick asks me, kissing my cheek. His papery lips on my skin, a faint sour-sweet smell masked under the minty freshness of his Denari-lime-mint toothpaste, his wheezing, grinding old-man voice, his crinkled eyes - every single act, scent and taste of this man
I have carried within me.
"Much better, Rick Thank You. Will you please tell me what happened? Why am I here?" I ask.
He pats my shoulder as if I am a 20 year old silly giggling girl and not a seventy eight year old lady. He knows it is no use to keep things from me. He knows this much. I would pry it out of him. I would beg, cajole, threaten but in the end I would have what I wanted. Hadn't he fallen in love with me all those centuries ago for the same reason?
'You must rest, Elena. You must not get so worked up. It is most important that you listen to me this time, won't you, dear?'
'No Rick, you know I would not let you in peace. Please tell me why I am here on this, oh, vile dreadful-smelling bed when the whole of London is out celebrating the new year! Hooked onto all these wires, and I am sure looking like a witch for all I care. The nurses won't let me have a mirror. Oh Rick, Do I have cancer or something dreadful? Is there a mole growing out of my nose with a hair growing out of it? Answer me Rick!"
He smiles and shakes his head slowly from side to side. This is the sign I have been waiting for. The sign I know, my husband makes, just before he gives in to me. That is what marriage gifts you. The ability to read every step, every gesture, every word that your spouse will take, make and utter.
I wait. Looking at him with beseeching eyes.
"Do I have a mole growing on my nose, with a hair jutting out? Oh, I would die, if that were the case. Rick, I wish I could feel my face, but the nurses have obviously given me too much anaesthesia. We must complain. Why? I have never heard of a place where the patient does not feel anything for a week. A weeeeek! Rick! A weeeek! You could stick a cactus on my face, or a snake on my head and these hands would go over them and not feel a thing. Damn this place"
He looks at me for a long time.
He wipes away a tear from his eye.
I have seen the tear but I pretend not to notice it. That is how it has been with me. If I ignore it, the problem is not there.
Rick has always been the emotional one. A stray mongrel would bring out tears from his eyes faster than you could say 'Cry'! That is what I love about him. We have come such a long way. Growing old with him has been the most beautiful part of my life. I know for certain, that we would never leave the other alone even in death. Were Rick to die first, I would simply follow him. Or vice versa.
"Please Rick"....Now I pout my lips like I used to do when we were new lovers, ripe with passion and life and love and vitality. Those times seem so many ages ago.
He looks for something in his coat pocket. Then in the other. Now he has his hands in the inside pockets.
"Tut-tut" I say, impatiently.
"How are my love-birds doing?" A cheery voice shouts out from the door. The doctor is here. I like him. He is a thorough gentleman. A honest chap. He walks over to me, looks at the whirring-bleeping-machines next to my head, pats my cheek and says 'You will be beautiful in no time!"....
He blinks too. And realizes his mistake.
"Er...I mean, Elena, you will be walking and pottering around the house in no time"
But it is too late."Elena.....Elenie...."Rick pats my shoulder again.
I brush his hand off.
I pull off the wires. The machines scream. It is like a million ambulance alarms going off at the same time. The doctor catches my arm. I will not stop. I am determined to find out the truth behind this charade. I push open the bathroom door.
I stretch on my toes and look into the mirror.
The watch was just what Rick would have liked. It was an old-timer pocket model with a gold link-chain hanging from it. I had been looking for days now. To get the perfect gift for him this season. It is one of those inexplicable whims old people give way to. A sudden notion that we could vanish from the face of this earth as simply and as instantly as an ant is crushed beneath out feet. Before the Grim Reaper came for us, we would make the most of what we had. Time would slip away like sand through our fingers and one day we would be lying in a hole in the ground with regrets heaped all around. I did not want to go like that. Not me, no sire.
So I had planned to blow some money on Rick that day. I walked into Piurottes's with a steely determination and poked around until I had found it. I had just the right watch, the right gift. Perfect for Christmas.
In front of me were a bunch of boys, the new age kinds, smelling of whisky and expensive perfume. The Beverly-hill types with outrageously rich parents who gave them the license to run wild. What kind of parenting skills were in vogue nowadays, I frowned in disgust. Back in my days, a slap would be just what kids like these needed. Throwing their cash around without putting in any effort to earn it. I waited for them to scoop up their expensive gift-wrapped items and holler and shout their way out of the store.
I opened my purse to pay the pretty cashier with the sing-song voice.
"That will be three thousand three hundred and ninety pounds, madam. Thank You." she had announced.
I handed over the cash to her, and drummed my fingers over the glasstop while she counted it out. By the time the machine had printed out the bill receipt, the watch was gift-wrapped and ready for Rick. I pottered out in my excitement and had just started to cross the road when a voice hollered behind me "Mrs. Smiiiith!!! Mrs. Smiiiiith, you forgot your wallet"......In the two minutes that it took me to turn around on my unsteady arthiritic legs and reach the curb, I was subconsciously aware of a whirring sound, the screeching of brakes, the shouting of boys, the horrified looks of passers-by and the doorman's expression of horror.