Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Lovers

I didn't like this story after posting it, so I've changed it. This is from when I lived in Toronto as a single guy.  Shirley lived two streets over but we didn't know each other then. When I think of marriage relationships I sometimes think of the old man in this story.


The Lovers

My arms were greased to the elbows. Oily tools and a flotsam of motor parts that belonged inside my beloved VW wagon lay in an arc within reach.  The body of the Volkswagen faced me, jacked up and exposed like a gynecology patient in stirrups, revealing a gap where the engine should be, but wasn’t.
 Crap!” I shouted after barking my hand against the fan housing while trying to loosen the last 9mm hex bolt. Sucking blood from my knuckle I searched for something clean to wipe it off.    Of course I had to pick the hottest day of the summer for engine-out time. I had found a used $10 cylinder head at a wrecker to replace the damaged one. It was all I could afford.  I would clean it up, bolt it on, and hope for the best.  My mechanical mess cluttered the gravel driveway of our house on Madison Ave, a quiet and leafy street in Toronto’s Annex, with upscale offices in large old 19th century homes, frat houses, a nursing home, and worn-out rooming houses like ours.  

Dave, Beth, Bruce and Megan trailed out of the house. With towels and a cooler they were going to the beach. I hid my hand behind my leg so Beth, who never missed anything, wouldn’t see my bleeding knuckle.
“How’s it going, René?” Dave asked dubiously.
Megan, the new girl, looked at me then looked away. 
Beth grinned, “Wow, will you look at that!”  Of course she stepped closer and saw the blood on the rag.
“Show me,” she ordered. 
I showed her palms up side, grease and no scars.,     
“Turn,” she demonstrated like you check the hand washing of a child. I obeyed.
“Better clean and bandage that,” she advised. 
“At least you’re alive.”
“Who’s alive?” asked Dave. He was already an intern but less inclined to play doctor. Beth and Megan were med students.
“Hunh?”  I asked.
“If you’re bleeding out it shows you’re still alive,” she paused, “we’ve had a few D.O.A.’s this week.” 
“Oh. Yeah. Sure,” I said.           
“Join us when you’re done,” said Bruce, “we’ll be at Sunnyside Beach somewhere.”
“Sure,” I repeated. But I knew the sun and crowds would disappear before this job was finished. 
They left in Bruce’s everything-works Volaré wagon. Lucky.
Down the street a strange shape was slowly coming towards me, rolling and shuffling on the sidewalk. Something bobbed up and down, and at intervals something else swung out from the side. Flashes of silver came from it intermittently.  Because of the dappled sunlight through the trees I could not see it clearly.  For all I knew a fifteen-foot spider was crawling up the street… 
The object got closer. Soon there was a gleam of wheel spokes and the chrome rim of a wheelchair. I shifted my position to take the strain off my legs, cleaned off a head bolt and put it into an empty coffee mug.  Coming toward me was an old old man, impossibly bent, almost doubled over, pushing an even older-looking woman, droolingly asleep in a wheelchair.  With every second step, his left leg kicked out in a wide arc, unable to step in line with the rest of his body.  His head and shoulders bobbed up when the leg swung forward and lowered down when the leg swung out.  Like a jack-in-the-box.  They came closer.

Isn’t it a beautiful day?a stentorian voice rang out.
“Hello,” I said as I tried not to stare. The man looked to be about 100, as frail as anyone I had ever seen alive, his bony skull like an Auschwitz survivor. His sleeping wife’s tiny head was hairless except for a few strands pulled back into a knot near the top of her head. She wore a fluffy shawl around her neck, despite the heat. Her jaw was sharp and sported dark hairs. Her mouth was so far open her chin touched her breastbone where a small spot of drool had formed. They had come from the nursing home down the street. 
The old fellow could not have weighed more than sixty pounds, but his voice was like an AM sports announcer.
Car troubles?he suggested insightfully. 
“Can’t afford a mechanic,” I shrugged.
Aaah!” His crepe-paper neck twisted around to survey the scattered wreckage of my engine job. “Is that a Fiat?”
“No sir. A Volkswagen.”
I had a Fiat once. A 1962 Fiat Cabriolet… yes indeed, a fine car.”
I stood, glad for a break.
I’m taking my bride out for some sunshine.”  He looked down lovingly at the old crone. It’s such a beautiful day,” he repeated and wiped some drool from her chin with a white handkerchief.
“It is. My friends have all gone to the beach, but I’m stuck here... ”
Yes, there’s beech trees and oak.   I prefer the maple.”
“Oh, of course.  Beech trees. Yes…” I paused and looked around for my thermos of water.  “Live around here?”  
The old man’s head swung toward me like an ancient turtle. He surveyed the car parts and spotted the cylinder head. Did you lose compression?” he asked tragically.  
“Well, yes I did. The spark plug blew out. It was cross-threaded a few years ago.  I’m putting this used cylinder head in to replace…”
I drove that Fiat Cabriolet for twenty two years, uphill and down dale, with a five-speed transmission, and I never once heard the gears clash…he chortled a bit at this pleasant memory and a bit of spit ran down the side of his mouth as he spoke. The old woman let out a soft moan and shifted a little.We’ve been married more than seventy years.” 
“Wow. I mean, uh, congratulations.”
She doesn’t remember much anymore, but she’s still my bride.”
A breeze shifted a branch overhead, sending a dappled beam of light down onto the old couple. All that was needed was a chorus of angels humming in the background. I felt a suspicious dampness in my eye at this demonstration of love.  I turned and coughed. “Where did you meet?” I asked.
His old neck swiveled again and he grinned at me. She came to the church picnic with a boyfriend. She caught my eye right away…  He was a big fellow, a real man-about-town, but a braggart.  She was cute as a button. I could tell she was uncomfortable with him.”  He gazed down the street savouring the memory.
“What did you do?”
He glanced up at me, his eyes gleaming with insight. I waited.”
Patience is a virtue, possess it if you can.  Seldom found in woman, never found in man,he laughed. I learned patience.  I’m a small man, and I could never have stood up to that big fellow, so I waited.  And watched.”
My hands being greasy I resisted the urge to scratch my nose.  
I learned all about her and began to write her anonymous letters, and poetry, and send her flowers.  Eventually they had a falling out. I took that opportunity to reveal who I was.”  
“Patience... good for you, mister.”
If you want to find happiness in the life, you have to find the right one, and you fight to keep her…” He spoke the last with sudden intensity.
Eventually the old man continued up the street and I got back to work.   

Patience. I was learning it with my car. Last year, too broke to afford a new starter,  I parked on hills, rolling downhill to pop the clutch and start off that way.  Before that I was short of cash to replace the front brake pads… so I learned to downshift to nearly zero before using the handbrake to stop.    
My knuckle began bleeding again so I found a clean piece of rag to dry my hand and wrapped a couple of new Band-Aids over the cut.   
In the distance I could see the old lover returning; that same left leg swinging out to the side, his head bobbing up and down in rhythm and the slumped figure of the old bride in the wheelchair.  It took him five minutes just to reach me. I sat in the shade and watched him approach.
He was all smiles, pausing now and then to look around at the beautiful trees or greet people on the sidewalk.  His old wife sagged lower than before, mouth open. 
As they came closer I noticed the old lady’s arm had fallen from her lap and her hand was dangling loosely beside the wheel spokes. The old man couldn’t see it.  I was about to warn him about it when I saw that one of her fingers had already been caught between the spokes and the wheelchair frame and been deeply cut. A red patch showed where the skin had been sliced away like a sausage casing, revealing fresh meat beneath. No blood flowed from the wound. 
No bleeding.
Her face looked decidedly greyer than before.
“Hey!” I heard myself shout, “uh mister…”
He stopped and smiled at me approvingly. You’ve made great progress on your Fiat, young man… 
“Your wife…” I began. 
I’m sure you’ll have it reassembled and purring like a kitten soon…
Your wife is…”
“Yes, we’ve been married over seventy years.  I’ll just take her back for her nap.  She doesn’t get out much anymore.  Isn’t a beautiful day?” 
I watched as the old lover pushed his bride down the street one last time.