They were old, they had entered those years when nothing ever happens except falls, illness, approaching disability, and neither of them had planned on that when they married, when the children were born, and then the grandchildren. “This is no country for old men,” Paul would sometimes quote to Evelyn, remembering when they had been graduate students, writers, before life took them by the throat and he became a lawyer with mysterious connections and she became one of the academics bourn aloft, briefly, by the woman’s movement of the 1970’s, until that wind subsided and she sank into being a mother. Or, perhaps rose, for nothing was as it had appeared to them, thirty years ago, when age was unthinkable, a disaster that happened to other people, distant grandparents in that land they had left behind, the East, as they called it, as though it was some part of Asia.
Yes, they were old, and although they lived in a part of the country that only recognized age with fake flower bunches in the big military cemetery or gay bridge parties in the one, expensive old age home called The Castle as though death itself could be barred by the moat and drawbridge (and she, at least, remembered terrible visits to an ancient aunt rotting away in a place called The King’s Daughters Home for Incurables, when places were named remorselessly), they began to feel that there were no more decisions of any importance to be made: what work to do? Where to live? Who to love? And if there were no more decisions to be made, they were well and truly fixed, as glued as the terrible raging aunt in her stinking bed at the Home.
But there is never any true fixing, with glue or anything else, and when one grandchild fell terribly sick, they found themselves in a motel beside a road in California, waiting to visit him in the hospital; and when that little boy died of one of the few maladies no one could cure, even now, they felt that they were stuck in a sadness as unanticipated as they day of their own death which seemed to me surely approaching, on quiet feet.
At the end, there had been the terrible question of whether to try to explain to the four year old that he was going away, leaving them, never to return. Neither the parents nor the old grandparents would have thought of raising such a question but the doctor told them quietly, in one of those pale green hospital rooms reserved for mourning, that children always knew, and that the little boy, Seth, would be left in a terrible loneliness if his family refused to recognize what was happening.
Evelyn disagreed with young Dr. Tern’s view that children always knew they were dying, for she felt children didn’t understand the concept of death till they were older and why frighten the child she told Paul . Paul had agreed . She felt there was an overboard feeling in sharing death with the dying. She remembered the well intentioned hospice workers anxious to have her sweet older sister talk about death and make peace with anyone and everyone. Evelyn felt her sister had no grudges, no hate towards anyone, and no need to make amends, and knew she was loved. Why did the hospice workers want to invade the space of a dying woman with all that talk. She did not want to share her feelings with Don and Kelly, her son and daughter-in-law, for she felt they were the parents and what they said about death to their own son was their choice. In the end Paul and Evelyn had laid their hands on the sweaty sleeping child, and Evelyn had called Seth “My little lamb.”
It was dusk one day in early February when Evelyn stepped out on the back porch of her home in Washington and looked out over the meadow ; she watched a large flock of blackbirds or was it starlings, sailing across the bruised yellow, and grey sky. The yellow ramblers along their back fence were slowly coming to life with their greenish reddish new growth. Her two year old grand daughter, Jody would be loved; Grief in time would settle down to a low current till finally they could all talk about Seth without a horrible knot churning in their stomachs.
She thought of her new knitting project, making blankets for newborns and how when Sarah, the young redheaded volunteer coordinator ,had picked up Evelyn’s five small blankets and dropped off another crazy medley of donated yarn, Evelyn had imagined the five tiny babies going home with their parents tenderly cradling their baby in Evelyn’s blankets . As the last bird crossed the sky and she slowly opened the screen door to come inside, she thought of all the good people around the world like Paul who still made her laugh, all those people who did every day little measures of kindness to make the world better . It gave her comfort. Yes, she and Paul were old, but so what she said to herself, at this moment, we’re here and the earth is spinning through space among stars and planets.