When you're five, you know your age down to the month.
Even in your twenties you know how old you are. I'm twenty-three, you say, or
maybe twenty-seven. But then in your thirties something strange starts to
happen. It's a mere hiccup at first, an instant of hesitation. How old are you?
Oh, I'myou start confidently, but then you stop. You were going to say
thirty-three, but you're not. You're thirty-five. And then you're bothered,
because you wonder if this is the beginning of the end. It is, of course, but
it's decades before you admit it.
You start to forget words: they're on the tip of your
tongue, but instead of eventually dislodging, they stay there. You go upstairs
to fetch something, and by the time you get there you can't remember what it was
you were after. You call your child by the names of all your other children and
finally the dog before you get to his. Sometimes you forget what day it is. And
finally you forget the year.
Actually, it's not so much that I've forgotten. It's more
like I've stopped keeping track. We're past the millennium, that much I
knowsuch a fuss and bother over nothing, all those young folks clucking with
worry and buying canned food because somebody was too lazy to leave space for
four digits instead of twobut that could have been last month or three years
ago. And besides, what does it really matter? What's the difference between
three weeks or three years or even three decades of mushy peas, tapioca, and
I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.
EITHER THERE'S BEEN an accident or there's roadwork,
because a gaggle of old ladies is glued to the window at the end of the hall
like children or jailbirds. They're spidery and frail, their hair as fine as
mist. Most of them are a good decade younger than me, and this astounds me. Even
as your body betrays you, your mind denies it.
I'm parked in the hallway with my walker. I've come a
long way since my hip fracture, and thank the Lord for that. For a while it
looked like I wouldn't walk againthat's how I got talked into coming here in
the first placebut every couple of hours I get up and walk a few steps, and
with every day I get a little bit farther before feeling the need to turn
around. There may be life in the old dog yet.
There are five of them now, white-headed old things
huddled together and pointing crooked fingers at the glass. I wait a while to
see if they wander off. They don't.
I glance down, check that my brakes are on, and rise
carefully, steadying myself on the wheelchair's arm while making the perilous
transfer to the walker. Once I'm squared away, I clutch the gray rubber pads on
the arms and shove it forward until my elbows are extended, which turns out to
be exactly one floor tile. I drag my left foot forward, make sure it's steady,
and then pull the other up beside it. Shove, drag, wait, drag. Shove, drag,
The hallway is long and my feet don't respond the way
they used to. It's not Camel's kind of lameness, thank God, but it slows me down
nonetheless. Poor old Camelit's been years since I thought of him. His feet
flopped loosely at the end of his legs so he had to lift his knees high and
throw them forward. My feet drag, as though they're weighted, and because my
back is stooped I end up looking down at my slippers framed by the walker.
It takes a while to get to the end of the hall, but I
doand on my own pins, too. I'm pleased as punch, although once there I realize
I still have to find my way back.
They part for me, these old ladies. These are the vital
ones, the ones who can either move on their own steam or have friends to wheel
them around. These old girls still have their marbles, and they're good to me.
I'm a rarity herean old man among a sea of widows whose hearts still ache for
their lost men.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...