“If you don’t move faster, the door is going to close on us.” Edna pulled her husband forward by his sleeve.
“So catch the door and help me out.” Gordon was still on the elevator, two steps behind and losing ground.
“If you had taken your cane, you’d be able to help yourself.” Edna pursed her thin lips, barely moving them as she spoke.
“I hate the goddamned thing.” Gordon was out now. He shook his right hand, as though twitching away the absent cane.
“You’re lucky the doctor didn’t prescribe a walker.”
“If I had to use one, I’d be too weak to lift a fork to my mouth.” Gordon was stooping even more, exhausted from moving across the carpeted lobby floor. Each step was more tentative than the one before it.
“Look at yourself next time you go by a mirror. Spots all over your body. Any hair left is transparent. Dripping nose and you drool. You shake with every step. If someone wanted a picture of 90, you could model and make a fortune.” Edna pulled her suit jacket down from where it had begun to creep up her waist. It was autumn now, not cold enough yet for a winter coat but too cool for the dress she preferred. She was even taller than Gordon was, now that he stooped so much. The memory of her youth flickered beneath the sharp features of her face – pointed nose; thin lips; face uncreased, part reality, part due to the makeup she had applied with such care.
Gordon said, “Fortunes, I’ve made. Money isn’t what I thought it was.” Gordon’s eyes were unfocused, as though looking back into the past instead of forward toward the lobby door.
“Now you’re going to tell me it can’t buy health,” Edna said. She had a triumphant smile.
“It bought me you.” They were halfway across the lobby, which was furnished in mid-century modern, all plastic and plush. They stopped while Gordon caught his breath. He stood straighter than he had when walking.
“Does that make you proud? Am I one of your possessions?” She brushed against him.
“After 60 years, I should have some claim on you.”
“Stop spitting when you speak,” she said.
“You’ve got to admit it.”
“I’ll admit you paid for this ring, although Tilly Austin has a bigger diamond.” Edna held her left hand up, appraising the ring as though seeing it for the first time. Unlike Gordon, the backs of whose hands were almost all brown spots, and shook in repeated rhythm, Edna’s hand was almost wrinkle-free, her nails glowing from polish that matched her lips.
“That’s been true since we’ve known them. Since we bought the house next door. Get over it.” The flush of Gordon’s face made his creases look even deeper.
“Don’t start up with the house again. It’s a good thing we bought the condo when we did. It’s at least made the last five years bearable,” Edna said. She patted Gordon on his shoulder.
“What’s to bear? You still have your jewels and your furs. As well as your looks. You kept off the weight, I’ll grant you that,” he said.
“It wasn’t luck. Tennis five times a week, low carbs. I paid attention. You didn’t.” Edna was as thin as she had been when they first married. Her hair was close-cropped, giving her an almost boyish look. Her lips were the same shade as her nails.
“I pay attention to you. As well as to the looks from strangers. People think you’re my daughter.”
“Or your nurse,” Edna said. She began moving toward the door again.
“Stop walking so fast. It’s bad for my heart.” Gordon was taking fast, shallow breaths.
Edna shrugged. “We’re only going 40 feet across the lobby. You should be able to handle that. We don’t move faster than a crawl, the Austins will get here, park in the driveway, see we’re not there, figure your gout is acting up so we couldn’t make it, and then leave us behind.”
“After 40 years of Saturday-night dinners at the club, you think they’ll dump us?” Gordon said. The Austins were their oldest friends and former next-door neighbors. The constancy of the relationship had become increasingly reassuring.
“It wouldn’t surprise me.”
“Never happen. Harry Austin has always had the hots for you.” Gordon smiled, seeming delighted at both the recollection of Harry Austin’s behavior and the physical sensation of lust.
“Are you crazy? He’s 90, too. He wouldn’t know what to do with the hots.” Edna laughed at the thought, while seeming pleased at the premise.
“You look 70. Believe me, Harry’s noticed.”
“I’m amazed that you can squint far enough to notice.” They had reached the lobby door.
“Well, Tilly notices him noticing, so that gives me extra protection,” Gordon said.
“If you’d used extra protection yourself, we wouldn’t have had to get married.” Edna wagged her right index finger at him.
“That again? It isn’t enough that my hands shake, my legs hurt, my feet are swollen and I’ve got to lean against this door until the Austins come, I’ve got to hear again about how I knocked you up.” Gordon seemed almost as pleased by the memory of the event as Edna had seemed at the thought of Harry Austin’s lust.
“Again with the complaints. This hurts. This doesn’t work. The medicine isn’t strong enough. The kids don’t visit. Our grandchildren don’t call. But that’s not what bothers you. Not what really bothers you.” Edna moved closer, her mouth now within a few inches of Gordon’s most-effective hearing aid.
“I feel another pronouncement coming on,” he said.
“What really bothers you is that I’ve never loved you,” she said.
“Then why is it, we’re at the front door, just standing here, waiting for the Austins, and you’re squeezing my fingers?” Gordon looked at her, then away, the answer in hand.
Dick Carmel has been published in Northwestern University Law Review, and Travel Today Magazine.