Jeffery Gould left the livery car slowly. Placing his cane his right hand, he approached a glass door that opened automatically as he approached it. In the few moments that he walked was between the livery car and the door, he felt the cold bite of the wind. He glanced up at the cloud covered sky. It held the promise of the winter season’s first snow.
When he stepped into the vestibule, a second glass door also opened automatically; and passing through it, Jeffery was in the lobby of the Ensenada, an independent living facility that he and his wife, Anna, moved into three months ago.
He passed the front desk on his left and continued toward the dining room that was directly in front of him. The ache in his knees foretold the change in the weather and he was beginning to feel the pain on his right side, between his last rib and his hip, where his Dermatologist had cut out a cyst and wit a half dozen stitches closed the wound. The effect of the local anesthetic was wearing off.
Jeffery paused to unzip his coat and loosen the scarf around his neck. A man of medium height, he was slightly bent forward and used the cane to balance himself. In another two months would be eighty-eight years old. That morning he had done something he very seldom did, he had studied the reflection of himself in the mirror over the small sink in the bathroom. He had a gray beard, warts under both of his eyes and from his perspective an unrelieved sadness, or was he reading his emotional state into his reflection? He hadn’t any way of knowing. But the certainty of his age was inescapable.
His intention had been to go up to see if Ann needed anything. She was alone in their small apartment. He looked at the elevator bank to his right and then at his watch. It was one-thirty, only thirty minutes into the second seating for lunch. He and Ann chose the second seating for their meals when they moved into the Ensenada. There was more than enough time for him to have a bowl of soup and grilled cheese sandwich. Before going into the Dining Room, he looked at the bay to his left where there were couches, high backed chairs and club chairs. The ends of two of the couches were occupied by women with their rollators and walkers in front of them. They had already eaten and were a sleep. Two club chairs were occupied by men; they were asleep. Sleeping was what they did to go from breakfast to lunch and from lunch to dinner.
Ann also slept days away. Though he had problems with his knees, hips and back, he fought the boredom with whatever psychological strength he had. But there were times when the sheer weight of living drove him to seek a bit of respite in an afternoon nap.
The moment was over and he entered the dining room prepared to shed his coat and scarf and take his place at the table. Immediately he realized that something was wrong, “out of joint.” A tall, thin man with a bald pate and a rubbery-looking face occupied his place at the table. Confused, he stood still; but very much aware that the people at the table close by were looking at him.
Suddenly he felt as if he was in the wrong place; and just as suddenly the Dining Room’s manager, Meagan, was standing in front of him. She offered to seat him at another table and apologized for the inconvenience. He shook his head and then it happened. Everything in the room moved away from him. He was isolated, as if he wasn’t there, didn’t exist. An enormous wave of helplessness welled up from deep inside of him.
Meagan was still in front of him. Whatever she said, he couldn’t hear. He turned around and fled into the lobby, through the two automatic doors until he was completely out of the building. Somehow he managed to put his coat and scarf on again. It was snowing. He continued to walk as quickly as he could until he reached the end of the driveway. There, gasping for air and sobbing, he leaned against the iron fence.
He wanted to continue to run, but the pain in his knees and back stopped him. Where would he go? His children lived out of the country. He squinched his eyes shut and held them that way for several moments before he opening them and looking at the building. Some of its windows were awash with a white yellowish light. It was probably one to the tallest building on Staten Island. To him, it was a ghoulish monster that devoured the broken elderly people who inhabited it. For him it was the stop before the last one, the final dot in the long series of connected dots that made up his life.
Breathing normally and no longer sobbing, he knew he had had a panic attack, something that hadn’t happened to him even when he had been combat in combat in Korea. He’d known fear, but he could control it. He was young then, not the old hulk of a man he’d become.
The table meant nothing to him. He used it because it was assigned to him and Ann. They could have been seated at any table in the dining room. What triggered his response when he saw someone else at the table was his immediate sense of being nothing; the overpowering feeling of not having an identity, of not being real. He had been overlooked when his place at table was given to the man he saw.
Two vehicles turned into the driveway, one behind the other. Beams of light from their headlights momentarily illuminated him and the falling snow. He was very tired and cold. He turned and walked slowly up the driveway and all he could tell himself was “It was just one of those things,” the opening words to an old song that somehow he remembered.
Irving Greenfield’s work has been published in Amarillo Bay, Runaway Parade, Writing For Tomorrow, eFictionMag and the Stone Hobo; and in Prime Mincer, The Note and Cooweescoowee (2X); and in THE STONE CANOE, electronic edition. He and his wife live on Staten Island.
He has been a sailor, soldier and college professor, playwright and novelist.