Old, she smears olive oil on my aching elbow, swearing that it helps. Eleanor’s knocked tall windows into her crooked walls, and we look out into a jumble of peonies and hyacinths, with her lavender and white lilacs bobbing up beyond. The windows make sense: this is the south side of the house, and it catches the sun in ways that the Colonists never thought about. I know it’s not just for warmth she’s done this, but also for the view, and that’s the part I don’t like. Looking out is only a bit of what happens in a room like this, and the thought of all that world—though it’s only her backyard—looking back in makes the pain swell at the tips of my bones.
Eleanor and I have reached an accommodation. She aids me as she can with her old wives’ remedies, and we walk together in the evenings now. She works at the new store on the highway, selling cigarettes to teenagers who used to have to hitchhike ten miles to get their fix. When she gets off her shift, she’ll walk past my house—never coming to the door, but I’ll see her. We’ll stroll down through warm evening, past where the streetlights end, beyond the cemetery, and the marshes, up through the sandpit, and then looping back along the lower, safe part of the South Road, pitch black, and down into the village again.
I tell her a little of how my older boy died, when I’ve got the strength, and I can feel her waiting, wanting more of the story, pulling it out of me little by little with her waiting. Sometimes small animals rustle in the bushes alongside the road. Once, we heard a loud crashing. A bear, or a panicked deer. I wanted to run, and I could feel Eleanor’s tension beside me. We looked at each other in the dark, and we both knew that there was nothing to do but keep on walking and hope for the best.
When the dementia strikes, I go off somewhere. I don’t know who it is walking beside Eleanor while I’m absent, if someone else borrows the space for a bit, or if it’s just a brain and some bones walking along. It’s always a shock to return to myself, to find myself alongside her, lined as she’s become, and know that I’ve a dozen years on her yet. Except for the pains, I don’t feel old. Age drives out the soul before the body is ready to let go, I’ve said to her. She’ll nod, reminding me of how the change of life went for her. She bled for years, until finally her parts caught up with themselves. “It’s all bad timing,” Eleanor says. “Everything has to line up just right, and usually it doesn’t.”
I can still remember those years. Our children were in college and Eleanor and I not speaking then. She’d gone through a period of being gray and gaunt. I used to watch from my kitchen window as she slipped through her front door, coming and going from her office job at the private school, and so help me, I would pray it was cancer she had.
(The rest of this story appears in print in Cimarron Review issue 157. To get a copy, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.)