He never really knew when it started, he guessed it just crept up on them. Maybe it was that. Maybe it was just denial- ignoring all the warning signs. However it happened, it didn't matter. All he knew was, that because of it, she was not staying with him anymore. Everyone, even their kids, said it was for the better. He had to reluctantly agree- an elderly man (who never could really take care of his own self, even in the vitality of youth) couldn't take care of an equally elderly Alzheimer's patient. He made sure she was put in the very best home that money could buy. It also didn't hurt that the staff seemed to like him as well as her. Or at least, he thought to himself, they tolerate me!
He started his day the same way as he started every day for the last three years, up at six ('she would be so proud of me if she knew!' he thought), shave, get dressed, eat, and pick flowers. He always brought her fresh flowers every day, whether she needed them or not. Carefully wrapping a wet paper towel around the cut end of the stems, the old man hobbled out of his house, and down the street to the nursing home. Walking the few blocks every day between his house and the home where his beloved was, kept him going. Lord knows it wasn't his diet or exercise. He had to admit since she went to the NNY Home for Dementia and Old Age, he had actually gotten lazier... if that were even possible! A smile crept across his face as he remembered how she would nag him about how and what he ate, and working out. He actually missed her bitching at him, as hard as it was for people to comprehend.
Entering the foyer of the home, he was greeted by the same receptionist he had been greeted by for the last three years, the same guard for the last three years, and even the same janitor for the last two and a half. No one had to stop him and ask him where he was going, or if he needed help. He had almost become a part of the place itself. Indeed, a day without him visiting would have been damned near considered the end of the world for the wait staff.
Slowly inching his way to the elevator (He started taking the elevator, as his legs had given out on him last year climbing the steps- he was lucky not to break a hip, and only got away with some serious bruises), he juggled a newspaper, the flowers, and a small gift. He smiled as a young girl ran past him to open the elevator for him. She reminded him of one of his own little girls, so long ago... was it really that long ago? Yes, yes it was, he reminded himself; his 'little girls' gave them grandchildren, and they, in turn, great grandchildren. He would have patted the child on the head and thanked her, but by the time he re-shuffled his belongings, the doors slid shut, and the elevator began it's ascent. Damn it, he hated being so damned slow and old. Maybe she'll be here tomorrow, he thought- I have a nice shiny dollar coin for her...
As the doors slid open, a small group of people wanting to get in the elevator saw him and all smiled. Immediately, they parted for him and let him through. 'Like the Red Sea for the Children of Israel', he mused. They all knew him by name and greeted him. He wished he could remember all of theirs, but he didn't, so a simple 'Good morning, all!' had to suffice. Walking past the group, he then came to the nurses' desk (more good mornings) and all the way down the hall to his beloveds room.
He opened the door and peeped in- she was awake. He somehow felt good about this. Not that it would be any different than if she was sleeping- she stopped talking last year. Still, he thought, maybe, just maybe, deep inside she will remember me as I talk to her. Again, even if she didn't, it wouldn't stop him. He slipped around the side of the bed, around a candy striper, and gently turned her head towards him and kissed her.
“Meine Liebe, mein Leben”. His kiss lingered on her lips longer than the hospital volunteer felt comfortable with. He chuckled inside thinking 'some day YOU will be old too! And then, yes, then, you will understand that LOVE doesn't get old!'. As he broke the kiss, he sat down in the chair next to her headboard. He then spread out the paper and the gift on the bed. Leaning over, he grabbed the small vase sitting on the night stand, and replaced yesterday's flowers with the fresh ones. He opened the newspaper, and folded over the pages so the weddings and anniversaries were showing.
“Look, baby... look here.” the old man cooed. “We are in the paper!” He placed the paper in front of his wife's face, showing her a picture taken over eighty five years ago. Were they ever that young!? How time flies! “The oldest married couple in NNY! Now, I know that tomorrow is our day, but... here, hang on...”
Putting the paper down on the bed, he reached for the gift. He was going to hand it to her so she could open it, but suddenly remembering, he decided she wouldn't mind him doing it for her. He fumbled with the bag, and almost dropped a small velvet box. Wondering why they make these boxes so blasted small, he fussed and fumed until he finally managed to open it. Inside was a platinum band with a five karat tanzanite stone with diamonds surrounding it in the shape of a heart. He carefully took out the ring, and gingerly placed it on her hand. Kissing her hand, he carefully lowered himself into a kneeling position next to the bed.
“If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't change a thing! I love you! Will you marry me? Again?”
The woman in the bed just looked into space with the same unchanging gaze.
“Of course, you said yes!” the old man giggled. He kissed her hand and arm over and over repeatedly. Getting slowly and painfully back up into the chair, he began to brush her hair out of her face and caress her cheek.
A flood of memories came back to him of all their years together. He sweetly tried to remind her of all the highlights of their marriage. He patiently waited for any signs from her, and yet still wasn't disappointed when she didn't reply. He mentioned their dating, how they kept their relationship a secret from their co-workers at first- until they were caught stealing kisses from one another, their marriage, their children, and their first home and the like. When he talked about their love making, and he playfully grabbed her bottom, the candy striper shielded her face out of embarrassment, and slipped out of the room. His wife drew a deep breath, and the color raised in her cheeks. He grinned evilly, knowing that THAT hasn't changed- he still knew what turned her on, and that it still DID turn her on.
“Oh, to be younger!” he told her breathily. “Sigh, and at home in bed!” Of course, beggars can't be choosers... he would choose just one if he could. But of course, he couldn't. Why was life such a cruel task master? It beats you down mercilessly, and when you are down on the ground, it kicks you. Maybe it's because you're closer to it's feet then, she always joked to him. He laughed out loud and delicately squeezed her hand. He loved how even now, she could make him laugh, make him always look at the bright side- and when everyone couldn't find a bright side, how she could help him find that bright side. It was joked that they could be given a ton of manure, and they would look at it as a mountain of gold. After all those years, she had him wrapped around her little finger. He still loved her, still wanted her, still desired her. Everything she did, everything she said, it was perfect in his eyes. No one could convince him otherwise. Not even now, not even here. After all, he still had her. His life was complete- perfect. He had her. That was what counted in life. Someone to have there with you. Some one to love and hold in times of trouble.
Was it really as bad as everyone made it out to be? She had almost died on him a few times before. She always came through for him. And when he did something stupid that involved a hospital (more often then he cared to admit) she was always there for him. When their children were born, and even when they had adopted, their love shone like a beacon in the night for all to see. If they stayed together through all of the good times, then why should he not stay with her through the times where there was trouble? After all, when you love someone, you never count the cost. He simply counted this as part of the payment, and did it gladly out of his love for her. That made it easy.
He started to tell her about their children... all thirteen! One by one, he relayed information about them to her, filling her in on minute details of their lives. How when Sally was interviewed after being elected Intergalactic President, and asked about her real parents, how she bristled and said 'My 'adoptive' parents ARE my real parents!' How Violet SWORE she would 'only have one child' like her mother swore up and down about. How their fifty two grandchildren, and their one hundred and fifty six great-grandchildren were doing in their jobs, college, and school. If children were a blessing from the All Mighty, then their cup overflowed a million times over.
He relayed written/recorded messages from old, dear friends. He read the newspaper to her. When he got to the funny pages, he acted out all the characters in different voices, like she loved him doing. He didn't hear her, but he knew she laughed at him as he read them. She always laughed when he did that. When he got to the stock page, he puffed up with pride when telling her that their business had split their stock yet again this year, and was still ranked in the top ten companies in the universe. He skipped over the obituaries... too many friends... too many friends. He gave up on those pages years ago. She deserved some happy time. Happy time would be what she got. Skipping over the classifieds (another thing that was skipped- this one not for sadness, but for sheer boredom), he read off the T.V. listings for the night, asking if there was anything she wanted to see. Not hearing her, he shrugged and told her it didn't matter, there was crap on anyways.
Clearing her throat, a young nurse made her presence known. Looking away from his love for the first time, he smiled at the nurse and then turned back to his bride.
“Are we hungry? I thought so! Let's go get you something to eat!”
The nurse helped him (she did most of the work, really) get her into a hover-chair, and he pushed her up the hall to the cafeteria. Moving a chair away from a table, he slid her up to the table's edge, and sat down next to her. The nurse went to get her lunch. Upon receiving the lunch, with slow, trembling hands, he gingerly fed her, spoonful by spoonful, carefully, so as not to choke her. When she drooled or dribbled most of the food out of her mouth, he lovingly cleaned it up and tried again. When she refused to take any more by turning away, then, and only then, did he feed himself with what was left on the plate. As he cleaned her up, the nurse spoke up.
“Sir, we can have it so Madame could take her meal in her room...”
“No, no, she needs to get out. She likes to get out, don't you my love?”
The nurse didn't argue with him. It was said their money was paying most of their salaries. Besides, nothing was hurt or hindered by this setup, so it was allowed to continue, despite the slight inconvenience to the staff. She helped him clear the table, and push her back to her room, where she helped him undress her, and bathe her. Somehow, she always felt funny helping bathe her, feeling she was in on something wonderfully intimate and beautiful between the two of them. She marveled at how he talked to her so sweetly and how his gaze never left her face. Sometimes, she swore, she saw a slight smile on her face, but everyone knew that was impossible. She decided she would leave them alone today, and come back into the bathroom when called upon. He then finished bathing her, and dried her off, wrapping her in warm towels at first, and then dressing her in a clean night gown.
When she was called back into the bathroom, she helped get her off of the shower stall's seat and onto the chair again. She pushed her back into the room, where she was placed onto the newly made bed. She then left the couple to themselves again, quietly slipping out the door.
The old man looked at his wife, and saw her eyelid droop. He smiled. Yes, she would be tired, she already has had a busy day, he thought. He took her hand in his once more, and sat down next to her. Once again, he fussed over her hair, and the sheets, and anything else he could think of to make her more comfortable. Soon, she was fast asleep.
“Good idea, babe... A nap would be good” He leaned over to kiss her cheek, and nodded off...