“So… How’re you holding up, Charlie?”
He just looked at me for a minute. And then he shrugged. It was shady on the porch but he was squinting a little. He’d taken off his sunglasses. I knew he felt like it made an obstacle when people were really talking to each other.
“During the plague?” he came back, with a half smile. “Well, it ain’t easy. This is the hottest day in 25 years and I had to put on these cheap moccasins because my toes are cold.”
I just smiled, didn’t say anything, and he nodded.
“I know that’s not what you meant, Tom. I’m not being evasive. It’s been almost a year now since I lost Joni, and it still hurts. It’s different, a lot. But it’s still there. Very much. I really appreciate you visiting me here in the new place.”
“Do you like it okay? I know it’s a lot smaller and it’s not your house, yours and Joni’s I mean, but it’s pretty nice. Joni never lived here, but you’ve got special things in the house that make it seem like she did. I lived in your apartment for so long it got to be like you guys were my Vermont grandparents. I’m so sorry you lost her. I lost her too.”
Charlie smiled and nodded.
“She loved you, Tom and so do I. You know that right?”
I smiled. There was a lump in my throat.
“You know I have a friend now, right?” he asked me.
“Yeah. Siobhan, right?”
Charlie nodded again.
“She should be showing up any minute now. I wanted you two to meet. I just wanted to talk with you for a while before… I didn’t want you to think I was forgetting Joni, or anything like that. Poor Siobhan has to live with a ghost. I told her that right up front. I’ll never forget Joni. And I’ll never stop loving her.”
Charlie fingered the ring on his right hand and I wondered if Siobhan had a ghost too. Probably. She was in her sixties,
“I showed you this didn’t I?” he asked me, holding out his right hand. “I had it made from our wedding rings. I had the jewelers split mine in half and then solder it on both sides of hers. Had to open hers up a little bit, of course.”
“She might have grumped about that,” I said, and he chuckled.
“I had them do some engraving on the inside. It says “One Ring Two — that’s t-w-o.”
I grinned at the obvious sidelong reference to the Lord of the Rings and Charlie returned it.
“How’s Rena?” he asked me. “And the little whippersnapper. What, is he two now?”
“Three. Going on four.”
“Whoa,” Charlie smiled. “The years just fly by, don’t they?” Then he grimaced. “Sometimes. Sometimes they don’t.”
I knew something philosophical was coming, just by the look on his face, and he didn’t disappoint. Charlie always got a little self-conscious about expressing his deep thoughts, but I loved it. I got little enough of that sort of thing in the frantic runaround of being a young father in my early thirties, especially in the world the Coronavirus had faced us all with.
“And?” I prompted, and he grinned at me.
“Well, does time really exist?” he began. “It’s just movement and change that we see and measure. You can’t grab hold of a chunk of time and examine it, anymore than you can really define three…” he made air quotes and I nodded… “dimensions” in space. They just tell us where to look for something, and time tells us when. There’s nothing really tangible about it.”
He took a long pull on the mug of black tea I’d come to think of as a natural extension of his hand, and looked out over the yard. It was nice, but a lot smaller than the one that he and Joni had made me feel was mine as well as theirs. God. We had some great parties. God! They’d been together fifty years! I couldn’t imagine.
“I’m getting up close to 80 now, Tom. But I just don’t feel like I’m that old. I’m pretty creaky when I get up in the morning. Hell, I’m pretty creaky after I sit in my recliner for an hour. But last night I was thinking, age — damn, it’s hard to describe. I guess I was thinking that age isn’t really the problem. A body is like a window, that gets harder and harder to see through. It’s all just a big mystery.”
I nodded as I saw a car pulling into the driveway, the smiling face behind the wheel a little obscured by the reflection on the windshield, and my heart beat a little faster as his face just lit up.
“I think you’ve invented a new kind of Windex, Charlie.”
Jim Dodds moved to Vermont in the late Winter of 1967 and spent the late 60s and early 70s in Plainfield at Goddard College. He went back in 1999 to finish his BA and got used to expressing himself through writing. After losing his wife to Alzheimer’s in 2020 he needed a new start, so he proceeded from using his own poetry as a part of his graphic art to taking a writing course and getting a small piece published on storied-stuff.com. Some of the energy he’s been pouring into his bricollage 1960s inspired posters seems to have attracted the muse of writing to his studio again, and so now a new life begins; short stories, poetry, a 10 minute play, and rewriting a novel he sent around in 2018 for as long as the thickness of his skin held out.