Half a Life
“I have to get someone to sew a button on this coat. I think it fell off weeks ago.” Arthur said, his hand staying longer than it ought to on his coat as the faintest hint of an old memory traced over his dark blue eyes.
Peter looked down at Arthur’s coat, not knowing what to say and how to feel as his own past whirled back to haunt him like a fall wind that brings the excitement of winter and the chill of long nights to come.
“It was the little stuff I missed first, when she left it wasn’t Lyn I missed for a long time. It was the dinners, the folded towels, where we kept the pepper.” Peter finely replied in his slow and hushed manner.
“Yeah.” Arthur nodded.
“I think missing that stuff was easier than missing her, I could fold a towel and find the pepper. I could never find Marilyn, she was gone and I’d let her go without a fight.”
“I thought you two fought a lot after she left?” Even after the many decades spent together Arthur was still surprised by his friend; perhaps as they had gotten older the sureness that he wouldn’t be surprised had made the disclosures even more notable. As now, they seemed to occurred on an even more regular basis.
“We did, and before. But I didn’t fight myself, I should have yelled till I was horse to see her, to love her the way she deserved. I didn’t” Peter stopped talking for a moment, as though the acts of walking along the park edge and talking about this were simply too much for him. “But I wish I had.”
Arthur sighed, in the way only someone over sixty can sigh. With all the world’s knowledge just at the edge of being understood, only to discover time is no longer on your side.
“Saying we were wrong is easy compared to understanding being wrong. It hurts. Amy couldn’t sew her way out of a paper bag. What you had with Marilyn was different, you two shared that thing we can’t describe but are always, always looking for.”
“Funny how easy it is to say that, here in the cold when all we want to do is get inside.”
“You’re wrong” Arthur turned toward Peter but looked far away from him, ”it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to say.”
Arthur put his hand on the shop door’s shiny black knob. “I wish I could have had that with Amy, my little damsel in distress.”
Peter didn’t say anything to Arthur, there was too much to be said and without his coffee he didn’t know where to begin. Instead they both walked into the spot they had been going to since 1982; the familiar coffee shop with an almost hidden view of one of the greatest parks in the world. Inside the warm shop, with its faded red walls and dark, browned wood Arthur ordered his drink without really paying nay attention to what he was getting.
“I’ll have coffee, whatever’s your daily roast.”
“Earl grey, lemon.”
Peter slipped his black express card out and paid. Arthur already taking seats for them at a small square table with beaten up chairs that looked as though they’d come from a downtown dance show.
“I didn’t do any of the right things, never had the right timing but you did. Always was jealous of you for it.” Arthur took a sharp breath in as he realized finely telling Peter this made him feel a little more finished.
Peter stared really hard at his tea ”Sometimes when she and I would fight I’d sleep in the extra room and think what my life might be like if I had your freedom. All the women I could be with and not have to compromise.”
“I’ve got so old now I couldn’t compromise if I wanted to.” Arthur laughed but there was nothing funny in the way he felt. The mornings when it took him hours to get going when it used to take minutes.
“Do we become more or less of our egos as we age?” Peter asked, not thinking his friend would have much to stay on the subject.
“I like to say I have gotten better.”
“When we were young we tried everything and now we’ll try nothing. What changed?”
Arthur looked around the full coffee house. The sidewalk filled with busy people not noticing time running faster than the afternoon joggers. Just dashing past, begging to be realized, to be used. That was all time wanted from old men like them, he thought, time wanted to be noticed. To make us understand how little of it we each are given.
“We got used to being something, we expected the world to be what it was.” Arthur said.
“Lyn told me when she left that I’d become an unhappy man and she wanted happiness.” Peter sighed and rubbed the edge of his white coffee mug.
“Do you think she could come back?” Arthur asked, not wanting real conversation all of a sudden.
“She doesn’t love me anymore or she doesn’t think I’m the man she used to love. Either way, no.”
“No? I guess it’s too much to ask of women, loving us as we fade.”
Neither said anything for long minutes, finely Peter and Arthur stood up.
“Maybe.” Peter said, truly not sure about the answer anymore.
They headed for the door and walked out of the coffee shop into the clear sky that never ends but that we can never quite reach.