I shall live the remainder of my years resisting the consequences of having remaining years to live.
At 11:30 I collected money from old-timers who arrived at the senior citizens’ center by taxi. With walkers and canes, they hobbled into the charmless building to eat cheap lunches and play indoor shuffleboard. Freda Weber, who showed up when her legs didn't hurt too much, leaned her question mark body into a three-wheeled frame she rolled ahead of her. She jerked the cantankerous frame back in line with irate strength. I wondered, though, if her mottled hands had enough strength to grip the bicycle-type brakes on the handles should the wheels spin out of control.
Freda had eaten her crumbed fish and read the paper while the other elders played shuffleboard. With a wavering "woo-hoo, woo-hoo" she beckoned me. She wanted to go home, so we waited together by the window to watch for her taxi's arrival.
By volunteering to do menial tasks (unlocking the doors, turning on lights, counting teacups, fetching newspapers off the back steps) among old folk at the Citizens' Center, I'd hoped to plug into the community that was going to be our Australian home for the next two years, and select from the unsuspecting a role model for whom I want to resemble when my skin becomes deeply wrinkled and joints perpetually achy.
I stole glances at Freda sitting on a plastic chair with her walker waiting at her side.
Her age could have easily been 20 years on either side of 100. Fibers from the tissue she mangled in her hands, and dander dusted her brown dress, pulled taut by knotty knees. Eyes: small, lashless, washed-out blue. Nose: an Indian's, high and hard. Skin: a collage of pink and brown blotches.
When I was six years old, I rolled around in a field. Dizzy with power, I stood back to admire smashed rows of wheat. Freda's hair, rubbed nightly this way and that on a pillow, gray and white strands exposing pink scalp, reminded me of those squashed wheat rows. Freda Weber would have been scary if not so friable, like a plaster statue that threatens to crumble when you use a dust cloth to remove gray fuzz from the crevices.
After about ten minutes of companionably watching nothing happen out the Citizens' Center window, I noticed a tiny black lizard crawling on the floor in front of us.
"Look," I said pointing. "A lizard."
"Where?" Freda asked.
I pointed again.
"Kill it!" Freda quivered with indignation or maybe excitement.
Kill it? This command from someone within woo-hooing distance of death?
Johanna, a lively woman, joined us at the window.
"There's a worm," Freda told Johanna. "Stamp on it!"
The black lizard twitched in a wiry kind of way. An image of pinkness oozing out of its burst skin bloomed in my mind's eye.
I told Johanna, "If you kill it, I will cry."
"Pah! You will cry!" Freda sputtered. She wouldn't look at me.
I couldn't tell if skepticism, ridicule or a feeble June sunbeam fingering through the window glinted in Freda's eyes.
The lizard curled its thin tail around a chair leg.
Johanna watched. Because she was independently mobile, I was afraid she would squash the critter for Freda, but I was wrong.
Johanna said, "He is innocent."
"He is stupid!" Freda replied.
Johanna left us to go pummel "Three Blind Mice" out of the piano.
"You are out of tune!" Freda squawked over her shoulder.
Mostly to reassure myself that we could unplug from this encounter shortly, I told Freda, "The taxi will be here soon."
"So will Christmas."
I laughed without mirth. I just didn't know how to read her. Was she trying to be funny or crotchety or was the wisecrack cliché part of the overused repertoire of a sour old lady who was once a sour young lady? Everything she uttered, which wasn't much, surprised me because it didn't fit my preconceived idea of Old Woman's Talk.
I pulled up a chair and sat beside Freda. An unmistakable odor of urine and something else, something fetid…the stench was vaguely familiar, striking a nostalgic note. I didn't pull away from the source of the malodor. I breathed purposefully, although shallowly, but still couldn't assign the miasma to any specific person from my past, yet the smell was as recognizable as the architecture of my teeth against the inquisitive tip of tongue.
Finally. The taxi arrived. The driver tucked Freda into the front passenger seat, up there where the he wouldn't be able to escape the lizard hater's odor, that odor belonging to another woman whose memory escaped me, or, I'm afraid, that odor giving me a whiff of a dreaded future which I arrogantly vow I will stave off.
I refuse to let the lizard hater, who probably made a similar vow, be a premonition of my senior self.