The joy had gone out of her life ten years ago already. Why pretend?
Her friends tried to cheer her up, but stubbornly she held onto her empty life and empty house and empty bed.
In fact she came to resent the happiness of others. Only the firmest of old acquaintances persisted, inviting her twice a year for dinner.
Finally she found solace in the loss experienced by others. At the first whiff of tragedy, she was on the phone offering her condolences. But the condolences were in fact for her own benefit, and so offered little comfort to others, who recognized this.
“You will never get over it,” she would say. “You never get used to it. The loss is more than we could have imagined until it occurred to us.”
Why we, I thought when I saw her with Florence. She barely knew Florence, and probably never spoke to Francisco.
But I knew Florence; and Francisco. Though I knew him but little, he had made a great difference in my life, as well as those thirty-eight years he had with Florence had on her life.
So when I saw the depressing effect Gabrielle’s comments were having, I invited Florence for lunch. I too, had lost my living partner recently, and though I felt the same as Gabrielle, I thought I could be a little more sympathetic.
“It was just so quick,” Florence said. “On Tuesday he was feeling so weak he fell down in the street just outside our apartment. The neighbors helped him up the steps and put him on the bed.”
We were sitting in the Ses Barcas restaurant, so called because you could see the Port far below. Out the window a flock of seagulls floated by, wings cocked like circumflexed eyebrows. Beside her on the floor, the oxygen machine was synchronizing with her breathing.
“He never wanted to go to the doctor or the clinic. He asked me when the neighbors had gone if he was going to die. I said, “Of course not.” The machine gasped with her, and she reached down to push a button which emitted a short beep.
“I can do without that for a while. It’s only when I am …”
“Exerting yourself?” I asked.
“Exactly.” When she put on her bifocals, her eyes were watery. “Ah, that’s better. I can see what I’m eating.”
She cut a few pieces from the entrecote and chewed them without much interest. Her eyes were damp and tired looking, but she was not weeping.
“What was it? What was wrong with him?”
“He refused to go to the doctor all this time. Just like his father…”
I remembered his father. A face crackled like the floor of a dried lake. A bulbous nose. Always with a black Andalusian hat. Few teeth. Often drunk in the streets. Florence told me that once he didn’t like what she cooked and spat it onto the floor.
“You clean that up!” She told him. “You are a pig!”
That’s not the way Spanish women act. He got up and walked out. When he died, she was not sorry.
Now she sliced off a few more bites and put them to one side while she fiddled wither her mouth behind the napkin. Some french fries were giving her trouble.
“Sorry,” she said. “I’ve been having problems with my teeth.”
A loud family of six was installed at the next table. This was surprising because we were the only diners in the restaurant, and there were at least forty other tables. One woman was just at my elbow and spoke in a bray.
We ate for a while without speaking while the newcomers settled in and began studying the menu.
“It was his colon,” she said after a while. “Completely away. The doctor told me they could operate. But he was so weak he probably would not make it through surgery.”
She put her fork down and looked at the circling gulls.
“So the doctor asked me, and I said “Let him go.”
She pressed the button on the machine and it caught up to her breathing.
“It was so quick. Tuesday he fell. Friday he was dead.”
Today was Wednesday.
“I wake up and think I hear him in the hallway. I spend the whole day sitting in the cafeteria on the plaza.”
“I still think I see Stephanie in the streets in Palma,” I told her. “But that’s OK. It makes me happy, if only for a split second.”
I reached out and placed my hand on her forearm. Just skin and bone. “It’s the the ones left behind that have the worst of it.”
“I know. I know. But that poor man. He was so gentle. So sweet.” She swallowed some water, the quarter of sliced lemon lightly bumping her lips.
“I’ll be ninety in December,” she said. “I never dreamed I would outlive him. He was only seventy-five.”
Before she and Francisco ever knew each other, Stephanie and I met.
The way that came about was this. I was living with my wife and two-year-old daughter in another village on Mallorca. My wife went off to Scotland with a poet, maybe to get even with me for playing around – though it was her idea to begin with. Or maybe she was in love with the Scot, or thought she was.
(to be continued)
This excerpt is from a collection of files Patrick called Scattered Notes.odt dated from 2014 to 2016. I’ll continue to add other segments as time allows.
Patrick Meadows 1934 – 2017.