Aging Lists

She deftly rolled the guitar pick between her fingers like an aged rock star, despite having never played. It was on her list of things to do, starting with the guitar and ending with scuba lessons. Only, owning the cheap piece of green plastic was about as far as she’d gotten toward anything. No guitar went with the pick, just as there were no photos of her scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef; “because I never did,” she murmured into the last sip of her wine glass.
The pick rolled across the back of her small knuckles rhythmically, hypnotically, seducing the mind and lulling the heart. It was something she did often whenever a new wrinkle crept onto her face, an old song clung to the radio, a friend got married, or divorced, a vacation wasn’t as much fun, the grass on the other side stopped seeming so green, driving became boring, the thought of peppers stopped souring the tongue, but mostly, whenever she thought of the list. That’s when she’d roll the pick and imagine…
‘I will do things’ gradually became ‘Maybe I can still do things.’ It grew harder to imagine doing anything when life started closing doors instead of opening them. ‘Soon’ she thought ‘I’ll never do anything.’
The wall behind her head rattled as the train passed. It would come again in about an hour, like clockwork. She listened to the sounds of sirens in the distance and pretended they were crickets in late summer. She thought ‘I haven’t heard crickets in a long time,’ taking another drag of the joint and exhaling with only the slightest cough. “Not since, I guess, high school. Lying out in the field, sipping, smoking, laughing, with everything still ahead of us,” she said into the empty room. Hearing her voice aloud was a bit like tossing a stone into a deep well because she kept expecting to hear someone, something, anything talk back.
Sure enough there came a rattle at the door. ‘Right on time’ she thought ruefully. Just like the train and everything else in her existence, he always came home at the same time and said the same thing. “The same fucking thing,” she said with a suppressed giggle. It’d been ages since she’d sworn aloud and it felt good. It felt right. “Fuck,” she said once more for good measure. The booze and pot were working her over on the fast track toward wasted, and she loved it.
He opened the door, hung his jacket and sighed, “What a day,” in the same exasperated tone he used every evening. How she detested those words. It was like breathing life into all they once loathed. Every night he gave a voice to a path they hated; and yet, were powerless to change. His eyes took in the candles, empty wine bottles, and smell of pot with all the same casual air. But they rested on the guitar pick with something akin to terror. The pick denoted problems far beyond financial or trivial concerns. The pick said “things gotta change, buddy. Big changes, and you might not like em’.”
“Hey hun, everything okay?” he said.
She never stopped rolling the pick but her eyes grew glassy. He could see even in the dim light that the other half of his heart was broken. It was crumbling and all he could do was stand there with a slavers brand in the form of business attire. She wanted him to rip all his clothes off, flinging the ugly snail covered tie out their fourth story window, and make love to her like it wasn’t on a once a week schedule. But instead she could only croak, “I was looking at the list again.”
He shut the door and stepped into the room. For a split second she saw an entirely different ending. In another age he would’ve said, “I was looking at the list last night and must’ve left it on the table.” The chair would creak loudly as he’d plop down, reach for the remnant roach and lighter. She’d look at him in teary-eyed surprise and remember how it’d been at least five years since he smoked, maybe longer. They both stopped smoking and drinking, except very recreationally, when they thought it was time to start behaving like adults. He resisted, secretly, but eventually gave in to what everyone, including her, demanded. “I found the list in the drawer and added to it, if you flip it over,” he’d say.
Her mouth would work listlessly in compliance as she’d take the paper off the table. And written on the back in his chicken-scratch handwriting would be three new goals.
1. Quit job
2. Make love every morning, noon and night to my gorgeous wife
3. Everything else on our list, one day at a time, for now and ever
She’d stare at the words in complete and utter shock as the guitar pick fell to the floor. All she could manage to say was “but we’re not married.”
“Not yet…” he’d reply.
He’d get to his feet and pull her with him. “I quit my job today. I realized a lot of things last night, like I think you realized tonight. We’ll never be more beautiful than we are right now. We’ll never be younger, healthier, or more in love than we are right now. This is the moment. We are living the moment people spend a lifetime searching for…right now.”
‘And his are the last lips I’ll ever kiss,’ she’d think. “So let’s smoke, drink and take in every ounce of the glass because it’ll never be fuller than right now,” he’d say. “Nothing will ever be better than right now.” She’d see within the reflection of herself in his eyes age, wrinkles, cancer, dementia, and death. But outside the border of the future, tucked away in the retina, was the moment. And right then and there everything would be as it should.
“Everything on our list, one day at a time, for now and ever,” she’d say. And her lips would fall on his like they hadn’t in years as life finally begun anew.
However things didn’t happen that way. Instead he remarked she shouldn’t bother herself with such nonsense as he turned on all the lights. Artificial light for their artificial love she thought. Maybe some things are beyond hope…but not me, not yet. She rose from the couch with a lingering memory of an entirely different ending tap dancing like a bad aftertaste. Without saying a word she handed him the list and left for the last time.

Aging Lists

Dave Legere

Joined January 2008

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Artist's Description

practice based on an old couple I knew.

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short fiction

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