«See, you haven’t really answered the question. You haven’t answered most of my questions. You didn’t even tell me how the story ended this morning.»
I shrug. We sit quietly for a while. Finally, I ask, «Is it true that women love mysterious strangers?»
She thinks about this and laughs. Then she answers as I would, «I think some women do.»
«Now don’t go putting me on the spot. I don’t know you well enough for that.» She is teasing me and I enjoy it.
We sit and watch the world around us. This has taken us a lifetime to learn. It seems only the old are able to sit next to one another and not say anything and still feel happy. The young, impatient, must always break the silence. It is a waste, for silence is pure. Silence is holy. It draws people together because only those who are comfortable with each other can sit without speaking. This is the great paradox.
Time passes, and gradually our breathing begins to coincide. Deep breaths, relaxed breaths, and there is a moment when she dozes off, like those comfortable with one another often do. When she wakes, a miracle: «Do you see that bird?» She points to it, and I can see it because the sun is bright.
«Caspian stem,» I say softly, and we devote our attention to it as it flies over the river. And, like an old habit rediscovered, when I lower my arm, I put my hand on her knee and she doesn’t make me move it.
SHE IS RIGHT about my evasiveness. On days like these, when only her memory is gone, I am vague in my answers because I’ve hurt my wife unintentionally with careless slips of my tongue many times these past few years, and I am determined not to let it happen again. So I limit myself and answer only what is asked, to limit the pain. There are days she never learns of her children or that we are married. I am sorry for this, but I will not change.
Does this make me dishonest? Perhaps, but I have seen her crushed by the waterfall of information that is her life. Could I look myself in the mirror without red eyes and trembling jaw and know I have forgotten all that was important to me? I could not and neither can she, for when this odyssey began, that is how I began. Her life, her marriage, her children. Her friends and her work.
The days were hard on both of us. I was an encyclopedia, an object without feeling, of the who’s, what’s and where’s in her life, when in reality it is the whys, the things I did not know and could not answer, that make it all worthwhile. She stared at pictures of forgotten children, held paintbrushes that inspired nothing, and read love letters that brought back no joy. She became weaker over the hours, grew paler, and ended the day worse than when it began. Our days were lost and so was she.
So I changed. I learned what is obvious to a child. That life is simply a collection of little lives, each lived one day at a time. That each day should be spent finding beauty in flowers and poetry and talking to animals. That a day spent with dreaming and sunsets and refreshing breezes cannot be better. But most of all, I learned that life is for sitting on benches next to rivers with my hand on her knee and sometimes, on good days, for falling in love.
«WHAT ARE you thinking?» she asks.
It is now dusk. We have left our bench and are walking slowly. She is holding my arm and I am her escort. It is her idea to do this. Perhaps she is charmed by me. Perhaps she wants to keep me from falling. Either way, I am smiling to myself.
«I’m thinking about you.»
She makes no response to this except to squeeze my arm, and I can tell she likes what I said. I go on, «I know you can’t remember who you are, but I can, and I find that when I look at you it makes me feel good.»
She taps my arm and smiles. «You’re a kind man with a loving heart. I hope I enjoyed you as much before as I do now.»
I think about this as we walk in silence, holding each other, past the rooms, past the courtyard. We come to the garden, mainly with wild flowers, and I stop her. I pick some flowers — red, pink, yellow, violet. I give them to her, and she brings them to her nose. She smells them with eyes closed and she whispers, «They’re beautiful.» We continue our walk, me in one hand, the flowers in another. People watch us, for we are a walking miracle, or so I am told. It is true in a way.
By the time we reach the doorway, I am tired. She knows this, so she stops me with her hand and makes me face her. She turns to me and stares for a long time.
«What are you doing?» I ask.
«I don’t want to forget you or this day, and I’m trying to keep your memory alive.»
I wonder for a moment if it will work this time, then I know it will not. It can’t. I do not tell her my thoughts, though. I smile instead because her words are sweet.
«Thank you,» I say.
«I mean it. I don’t want to forget you again. You’re very special to me.»
My throat closes a little. There is emotion behind her words, the emotions I feel whenever I think of her. I know this is why I live, and I love her dearly at this moment. How I wish I were strong enough to carry her in my arms to paradise.