The goddamned, blasted old piece of shriveled wood creaked so damn loud that Bartholomeus half believed it would start a fire under his ass. That would be something. A rocking chair, starting a fire and burning an old man to death because he couldn’t get up and leave in time.
Well, it didn’t sound that Lucilda’s chair was any better. The damned old thing was creaking just as loud, horribly out of sync with his own. What a devilishly accurate analogy to their marriage - terribly out of sync, just like these chairs.
“Vanilla and hazelnut,” Bartholomeus groaned. He stared down at the street, trying - and failing - to ignore the diabolical symphony of creaking wood. The sun shined on the balcony, bathing his face with pleasant spring warmth. If he closed his eyes, he could almost forget the burdens of age…
...Until her voice reminded him. Blasted woman.
“Vanilla and hazelnut,” he repeated. “My favorite. Because of you, I couldn’t eat them.”
Lucilda, rocking a foot away to his right, sighed. “This again?”
He grumbled. “I hate strawberry flavor. But you picked it, so we both had to eat it.”
“I never liked ice cream,” Lucilda said. “I only liked the pictures on the box. They were pretty. So I picked one I liked.”
“Yeah, and your parents bought it, so we both had to eat it. We were forced to meet each other, just like we were forced to eat that ice cream.”
Lucilda snorted. An awfully loud van raced down the street, using up the whole damned road. Bartholomeus could smell the disgusting exhaust all the way to the balcony.
“I wish my family lived next door to Anggie Berton,” Bartholomeus said. “Then I’d be forced to marry her, not you.”
“Amen to that,” Lucilda said. “If you wouldn’t have been my neighbor, perhaps I could end up married to someone handsome, like Francis Smith, or Reggy Furgeson. They both had eyes for me in school.”
“Fah,” Bartholomeus puffed. “They had eyes only to see if you were a safe distance away from them. Your laugh could scare away geese.”
“You’re the one to speak,” Lucilda said. “Your morning breath is like rotten eggs, soaked in vinegar and left to simmer in the sun for too long. Thank God I lost my sense of smell decades ago!”
“Yeah? Good thing my hearing is gone in my left ear. I can simply turn around and not hear your croaking voice.”
“Ha! Like you can even turn that old stick of a neck! You’d snap before you managed.”
The creaking continued, as out of sync as ever. Bartholomeus could swear that even the birds, who were happily chirping at the edge of the balcony rail, gave them both narrow looks.
“I could have gone out with Marry Anne,” he sighed, watching two birds flap around each other. “She asked me once, but I already promised I’d go dance with you.”
“Oh, you poor fool,” Lucilda said. “Why ever didn’t you say yes to her? That way, I could have gone dancing with Billy McGee. Now there’s a real man. Every girl at school drooled over him and he couldn’t stop looking at me.”
“Or Jennifer De Lorano. Her mother was a foreigner. Or Valentina… something. Oh, I could never remember her surname and she found that sweet. She was a girl who grew up into a fine woman… unlike some.”
“Matt Johnson, Garret Johnson, George Oldfield, Stewart Startson, Boyd Williams, and Keith Josh to name a few. But no, I chose you of all things. God help a woman when she’s young and stupid!”
“God help her indeed,” Bartholomeus said, grimacing. “She sure can’t help herself. All crazy and weird. I wonder if I wouldn’t be better off as one of them gays.”
“Well, the other guy sure wouldn’t,” Lucilda said. “But at least I’d be free of you. Perhaps I could marry one of the women you mentioned and we could give each other comfort for having to suffer from the memories of knowing you.”
Bartholomeus grumbled and Lucilda snorted. They rocked their appalling rhythm and watched the cars and people down below. Puffy white clouds traveled across the sky, in no hurry to get anywhere. An occasional shadow cut off the sun for a few minutes, reminding the old couple that the blankets over their laps were not there just for show.
“I always wanted to be a professional ski jumper,” Bartholomeus said, as one of the clouds blocked the sun’s warmth. He pulled the blanket up over his shoulders. “Always loved the snow. Watched them jump on my father’s TV when I was young. But, of course, I had to give that dream up. Instead, you got me a child.”
“Three of them, remember?” Lucilda said. “God knows how insatiable you were when your thing still worked. But a ski jumper? With your spindly back? Ha! Good for you we got children or you’d be lying in bed now, paralyzed from a back injury. And I’d probably be in a crazy asylum, from having to raise three boys on my own.”
“Stupid woman, I was at the prime of my life when you gave me that first rascal! And why all boys? Couldn’t you give me one daughter?”
“Idiot man! You were never in the prime of your life, always nagging and complaining about this or that! And what good would a daughter do to you? May God strike me down if I were to bring another woman into your presence.”
Bartholomeus shifted in his chair, determined to change the rhythm. It was getting on his nerves, reminding him of the sound his bones sometimes made. He rocked a tiny bit faster, surpassing Lucilda’s rhythm.
“You woman couldn’t raise a pot of beans if you tried,” he said. “The boys needed a manly hand and they were blessed to have had me around. You spoiling them on every corner… you almost did make girls out of them.”
“Manly hand? You have one of those? I never noticed because I was too busy repairing the damage you did to our boys. Did you know that Ricky ran away from home three times?”
“Bah, he went out to find a woman. Like I taught him to.”
“He was five, you imbecile! He ran to the orphanage, begging if they could take him in. I had to sort the whole mess up, no thanks to you! The trauma you gave those boys…”
“I tried, but I couldn’t save them from you,” Bartholomeus sighed. “God knows I tried…”
The damned cloud finally passed and the sun shone bright again. After a few minutes, it got too hot and Bartholomeus dug himself out of the blanket.
“I dreamt of being a mother of ten children,” Lucilda said. “A big, happy, loving family. So I could watch them all grow up and see them start their own families, be a grandma to all their kids. Oh, how wonderful that would have been! But no, you were too tired after three…”
“One look at you and I said to myself; That’s enough of that.”
“Admit it, you couldn’t get your flappy twig to work. It’s a wonder how we got three children in the first place.”
“The devil works in mysterious ways.”
“Yes, you do.”
Bartholomeus noticed that the blasted woman picked up the pace on her rocking too. It sounded as awful as ever and now even the birds flew away from the railing.
“Bah, so many things I could have done…”
“If it wasn’t for you…”
“Places I could have seen…”
“People I could have met…”
“Freedom, success and leaving my mark on the world…”
“Love, understanding and connection with others…”
They both sighed and said it together: “Why did I ever marry you?”
Bartholomeus clenched his jaw and watched the people on the street. Fools, the lot of them. Young and old and in between. They all ran around, busy like the unstoppable flow of time running out of life’s hourglass. Off to do great things and petty things, live out their lives in an endless search for meaning and satisfaction, which they’ll never get.
Lucilda clenched to the armrests of her chair and observed the people below. So lonely, the lot of them. Walking around alone, heads bowed, hands in pockets even though it was warm enough they could keep them out. Those who walked in couples or groups still looked so lonely… together, yet separate.
Whatever are they searching for, Bartholomeus asked himself.
Do they think they can find it out there, Lucilda asked herself.
People looking for love in all the wrong places. Desperate to find it. Some so much so, that they become neurotic - and they should seek therapy, not a partner. Others fooling themselves into thinking they don’t need anybody, that they are happy on their own, while inside they are falling apart and it is only a matter of time before it shows on the outside.
Some who thought they had found love… but all they found was another addiction, another dependency.
Some who found a partner, but not love. Some who found love on their own, but still seek out a partner because they think they should because society tells them they have to.
The elderly couple observed them all, like ants bumping into one another, faces down in their phones, searching for love online while passing it by in person.
Bartholomeus shook his head. Then, he noticed something odd. The rhythm of the creaking chair... It sounded different. Still as annoying as ever, echoing loud in his head, but no longer out of sync.
He reached to the right with his hand and found Lucilda’s already there.
“Running around and playing catch with you as kids,” he said, staring down at the street.
“Staying up late to read books together,” Lucilda said, looking at the people.
“Having a hand to hold on to.”
“Having a shoulder to cry on.”
“A comforting word, a warm smile.”
“A reassuring embrace, a meaningful look.”
“Bringing life into the house.”
“Being there when times were the hardest.”
“Sharing the pains.”
“Sharing the joys.”
Bartholomeus turned his head, meeting her eyes.
She smiled. He smiled.
His chair stopped rocking as he leaned on the armrest. Hers did too, as she leaned on her armrest.
Their lips met as they held onto each other for support. For an eternal moment, he was Bart again, and she was Lucy. Pimples and braids. They were young and so madly in love that they could die if separated. A pact made since childhood, to always be there for one another, to share everything and to never leave or betray, for the whole world could go to hell for as long as they had one another.
A little island of sanity in this ocean of chaos that is life. Him and her.
“I love you, Lulu.”
“I love you, Bobo.”
With quite some effort, Bartholomeus leaned back into his chair. Lucilda did the same. They rested for a moment, then started rocking again. Bartholomeus enjoyed the synchronicity of the sound; no longer did it sound like his bones grinding one another, but more like two hearts beating to the same rhythm.
That is until they diverged again. Blasted old weathered wood…
Bartholomeus clenched his jaw, snorting.
“Strawberry ice cream, fah…”