The porch swing extends effortlessly and smooth, her feet just reaching over the withering edge of the deck boards, only to make its way backward with a crackling, obnoxious squeak. Her love, her very own Mr. Fix It, long since gone, spent many evenings oiling, adjusting, replacing rusted pieces, but the swing never recovered, the squealing never ceased. As with so many things that annoy the young, she had learned over time not to mind the sound. It took on a nostalgic quality. With each squeal, with each backward swing, she can see him, sweat lining his collar, his brow furrowed with confusion, with exasperation that the swing continued to defy him and now, in the early morning sunshine, it makes her smile.
On any regular Friday morning, she would be sitting here in preparation to welcome Joy, her home aide, who would bring an enormous cup of coffee and the morning paper. She liked hearing about Joy’s young children- their report cards, sporting events, summer activities- returning her to a time of life that felt eternally sweet, like the sun was always shining. But Joy also smelled a bit unpleasant and would plop her heavy frame onto the porch swing roughly, without regard for its memories. She felt sorry for the many faceless people all caught up in this global emergency but it was a little relieving Joy wouldn’t be over to disrespect the swing today.
One of the kids had installed a home phone with extra large buttons and a deafening ring that could probably be heard two houses over. She could hear it yelling now from the sideboard in the dining room as though it were inches from her ears which were less than functional these days. She chuckled, imagining what that ridiculous phone must sound like to people with regular hearing. Of course it was kind of the kids to think of her, to want to ensure she did not miss their Sunday night phone calls. They were just too young still to understand one of the most pleasant parts of getting old. The quiet.
But since its Friday morning, this call wouldn’t be one of the kids. Most likely it was the home aide office reaching out again to assure her they were doing everything they could do find more resources (that she hadn’t asked for), someone to drop off groceries or pre-made meals. Someone to come sweep up dust and cobwebs and check to make sure she hadn’t died. The caller would remind her the importance of staying at home, “even though we know it must get terribly lonely, its necessary right now, for the health of a woman your age.”
The truth is, she really isn’t worried about it. It’s all swings and roundabouts. If she fell down and whacked her head getting out the tub, sure it would probably hurt, but she’d lay there thankful for all the work it took for her Love to get that porcelain monstrosity, that claw-footed beauty into the bathroom it was clearly oversized for. She’d feel the warm splashes from when the kids were just babies, laughing and screaming with the excitement of tubby time, rubber duckies and plastic cups bouncing all over the wet tile.
Maybe her heart would suddenly seize up out here on the porch swing and sure, the neighbors would probably find her balled up in an embarrassing position on the deck boards, her mouth hung open grotesquely, one slipper fallen off into the mud. But how nice it would be to go out, right here in the breeze, the monarchs circling overhead just as they had so many days of iced tea and lawn games and late sun sets with the happy voices of her Loves around her. It would be poetic, really, leaving her heart right here on the porch swing.
Or, if what they are calling a Pandemic continued, just as others before it had descended hideously and then retracted slowly into history like a sea monster returning to the depths after destroying the beach, the food resources might never come. Especially if she continues to ignore the phone. If that happens, she thinks, when the kids come to take care of the old house, they wont have to clean out the fridge or wash up any dishes. She could wither away at the empty dining room table, with its ancient scratches and dings and faded crayon marks, remembering four decades of Thanksgivings, Easter dinners that got better and better over time, the kids kicking one another under the table, her Love slicing the ham. Joy would read her obituary or some reader submission from a neighbor about her death and the atrocities of elder neglect in her morning paper, giant brew in hand, and she would probably be all wound up about it. But it wouldn’t really be so bad.
Of course, she had always considered eating to be one of her favorite activities. She might be starving at the beautiful old table with the beautiful old memories and suddenly decide she was craving a nice chicken salad and couldn’t go without it a moment longer. She could make slow progress down to the corner store, leaving a trail of tennis ball fuzz from her walker stuck in the tar like a map back home, and make it to the deli where Beth would whip up a pair of her favorite sandwiches, one for now, one for tomorrow. Maybe Beth, who had a warm smile but was a very close talker, would ask how things were going and tell her a funny story inches from her nose. Unknowingly, she could give her the sickness. All the same, it would be nice to have one last conversation with Beth. She’s always been such a good girl.
It might be okay, she thinks, to know the end is coming even if you don’t feel very good for awhile. She could curl up in bed, among the quilts she made as a younger woman with agile hands from her mother’s treasured fabric collection and listen to the birds through the big open window. She could hear, as she faded away, the children playing across the street and think of so many weekend morning snuggles with her babies, the sleepless nights and midnight feedings that gave way to pillow fights and breakfasts in bed, giggles under the covers and tears against the pillow cases. This spot she would lie in as she left this world for the next was the same place she and her Love would rest their exhausted bodies after a hard day’s work. The place the whole family would find comfort in whenever sick or sad. The place her beautiful babies were made.
This Friday morning, on the persistently creaky porch swing, she comes back to herself from the tidal wave of memories. She’s pretty sure today isn’t the day, if one can sense those things. In her experience, death isn’t usually very pretty. By nature it looks horrid, smells disgusting, and leaves behind a wake of responsibility taken on with wide spread grief. But maybe, she thinks, if you live well enough, you no longer hear the creaking, you just feel the sun on your face. Swings and roundabouts.