I straightened, tears forming in my old grey eyes. I took one last look at that face, still beautiful. She was lovely, dressed in her bed gown, a soft smile still on her face. She had aged in the past 35 years, since I met her. But beautiful she still was. To me she would always be.
She lay there in our bed, as she had many a night. It was a full four poster, it had belonged to my grandmother when she was a child. Just like this house. Just like these night tables, just like the persian carpet, aged but still sound. The house had been built for her father, my great-grandfather, a well-to-do merchant. Of Brownstone construction, this doublewide Manhattan townhouse had been in my possession since she died, over 45 years ago. And I loved it.
The room was still, not a single sound to be heard. She was still. Too still.
Clutching my cane by its solid gold handle, the round sapphire pressing into my hand, I walked from the room, leaning on it, as I had been doing increasingly for ten years now. I closed the solid Gumwood door with finality, releasing the brass doorknob on the mortise latch. I walked down the hardwood floor, and on the runner rugs, to the bathroom door.
My arthritic claw of a hand grasped at the knob, and opened the door. Original to the house, as I shut it, the frosted glass rattled a little. I pressed the on button for the mirror light, and looked at myself in the ornate brass mirror. Turning on the faucet on the ancient porcelain pedestal sink, I splashed some water on my face, and looked again.
My clean shaven face looked every one of my eighty three years. My white hair, distinguished in my sixties, was getting wispy. My wrinkles and age spots shown through. My once massive chest had shriveled to this, my towering height of over six feet reduced by my inability to hold myself high any longer.
Grabbing the cane by its heavy oak shaft, I struck the mirror with the canes head, shattering it. When I first looked into it as my own, I had been handsome. Huge, powerful, immense. Brilliant, a self-made businessman from Avenue I. A man to be reckoned with. A man with a beautiful wife, a man of great wealth.
Now I was old. Shriveled. Tiny. Weak. Unable to walk well. In great pain. The money has been running out. I was a shadow of all I had been.
I left the bathroom, shutting the door so firmly, the window wanted to break. But it didn't. I clumped my way clumsily to the elevator, and opened the door. I closed the inner cage door and pushed the button for the second floor, and the elevator descended slowly, rumbling along its ancient track. I hadn't added it- my grandmother had.
Slowly, the elevator ground to a stop at my floor, and after shoving the brass cage opened, I opened the door and walked out. In front of me was the stairs to the grand foyer. A waste of space, but the perfect place to make an impression of wealth and power on a prospective client. The marble floor still shined from the wax job Joe and Arlene, my live in servants, had given it that morning.
I turned away from it, memories clouding my mind, and almost making me dizzy. I walked to my study, opening the ornate door quietly and shutting it equally quietly behind me. I had asked that a fire be lit in the fireplace, and they had done as I asked.
The gentle flicker of the flame highlighted the dark woodwork of the room, its shining copper ceiling gleaming in the firelight. I went to my desk, and sat in the old leather and wood desk chair I had recently had restored. I took the old Shaeffer desk fountain pen out of the holder and wrote some words on a piece of my stationary.
I put the pen back, and removed an item from the drawer, and carried it with me as I walked to the big leather wing chair in front of the fire place. I laid it on the table next to the chair, and sat down.
Holding the ball of the cane with both hands, I stared longingly into the fire, as if looking for answers to questions I didn't like very much. I quickly broke and looked around at the various leather bound books in the shelves, before settling back on the fire.
A tear fell from my eye. Then another. And another. I cried silently. It wasn't supposed to be like this. You weren't supposed to die first.
I was thirty-two years older than you, sweetheart. We've been inseparable for thirty-five years, darling. And now you are gone. And I'm alone. I don't like being alone.
I strengthened my resolve a little, and got up again. I went to my bar, and opened that bottle of Louis XI Cognac you bought me, back when we could afford it. I kept saving it for the right occasion for us to share it.
I guess we won't share it, huh? We never found the occasion. It never had occurred to me that you entering my life made every day an occasion. Not until it was too late. So on the final occasion, I poured myself a glass, in memory of you.
I savored that first glass, enjoying the smoothness, the flavor, the sensation. The things that made this bottle worth more than ten thousand dollars. It went down, and I felt a little better.
Then I thought of you again, and it was gone. I poured the bottle into my large snifter, and drank it down rapidly. Too rapidly to do justice to this alcoholic treasure. Then I clomped back to the chair.
I knew what I must do. I picked up the gun from the table, put it up to my temple, and pulled the trigger.
Images of my life started to come to me. Little snippets of important events. The good times, the bad times, the sad times, the glad times. They all came to me again. Not like an image. No, not like that at all. Too clear. Too poignant.
It was as if I was living them again briefly. I could feel my lips move, my body react. I could smell smells. Feel feelings. They went by.
I was ten. We were in our apartment in the Bronx. My dad was drinking. Drinking hard, like he always did. He was screaming at my mother. She was screaming at him. I was cowering in the closet. I was terrified. I could feel the door vibrate as he yelled and yelled.
Then I heard a crash, I felt the scream, I heard the thud of my mother falling to the floor, an eventually fatal concussion from the whisky bottle my father hit her with. He went out the front door, slamming it. I got out of the closet and looked at my mother there on the floor. Not dead yet.
But she was by the time the police the neighbors called got there.
I was eleven. I was sitting on a bench in a wooden paneled room. A court room. My father was at the defendants table. The jury filed back into the room. My father stood up with his lawyer.
"On the charge of murder in the first degree," the judge said tonelessly, "How do you find?"
"We find the defendant, Melvin Silverstein, guilty," replied the foreman, just as tonelessly.
I felt pain in my chest, and yet relief, too. My grandmother pulled me close against her, as I cried. I could smell her perfume, and feel her warmth. Her hand rubbed the back of my head gently, and I kept crying.
I was fifteen, kissing a girl, behind the school. My first kiss. I remember the girl, too. Her name was Helene. She was beautiful. I loved her. I could feel her soft, inexperienced lips, and her soft breasts. We broke off, and she smiled.
We walked towards home, I to my grandmother's house, her to her parents apartment a block further down. At my door, we kissed gently again.
I went up the steps and opened the huge front double door. I could feel the massive doorknob, I swear, in my hand.
"Geoffrey?" my grandfather called from the front room. I turned left and entered the front room from the foyer. He was sitting in his chair, smoking a pipe.
"If you are going to kiss the girls," he smiled, "You should be more discreet."
"Yes, Grandpapa," I replied, red gushing to the front of my face. I could feel that.
"Now run along, before your grandmother figures out what you did," he said.
I walked away.
I was sixteen. It was snowing outside, and cold as the dickens. I was in the kitchen, my grandmother presiding over a pot of hot chocolate. She poured me a cup, and put it in front of me. She kissed my forehead.
"I love you, son," she said. That was when I realized she simply considered me her son. Tears fell from my eyes.
I was eighteen, and just out of high school. I was sitting in the very same study, but not in the same chair. I was sitting in the one next to it. My grandfather was sitting in the one I'm sitting in now. His lit pipe was in the ashtray, the fire flickering. Except for almost inconsequential things, the room was exactly the same.
On the table on which the gun rested, were two glasses. We both picked one up and toasted my new adulthood. I was a man now.
"What are you going to do?" he asked me.
"I..." I was at a loss for words. I could feel the discomfort I had felt then, just as real.
"You want to start a business," he said.
"Yes," I replied.
He put down his glass, and walked over to the row of books. He swung a section of them out to reveal a safe. He spun the dial, and the safe opened. He took out a wad of bills, closed the door, cleared the dial, and re-hid the safe.
"This is $10,000," he said, "And it is all you are going to get. You want to start a business? This should do you. If you fail, you have to get a job."
I was twenty-two. I was in an office above Avenue I, presiding over my growing clothing business, visible in the market just outside my window. My employees were bustling about, selling to customers. I bought closeout shamates cheap, and sold them for a fraction of what they were selling at Bonwit-Teller. I made a lot of money. I was happy.
A girl who worked for me had developed into a relationship, a sexual one. Her name was Rachel, and she was a bitch. A dirty rotten bitch. She was beautiful, one of the most attractive women I had met up to that point. But a total bitch.
She walked in the door, looking like the force of nature she was.
"I'm pregnant," she announced, looking neither happy nor unhappy.
I was still twenty-two. I looked across at Rachel's veiled face. The Rabbi was talking, as I lifted her veil.
"Do you, Rachel, take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband, to love, to cherish, to obey, in sickness and in health, for as long as you both shall live?"
"I do," she said with no emotion at all.
"Do you, Geoffrey, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife, to love, to cherish, and to respect, in sickness and in health, for as long as you both shall live?"
I gulped, and said it: "I do."
"I pronounce you man and wife," he said, "You may kiss the bride."
"Do I really have to?" I thought.
I was thirty. I was crying. Rachel was next to me looking annoyed. The same Rabbi presided at this, as well.
Yit-gadal v'yit-kadash sh'may raba
b'alma dee-v'ra che-ru-tay,
uv-cha-yay d'chol beit Yisrael
As I spoke the words with him, tears falling down my cheeks, I looked at the wooden box containing the remains of what had been my grandfather.
I was thirty-one. The will had just been divulged. He had left everything to my grandmother. My grandmother refused to let us have the house while she was still alive. My grandmother had the common sense to hate Rachel.
Rachel was screaming at me, throwing things at me, and threatening to divorce me.
My son was next to me, cowering in fear of his mother. I wept.