Patty watched as the progression of grandchildren shuffled up, one at a time, to her and Jim where they sat on a little raised dais at the front of the hall like the Queen and King of frickin Sheba. Each of her progeny carried a rose, which they handed to her with a kiss before stepping over to shake Jim’s hand.
Actually the first few had handed them to her, but as the pile accumulated, they began laying the flowers carefully on top instead. She felt like the coffin at a particularly ostentatious funeral. The pile was making her arms tired, but she didn’t dare set it down, lest one of her more histrionic daughters run up to ask what was wrong.
Patty could see it on so many of their faces, the eldest grandchildren as well as all her children who were married. Even those who were single—as long as they hadn’t been too recently embittered by divorce.
The dream. The vision. The hope that this was the reward for decades of bitterness and aggravation–that suddenly it was all right at the end. That some kind of marathon had been run, a 50-year marathon, and here at the end was pomp and ceremony, and a collective authority assembled to present the gold medal for going the distance.
That’s what it was, this pile of roses under which she was slowly being buried. Her gold medal. Hers and Jim’s.
She looked over at Jim and made a little face that only he could see. He grinned back. He still had a crest of hair, which he wore swept back off his forehead. His blue eyes were hooded and clear. But those teeth! They looked like a windup toy.
The fact was, she did like him now, better than she had during many of those other years.
But, she could have told them, she would have been just as happy spending the day with Katherine, her friend since the second grade. Or with Margaret, who’d died of cancer last year. Or Bill, the Postmaster of the local Post Office, for whom she’d carried a torch for more than two decades. He’d died almost ten years ago now.
The fact was, after all the pushing and shoving of youth, and the dread of middle age, you were happy to have anyone around who knew things. People who knew how to dance, even if their legs didn’t work anymore. People who could remember what the right things were for young men and women to wear at the height of their attractiveness. No one else would ever agree with you about those things again. Only the ones you grew up with.
But they didn’t want to hear it, these kids. No kids in the world did, it seemed. They didn’t want to know how sweet friendship could be, or non-conjugal romance–before Margaret died, she’d taken up with Harry, a guy at her church. Best sex of her life, she said. Finally had an orgasm. Then a whole bunch more of ‘em. But Margaret’s kids, the fruits of her 42-year union–they certainly didn’t want to hear about that.
They only wanted stories of long, golden marriages, pristine and inanimate as Aurora asleep.
–refers to the words “crushed petals” in Scott Owens’ poem 13 Ways of Angels