As she sat there, she thought of all the ways she might die; a clumsy stupid fall; the inevitable disease that comes with age – cancer, heart disease, pneumonia, Alzheimer’s; an obscene death; found alone, days after passing; painfully in prolonged, useless suffering; cognizant, or oblivious. Whether she was alone or not, she would probably die lonely.
Here, now, was a serene scene. A city park bench, a calm, mild afternoon. This was surely among the last of the pleasant Autumn afternoons. Soon enough, hats and scarves would be required. For now, it was still warm enough for Dubliners and tourists alike to stroll through in light jackets.
If the grass wasn’t speckled with red leaves, one might not confuse this day with a mild day in Spring. Of an Irish Spring, you can enjoy much of the same pleasantness, and that sense of optimism about the approaching summer. Of course, on this Autumn afternoon, there is still some time to enjoy, but… the days are getting shorter.
She was quite fit and healthy still. Mercifully, life had not yet taken her faculties. Her faculties were left to her, like a pirate, stranded on an isolated island, is left with a bullet and a pistol by his former shipmates.
She was meditating, when a gentle breeze passed, as if indifferent to her presence as it was invisible to her. But no! It caught her beautiful hair, and flicked it, as if to say, “you exist”. Momentarily brought back by this, to her immediate surroundings, she soon drifted, like the breeze, back to her thoughts.
She remembered him. In a sense, he was still with her – he was part of her psyche after all those years, part of her habits. They used to walk in the park together and sit on this bench if it was free. That was part of their tradition. They always brought coffee and muffins from a small nearby café that seemed as if they were the only ones who knew about it. It was their café.
He wasn’t perfect – such a cliché – but it’s true. It’s our imperfections that make us interesting, and she loved him for that, despite how difficult his being “interesting” was at times. He was nonetheless ordinary, but rarely do extraordinary relationships last like theirs did. She was his strength and passion, and all his effort was invested in her. He was no Prince Charming; he would not win popularity contests, but not because he was cruel or nasty – far from it, but because he was socially awkward; he was slightly eccentric, erratic; he was intelligent and inherited the difficult, frustrated personality that can often come with cleverness; his ironic, dry, often sardonic sense of humor was lost on many.
But he was understanding, empathetic, dependable. If he could not find the right thing to say, his simple hug was always available. His frequent, irrelevant chit-chat and silliness distracted her from her upset and stress, and that was generally all the solution she needed. An amateur philosopher, he would get lost while talking about his opinions on life, and she would humor him. He’d stop, and hug her, and look down, and she would look up, and he would say. ‘What would you like to do today – where do you want to go for lunch?’.
What was his philosophy worth now?
This afternoon, she knew how she would die. She would take her own life. The destination may be inevitable for us all, but the kind of passage there is often optional. She felt she still had at least the right to choose that.
It would be calm, dignified. It would be certain. At about 4 pm, she started home. Dusk was approaching earlier now. She was filled with contentment as thoughts passed through her mind, and she felt it a privilege to ponder them. Thoughts on life, thoughts on the world, thoughts on past events, thoughts on how past events might have turned out differently. The street lights came flickering on.
These seemingly arbitrary reflections flowed peacefully through her mind. One thought influenced another, as rocks and earth influence a stream, though it always finds its way to the sea. Her reflections became dreams; he was there, as always. But these were old dreams. Tonight would be something new.