By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: Some days aren’t so bad…
(Static clearing microphone in two short puffs of air)
“Is this thing on? When can I start talking? What? The red light…? Oh, that one. Oh, so that means it’s on. You mean I’m recording now? Right now? Well, why didn’t you tell me? Make sure you cut all this out, okay?
“Bless me, tape recorder, for I have sinned. It’s been 457 days since my last confession.”
Chuckles so hard begins to choke a little.
“All right now, all right. I guess I was asking for that. I just thought I’d make a funny for the tape. What…? No tape? Well, what’s in that dang blasted thing then…? A cloud? Are you telling me you’ve gotten this hooked up to some fancy-pants weather vane? Doesn’t matter. Hi, my name is Charlie, and I’m an old person.”
“You’re supposed to say ‘Hi, Charlie’ to let me know you accept my life choices or aren’t going to be judgmental to my face or whatever. Geez, what does it take to get a laugh these days?
“Anyway, yeah, I’m Charlie, and I am, indeed, an old person. I’m 108 and feel as spry as a fall chicken…what’s that? Well, I know it’s a spring chicken, but it would sound kind of goofy to say ‘spring’ when I’m clearly not that young anymore, wouldn’t it? Geez Louise.
“I’m 108, and these wise guys think I have some sort of invaluable advice to hand out just because I was born during the Spanish flu and have lived through some of the worst—and, all right, some of the best—accomplishments of mankind. I’m currently a resident of Redwood Estates Long-term Care here in…in…well, here in town. No, no, don’t tell me the name. I’ll think of it in a minute.
“Ever since March of last year, the reporters have been crawling out of the woodwork to ask me and a bunch of other oldies what we think about the state of the world. And don’t glare at me like that; I’m one of ‘em. Perfectly acceptable for me to call us a bunch of oldies. I figured you wouldn’t let me say old farts on the recorder thing.
“Anyway, yeah. Reporters. Woodwork. Like termites. Is this what it takes to make young people respect their elders nowadays? A worldwide pandemic? You know, in my day, children didn’t speak unless they were spoken to. You think this is hardship? I grew up in hardship. I grew up watching my daddy stand in long lines every day waiting to get a bite of food that he’d bring home and share with my momma and me.
“By that time it was just us; my older brother, Daniel, died from the flu. I never knew him, but I wished I had. Momma would stop talking from time to time when we were doing something together and just stare off into the distance… I don’t doubt that she loved me, but I think she missed him more.
“When the Japs attacked…what that’s now? Well, okay, the Japanese, if you please. I know it isn’t polite, but that’s just what we called ‘em back then. Can’t blame a fella for falling into old habits. When the enemy attacked us at Pearl Harbor, I enlisted the next day. So did Daddy, even though he was kind of on the older side. But I think fighting gave him purpose.
“Wouldn’t you know it, my number never did come up but Daddy’s did. After he came home in a box, Momma pretty much stopped talking altogether. I did my best to take care of her, but she just didn’t look at anyone the same way. Sometimes she’d reach out and straighten my hair or my collar or what-have-you, but she never said much of anything at all.
“It was a relief to meet Claire. Oh, my sweet, sweet Claire. They called us C-squared in school. We met in the seventh grade and didn’t look back. We were meant to be, and that was it. During the war and after, when we buried Daddy, Claire was there for Momma and me. When Momma was gone, Claire helped me get through that.
“We had such a beautiful family, but the years have scattered all of them to the four corners of the earth. And now, we couldn’t see each other even if we wanted to. I’m grateful to be here at Redwood, even if it’s dumb to name a nursing home after a tree. … Well, I’m sure that was the intention, but those trees are gonna live a lot longer than any humans, if we don’t kill the planet first.
“At least the residents can see each other again. Some days aren’t so bad now; those of us who can still remember, we get to talking about old times. I’m the oldest one here, so I remember stuff the others have only heard about from their parents or grandparents. Mrs. Patterson three doors down is a spry 78. She’s as young as a spring daisy—there, happy that I got the right season?—and doesn’t know hardly anything at all. She’s practically a baby.
“I do wish I could see my great-great-grandkids, though. They’re the sweetest things. They send me cards and stuff; ask me questions about the Spanish flu for school. I wish I could tell ‘em something substantial, but I was just a baby myself back then.
“What I have told all of them, and all the young’uns here in the home, is that there’s one thing that doesn’t change for people. At the end of it all—the world wars and the marches and the sit-ins and the protests and the innovations and whatnot—after all that, the Beatles were right. Even if their hair flopped around like wet rags. All you need is love. Sounds corny, I know, but if you have love for anything or anyone, you can make it through the day, the week, the year, anything.
“And that’s it. That’s my advice. … What do you mean, something profound? Do you know how hard it is to love a person when they’re unlovable? Do you know what it takes to love a goal when you’re nowhere near it? Profound isn’t something you stick on one of them Instant pictures you all keep yapping about. It’s something you feel right here.”
Thumps chest; begins coughing again.
“Now, now, don’t get your knickers all in a bunch. I’m fine. Lived through everything else, haven’t I? Just…just hand me that blanket over there. Claire made it for me. … I know, not the best shape at all, but she made it, and that’s good enough for me. Like I said, all you need is love.”