by Louise O’Brien

The flickering images on the TV screen comforted him. He had long ago stopped hearing the accompanying sounds. He had clung for years to the habit of turning the volume all the way up but he had alienated lots of people that way. Not to mention the number of volume knobs he’d broken. One fell right off the set into his hand from having been turned too many times.

He Heard Himself
“Looks like the space shuttle crashed.” He heard himself say it out loud. He could hear that much, his own voice. Wasn’t yet that addle-brained. He knew that his niece was answering him, her lips were moving. Concentrating, he could make out, “Yes… tragic… all died.” He nodded with a knowing harrumph. She leaned back in her chair, looking expectantly at the door. She hadn’t even taken her coat off. She probably couldn’t wait to leave. He went back to watching the flickering images.

He Felt Himself
He was twenty-five just a few years ago, wasn’t he? He was strong, solid, built like a bull. He had never been tall but good-looking? Yes, he was that. That was something he would never forget, what it felt like to be young and handsome. And in control of his life.

There were some things he would never forget, could never forget even when he thought he had. The smell of the air on Pacific Avenue, the sea salt riding on the breeze. The feel of the water on his skin. The name of every single movie house on Coney Island. The price of a plate of chop suey at the Chinese place next to the Paramount. The way Kate looked the first time he saw her.

He Saw Her
She’d stepped off the bus with trepidation, looking around warily. He had agreed to meet his new girlfriend, Mary, at the stop on Avenue J. She was coming to see him from Queens. She was bringing a friend because the bus ride was so long and boring. Did he know any nice boys he could call to take Kate out? Maybe they could all go see a movie together?

He saw her and his heart got caught. He could feel it stuck there, somewhere between his throat and his mouth. Alabaster skin. Full hips. Raspberry-tinged lips curled upwards in disdain at her surroundings. He made a decision then and there to win her over. He spent the next sixty years in that pursuit.

Now
Now she was pacing in a hospital room. Her hair had grayed long ago and there were age spots on her face and neck. She had become a small, birdlike creature he sometimes didn’t recognize. Had she shrunk? Did people really do that – get smaller as they grew older? Surely he hadn’t. Slightly less mobile, especially seeing as he was presently encased in a white hospital bed. But surely he was just as strong as always.

“Nick. Nick!” She was shouting. He could tell by her face, the furrow of her brow. “Do you hear me? The – doctor – will – be – here – tomorrow. To – check – on – you.” Each word pronounced, spat out between her lips. “Do you understand?” She hated this. She hated how old they both had become. She was scared all the time.

“I hear you, Kate.” Flickering images of a grieving family in Houston. Pictures of a young man, big grin, waving at a television camera, proudly strutting across the tarmac in an orange jumpsuit. Invincible. That’s what I am, he must be thinking. And why shouldn’t he think that? How could he know?

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