It was an odd, fitful autumn day. Bright sunlight burst periodically from dark clouds and felt like summer, and the wind died down and then rose up, suddenly. Dried leaves chattered and tumbled around the park. The remaining leaves glinted gold and green in the breeze. Everything seemed restless.
John shuffled along the garden path, Amy walking beside him. He had been looking forward to her visit. He spent so much time alone these days.
“So, how are you doing?” she asked brightly, pecking him on the cheek.
He looked glum.
“Well, not too good. I went to the doctor again on Thursday, but he still isn’t sure what’s causing the pain. I never thought I’d be alone for this long, you know. My father, he lived without my mother for 17 years. 17 years!”
“Well, you won’t have to wait that long,” Amy cut in, exasperated. “Unless you’re planning on living past 100.”
That seemed a bit cold. Not that he would live that long, but still. They walked in silence for a while. It had been awkward to converse with her since Joan died. He never knew what to say. Joan had always kept the conversation going.
Amy reached into her pocket to pull out her phone, and started responding to a message.
“I should have kept up with technology,” John said, watching her. “It’s amazing what those little machines can do nowadays.” He paused. “I got in with computers off the ground floor, you know. My office had one of only two computers in Vancouver. It took up a whole room, and it had to be temperature controlled.”
Amy didn’t seem to be paying much attention. But it was an interesting story, so he persisted.
“And do you know how much that whole computer could do? About the same as a pocket calculator. And if you did anything wrong at all, you got a message that said ‘Fatal Error’ and the whole system shut down. When I retired from Continental, I swore I’d never use a computer again.”
Amy didn’t respond to this, but pointed to the edge of the lake, where two children were feeding ducks from a paper bag. “Aren’t they cute?” she asked. John looked where she was pointing, and nodded.
They walked on for a while, buttoning up their coats against the chilly breeze. An elderly couple passed them in the opposite direction, the husband pushing his wife in a wheelchair along the path. Amy saw them coming, and tried to get John to look at something else. But he had spotted them, and his eyes filled with tears.
“I keep thinking about that last day in the hospital,” he confessed. “I thought I was going to get to take her home. But when I got there, she was kicking and screaming, and—”
“Grandpa, I don’t want to hear about it,” said Amy firmly. Her young face was hard and stern, but somehow weary. His tears shimmered in the changing light.
He collected himself, and wiped his eyes. He stole a sideways glance at Amy, wondering whether he’d offended her. What if she stopped coming to visit? His heart gave a twinge.
“Stupid heart,” he muttered, clutching it. “You know, I never had any heart trouble at all before that damn doctor prescribed me the Avandia.” His voice rose in anger. “And I found out years later that he got bonuses for it! And do you know what that stupid man did with the bonuses he got from selling people Avandia?”
“Cruises,” supplied Amy, resigned.
“Cruises!” thundered John.
Amy had stopped paying attention again. John trailed off, thinking. What would interest her? He hated walking in this awkward silence. She reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone to check the time.
“I should have kept up with technology,” he confessed, looking at the tiny device. “I got in with computers off the ground floor, you know. At my office we had one of only two computers in Vancouver. It took up the whole room, and it had to be kept at exactly the right temperature and humidity.”
He waited for her to react to this, but she just kept looking at her phone.
“And that whole computer could do about the same as a pocket calculator! And at least once a day you got a message that said ‘Fatal Error.’ The whole system shut down and you lost everything.”
They had reached the edge of the park, and Amy steered him to the front door of Acacia Manor and stopped at the front desk.
She kissed him on the cheek. “See you next week, Grandpa.”