It was moving day for Roy and Nina Caster. All of the rooms in apartment 5L at 50 Battery Place were empty. The moving men had done their work efficiently. Roy went from room to room to make sure that nothing he or Nina owned was missed by the moving men. Satisfied that everything had been taken, he rejoined his wife in the living room, took one last look at the window that overlooked New York’s Harbor, and in the distance, the Verrazano Bridge, the Atlantic High Land in New Jersey and Coney Island in Brooklyn.
He almost said, “I’m going to miss it,” but he stopped himself knowing how upset Nina was about the move.
“Find anything?” Nina asked.
He shook his head.
“Empty rooms,” she sighed, “are like dead things when you leave them.”
“But we’re going to new rooms,” he responded. “Something like a new beginning” He tried to sound jovial but knew he’d failed.
“This was our new beginning,” she said, “when we moved here twelve years ago. Now we’re going to our final end exchanging an apartment for two rooms.” The bitterness melded with regret was obvious not only in the tone of her voice but also in the words she used.
Roy hadn’t any answer. His feelings about moving to the Esplanade, an independent living facility for senior citizens on Staten Island, were as bleak as hers, but he was or had to be, more realistic about their situation. Over the last five years, she’d fallen twice: both falls required surgical intervention to mend broken bones and long periods in two different rehabilitation facilities. The second fall was worse than the first and forced him into the role of caretaker as well as husband. Where they were going would relieve some of the burden but not all of it.
After a few moments of silence, Roy said, “We better go.”
Her lips quivered, but she said nothing, and gripping her walker she started to move. Using his cane, Roy followed her. He took one last look at empty space near the window that overlooked the harbor.
In the lobby they said goodbye to the Superintendent of the building, the concierge and the two porters who were on duty; then they joined their son, Paul and their daughter-in-law, Laura, who had come from Ottawa, where they lived, to help with the move. Within minutes, Roy and Nina occupied the rear seats, while Paul was at the wheel and Laura sat beside him.
Roy held Nina’s hand. He wondered if she realized that they would be retracing the same route that brought them from Staten Island, where they had lived for twenty-eight years, to Manhattan a dozen years ago. Probably not, she never had a good sense of direction; and after her two surgeries, it was worse.
They emerged from Hugh Carey Tunnel in Brooklyn and followed part of the Belt Parkway to Verrazano Bridge. There wasn’t much conversation going on. All of it was between Paul and Laura.
Suddenly Roy realized Nina’s hand was cold. He looked at her. Her eyes were closed. He wanted to say something that would bring her out of herself. But he was at a loss. What could he say that would staunch the internal bleeding of the wound caused by the move they had to make? He let go of her hand, placed his arm around her shoulder and drew her to him aware that she would not be comforted by his action.
“There isn’t any ‘new beginning’ for us,” she said. “We’re two old people. Old people seldom have new beginnings. What we had is gone now forever.”
He uttered a deep sigh.
“You know it as well, if not, better than I,” she said.
“I know that we couldn’t continue – – I couldn’t continue to do all the things I was doing,” Roy said and immediately felt guilty about having said it as if it was some sort of betrayal. But it wasn’t. He was honest about what he could do.
Suddenly Paul announced, “There it is, on the left.”
“It’s the tallest building in this part of the island,” Roy said. “Maybe the tallest in the on the island.”
“George jumped from the roof,” Nina said. She and George taught in the same music school when she and Roy lived on the island.
Roy had forgotten about George’s suicide. It was a sad memory for a new beginning.
“He was the most talented member of the staff,” Nina said.
“Mom, that was way in the past,” Paul said.
“The past an uncanny way of sneaking into the present, “Nina answered. “I hadn’t remembered anything about George’s suicide until I saw the building.”
Paul turned off the highway at the Richmond Avenue exit, stayed to the right until he was on the avenue; then he moved the left. Minutes later he turned in to the driveway of the Esplanade and stopped in front of the doors that opened automatically.
By three-thirty, the Casters were completely ensconced in their two rooms. The moving men were gone. Paul and Laura said their “goodbyes” and started their long drive back to Ottawa.
“Would you like to go down to – – ” Roy began.
“No,” Nina said interrupting him. “I’m tired. I want to rest.”
Roy shrugged and said, “We’re in the second seating for dinner at six o’clock.”
Nina didn’t answer, and with her walker moved to the straight-backed chair that in their other apartment was in front of the window that overlooked the harbor.
“Give the place a chance,” Roy said.
“I hate it,” she answered.
“Nina, this is what can afford,” he said. “The other places I looked were much more expensive. We have enough money to last us, if we live that long, for another fifteen years.”
“I don’t want to live that long, especially here. Here we’re in nowhere’s ville.”
Roy said nothing. This kind of conversation would only lead to an argument. And he suddenly felt too tired for that. He dropped down on to the big, black leather lounge-chair that was caddy-corner on the other side of the room where the window was.
Nina kept her eyes closed. She blamed herself for the predicament that she and Roy found themselves. If she hadn’t leaned on the car while waiting for the bus, she would not have fallen when it pulled away. It only took a moment, and both their lives were derailed. And now this place. It was bad enough not to be able to walk normally, but she had to suffer the indignity of having Roy shower her and help her dress. The fall and everything that had happened to her after it made her angry at and resentful of Roy who, though he had to use a cane to maintain his balance, had a measure of independence that she envied.
Roy tried to convince her that “accidents happen” or as he put in in the vernacular, “shit happens.” She didn’t believe that for one moment. For her, it was a matter of if. If the car hadn’t been there and day so hot, she would not have fallen. But in Roy’s world, “ifs” don’t matter.
Her condition chained him to her, and she knew how much he chafed being bound. She didn’t blame him. If their situation were reversed, she would feel the same way. Her accident had altered his life in ways that he probably couldn’t imagine.
If she could, she would weep. But tears didn’t come easily to her. She wept at the deaths of her parents and her two younger brothers. But tears now would not alter her situation. After uttering a deep sigh, she said, “Maybe this is all a nightmare, or maybe I’ll die, and we’ll both be free.”
Roy stood up. Her words angered him. He could feel the heat in his face. It was flushed. “You want me to hand you a knife or will you go off the roof the way Robert did?”
She opened her eyes. Roy was standing halfway between her and the lounge chair.
“We’re here, and we’re going to stay here,” he said adamantly. “I brought you here so you could see the place. You said, ‘okay.’ This is not a game, Nina. This is the reality of where we are now in our lives. I wish it were different, but it isn’t. Not for you and not for me.”
“So we’re stuck, marooned.”
“If that’s the way you want to see us, the answer is yes.”
“So be it,” she closing her eyes again.
“So be it,” Roy repeated, and breathing deeply he returned to the lounge chair. The argument he’d sort to avoid had just ended, and like most the arguments they had in the past with neither of them satisfied with the result that left the issue unresolved.
Suddenly Nina said, “I want a divorce.”
“What are you talking about?” Roy responded angrily.
“You don’t love me anymore.”
Roy was on his feet again. “When did you reach that conclusion?” he asked.
“When was the last time – – -”
“I can’t anymore. I’m an old man,” he answered hotly. “Besides, what has that got to do with it? You’re unhappy about the move and – – -”
“You can stay here, and I’ll go somewhere else?”
“Where Nina, where will you go?” he challenged. “Who will take of you?”
“You can’t do that. If you think you can, you’re living some kind of warped dream.”
“I’ll go – – ”
Angrily he cut her. “You’re an invalid. That is your reality, and you don’t want to accept that.”
“See, that’s what I mean. You give me no hope.”
“‘Hope,’ ” he repeated before adding, “I see you for what you are. Just as I am semi-invalid and need a cane to keep my stability.”
Nina didn’t answer him.
“We’ve been married for sixty-five years,” Roy said, the edge in the tone of his voice was gone.
“What do all those years mean when I’m buried alive in a place like this,” she asked
“That’s a question you’ll have to answer,” he said going back to the lounge chair. “But remember when you answer it that there are two people involved.”
“I am thinking about you,” she said. “You’d be better off without me.”
“That’s not your decision to make. That’s mine, and I have already made it. That’s why we’re here. That’s why I’m sitting across from you, and that’s why we’re having this conversation.”
“And you don’t resent being tied – -”
“Yes I resent having to be your caretaker, but I recognize that I have no other option,” Roy said. “You’re my wife.”
“And you think that’s enough of a license?”
“Yes,” he emphatically answered.
A few moments passed before, Nina said, “I’m too tired to continue. I don’t have the psychological strength or the will to continue. I’m sorry if I hurt you.”
“I’m not bleeding,” Roy answered factitiously.
“I’ll rest awhile; then, we’ll go down to dinner.”
Roy looked at his watch. “It’s four-thirty now. Say, about five -thirty or quarter to six.”
Nina nodded and closed her eyes. “All I need is a brief nap,” she told him.
“I could do with one myself,” Roy said, feeling the tension in his body slowly ooze out. What took place between him and Nina was not an auspicious beginning. But there was nothing he could do about it. But like it or not, they were two old hulks, as she said, “Marooned,” where they were. . . His eyes closed and he dozed.
Nina was bemused. She felt lost and abandoned. She was absolutely certain she would never feel any other way. What she saw of the Esplanade confirmed her view that like all the other similar places, like them, it was a “boneyard.” Nothing good will happen here, only more sadness will pile on to the sadness I already have. She opened her eyes and looked across the room at Roy. He was obviously sleeping. She sighed deeply and called his name.
He awoke with a start, and for a few moments didn’t know where he was.
“It’s time for us to go down to dinner,” Nina said
Roy nodded, took hold of his cane; and as he walked to where she was, he wanted to say something to reassure Nina as much as himself but all he could think of was, “Make our garden grow,” and that didn’t seem to fit their situation. Instead, he put his left hand on her shoulder, gave it a slight squeeze, and said, “One step at a time, one day at a time and I think will be okay.”
“I wish I could believe that,” she answered.
“It’s the only choice we have,” he said, “even if it’s a Hobson’s choice.”
Dr. Irving A. Greenfield is closing in on being 90. He has had several novels published and a couple of dozens of short stories. He was born in Brooklyn but now he and his wife live on Staten Island. His new play, BANNED IN BISBEE goes into production at the AMERICAN THEATER OF ACTORS on September 5th. He has been a sailor, soldier and a college professor.