Augustine and his girlfriend Neila were sitting together at the rim of the Washington Square fountain. It was noon.
“I’ve been in an old age home since nine o’clock this morning,” Neila said to Augustine. “My acting teacher wants me to study the habits of old people for a scene.”
She had spent two and one half-hours talking to eighty and ninety year old patients, to geriatric counselors and psychiatrists. She didn’t learn much, till an old lady named Mrs. Steinbach, told her a strange story, an old lady whose face was drawn and wrinkled, its dry, parched, leather-like mask with thin-lipped mouth had two tiny, sparkling blue eyes floating in space. She took a few deep breaths and said to Neila:
“Believe it or not, I was a young girl once, but now I walk with a cane and my knees hurt and I’m afraid to be alone and afraid to go out and afraid to even wonder if there’s more to life than spendin my time lookin at the color’a peelin paint and dirt on the floor. Did you know there’s a voice in me that never shuts up even when I don’t listen to it? I’m tired’a that voice that’s been talkin to me for ninety years now and fillin my head with more stuff than my mind can ever understand. It’s a voice that’s always confusin the issue? I bet ya wanna ask me what’s the issue? There’s none I know of more important than watchin my friends die and watchin buildings get covered with soot and dirt and watchin the clouds move overhead, and yeah, I almost forgot, maybe fifty other things no one sees when they’re rushin to work. You know somethin, young lady, people don’t listen to one another ‘cause they’re all so busy doin stuff they forget they’re gettin older every day.
“When my children spoke to me about nursing homes, I knew I wasn’t no good to anyone, anymore. I mean…they won’t even let me die here. All the doctor does is stuff me with medicines. The nurses stick intravenous needles into my veins and my daughter keeps telling me how wonderful I look; my daughter raves about this Godforsaken place.
“’I can’t be angry with her,’ Mrs. Steinbach went on. ‘She doesn’t know any better. Even the nurse lies.
“‘Mrs. Steinbach,’ that thick lipped bug eyed vixen said to me, ‘how are you today? How’s the leg? The arm? The chest? Do you have gas? Oh, Mrs. Steinbach, you look so beautiful. I hope I look as well when I’m your age. Now that the sun is shining, you should go outdoors with the other patients.
“’If I had any more energy, I’d have beaten her to a pulp. It’s just enough to make you sick. The plastic smile, the dirty white teeth, the syrupy voice, and all of it telling me I’m no good to anyone, anymore.
“‘But last night, I fooled them. My heart stopped beating. The doctors and nurses worked feverishly to revive me. But I didn’t want to be revived. I saw shimmering white light at the end of a dark tunnel. My husband Isaac stood there with open arms next to my mother and father, my brother, and other people I haven’t seen in thirty years. They all welcomed me with hugs and kisses. Meanwhile, the doctors declared me dead. My heart had stopped beating. There was no pulse, nothing.
“’The truth is I didn’t care. I was standing arm and arm with my husband before a sky filled with golden light. I could hear hushed voices whispering in the distance:
“‘Miracle! It’s a miracle! Her heart’s beating again! She’s alive!’
‘’’Then my husband vanished in the golden light; and I heard my daughter crying, and I saw doctors in white masks and green uniforms, and nurses staring at me as if I’d descended from a strange planet.
“‘Miracle,’ they said over and over again. ‘Mrs. Steinbach, it’s a miracle.’
“‘I’m too old to live and too old to die,’ I said to my daughter when I woke up. ‘They don’t want me in heaven and I’m beginning to think I’ll be the last person alive on earth…’
“‘I hope so,’ my daughter said through her tears.
“‘Why?’ I asked her. ‘I’m no good to anyone, anymore…’”