What’s it like to be old? Tonya asks me.
I give her a dry, poisonous look but say nothing.
She puts a hand to her mouth and says, Oh, I’m sorry. I didnt mean…
Restate your question, I say. Something like ‘What’s it like to be sixty-eight?’
Okay, what’s it like to be sixty-eight?
Specify, I say.
Maybe a good question would be about how your attitude toward death changes throughout life, I say. At your age death is something that will happen to you someday and is pretty abstract. When you hit forty it suddenly seems much closer, more concrete, and scarier. At sixty it affects everything. You may not expect to die right away but you’re forty years closer than when you were at twenty. And that means death affects your decisions and perceptions about everything.
That gives her pause and we both look down the escarpment where we’re sitting to the Dog River and at the half-dozen or so old men fishing there while she thinks of what to say next.
Were you ever married? She finally asks.
Yes, I say.
What’s it like? What happened?
Next question, I say.
How many times? How long? U have any kids?
Twice. Many times I wondered what happened but I dont really know because it was never clear. No kids. Never wanted any. Since this is turning into Twenty Questions, How about U, Tonya?
Never married, she says. Just boyfriends. You ever go to college?
College, yes, I say. Why do you ask that in particular?
You know a lot of big words. Speaking of death, do you ever wish you were dead?
No, because as long as I’m alive there’s that ahead of me and I’ll take it, even if it’s only another five minutes.
Do you ever wish you’d never been born?
Many times, I say.
She turns thoughtful again and I say, Tonya, what do you do for a living?
What do you do for a living? She says defensively.
You first, I say.
Trust fund money, she says and her face colors.
Okay. But why be defensive about that?
I’m not being defensive, she says, raising her voice.
You get the money from your folks in Marietta?
Yes but it’s not that they care. It’s to keep me from asking them for money all the time. And the checks arent generous, just enough to live a middle class life. They know I couldnt even hold down a minimum wage job. Your turn. RU retired?
Yes, I say.
You have a trust fund too?
No, I say. I do odd jobs. You can always make money doing things nobody wants to do.
I guess I really dont want to know what kind of odd jobs?
No. You really dont.
A vagrant zephyr redolent of trash cans winnows itself around us. It makes me sneeze and sets the old men that are fishing to cursing.
I’ll bet a hundred years ago this part of the river drew a lot more people to sit over there and fish, mainly because there were more people, I say.
So it begs a question, Tonya. Down where I came from…
Yeah, I say. Did I tell you I lived there?
When we were high the other day, she says.
I think it’s odd that when the world was seriously overpopulated a few centuries ago everybody always seemed to be outside and in each others’ faces because there wasnt much room. Now there’s a lot fewer people and a lot more room and a lot more food but everyone seems to be in hiding. Brunswick’s creepy because any time I went outside I could feel that I was being watched. Several times in this planet’s modern history people have suddenly moved underground into the steel and concrete caves their ancestors built. But there was no apparent reason for it. No plague or war or zombies or anything. People just went underground for a while and later a few ‘heroes’ would brave their agoraphobia and move back into the abandoned cities and the cycle would repeat. Even the big depopulation didnt seem to affect it. People got suddenly afraid and no one knows what of. People are weird.
You think too much, she says.
I know it. Further on out that way is Cascade Heights, I say as I point west. And Destiny Road. It was a WASP version of Eldorado. Everybody out there was rich. Now it’s a ghost town.
Did you grow up around here? She says.
This and a few other places.
I always wondered why they named it Destiny Road. Seems an odd name.
Maybe somebody had a dog named Destiny.
Or a wife, she says.
Or a daughter.
What did you say your name was? She says.
I didnt say, I say.