* I woke up this morning with the powerful urge to play Cowboys and Indians or something childish like that, but instead I smoked a pipe and went over to visit old Mister Reese. We made tuna fish sandwiches in his kitchen and took them down to Robert E. Lee Park for a picnic. It was perfect outside, clear and warm but not too hot. From time to time a misty rain fell through the sunshine like diamonds and evaporated against our skin. We stood by Lake Roland and watched the water spill over the dam. I kept trying to skip stones off the water but they all broke the surface like plop! and sank right to the bottom.
Mister Reese took a deep breath and patted himself on the stomach. “Hell of a day for the race,” he declared, staring out over the lake.
“What race?” I asked. Preakness had already come and gone a while back.
“The human race, Miles. Hell of a day for the human race.”
Somehow we began talking about death. He told me about his second wife. She passed away in a hospice. Mister Reese didn’t like the place. “It was foul,” he said. “Institutional. The lobby smelled like a bed pan.” He shuddered. “And she couldn’t talk in the end. Just growl like a dog. And make monster-movie sounds. She wrote on a notepad. Sad things. Scary things. Paranoia can set in pretty easy once you get that close to the end. She thought the nurses were stealing from her. Keeping her locked up at night…I saved some of her scribbles. I don’t know why though. I’ll never read them.” He skipped a stone out over the lake. It bounced three or four times before falling in. “Maybe they’d make a good coffee table book,” he laughed to himself. “All those scribbles. Oh, stop me. I’m terrible.”
I asked him if he was scared of death. “No,” he coughed. “I’m not scared of death. I’m scared I might live on forever without getting any younger. That’s what’s got me shaky.”
I told him I thought I would like to live forever. I told him I thought time was very precious.
“Time, huh?” He took out his false teeth and wiped them on his shirt-sleeve. His voice sounded different without any teeth. His mouth looked like a worn-out asshole. “Time is precious, you say. But how do you know it’s not working against you? Maybe time is not a gift. Maybe time is your enemy. A precious little vampire,” he said, taking a pause to consider something. “Or maybe not. All I know is that it’s good to be young. Youth is more precious than time. Keep a youthful head on your shoulders and anything might happen. Let yourself get old and there’s only one thing that will happen…WHEN YOU’RE GREEN YOU GROW, WHEN YOU’RE RIPE YOU ROT…Write that down. It sounds like a cliche and it is, but it’s also good advice.”
I was staring at my reflection in the lake. “I will,” I said, but I doubt if he believed me.
Then we talked about how we wanted our bodies taken care of after we were gone. I said I wanted to be mummified and put on display in a museum or a circus. Mister Reese just complained about how expensive funerals had gotten. He said he wants to forgo burial costs altogether. He said he wants someone to throw his body out past the tides when it’s time for him to go.
“When my earthly trials are over,” the old man said, tossing a pebble out over the dam. “Cast my body out in the sea. You can save on the undertaker bill. Let the money float with me.”
Everything was quiet for moment, except the sound of falling water.
“Are you ever really afraid that you might live on forever without getting any younger?” I asked, not knowing what else to say.
“Heck no.” He slipped his teeth back in his mouth and chomped them in place, like a horse. He looked a lot better with teeth. “Don’t they teach science at that school of yours?”
I just kind of shrugged.
“No way,” he went on. “But I used to think I might be a god. As I get older and nastier inside, my bowels keep reminding me otherwise.”
I let the last part of my tuna sandwich drop from my lips into the water. I watched as a scaly orange carp popped up to gobble it off the surface.
“That makes sense,” I agreed, after thinking about it a minute…I couldn’t imagine God having to take a shit. And what would that shit look like, anyway?