“We Were Older”

We were old, the two of us. We were old in chairs, our hunched bodies stooped over. We were old standing. Leaning on canes, against walls and fences and cars, pretending to be careless; grasping for support. We were old, loving the weather, loving the young couple with the baby, loving food, the way everything felt in our aching mouths. “Oh, my,” you said, lifting the spoon first to your lips, then to mine. “Couldn’t you just taste this forever?”

We were old, eating soft things, slimy things, nutrition that had almost wavered across the line into hydration, saturated in sauces that stained in dribbles down our fronts, thin spots that we didn’t often notice anymore, even with our glasses on. We were old slurping broth. We were old, bitching and moaning about our dentures. We were old, drinking tea that we had both let sit in the open air for a good long while to cool.

We were old, squabbling over the volume of the TV, about whose turn it was to creak and groan at the sink, hunching and straightening arthritic limbs over and over to place the dishes in the washer. We were old, toddling towards the front of the house to watch the sun set gold through the picture window. We were old, pressing our shriveled hands against the glass.

We were old when the kids and their kids came over, hopping out of their cars like Russian dolls with features too similar, faces we jumbled. The little sister for the big sister, the son for the father—to us they were the same, young and younger; we couldn’t keep track. We were old when they noticed, spoke in soothing tones, corrected our mistakes with dull glances toward each other. We were old when we blustered through apology, furious. We were older when we thanked them, nodding, pressing our lips between our teeth.

We were old to each other, on the days when we settled in different rooms and didn’t move closer, because of the effort, the energy. We were old when we looked in the mirror and shook our heads, looked in each other’s faces and looked away.

We were old on the morning when you opened the storm door without wearing your pants, your shoes pulled neatly and laced over your cuffed socks. We were old when I pulled you back. I was rough, and you felt weak when you stumbled against me, your elbow catching in my belly. We both fell to the floor like stray dominoes—splayed limbs, ridiculous—and we were old, and we were older when neither of us laughed. You pulled yourself to your feet hand over hand on the base of the banister, and I crouched and pushed upwards. I brushed myself off and made tea and let it burn my throat, and you went to the bedroom and turned the TV on too loud. We didn’t speak to each other until nightfall.

But at night, we never turned on the lights. We knew this house so well: we could glide through it blind with ease, graceful as dancers. We found each other over and over—in the hall between kitchen and dining room, in the nook between bath and bed. We slipped into each other’s arms with batlike grace. We rested limbs over limbs, our soft, loose skin fine to touch, to glide against. We tucked nose into neck and held each other close. Our skin was smooth in the shadows. Our eyes were shut, and we were young, we were younger, we were barely even born.

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Kerry Cullen

About Kerry Cullen

Kerry's work has been published or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, The Rumpus, and The Superstition Review. She is a literary agent's assistant at Curtis Brown, Ltd. She earned her MFA at Columbia University.