My wife wanted me to tell this story.
Sitting at my desk in the living room on a dark, rainy night, I was attending to a very large stack of unopened mail. We’d been away for 10 days. I’d been at it for more than an hour. My wife was sitting on the sofa nearby, reading. A fire flickered in the fireplace.
Envelopes with stamps on them were now in a stack up in one corner of the desk, ready for the morning when I’d walk them out front to the mailbox for pickup. I’d slide them in, flip up the red metal flag and the postman would oblige. On the desk was another stack, a larger, messier stack, for the junk mail.
Halfway through, I used my last stamp. But I knew where there were more. They were in the top drawer of a buffet in the dining room. I’d fetch them. And it was this journey that my wife had urged me to write about.
I stood up, picked up the junk mail and, because the fireplace was on the way, threw it in. It flared and whooshed comfortingly.
Proceeding along, I entered the kitchen, went around the counter and into the dining room. Immediately when I opened the door, I noticed that the chandelier over the dining room table was brightly lit. It shouldn’t have been on, but I was glad it was. It would light my way into the library beyond.
I shuffled along. I was in my socks. The floor of the dining room is bricks that were set over wires when installed. You’d turn a dial by the light switch and the bricks would warm. But they no longer did that. I have to get that fixed one of these days, or if the estimate is astronomic, just forget it.
I shuffled into the library, flicking a switch to light up the room as I entered. The library is such a mess. Boxes filled with memories. Books not put away. One entire wall of shelves holds tall black volumes filled with back issues of Dan’s Papers, in order. I started the paper back in 1960. There are 161 black volumes. Volume 162 was laid out in a window seat, half full, awaiting the next issue I’d bring home on Friday.
I stopped. What was it I was supposed to get, anyway? I stood there and looked around. There’s a day bed. A Franklin stove. A wooden stepladder. Several easy chairs. Raindrops pattered on the windows. What I was supposed to get would jump out at me. I knew it would. I stood still.
I’ve often thought that when I walk into a room and can’t remember why, it’s a sign of impending Alzheimer’s. But when it happens and I tell my wife about it, she says I’m pretty sharp and everybody has that problem. Fact is, it happens about once a month to me, and most of the time, in the end, it comes to me. So that is not too often. I gave the library one last chance. Nothing.
I recall the time—this is really funny—when I was at the office until 3 a.m., working with staff to get the paper out. This was years ago, before computers. Back then, we pasted galley sheets of stories onto boards, slid them into a big envelope and gave them to a driver to take to the printer in Long Island City. Since computers, you finish up, press a button and bang, it’s there. It still amazes me.
I’d driven about halfway home that night when a cop turned on his flashing lights and pulled me over. I gave him my license and registration. He knew who I was. You’re wandering all over the road, he said. Was I impaired? Had I been drinking? I told him I hadn’t been drinking but was impaired. It had been a 13-hour day and I could hardly see straight. But the paper was out, I was exhausted and happy and I’d get home. Always did. He thought about it and then said he’d give me an escort the rest of the way home, and he did. That was very kind of him.
I left the library, padded across the dining room bricks and through the kitchen to my desk in the living room. There I saw the envelope, addressed but without a stamp. Oh, that’s what it was.
“What’s so funny?” my wife asked.