I touch him carefully and wait. Nothing happens. I lay my hand on him, stroke him. This perks him up a bit. Why does it take so long to happen? I wonder. Between aging and old, old and dead. It takes a while these days to get up, to stir, he and I. But he’s up now, so I’m happy, for the while, for as long as it lasts.
Phyllis sneaks up behind me. She thinks I don’t know she’s coming. But I see her, out of the corner of my eye, I see her. She can’t fool me.
She wraps her hands around my eyes from the back. “Guess who?” she says.
I say nothing. A dramatic pause. Finally, “Martha Stewart?”
“No silly,” she says, sliding around the side of me and laying down on the grass. “It’s me. Phyllis.”
I roll my eyes. “I can see you, Phil.”
“Did I surprise you?” she asks.
I don’t want to hurt her feelings. Even though she asks every time. So I say, “No, you shocked me like a ninja would.”
She laughs and rolls on her side, closer to me, props herself up on her elbow. Still, she’s almost invisible in the long grass. “What’cha doing?” she asks.
“Ah, well, what does it look like I’m doing?”
“Hmmm, it looks like you’re petting Buster.”
She named him Buster.
“Yeah, well at our age, I like to get Buster out and active. He and me both. In dog years, you know, Buster is older than I am.”
“You think you’ll outlive him?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “It’s going to be a close one to the finish line, I think. He’s not in great shape. The vet put him on this medication that makes him so tired and sluggish, I worry he’s going to wear away to nothing.”
“Why the meds?”
“Well, it’s not cancer, thankfully, but there’s something slowly eating him from the inside. Some kind of enzyme imbalance, or overproduction, or something like that. They can’t fix it with surgery. The vet said it’s just like us. Everyone’s body just gets old. Wears down. The meds’ll counteract that, slow the enzymes down.”
“Then will it kill him, that disease, or whatever it is?”
I shake my head. Sometimes the whole thing makes me want to cry. “I hope not. I’m praying the meds work.”
“But will he get better? What with the pills?”
I shake my head again. “Maybe not. But at least they’ll slow it down, what’s hurting him.”
“Why are you praying?” she asks. “I thought you weren’t religious?”
I stop stroking Buster. “Who told you that?”
“You did. You said one time that you don’t believe in God and that you don’t believe in heaven or anything.”
I stare at Phyllis. “Phil, I don’t think I ever said any such thing.”
“Yes. You did. I remember it like the back of my hand.”
This makes me laugh, forget about Buster for a minute. “Phil, that’s not how it goes.”
“Not how what goes?”
“I remember it like the back of my hand.”
“What? Why not?”
“It’s knowing something like the back of your hand. Like ‘I know the streets of Honolulu like the back of my hand.’ Or ‘I know the inside of the Moana Hotel like the back of my hand.’ If you say ‘I remember it like’ something, then it goes, ‘I remember it like it was just yesterday,’ or ‘I remember it like it was tattooed on my brain.’”
Phyllis laughs. “Tattooed on your brain? That’ll be the day. You’ll have to go to med school to do a tat like that. And if you’re going to go through all that studying and cadavering, you might as well be a doctor instead of a tattoo artist.”
Sometimes this woman makes my head spin. “Yeah yeah,” I say, “I totally agree.”
Buster raises his head. I let out a little breathless laugh. “Look, Phil, Buster’s lifted his head. Isn’t that great? It’s been a long time.”
At that moment, my grandson bangs out the front door. The grass is so long, Phil, Buster, and I could hunker down in it, hide from him.
“Whoa, Grampa, you did a great job mowing the lawn. Looks like a golf course green.”
What’s he talking about? I wonder. Can’t he see how tall the grass is?
“Come on, Grampa, lunch is ready. I gotta get you to your appointment before I head back to work.”
He’s probably made me some kind of meat sandwich. He likes peppery salami, but nowadays it’s too spicy for me, tastes like it’s pepper only.
“Oh, okay.” I get up off the grass. I have to agree the lawn does look good. That new grass smell, it’s impossible to forget that new grass smell. You can’t forget it.
I whisper goodbye to Phyllis and Buster, leave them lying in all this tall grass, then turn around and follow my grandson into the house.