The weekly prompt from my Florida writers’ group was to take a snatch of lyric from a song, or a phrase from a poem, and write a story around it. This piece of fiction is inspired by When You Are Old, by W. B. Yeats—and is in memory of my mother, whose birthday this is, and who first introduced me to the poet’s work.
The old man died sometime during the night, alone, peacefully. His careworn face, wrinkled and wizened under the weight of so many years, seemed suddenly younger somehow, and his lips were curled in what might have been taken as a smile.
On the table by the near-side of the bed—the side long occupied by his recently-departed wife—lay a note lovingly penned by his frail hand, an aged quill beside it, the ink caked dry on its tip. It was unmistakably a love-letter to her, intended not for anyone else, fated now to be his last word to all who had loved the two of them.
This is what he wrote—
And now you are gone, off to another adventure, but this time without me. How I wish I had been ready in time to accompany you, as on every occasion in the past.
There have been so many wonderful journeys upon which we did embark, each more glorious than those before it. How I remember the sparkle in your eyes, the flush of your cheeks, the lilt of your joyous laughter, as off we went each time, hand in hand, bound for who knows where, never knowing that which we would encounter, but secure in our belief that, together, we would meet and conquer all.
And so we did. Eloping when there seemed no other way in the face of families opposed, living abroad, scratching an existence from the fruits of our creative gifts, buoyed by our love and our belief in one another. We could not have known, both so young, that your brush and my pen would eventually find favour with the audiences who discovered us. And yet, undaunted, off we had whisked on that first great adventure into the wide world, happy, confident, ready for whatever fate had in store for us, surpassingly serene in each other’s bosom.
Every new work on your easel, every new draft in my notebook, carried us on to more adventures as we painted and published our way to heights heretofore unimagined. What happiness we found in talking over our creative endeavours as they unfolded, in offering critiques and suggestions—shyly at first, and then more confidently as we grew in each other’s esteem. Heralded as artists by the world beyond, we found our muses within ourselves and shared them. Together.
Later came the children—Patrick, who died too soon; Liam, an accomplished actor now with dreams of his own; and Maeve, a musician who reminds me so strongly of her mother with such grace and sweetness masking that steely courage I ever found in you. What an adventure they provided us as our troupe grew to five, and then, sadly, diminished again to four. What heights of joy we experienced, what depths of despair! And yet, throughout, we sallied forth, ever determined to pass through each gateway, to follow each new path, to crest each succeeding hill. Always together.
Inevitably, we became two again as the children, not unexpectedly, began to pursue their own adventures. The years continued ever on and on, of course, but we, never ones to be mindful of constraints that seemed to bind so many others, paid them scant heed. Yet even we—we, with all our bravissimo and essenza—even we could not slow the relentless ravages of time, the toll it took upon our bodies. Even as our spirits remained as strong and audacious as ever, our bodies, increasingly and annoyingly, slowed us. But at least we were together.
Before I knew, I had become an old man, bent and slowed. And I watched as the weight of years pressed down upon you, too—never enough to douse the fire that burned within your soul, but tamping its fierce flames to glowing embers. Never enough to quell the desire within us to begin our next great adventure, but sufficient to forestall our getting underway.
Nevertheless, even in our dotage, we found ourselves, blessedly, still together. And I was ever the man who loved the pilgrim soul in you, and loved the sorrows of your changing face.
But now, beloved Pilgrim, for the first time, you have started a new adventure without me, alas. And I am bereft, forsaken and left here in this too-much-travelled, mortal confine. Would you have waited for me if you could, I wonder? I think so. Perchance, are you waiting still, there on that other side somewhere, knowing assuredly I shall be along when I can?
I write this now in hope it is so, that we shall reunite in glory to resume our way across the universe, amid a crowd of stars.….