Nothing is permanent when it starts
No one stays the same once it begins
Never can passion stay heighten
Not one moment rises above the other
Nary can one ever have it all
No one stays static
No one stops longing
The kiss happened one night after dinner.
In the late 1980’s a meal had been cooked and prepared by myself and my mate at the time. It was to be for a woman in her eighties, Miss Mary Lawrence, a retired psychiatric social worker. Her lesbian partner of many decades, Gladys, had died two nights earlier on Thanksgiving. The dinner would take place at her long-time friend’s house a mile down Harlemville Road, in Chatham, New York. The friend holding the dinner, Miss Florence Williams, had also lost her long time love, Catherine, a beloved pediatrician, a few years before.
At that time, I shared the housework and various chores from tending wood fires to food preparation for Miss Florence Williams, as I also worked a fulltime job elsewhere. The meal we prepared for that evening was cooked in a kitchen that had not seen an update since the forties and still had the original early-1800’s feel to it. It was a Colonial home that used a well, had several hearths, and woodstoves of nickel and iron. Florence had two woodstoves burning constantly each fall and winter.
On the grounds was a hand-hewed beamed Dutch barn, painted white, where Florence had tended her sheep in younger years on her estate she called Vinecote. It had woods all around, a pond that was encircled by yellow daffodils each summer, and a two-storied red barn and woodshed where snakes coiled on warm stone foundations each summer. It was all surrounded by white picket fences that had seen better days even after repainted and nailed. Hidden downhill to the south side of the house was an overgrown garden where asparagus came up each spring.
We lived in a very small apartment attached to the main house. I was exhausted and overworked at the time, but was ask by Florence to join them for dinner that evening in November.
Florence was not looking forward to the meal as it was, because in her mind it was to be a sad affair. After all, Mary’s partner, Gladys, died on Thanksgiving Day. Gladys had retired early in her separate bedroom, and Mary had found her in bed the next morning. They were together for decades.
The morning after the death, I drove Florence down the short distance from her house to Mary’s smaller colonial home, with its withered side garden. There was little snow to speak of as I parked my car in her driveway. Before we even exited we both spotted Mary in a front window waving wildly with one arm like she was shooing away an annoying fly. We could clearly see her sitting at a table with a man.
“I think she’s shooing us away,” I said to Florence who stopped her struggle to open my car door. Florence, who lied about her age, was a toothpick frame, not even five-foot tall, with frail bones, and quite bald beneath her platinum wig that often slid to one side. She was growing closer to her hundredth year, but she maintained a healthy sense of dignity. Her gait was like watching someone wobble on skates, while striding quickly. But she always held her chin high. I was amazed she stilled smoked cigarettes and drank mud-coffee, and I became convinced the nicotine and caffeine kept her going.
Staring through the windshield, we both became amused as Mary’s arm grew more vigorous in her ‘get-out-of-here’ motion. Her gray, wavy hair looked like a mop-head being shook. We could practically read her lips. They said, ‘Go away, get.’ She was the same Mary I had watched shush Florence if she talked during a viewing of a live opera on PBS. Mary would lean in to the television with such longing during operas.
“Oh, she is waving for us to go,” snickered Florence. We laughed at Mary’s image as I started up the car and backed out of the dirt driveway. “I think she’s with the undertaker,” Florence said, “He was supposed to drop in this morning. We’ll see her at supper.”
Later that evening we watched Mary’s car lights as she drove toward the back of Florence’s house. I had never seen the front door used in nearly five years on her estate. We gathered at the door and opened it wide for Mary.
As she entered she yelled in an almost joyous tone, “Here’s the death pie!” She held a half-eaten mince-meat pie high up in the air. She then let us know it was the last thing her partner ate before she died. If a snapshot were to be shared, it would reveal we invited the guest in with our mouths agaped. I grabbed the pie from high in the air. Cocktails would be had… strong ones for these two aged friends.
After conversation, food, drinks, pie and mud-coffee (I could not bring myself to eat any ‘death-pie’) we walked Mary to the back door, passing the shelf that held conquistadores’ brass shoes with holes at the toes so water could run out freely as they rode their horses. Decades of old collections from the land of China where Florence's Catherine once lived with her missionary parents, to the old glass from a dump in back of the house also lined the shelf.
I stood holding the door open, as Mary was saying her goodnights. I could smell the comfort of the wood smoke hit the cold night air, as Mary turned toward me in the doorway. The outside light was beaming at her car. She seemed happy tonight even with this loss...as if she had been set free.
She stood tall before me, two inches taller than my height of five-six. I noticed her red lipstick was a bit smeared from eating and napkin use. A little reddish-spittle was at the side of her mouth. I could smell a bit of gin warming its way toward me when to my surprise she took my face in her hands and planted a quite long, wet kiss directly on my lips.
I was like a deer in the headlights. I was speechless as she let go of my face, and quickly turned around, exiting like a movie star with a high wave of her hand, as she called out, “Goodnight!”
In disbelief, I slowly closed the door, turned and looked toward Florence and my partner. They were barely containing their ‘what the hell was that’ expressions before our mirth took over.
Over the years and after much thought on that kiss, I let myself be flattered by her actions. And perhaps wistful about her deeper needs. It was like being kissed by an aged Lauren Bacall or Anne Bancroft. Mary took what she needed that night…what she wanted. No one, no matter what age stays static. There is always longing.
*Mary put her house on the market right after the death. She moved away in less than six months. She gave me the watch-fob chain. It's the photo posted. She always had her house key on it. I thought it was very thoughtful as she wished me my own home one day. She ended up cremating her sometime peculiar partner who onced asked me if she had Down Syndrome because her hands were so small. Mary spread her ashes on that withered side-garden.
*Florence's doctor once asked her real age on a medical appointment I took her to: she just smiled at him. Cancer of the throat took Florence in 1991. I had traveled about 5 years earlier at the request of Florence to bring up a gravestone from New Jersey for her late Catherine. Catherine' sister had it made. Florence and Catherine's ashes are together out in back of their home. My ex-partner built a lovely trellis, and fencing for their resting space. New owners took over decades ago. I have no idea if they left the gravestone in place.