Remembering How To Whistle
I forgot how to whistle yesterday.
Eventually it came back to me, but I must’ve looked like a fool standing there in the aisle at Target, pursing my lips as I tried to find the right muscle movements. I don’t recall the last time I tried to whistle, so perhaps it was lack of practice that led to my inability to remember how.
Not like riding a bicycle, whistling. Then again, it’s probably been longer since I’ve been on a bike, so I don’t have much faith that skill will return as easily either. And after the hip replacement in ’17, the nasty fall I took last summer down Jared’s steps (I offered many times to help him fix those steps and he never took me up on it), not to mention the dizzy spells and fuzzy vision that just seem to come on with no warning as of late, I’ve no business getting on a bike.
Helen watched me, her brow creased with a look of concern.
A thought crossed my mind. Am I still standing there? Was that yesterday? Where am I?
But I’m home now, laptop on my bony old knees as I kick back in my Barcalounger with the cat purring on my legs. Helen is here too, knitting on the couch. I must’ve gotten a weird look on my face again because Helen sat her needles down and reached for my hand. I get confused sometimes, but Helen is my beacon, my rock that guides me back. I don’t know how I’d get on without her.
We’re in the living room of our apartment, doing our own things but still together. The television is on, but no one is watching. Just background noise. There was a time when no one wanted background noise; back then the quiet was peaceful. Now the quiet is too loud, filled with passing trucks, the shake of the train rumbling by, even the upstairs footsteps and random squabbles of neighbors. The background noise of life got to be too much to listen to, so we drowned it out with the ambiance of a television sitcom laugh track.
I remember why I tried to whistle yesterday. Helen bent down to get something off the bottom shelf at Target. I thought she’d appreciate that, make her smile, show her that this old goat wasn’t too far addled to whistle at the sexy backside of the woman he married almost sixty years ago.
But instead of making her smile, I worried her. I must’ve been an awful sight like that, my lips rolling around trying to find the right position to make noise. Probably thought I was having a stroke. By the time I found Helen’s eyes and tried to explain I was trying to whistle, the moment had shifted.
As you get older, worry piles on like interest from a loanshark. It doesn’t take long before people are sitting you on a bench, asking if you know your name, what day it is, all that jazz. You have to work through the progression, nod along politely and not get angry about a small misunderstanding that morphed into something bigger than it is.
I wanted to jerk my arm away from the Target pharmacist leading me over to a nearby bench and yell out, “Let go of me, I just wanted to whistle at my wife’s sexy bottom, you twit!” But if I do that, it becomes a whole other thing. Then they’ll say you’re angry AND confused, which means they’ll call the cops or an ambulance. Which one they call depends on if you’re in a Target or a Walmart.
That path leads to even more questions, some needle pokes, a different person in a white coat asking the same questions, all which you have to nod and smile along. By now it’s been far too long to share that you only intended to make your wife smile, too many people involved at this point.
An ordeal like that eventually leads to another hushed conversation around the dinner table when the kids visit, deciding if maybe now’s the time to move me to a home. I’m getting too unruly, I need constant supervision, constant care. I get up to go into the kitchen and tell them off but Helen takes my hand, tells me it’ll be alright, nothing’s going to happen.
I remember now, the whistling incident wasn’t yesterday. It couldn’t have been. There’s ice on the windows today. We had gone to Target for sparklers and snap pops for the grandkids for when we went to Jared’s house for his 4th of July party.
We used to have the party at our place, back when we had a house in the country. But the house was too much for us to manage so we sold it and moved to the apartment we’re in now. First-floor walkup, no stairs. Probably why we hear so many noises too, being ground level right next to the street. Plus the upstairs neighbor is a hefty man, a good guy, don’t get me wrong, but not light on his feet by any means. I tried to tell him he should try to work that weight off, it only gets more difficult as you get older. Daniel I think his name is. Does something with computers. I don’t think he took my suggestion well, even though I meant well by it.
I see Helen furrowing her brow at me again. Did I do it again? Or am I still doing it? Is this Target? Where am I?
I’m at home, in the Barcalounger. I go to stroke the cat who likes to warm my legs, then I remember we haven’t had a cat for quite some time now. But I could’ve sworn I felt his warmth on my legs, the purring vibrations…
I remember now. We never did get the sparklers, or the snap pops.
I open the door and I’m in a hallway. It’s bright, far too bright for this time of night. Now I’m confused again, like when I tried to whistle at Helen at Walmart yesterday. Or was it Target? Yes, it was Target, we were there to get sprinklers and snap pops for the grandkids for when we went to Jared’s house for his 4th of July party. Maybe he’ll have fixed the steps by then. That’s where I cracked my hip last year. It was last year, wasn’t it?
It wasn’t sprinklers, it was sparklers. We were getting sparklers and snap pops. For Jared’s 4th of July party, which was yesterday. But it wasn’t yesterday, because the window is frosted over with ice, and Helen is… where is Helen?
“Helen?” I call out. She doesn’t answer. I swear her hearing is getting as bad as mine. Maybe I should try whistling for her, she’d have a laugh about that. Did I ever tell her that’s what I was trying to do that day in Target when the ambulance came?
I step into the hallway, but it isn’t our hallway. It’s too bright. Something’s wrong.
“Mr. Sanders?” a voice called out behind me. I turn and see a woman at the nurse’s station. She’s a bigger gal. Maybe I should tell Daniel about her, they’d be good for one another. Or did I tell her about him already?
Wait, I think I did, when she wished me a Merry Christmas last month. I don’t think she liked the suggestion, but I meant well.
It couldn’t have been last month. Yesterday I was at Target with Helen, buying sparklers and snap pops for the grandkids when we-
“Are you okay, Mr. Sanders?” She asked. I felt her hand on my arm. Reminded me of Helen’s hand. Warm, soft, gentle.
“I… I was looking for Helen,” I said after much deliberation.
Her brow furrowed, much like Helen’s did when she saw me trying to whistle. I must’ve been making the same face.
“She’ll be back soon,” Effie said as she got up from her seat and walked over to me. She walked with grace, even for her size. Not like Daniel. Maybe they wouldn’t be a good match.
“Good,” I said. “I get lost without her, she’s my rock.”
Effie led me back into my room and helped me back into my bed. This place wasn’t that bad. I remember not wanting to come here after I tripped and fell down Jared’s busted step, the same one I offered to help him fix all those times. Forty-five years pouring concrete for a construction company; we could’ve fixed that step in a jiffy. But he said no.
I told them all I’d be fine at the house. No, not the house, the apartment. We had a first-floor walk-up, no steps.
I remember now, Helen fell down the steps too. Did I pull her down with me? There was so much blood. Was she okay? I got worried, I started shaking. Where is Helen? Where is my wife?
I must've startled Effie, because she put her arm around my good hip and pulled me closer to her, steadying me and holding me up as I regained myself. I relaxed a bit. Of course, Helen was fine. Effie told me she'll be back soon. She wouldn't lie to me. Effie knows that Helen is my rock, I get lost without her. I told her so.
Wait, did I just tell her? Was I talking just now?
I must have been because Effie nodded and smiled at me as she pulled the warming blanket over my legs. It vibrated softly. It helped with the circulation after the accident.
“Can I get anything else for you?” Effie asked.
“When you see Helen, tell her I’m in here,” I said. “She gets as lost as me sometimes.”
I felt a hand on my shoulder, turning to see Helen in the chair beside my bed. I leaned into it, feeling her warmth against the cold.
“Oh! Here she is,” I said, smiling at Helen. “I thought I lost you for a moment!”
Helen smiled back at me, her eyes bright as ever. I don’t know what I would do without her. She’s my rock.
“I’ll leave you two be, Mr. Sanders,” Effie said. She turned the television on, some old sitcom on TVLand, background noise to cover the sounds of hospital monitors buzzing and beeping.
Before she closed the door she turned and smiled at us. It wasn’t her typical bright smile. It seemed confused; kinda happy, but also kinda sad.
Maybe she was trying to remember how to whistle.