Risk


Genevieve Wilding had, suddenly in her seventies, taken to healing. Not of herself, for she was basically healthy (except for high cholesterol, digestion issues, osteoporosis, and arthritis) but for other creatures. She’d tried several modalities and settled on a combination of reiki and old fashioned laying-on-of-hands. A young woman in her neighborhood, a reiki master, trained and attuned her free of charge. The laying on of hands arrived on its own.

Nothing gave Gin, as she was known to her peers, while people younger called her Grandma, quite as much pleasure as feeling healing energy flow through her into someone in need, unless it was having her purring cat whirl around her legs while she fiddled on the computer. Gin was a connoisseur of energy, whether it came from the air, living creatures, or inanimate objects. Sometimes she passed her hands over things and saw pictures in her mind, sometimes just felt vague emotions. None of this had she noticed until she was old; before that she’d been too busy.

“Gammy, Gammy!” shouted her great-granddaughter as she ran full tilt into the house. The screen door slammed behind her. I need your hands, I need your hands!”

“Bee sting, I see,” said Gin, taking the child’s red hot hand. “Were you reaching into a dangerous place, Silvie?”

“No, no!” asserted Silvie. “And it wasn’t a bee! It was a mean ole wasp! I wasn’t doing anything, just walking around, and it flew down like an airplane and stung me for no reason at all.”

“That’s the way wasps are,” said Gin. “Paranoid and bad tempered.”

She visualized the reiki symbols glowing on her palms and surrounded the girl’s small hot hand with her own.

“I had an interesting dream,” Gin said. “In it, I was a cow.”

“A cow?” said Silvie, her brown eyes wide. “What did it feel like?”

“It wasn’t like really being a cow, because I knew I could change back whenever I wanted.”

“Well, what did it feel like while you were being it?”

“Not bad,” said Gin, turning the little hand over. “But I wouldn’t want to be one forever.”

“Me neither,” said Silvie. “If you could be something else then, what would it be?”

Gin considered. “An energy being, that would be it. I could fly around and go wherever I wanted without having to worry about food or what temperature it is. I could soar around outer space and all.” She gave Silvie back her hand. “All done,” she said.

Silvie nodded and held the hand in front of her face. She checked it front and back. “Good work, Grandma,” she said. “You can still tell it happened, but it doesn’t hurt.”

“What would you be?” asked Gin.

“Oh, a fairy or a princess definitely,” Silvie said offhandedly. “Or maybe a scientist. But I want a boyfriend while I’m being those things. If I’m a fairy, it would have to be a fairy boyfriend and if I’m a princess, a prince.”

“And if a scientist?” smiled Gin.

Silvie tossed her head, looking, for the moment, twenty instead of seven. “He can be an astronaut. Like Number One.” She’d been watching Star Trek Next Generation reruns and was in love with Commander Riker.

“You can go back out now,” said Gin. “Unless you want to stay in and take a nap with me.”

“I’ll go back out,” said Silvie. “But thanks.”

She turned back to look at Gin before opening the back door. “Grandma, you’re too old to have a boyfriend, right?”

“That’s right,” said Gin, “and I am quite content not to.”

Silvie moved back into the kitchen. “Why? Because they’re nothing but trouble?”

Gin tried not to laugh, hearing in those words her divorced granddaughter’s frequently expressed sentiments. Not necessarily wanting to reinforce them, Gin said, “Actually, Silvie, a boyfriend can be a good thing. But having one often leads to having a husband, something an old woman like me can do well without.”

Silvie tilted her head and fixed Gin with slitted eyes. “But who changes the light bulbs and fixes the sink when it goes bad? Mommy says that’s all they’re good for, but that’s important stuff isn’t it?”

“They’re also good for kissing,” Gin said. “And hugging. And for getting you chocolate on Valentine’s Day.” She paused. “I call in Tony next door to fix my sink if it needs it and I change the light bulbs myself.”

Silvie nodded, apparently satisfied, and made her way back outside where wasps and future boyfriends cavorted.

Gin turned the floor fan to sweep across her bed then lay spread-eagle on the coverlet. It was a sweaty summer and she was trying to save on energy, so had not turned on the AC. She thought about what Silvie had said and men in general. The last time she’d made love was eleven years before. Of course one rarely knew at the moment when the exact last time was. In her case, it was right before her husband had his stroke. After that, there’d been the long rehabilitation, and then, even when he was back on his feet and pretty much going about his business, he never wanted to do it again. They didn’t have Viagra yet and even if they had, Wayne had been afraid of everything. He died six years later.

She turned on her side remembering, and tucked her hands under her cheek. That oddball Ken Fredo who’d been a Mason with Wayne came sniffing around after the funeral. An old man insinuating himself on a seventy-year-old women! Ridiculous. Maybe if she’d known him when he was young and could somehow picture him that way, maybe it wouldn’t have turned her off so, but all she saw was an old old man, wispy white hair, wattled neck, spotted pale skin. Even if she was that way herself, still it turned her off. Only she didn’t think she looked as bad as he did—she was a bit plump and rosier, but maybe she was mistaken. Didn’t most people believe themselves younger looking than everyone else their age?

She flashed back to when she and Wayne had made love in the ocean. They were in St. Martin and swimming in a small cove at dusk—still in their forties and energetic. She’d been juicy with desire then, not fully out of her sexual peak, and of course that was before Wayne had his affair.

The fan turned toward her with a great swoop of air, then back toward the window to set the curtain dancing. Outside, Silvie yelled something and was answered by another child.

The woman worked at a bookstore next to the coffee shop where Wayne sometimes ate lunch. He was a text book salesman covering the tri-state area. The two happened to sit at adjacent tables and got to talking. One thing led to another. At the time, Gin was perimenopausal and irritable.The last thing she’d wanted to discuss was books. And while she was bloated and miserable, the book lady was nine years younger and cheerful.

Eventually, she’d managed to forgive him. Or maybe she hadn’t. Though she’d gone through the motions, she never again felt much desire. Not for him. It was not to say she hadn’t satisfied herself, nor engaged in the occasional fantasy about someone, but she’d never strayed, not physically, and after so many years, her fires had apparently gone out.

“Well, it isn’t just your attitude,” her good friend, now dead, had told her. “It’s hormones or the lack thereof. Nobody cheated on me, and still, sex is the furthest thing from my mind.”

As the years rolled on, it wasn’t sex Gin missed. It was that sweet love thing, that dear warm bear to cuddle against at night, to trust with her heart and mind in the day. All that was gone and her loneliness as deep as a black hole. She had now her granddaughter—a busy, furious woman—and a son she rarely saw, and Silvie, a flash of light. All of them moving and changing fast, loving her maybe, but belonging to the world. Gin was putting in time, cooking, straightening up and planting flowers, maybe just waiting to die.

The telephone rang.

She debated whether to answer it, sighed and swung her legs over the side of the bed. Where had she left the thing? In the kitchen, finally, she answered.

“Mrs. Wilding?” A hesitant female voice.

“Yes,” said Gin, reluctant. What were they selling now?

“I was told that you know how to do reiki?”

She frowned. Who told her? “Uh, yeah,” she said.

“Well, my name is Caitlin and I work at the Springhouse Extended Care Center? We’re with Northram General? I was wondering if you’d consider coming in one day a week to give reiki to our residents?”

The woman spoke the “question speak” language of Generation X. Gin sighed. Did she really want to engage in more disappointing charity work? None of those things ever seemed to pan out. She told the woman she’d think about it, took the number, and hung up.

She had to admit she was bored. But bored enough to endure the odor of urine and worse in a nursing home? Too close to home, wasn’t it? But it was just one day a week and if she hated it, she could always make some excuse. She picked up the phone and called back.

Springhouse was modern and on-the-surface cheery. Picture windows, velvet lawn, big old trees, a windy blacktopped drive up to a long, front porch. No one was sitting on it. Gin parked in the lot to the side. She wondered how long she’d be able to keep driving. So far so good.

Caitlin came to the front desk to meet her. A tall, overweight, shy girl with curly red hair. “How many people do you think you can do in one day?” she asked.

Do? Didn’t that mean, in current slang, to boff? Or was it to off someone? Hard to keep up. “I don’t really know,” said Gin. “I’ve never done more than one person at a time.” She wanted to laugh, imagining she was a hit woman or prostitute.

“Well, um” said Caitlin, hesitant, “we’ll start with Mrs. Dower. She’s pretty bad with rheumatoid arthritis, has a lot of pain, and she’s only in her late fifties. They just couldn’t take care of her at home.”

Francis Dower was a little crippled-up thing, hunched over in a wheelchair. Her twisted hands lay furled in her lap. Someone had neatly parted and combed her thin hair and her glasses glinted from the sunlight coming through the window. Her room was pink and decorated with family photographs. “Do you need her to be in bed?” asked Caitlin.

“No,” said Gin, impatient for the girl to leave them.

When she did, Gin said to the woman, “You can talk while I work, if you like. If you’d prefer not to, that’s fine too.”

Francis smiled and said, “I just heard from my daughter this morning. She’s decided to go back to school and get her masters.

Gin smiled and stood behind the wheel chair. “Tell me everything,” she said. “I’ll just be doing a little calming of myself here before I begin.” And while Francis talked, Gin prepared herself then laid her hands on the woman’s head.

The next client was Sophie, a Czechoslovakian woman with lung cancer. “She hasn’t got long,” Caitlin whispered. “She’s going into hospice next week.” Gin felt tenderness towards Sophie, whose only words now were in her mother tongue.

How would she, Gin, pass on? She hoped it would be a sudden, quick thing, or if not sudden, gentle.

George Kline was next. Gin stood in his doorway and, for a moment, was confused. Did she know him? Why was the way his head was bent to the side so weirdly familiar? And why did it bring to mind a picture of scattered acorns?

“Hello,” she said as she stepped into the room. When he turned his eyes toward her, she felt another bolt of familiarity. “Do I know you somehow?” she said.

She could see that he was, or had been, a strong man, the sort who might work out in a gym. His bald head was surrounded by a soft white fringe and though his throat was stringy, he had good bone structure, so was still sort of attractive. Gin was hard on the effects of aging, especially her own.

“You look a bit familiar,” he said, “though not sure why. Maybe you knew my wife? Anna Kline? She was a teacher at Wilson High.”

“No,” said Gin, moving closer. He was sitting in a wheelchair, his leg in a cast from hip to ankle and his arm in a sling.

“What happened to you?” she said.

“I fell off my son’s deck. We were putting up the railing and the damn cell phone rang in my pants and startled me. I’m still not used to phones ringing in my pants.”

“Well,” said Gin. “I’m here to give you some reiki. It might help your bones mend faster.”

“I don’t know what reiki is,” said George. “Caitlin there just said I should have some.” He hesitated. “Maybe she meant for the cancer instead of the bones.”

Gin felt an uncalled-for stab to her heart. “What kind of cancer?”

She moved behind him and rubbed her hands together. They felt cold when they should be warm. Was she nervous?

“Prostate, but I’m not too worried about it. The doctor said it’s unlikely to be what finishes me off.”

She laid her hands on each side of his head, over his big ears.

“Where did you go to school?” George said. “Your hands are cold,” he added.

“They’ll warm up.” She paused. “I went to Montbleu Area High School. Where did you go?”

“Not there. How about junior high?”

“Same, Montbleu.” She moved her hands, now growing warm, down to his shoulders, which were nice and wide, not narrow like some old men’s.

“Hmmmm. Okay, what church did or do you go to?”

“I don’t,” she said. “I was raised Methodist but no church fits my own beliefs. I don’t like people telling me how to think.”

“Me neither,” he said.

“You forgot something,” said Gin, hands now hot. “What about primary school?”

“Cherry Tree Elementary,” he said. “From first to sixth. Didn’t do kindergarten.”

Gin threw her hands into the air. “That’s it!” she cried. “That’s where we knew each other! Didn’t you have light brown hair? Didn’t you wear your pants kind of high up? Didn’t you get in trouble for writing on the desk in Mrs. Cornish’s class?”

“Yes, except for the high up pants. I don’t know what you’re talking about, I always looked top notch.”

They laughed.

“I think I remember you now,” he said. “You had a lot of dark hair, and didn’t you throw up on your desk once?”

She sighed and moved her hands to rest one on the front of his chest where his heart was and one on his back. They had really heated up now.

“No one ever forgets if you throw up. At least I didn’t pee my pants.”

“Didn’t you drop a bunch of acorns all over the floor and they rolled everywhere? You kept them in a little box or something.”

She gasped. “Yes! And you were sitting in front of me and you helped me pick them up.”

“That was me,” he said, laughing.

“You were kind.”

They were silent for a while.

“We’re the same age,” said George. “Seventy-five.”

“Yeah,” she said, holding her breath. Why was she doing that?

“Is your husband still alive?” he asked. “I’m assuming you are or were married?”

“He’s been gone five years.”

She moved around to face him and held her hands in the air over his thighs—she didn’t do actual touching for this part. She glanced up and looked straight into his blue eyes. There was a long moment while some kind of information seemed to be exchanged.

“I plan on being around for a while,” he said. “I enjoy living too much to depart yet.”

“Me too,” she said softly.

“I won’t be in here forever,” he said.

“I thought,” said Silvie, “you said you were happy without a boyfriend. Didn’t you say that? Mommy says you’re just asking for trouble.”

Gin was in a dreamy mood. How was it possible to feel butterflies at her age? Of course she did not harbor the illusions she once did. She knew well enough that butterflies flew out the window once the man did or said something thoughtless once too often. Too, once you had the person as a permanent fixture and understood you were responsible for his safety or comfort, limerence was gone. If you were lucky, though, something much better remained.

“Did I say that?” she said. “Maybe I did. But things change, Silvie. Last year you insisted on purple everything and now you hate purple.”

“Yeah,” said Silvie thoughtfully. “But a boyfriend is more important than a color.”

Gin took a long wipe at the kitchen counter, sweeping a pile of crumbs into her hand. “I don’t know how long this will last,” she said.

Silvie nodded wisely. “Have fun while you can, Gammy,” she said before turning to dart down the hall.

Gin looked after her with surprise. Must be another quote from her mother. Silvie would be going back to school in a week, and Gin would miss her.

It was midwinter before George was up and about, not very sprightly at first. Gin helped him move back into his house, for which his son was grateful. By May they’d talked it over and decided to try living together. “After all,” explained George to anyone who showed an interest, “I’m not buying green bananas.”

He rented his house to a young couple who’d just transferred to the area and moved into Gin’s place. There were a few scuffles over personal rights at first, but they soon settled into a calm domesticity.

“No need to tie the knot,” she told family and friends. “I’d rather keep my finances the way they are.”

No one argued with her; a few thought she was nuts to even try the living together.

“Grandma, you guys don’t, like, do it, do you? I mean, that’s kind of icky, isn’t it?”

Gin had her phone headset on as she folded laundry. What did Heather mean? It was enough to hear both from her and secondhand from Silvie her negative views about men without personal insult tossed in.

“You mean,” replied Gin, “that it’s just too disgusting to imagine old people sharing love?”

“Well . . . I just meant . . .”

“What? That the thought of me naked is enough to make you hurl?”

“Not exactly,” said Heather, backpedaling. “I-I guess I was thinking about naked old men.”

“What do you know about naked old men?” asked Gin. “I need to go now.” She cut her granddaughter off.

The truth was, she and George hadn’t actually had sex yet. They “necked” and even “petted,” but Gin was afraid. She’d already seen George naked and he certainly wasn’t bad to look at. Of course his skin was somewhat mottled and in sun-exposed areas age spotted, but he had a nice, warm, still muscular, smooth body, and she found that she loved to touch him.

The problem was her own. She remembered almost verbatim a conversation between George and her a week ago. “You’re making mountains out of mole hills,” he’d said. “I don’t expect your body to be seventeen years old. I don’t even expect it to be sixty. Give me a little credit. We can do it in a pitch black room if you like. For that matter, I don’t even know if I can get it up, seeing that I haven’t had any for what now? Three years?”

“Three?” Gin snapped. “Anna’s been dead over four. Who did you sleep with?”

George hesitated, then said, “A woman you don’t know; I met her at a party. Just a couple of times. It didn’t go anywhere.”

“How old was she?”

His expression was sheepish. “Sixty-three,” he mumbled.

“Well! That’s a far cry from seventy-five! Let’s see how this hot mama looks naked when she’s my age!”

George made the mistake of guffawing. “You don’t know, you just don’t know!” Gin cried, ready to dart from the room.

He put his hand on her arm. “I love you,” he said. “I doubt that you look as bad as you imagine, but even if you look like a rhinoceros, I’ll still love you. Don’t forget I have felt you up already, so we’re not exactly strangers.”

She gave in at the beginning of June. It was awkward and involved Viagra and a lot of KY jelly, but they managed. Afterwards, she felt rejuvenated.

“My God,” she told George, “Now I know what they mean by ’Kundalini rising’!”

“I told you,” he said, pulling her closer.

George’s doctor called. “You’re sure?” Gin heard George ask from the living room, and then he went silent. “Bone marrow?” she heard him say.

The blood rushed from her head as she groped for a chair to sit down.

NO, she wanted to scream. At last she’d found someone who fitted with her like a long lost puzzle piece and now… NO.

He walked into the kitchen. “It appears I might have some form of leukemia. It’s not certain, but they want to run tests.”

“What form?” Gin squeaked. It took her three tries to get the words out.

“Not sure yet, but hopefully the slow kind.”

Shaking and weak, she clung to him. “I will love you for all eternity,” she said. She meant it.

It crossed her mind that if something happened to him, she did not care to go on.

Silvie insisted on accompanying her to the hospital to visit George. When she saw him, she petted his hand as if he were a lovable dog.

“George,” she said, “you have to get well. Gammy needs you.”

“I’m doing my best,” he said.

He seemed to have lost some weight. It broke Gin’s heart.

That evening, she returned without Sophie. She had the sense that time was flowing paranormally fast. Didn’t she open her curtains in the morning and then in what seemed like only a few minutes, close them again at night?

“George, if we play our cards right, we might last another fifteen years. That’s pretty long. We could at least get our money’s worth.”

He looked at her with such love, and she wondered why she’d found it now instead of decades before. Why now?

“They told me I have the slow kind,” he said. “I’ll be taking meds, and they’ll keep an eye on it. I want this as much as you do, Gin.”

She tried desperately to read him—his body, his energy—but could not. Had her love closed her mind to any information about him? Or was it that she was not prepared to receive that information if negative?

She shut her eyes in the prayer that now ran through her head day and night. Then she stood and drew the reiki signs on her palms and caressed his head. Just an old woman, but she called in the Universe.

Margaret Karmazin's credits include over one hundred stories published in literary and national magazines, including Rosebud, North Atlantic Review, Potomac Review, and
Mobius. Two of her stories were nominated for Pushcart awards, and Piper's Ash, Ltd. published a chapbook of her sci-fi, Cosmic Women. She helped write the introduction
for and has a story included in Still Going Strong, a story in Ten Twisted Tales, one coming up in Mota 9, and a novel, Replacing Fiona, published by
etreasurespublishing.com.

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