Goose Chronicles Note – Robert is currently suffering from late stage Alzheimer’s disease. All of the details for this story were provided by Robert’s wife, Rita.
The November sun hung low on the horizon. It was morning still and there was a slight chill in the air. Robert hugged his arms to his chest, adjusted his glasses and looked at his watch: 9:45.
The bus from Bayside to the Long Island Railroad station was late, but if it got to the station in the next five minutes he’d catch the 10:26 into Penn Station. Still plenty of time to get to Mary’s for lunch.
His task today was seemingly simple, but seemingly simple tasks were not always so easy for Robert. Life, it seemed, had never been simple. He’d been born five months early in 1934, weighing 2.5 pounds at a time when hospitals didn't know what to with 2.5 pound babies. His family took him to a neonatal intensive-care unit in New Jersey. The treatment was better but even the specialists at that hospital didn't know the dangers that oxygen and bright lights posed to a newborn child. He would survive, but the five months of treatment would leave him legally blind and he’d spend the rest of his life wearing thick glasses.
Robert adjusted his glasses, squinted his eyes and saw the Q24 bus appear on the horizon. The bus pulled to the curb and Robert boarded, sat in the first seat behind the driver and peered out of the window. Despite his ocular affliction he'd crossed off all the major milestones of adolescence: he graduated from high school and college. Just about the only things he couldn't do was play contact sports and drive. As he looked out the window he smiled at the irony – the man who hadn't driven a day in his life had the best sense of direction of anyone he knew. As a youngster, going to the restaurants and bars in Brooklyn, he'd always been the one in the passenger seat navigating.
The bus made it to the Long Island Rail Road in time and he boarded the 10:26 train to Penn Station. The conductor, a middle-aged blonde woman, smiled at Robert when she punched his ticket. She saw him once a month and knew what he was up to. She could tell he was a kind man. A gentle man. Compassionate people seemed hard to come by these days.
“Have a good one.” She said. “Say hi to Mary.”
From Penn Station he could have taken the ACE or 123 train but instead elected to walk, he liked to walk. The loss of eyesight had been a curse, but he'd been given the gift of a strong body as a result.
Even in his sixth decade on earth his legs were strong and lean, accustomed to walking more than three miles a day.
At Ben's deli he ordered Mary's favorite: pastrami on rye, extra brown mustard, celery soda and a pickle. He boarded the Q subway towards Coney Island. On the weekends the subway would run local and the ride to Sheepshead Bay would take nearly an hour, but Mary was too old to make the trip herself and he worked on the weekdays so there was no other option.
He looked out the window as the subway coursed south towards Coney Island. He’d been born, raised and operated his garment business in Brooklyn. Queens was his home now, but the fabric of his persona had been weaved in Brooklyn. He rested his head back and let the copacetic roll and vibrations of the subway lull him to sleep.
Mary lived alone in the apartment. She’d been Robert’s mother’s best friend until his mother died at the age of 95. After his mother passed away Robert felt it was his duty to take care of Mary. His parents always told him that family was the most important thing in life. After his sister moved to San Francisco, changed her name from Susan Goldman to Shama Beach and became one of the original flower children, there was no one left to care for Mary.
Mary opened the door and hugged Robert tightly around his neck. “My boy!”
“Hungry?” He asked as he walked into the kitchen and placed the bag of food on the table.
Mary pulled a chair to the table. “You know you don’t have to keep doing this!”
“I want to.”
“But you can’t drive! It must take you forever to get here!” Mary said sitting at the table and taking the food out of the bag. “And you still have to get home!”
“It’s no problem at all.” Robert said, smiling in his quiet, confident way. “Let’s eat.”