Paul knocked softly on the door. Jack’s wife Myra opened it. “Is it okay if I come in?” asked Paul.
“He’s on the back patio,” she said. “He likes to sit out there and watch the sun set.”
“How are you holding up?”
“Not bad.” Myra’s face looked strained and there were dark circles under her eyes. “How was Ireland?”
Paul and his wife Sally had been to Ireland to visit their youngest son and his family. “We had a good visit. The grandkids are cute. I brought some Irish truffles for Jack.” Since Jack had been sick, Paul had brought back something for him whenever they’d gone anywhere. Jack had a sweet tooth.
“Thanks,” said Myra, taking the small box tied with a ribbon, “but he hasn’t been eating much.”
“Oh. Can I see him?”
“Yes, but he might be asleep.”
Paul went out on the patio. Jack was sitting in one of the rocking chairs. He had a blanket over his lap and a wool hat on his head, although it was late September and still warm. The hat, Paul knew, was because Jack’s hair had fallen out during the chemo. Paul couldn’t tell if Jack was sleeping. He sat down on the other rocking chair. Someone had recently mowed the back lawn and he could smell the grass. A few small birds twittered around the feeder, hung on a tree. The sky was turning pink. It was funny, their Northern California retirement community sometimes had beautiful sunsets.
“How was your trip?”
It took Paul a minute to realize Jack had spoken. “It was good. We had a nice visit.”
“Yeah, getting bigger.”
“Good.” After a silence, Jack said, “I like it out here.”
“It’s nice,” Paul said. There was silence again. Jack looked shrunken since Paul had last seen him. His face was puffy; maybe that was also from the chemo. Jack still had a way of talking out of the side of his mouth in a way that made what he said sound sardonic. Jack and Myra had moved in at about the same time as Paul and Sally. They’d gone out to meals together and played bridge together. Paul had found out that Jack was also a tennis player, a much better player than him. The other top players in the retirement community formed a clique and played only with one another, but Paul had become Jack’s tennis partner. They were a pretty good team. Once, in a tournament, they’d made it to the finals against two guys who were only in their forties. “Let’s beat these young whippersnappers,” Jack had said out of the side of his mouth, and thanks to Jack’s playing they had.
As if he’d known what Paul was thinking about, Jack said, “Still playing tennis?”
“A little,” said Paul. “The knees are going.”
“Yeah, I know how it is. Everything goes.” Jack took out a pack of cigarettes from underneath his blanket and lit one. Paul knew Myra had tried to get Jack to quit smoking. He guessed that now it didn’t make any difference.
“How was your trip?’ asked Jack once again.
“It was good. The grandkids are getting bigger.”
Jack coughed. “That’s good,” he said. He coughed again. He put out the cigarette and closed his eyes. The sun went down, the clouds turned from pink to gray and it became cooler. Somewhere Paul could hear quails calling, then a pigeon cooing. He got up, put his hand on Jack’s for a moment, then went inside, said good-bye to Myra and went home.