CLAUDE AND MAUD | CHRISTINE M. DU BOIS

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Their obituaries attracted a lot of attention, which says a lot in a world where it’s hard to get people to notice—especially because; in most ways; they were just two ordinary oldsters.

But in one way, they were exceptional—which, it turned out, was their joy, their downfall, and the source of their posthumous fame.

They were in their nineties and ridiculously in love.  More people are in love in their nineties than people suspect, but the love between these two was truly over the top.  Most of the time their personal equipment didn’t fully work, but still, at home they could hardly keep their pants zipped up.  At their ages, they’d already been a bit forgetful about appointments and such, but now they were distracted teenagers too.  They didn’t have it in them to concentrate on anything useful!  They spent vast amounts of time cooing to each other, holding hands, and telling each other years and years’ worth of stories from their past lives. 

They’d been sweethearts in high school and then he’d moved away, and they’d lost touch, and they hadn’t reconnected until many decades later, serendipitously discovering each other at their retirement community.  Neither knew that the other had secretly carried a torch for the other, off and on, for all those years.  They’d both had good lives with other people, of course with ups and downs, but basically good—and between them they’d raised a handful of reasonably happy, responsible children.  But all along, underneath the blurs of activity—joys, losses, struggles, solutions—somewhere, tucked away, were always little thoughts of each other:  I wonder where she is. I wonder if he’s married. She’d really enjoy this sunset. I bet he’d love this song…

Then they found each other.  She moved into his apartment within a month.  They managed to seem quite in love but otherwise normal in the community dining hall and at the bridge and bingo games.  In phone calls, they told their children and grandchildren PG-13 versions of their new life together, and everyone thought they were just so, so cute.

But when they were alone in the apartment, they had a hard time having ordinary conversations.   He’d ask something like, ‘Do you want me to ask Maria’—an aide who came to help them three times a week—‘to pick up the dry cleaning on Tuesday?’  And she would think, ‘Claude is speaking to me.  That’s his actual voice.  He’s right here in this room with me, his sweet smell, his crinkly eyes, that gentle way he spreads his arms open a little when he’s talking.  It’s Claude!’  And she would melt onto the couch in exhaustingly wondrous, jubilant disbelief.  And he would come scoop her into his arms on the couch, completely forgetting the dry cleaning.  He didn’t just forget about their dry cleaning:  he forgot that dry cleaning is even a thing.  And they would hold each other and laugh and talk and sing and caress, their minds fainting into the spiked butter-caramel of their love.  They were utterly intoxicated.

Fortunately, they did remember to eat.  They had lunch and dinner in the dining hall because they weren’t up to doing a lot of cooking.  But they made a point of having breakfast and snacks at home because it was so fun to feed each other, spoonful by spoonful, sensuously, giggling the whole time—especially when his shaky hands sometimes missed her mouth, lightly smearing her cheeks with scrambled eggs or apple sauce.  Unfortunately, they often forgot to put foods back in the fridge, and then after they did put them away, they didn’t remember to monitor their leftovers for molds or bacteria or parasites.  And it didn’t occur to them to ask Maria if she could help clean out the fridge.  What occurred to them, always, was to lean into each other for another kiss.

One night they were playing around in the kitchen, grabbing each others’ wrinkled old body parts and dancing lightly to an oldies radio station, when they got the idea to make an elaborate smoothie together.  Teasingly, they dared each other to add all kinds of ingredients—they had an extra-large blender that encouraged creativity.

Maybe it was the week-old watermelon they put in it, or the vanilla pudding that had sat out for most of a day, or the spinach they added (without remembering to wash it) in order to give the smoothie more nutrition:  no one is sure just what made them so sick.

But something did them in.  Poor Maria—first she saw the blender in the kitchen sink, smelling sour from sitting there for over a day.  Then she found the two of them deceased in their bed, arms and legs wrapped around each other, splattered with each other’s vomit.  The beatific expressions on their faces said it all:  this was, unquestionably, the best, most ecstatic vomiting they’d ever known. 

Their obituaries each mentioned this apotheosis:  Elderly couple dies from blissful romance incompatible with practical life.  And to everyone, including them, that seemed just right.

CHRISTINE M. DU BOIS is an anthropologist of immigration, race relations, and food cultures, and also a precinct Judge of Elections near Philadelphia. She has published three non-fiction books, Images of West Indian Immigrants in Mass Media (LFB Scholarly, 2004), The World of Soy (University of IL Press, 2008), and The Story of Soy (Reaktion Press, 2018).  Her poems appear at BourgeonOnline.com, the blog of Prospectus magazine, PonderSavant.com, the CAW Anthology, Pif Magazine, Central Texas Writers and Beyond 2021, Open Door Magazine, Tell Tale Inklings, Valiant Scribe’s Vultures & Doves, Words for the Earth – A Poetry Project of the Red Penguin Press, the BeZine, Visitant literary magazine, Last Leaves magazine, and The Dope Fiend Daily.  Poems are forthcoming in Psychological Perspectives, the Canary Literary Magazine, and in two anthologies from the Ravens Quoth Press.  This is her first published short story.

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