“He‟s no filet mignon; he‟s not even steak. He‟s chuck roast,
maybe. London Broil at best.”
This is how it began for Edmonds. It was the first thing he‟d
heard that morning after he sat down in the blue chair and looking
out the window, asked himself what the hell am I doing here? But he
knew the answer to that question: it was either get on the bus, or go
home and kill himself. The choice was that stark and simple.
The big yellow and white bus sat parked at the curb, motor
running, gray exhaust fumes puffing out its pipes. The driver leaned
against the side of the bus by the open door, smoking a cigarette and
incuriously watching the crowd. A large group of old people stood on
the sidewalk nearby waiting to board.
Earlier while walking down the street toward them, Edmonds
smiled for the first time that morning when he noticed how dressed
up all those oldies were. The women had high frozen hairdos like
spun glass that clearly indicated they‟d just been to the hairdresser.
Most of the men wore brand new shoes with no creases or scuffs on
them, dark suits or perfectly pressed sports jackets, and all of them
appeared to be wearing neckties despite the fact it was only six o‟clock
in the morning and their days of going to an office were long past.
Someone from the neighborhood had told Edmonds that once a
month a bus parked at this spot, loaded up, and then rumbled off for a
day‟s outing arranged by the town or a local senior citizen‟s club. It
took these pensioners to neighboring towns with museums or
historical sights worth visiting. Sometimes they motored into the
nearby national park, had a hike around, lunch, and then returned to
this drop off spot with some sun on their cheeks, tired legs, and the
good feeling of knowing that their cameras were full of new pictures
and the day had meant something.
Approaching this crowd now, Edmonds was hit by thick waves of warring perfumes. He could imagine every woman there spritzing
on her favorite fragrance as she prepared to leave her house earlier
this morning. Did the single women put on more perfume, hoping to
catch the attention of the available bachelors who would be on the bus?
Or was it the married gals who drenched themselves with scents so
strong that they almost physically stopped Edmonds when he was ten
feet away? Were there many single people in this group? If so, were
there more men or women? When you are 65/70/75… are you still
looking for a life partner or just a nice companion for the day?
The sight of all those dapper old timers eager to be off on their day‟s jaunt, wearing their wide neckties and thick-as-lead perfumes,
combined with the thought of actually having a partner on a trip when
you were 75 years old almost cut Edmonds in half with grief and
longing for his lost beloved wife. The impulse to go home and just do
it, end it, was ongoing and very powerful. End this unrelenting
suffering and just go to sleep forever. He had a friend who was a cop.
This guy said when done correctly, hanging yourself was the best and
most painless way to go. After a few too many beers one night, he even
demonstrated how to do it; not noticing that William Edmonds was
paying very very close attention.
Edmonds would be alone when he was 75, he was certain of it; if he even lived that long. There was the very real chance he would
contract some monstrous disease before then that, like his poor wife,
would painfully devour him from the insides before killing him.
Passing the door of the bus now, he suddenly veered hard left and climbed on. The driver saw this but said nothing. Why did
Edmonds do it? Who knows? Self- preservation, or just why-the-hell
not? Maybe a blissful unexpected moment of sudden lunacy? Who
He was the first passenger to enter the vehicle that morning.
Walking down the narrow aisle he chose an empty seat, plopped down
into it and turned to look out the window. The cold stale air in there
smelled of cigarette smoke and some kind of tangy industrial
something—cleaner? Or the synthetic cloth on the seats?
People began to appear at the front of the bus. Some of them
glanced at him as they passed; others eased themselves slowly and
carefully into seats. Many of them softly grunted or puffed while
doing it, their hands and arms shaking as they gripped seat backs or
armrests, performing the twists and turns that were necessary to
make in order to land their stiff bodies in the proper place.
Edmonds too had reached an age where he found it harder to
get into and out of chairs, cars, bathtubs, and other places where his
body needed to bend at unnatural angles in order to fit. He often
groaned unconsciously now when he sat down—either from gratitude
or weariness. Vivid signs that he was getting older and the wear and
tear of time was beginning to show itself in earnest on his body.
“He‟s no filet mignon; he‟s not even steak. He‟s chuck roast,
maybe. London Broil at best.”
A portly woman was walking down the aisle, her man right
behind talking loudly to her back. When she reached the two empty
seats directly in front of Edmonds she glanced at him, moved
sideways into the row and sat down by the window. Her husband
followed and took the other seat. You could tell by the fluid way both
of them moved that they were very used to this seating arrangement.
“I don‟t know why you think so highly of him.”
“Ssh, not so loud. The whole bus can hear you.”
Her husband half- turned, glared at Edmonds as if he were to
blame for something, and then turned back. “Okay, all right,” he
lowered his voice a tad. “But really, tell me what it is about him that
you like so much.”
The woman took her time answering. “I like how dignified he is.
I admire the way he hides his pain. It‟s very… noble. Many people who
lose their partners want you to know how hard it is for them being
alone and what they‟re going through every day. They want your pity.
But not Ken: you know how bad he‟s hurting and what a loss it was for
him. You can‟t be that close to someone all those years and not suffer
when they die. But he never shows it; never burdens you with his
Edmonds frowned. Who were they talking about? It all sounded pretty damned familiar.
The husband started to mumble something but she cut him off
with an abrupt, “Ssh—he‟s coming. He just got on.”
Edmonds looked up and saw a nondescript old man moving
slowly down the aisle towards them. On reaching the couple, he
stopped and smiled. “Good morning, you two. Are you ready for a
“Good morning, Ken. Yes, we‟re ready to go.”
Ken smiled and moved on.
A few minutes later Edmonds turned and looked for the old
man. He was sitting alone reading a newspaper on the long bench seat
at the very back of the bus. Edmonds stood up, walked to the end of
the aisle and sat down next to him.
“Do you mind?”
“Not at all; it‟ll be nice to have some company on this ride. I‟m
Ken Alford.” He extended his right hand.
“William Edmonds.” Both men gave a good strong shake.
“Is it Bill or William?”
“Either-- it doesn‟t matter.”
“Okay Bill. Would you like some breakfast?” Out of his coat
pockets Ken pulled a cheese Danish wrapped in glistening plastic and
a small red and white carton of chocolate milk. Edmonds gestured
thanks but no thanks. Ken nodded, opened the milk and took a swig.
Carefully capping it again he put it back into his pocket. With his teeth
he tore open the plastic around the pastry and took a big bite. You
could tell he really liked what he was eating because he kept closing
his eyes and making mmh-mmh! sounds deep in his throat.
Edmonds liked that. Ken looked and sounded like one of those
people on a TV commercial loving some new breakfast food or
chocolate bar that was being promoted.
“This is the first time I‟ve seen you on here, Bill.”
“Yes, it‟s my first trip.”
“Well, some of them are good and some are stupid, but there‟s
always a part that‟s worth it.”
A few moments later the front door hissed shut and the bus
pulled away from the curb.
“I lost my wife last Christmas and that‟s when I started going on
them. She didn‟t like to travel much, not even day trips, so we stayed
pretty close to home. Then when she got sick…” Ken‟s voice remained steady and unemotional.
In contrast, Edmonds couldn‟t talk about his dead wife without
tearing up or his voice catching in his throat.
“Are you married, Bill?”
Edmonds looked at his hands. “My wife died too. Recently.”
“Ahh, that‟s tough. I‟m sorry to hear it.” But Ken didn‟t sound
sorry at all—if anything he sounded sort of… buoyant. “Hold on—I
want to show you something.” Stuffing the rest of the pastry into his
mouth, he brushed off his hands and reached into another pocket.
This time he brought out a very sleek, quite beautiful folding knife.
“Look at this-- It‟s my Vedran Corluka.” He held it out for the other
man to take, but Edmonds only stared at him.
“Why do you call it that? Vedran Corluka is a professional
Ken nodded and snapped his fingers. “Right! You‟re a soccer fan
too. Excellent. Yes, he plays for the Croatian national team. But I call
it that for a reason. This was the last Christmas present my wife gave
me. I like pocketknives; I have a collection. But this one—well, you can
see how specially nice it is. Victoria had it custom made for me by a
guy in Montana. I liked it a lot when I got it, but only after she died did
I really start paying attention to it.”
“Paying attention? What do you mean?”
“I went a little crazy after my wife died, Bill. We were married
thirty-seven years and most of them were damned good. Did you have
a good marriage?”
“Then you know what I mean. Vedran Corluka was her favorite
player. She didn‟t know beans about soccer, but she liked his name.
She liked to say it. Whenever I was watching a game on TV, she always
came in and asked if Vedran Corluka was playing.
“So that‟s why I gave this knife his name. It was her last present
and he was her favorite player. I always carry it now. When I get
really down, I just grip it tight in my pocket and that usually makes
me feel a little better. It makes some of the sadness go away.”
“That‟s a nice story. Can I see it?” Edmonds took the knife and
examined it closely. It really was a beautiful object, but he was
distracted because of what Ken was saying now.
“We don‟t pay enough attention to things. We know that, but we
still don‟t do it. Only after something‟s over, or someone‟s dead, or it‟s
lost, or it‟s too late do we realize we‟ve been speed reading life or
people and missing the details.
“After my Victoria died, I decided to go over everything I could—
the things we owned, the memories I had of her, the memories other
people had of her… stuff like that. But this time I gave it every bit of my attention. You know, like re-viewed it 100% like never before. It made such a difference!
“I can‟t be with my wife any longer because she‟s gone. But I can
know her better than before-- when she was alive. Whenever I pay
really close attention to the details, then I learn more about her all the
time. I discover things I never knew or even thought about. It puts the
woman in a whole new light—like in a way I‟m just meeting her for the
“Sure it‟s a substitute for the real thing but it‟s all I‟ve got left of
her, Bill. It‟s the best I can do.” Ken took the knife out of Edmonds‟
hands and said, “A couple of months ago I wrote to the knife maker
and asked if he had kept my wife‟s letter ordering this. He returned it
to me and I have it framed above my desk at home.
“See how beautifully the blade is carved? It‟s got perfect balance
too. That kind of work has to be done by hand. All the best things in
life are handmade, Bill: Knife blades, bread, clothes, loving
When Edmonds got home that afternoon he sat down on the
couch in the living room while still in his coat and looked around at
the place. Where was his Vedran? What could he carry in his pocket
and always feel his wife‟s presence through it?
What was the last present she had given him before she died? And what was the last one he had given her? Ashamed, he could not
remember either gift. But was that really important? If you live
together with someone for six thousand days so much is shared—does
it matter if you can‟t remember every little thing?
With this in mind, Edmonds walked around their apartment.
When he saw something unfamiliar—a book, a porcelain figure, a knickknack-- he picked it up and tried not put it down again until he
could recall where the object came from, who had bought or given it,
the circumstances, and why it came to become part of their lives.
There were many things—the wooden nutcracker from the New
York flea market, the ball made of hematite her sister had given them,
and the elephant carved out of amber that he‟d brought his wife from
Poland. Had she liked it? Distraught, he couldn‟t remember. It was
kind of a kitschy thing but nice too. He stared at the small tawny
animal while trying to remember the details, any details about the day
he had given it to her or what she‟d said about it. But he could not
remember even one thing and it was mortifying.
There were so many blanks; his memory of their life together was full of black holes. He reviled himself for having forgotten so
much about his wife and their time together. How could that be? How
could he have been so careless? How could he have let so many
evocative particulars slip through the cracks? Memories of a good life
shared were the only real treasure time permitted you to keep.
And what a personal insult to her! He lived in an apartment furnished with belongings that had decorated and enhanced their
days. But now he couldn‟t remember where too many of them came
from or why they were even there.
Humbled and appalled, Edmonds moved around his home the next days like a tourist visiting a famous museum for the first time,
only his guidebook was his flawed memories. Whenever he drew a
blank looking at something, he studied the various objects until either
their significance emerged, or he realized his recollection of them was
dead forever. He moved those „dead‟ items to one corner of the living
room and tried to avoid looking at them because every time he did, he
despaired. He planned to move them all into a closet and not think
about them until he had sorted through what he did know.
When a week had passed, a whole week, he called Ken Alford and asked one question. The two men had had a nice day on the bus
hanging around together and talking about their lives. At the end of it
they had exchanged telephone numbers. Now after Alford answered
the phone, Edmonds identified himself and got right to the point.
“Ken, what if I can‟t find my Vedran? What if there‟s not one single
thing I can hold onto and feel better because I know she‟s in it?”
“Oh it‟s there, Bill. Somewhere in your apartment, or your life,
or your head, it‟s there. You just haven‟t found it yet.” The old man‟s
voice sounded amused and confident.
Edmonds lowered his head to his chest and pressed the receiver
tightly to his ear. “But just the opposite‟s been happening, Ken: the
more I look for it, the more I discover that I don‟t remember. I don‟t
remember so much… It‟s terrible. It feels like whole chunks of my brain have been cut out. In my own home, things I neither recognize
nor remember surround me. But they were all part of our life
together!” Edmonds heard his voice at the end of the sentence and it
sounded scared. He was scared.
Alford was silent a while but finally said, “Maybe the first half of
life is meant for living, and the second half is for remembering-- or
trying to. When you consider it that way, both of us were wrong to
waste time missing our wives after they died. Because mourning does
no good: it only makes you feel helpless and lost.
“What we should do instead is try to remember and then savor whatever details we‟re able to dredge up from our past. That‟s
possible and each time you do it, you feel good because it brings
something more of them back to you; like you‟re rebuilding them
from scratch.” Ken suddenly laughed. “It‟s a little bit like you‟re
making your own Frankenstein version of your wife out of what you
remember about her.” He chuckled again and then went on. “I‟m
being facetious but you know what I mean. It‟s one of the reasons why
I always keep the knife in my pocket— touching it reminds me to stop
regretting and keep trying to remember.”
While listening to the other man speak, Edmonds held the
amber elephant and turned it over and over in his hand. He wanted it
to speak to him too. He wanted it to recount exactly what happened
the day he gave it to his wife. What had she said? What was she was
10 wearing? As Ken Alford talked, Edmonds closed his fingers around
the elephant and silently mouthed the words “Tell me.”