當熱水變冷

外公用居家生活的智慧,闡釋變老和幸福一生的祕訣 Kitsana Dounglomchan◎撰

0
6
Photograph by THE VOORHES

我問外公老了以後是什麼滋味,他仔細思索這個問題;那時我們坐在他的書房裏,俯視着的正是我年幼時拔雜草的院子。

時間才剛傍晚,但外公穿着睡褲、拖鞋和厚厚的法蘭絨襯衫。他面容消瘦,曾經緊繃的肌肉如今鬆垮地垂在骨架上,身前的木書桌上擺着一杯紅茶。外公喝了大半輩子的咖啡,直到幾年前因咖啡傷胃才改為喝茶。

外公的心神忽明忽暗,就像放大鏡下陰天的光束。不過在天氣好的時候,就像今天這樣的日子裏,雲朵會暫時散去,陽光會再度燦爛。

他望向書房的窗外,凝視着後院。院子這幾年來逐漸破敗,外公不再有精力維持它昔日的璀燦。他打造的魚池上方垂滿枝條,池面上覆着一層綠色水藻。貫穿花園的磚塊小徑四處冒出了雜草。懸掛在枝頭空空如也的餵鳥器,了無生氣地晃盪着。

小學放暑假的時候,我和外公會花許多時間在後院幹活。我們在午後幾近日正當中的時刻開始動工,外公會頭戴奧克蘭消防隊棒球帽,身穿褪色牛仔褲和白色T恤。那時候他身體強壯得一如水手,不知何者謂疲憊。

我主要的工作是除草巡邏。那是因為外公執行的是迷人的工作,也就是在不斷擴大的後院翻鬆肥沃的加州土壤,種下新的作物。他用金屬支架栽植番茄,在地裏種下草莓、萵苣和蘿蔔,當作物成熟可以採摘時,他就送進外婆的廚房,準備做成料理。

外公是藝術家,庭院和花園是他的畫布,花朵和植物是他的調色盤。他總是四肢伏地,砥礪他的作品,牛仔褲的兩膝都染成了褐色。

到了一日將盡的傍晚時分,空氣會變得清爽又涼快。收工前,我和外公會就着屋旁的水管清洗一番,順便喝點水。外公會把水龍頭轉一兩下,鬆垮的水管便硬了起來,他會把手放在水管下方,讓水靜靜流入掌心,掬水而飲,一口一口喝下止渴。

我試着學他,手指卻老併不攏,水遂從指縫間流下,白白滴落在地。

不過進屋前,我們會把魚池旁的餵鳥器給裝滿。我會去車庫找裝種子的袋子,裏頭混着葵花子、碎玉米和小米。我們會一道走進花園,沿磚塊小徑漫步到掛餵鳥器的樹前,外公會打開屋頂狀的木頭蓋子,撐着我腋下把我舉高。然後我把種子倒進餵鳥器裏,鞋子在他大腿旁擺盪。

外公啜了一口紅茶,還在沉思我那關於變老的問題。他的視線一直沒從窗戶移開,卻問了我一個問題。「你有沒有在沖澡時遇過熱水變冷?」

我跟他說我有。

「那就是變老的感覺。」他說,「人生開始的時候就像是在沖熱水澡,起初水太燙,但等你習慣了那熱度後,就會開始享受。年輕時你以為永遠都會像那樣,就這樣過了好一段人生。」

外公對我露出惡作劇的笑容,並向我靠來。「而且如果你運氣好,」他小聲說道,音量小到剛好外婆聽不見,「會有幾個漂亮女人進來和你一起沖澡,一直到你決定安定下來。」

我們倆都笑了起來。他往後靠向椅背,望向窗外繼續說下去。

「可是等你到了四、五十歲左右,就會開始感覺水溫下降,儘管微乎其微,幾乎難以察覺,但你就是知道事情發生了,也知道那代表什麼意思。你會假裝沒有感覺,還把水龍頭轉大一點好保持熱度。但是水依舊不夠熱。終於有一天,你會發現水龍頭已經轉到底了,從此以後水溫一路下降,你逐漸感到溫度離你而去。」

外公清清喉嚨,從法蘭絨襯衫口袋裏拉出一條有汙漬的手帕。他擤了擤鼻子,把手帕揉成一團收起來。

「說實話,那感覺相當無助。」他接着說道,「水依舊令人舒服,但你知道它很快就會變冷,而你束手無策。我認識幾個人決定按自己的時程離開淋浴間,他們知道水溫永遠不可能再回暖,何必拖延無可迴避的結局?我還能待在裏面,是因為藉着回憶年輕時沖澡的感覺來滿足自己。我過了美滿的一生,但我還是希望當初別把青春視為理所當然。現在已經來不及了,而且不論我多麼努力,永遠不可能再轉出熱水來。」

外公用他那雙見過世間九十一個寒暑的眼睛繼續望向窗外。那雙眼睛經歷了一九三○年代的經濟大蕭條,撐過一九四○年代的太平洋戰爭,見證了三個子女、五個孫子女和七個曾孫子女的誕生。

我告訴自己,他的確過了美滿的一生。

當晚吃過晚餐之後,我驅車到家得寶家居用品店買了一袋鳥飼料,回到外公家;我在車道上停好車,從車裏把飼料拿出來。我打開車庫的門,找到一個塑膠桶,把桶子清空後拿到後院,現在只有我一人。夕陽西下,暮光轉為夜色,但我循着已經磨平的磚塊小徑走向魚池,沿路拔除任何觸目所及的雜草。當走到小徑盡頭,我放下桶子和種子袋,取下掛在樹枝上的餵鳥器。我把袋子撕開一個小孔,將種子倒進餵鳥器,裝滿之後蓋好上蓋,把餵鳥器掛回樹枝上。

我離開後院,把桶子裏的雜草倒進垃圾筒,再把種子袋放進車庫。我進了屋子,興沖沖地想告訴外公方才我做了什麼,可是客廳裏一片漆黑。接着,我看到電視的亮光在牆上閃爍,外公在安樂椅上躺平了,毯子蓋在腿上,眼皮闔上。

我在他身旁的椅子上坐下,他雙手交握,擱在肚子上,像是一尊佛像,胸膛非常輕微地起伏。我本想喚醒他,但還是決定不打擾他睡眠,那很快就會變成長眠的睡眠。

我希望他會做年輕時代的夢,記起過去歲月的溫暖,那熱水還未變冷前的歲月。


When the Water Ran Cold

by Kitsana Dounglomchan
from Medium.com

I ask my grandpa what it feels like to grow old. He ponders this question while we sit in his office overlooking the yard, the same yard I pulled weeds in when I was a boy.

It is late in the afternoon, but Grandpa is wearing pajama bottoms, slippers, and a thick flannel shirt. His face is withered, his once taut flesh sagging loosely from his bones. A cup of black tea rests on the wooden desk in front of him. Grandpa drank coffee most of his life but switched to tea a few years back, when coffee became too hard on his stomach.

Grandpa’s mind brightens and dims like a beam of light under­neath a magnifying glass on a cloudy day. But on good days, on days like this one, there’s a break in the clouds and the sun shines through again.

He gazes out the office window and looks at his yard, which has gone into a state of decline in recent years. Grandpa no longer possesses the energy to maintain its once magnificent splendor. Tree branches droop over the fishpond he built, the pond’s surface covered with a layer of green algae. Weeds sprout around the brick path weaving through the garden. An empty bird feeder dangles lifelessly from a tree limb.

Grandpa and I spent many hours during my summer vacations from elementary school working in the yard. We started in the afternoon when the sun was near its zenith. Grandpa would don an Oakland Fire Department baseball cap, faded blue jeans, and a white T-shirt. Back then, he was a tireless man with a burly body like a sailor.

My main job was weed patrol, because Grandpa performed the glamorous work, excavating the rich California soil for a new addition to his ever-­expanding yard. He grew tomatoes on metal stakes and planted strawberries, lettuce, and radishes in the ground. And when they were ripe for picking, he’d bring them inside to Grandma’s kitchen so they could be prepared.

Grandpa was an artist. The yard and garden were his canvases, the flowers and plants his palette of paints. He was constantly bent over on all fours honing his art, the knees of his jeans stained brown.

At the end of the day, in the early evening, the air would become crisp and cool. Before calling it quits, Grandpa and I would wash up and get a drink of water at the hose on the side of the house. Grandpa would give the T‑handle on the spigot a turn or two. The limp hose would stiffen, and then he’d cup his hand underneath the hose, the water pooling tranquilly in his palm. He’d lift his hand to his mouth and drink, quenching his thirst with each sup.

I tried imitating him but could never clench my fingers tight enough, and the water would slip through the slits of my fingers and dribble wastefully to the ground.

But before going inside, we’d fill up the bird feeder next to the pond. I’d go to the garage and find the seed bag, a blend of sunflowers, cracked corn, and millet. We’d walk into the garden, sauntering along the brick path to where the bird feeder hung from the tree. Grandpa would remove the top of the feeder — a wooden ­rooftop —­  and lift me by my armpits. Then I’d pour the seed into the feeder, my shoes dangling near his thighs.

Grandpa takes a sip of his black tea, still pondering my question on aging. And without ever taking his eyes from the window, he asks me a question. “Have you ever been in a hot shower when the water ran cold?”

I tell him I have.

“That’s what aging feels like,” he says. “In the beginning of your life, it’s like you’re taking a hot shower. At first the water is too warm, but you get used to the heat and begin enjoying it. When you’re young, you think it’s going to be this way forever. Life goes on like this for a while.”

Grandpa gives me a mischievous grin and leans toward me. “And if you’re lucky,” he whispers, just out of Grandma’s earshot, “a few good-looking women will join you in the shower until you decide to settle down.”

We both laugh. He leans back in his chair, looks out the window, and continues on.

“But you begin to feel it somewhere between your 40s and 50s. The water temperature drops just the slightest bit. It’s almost imperceptible, but you know it happened, and you know what it means. You try to pretend like you didn’t feel it, but you still turn the faucet up to stay warm. But the water keeps going lukewarm. One day you realize the faucet can’t go any farther, and from here on out the temperature begins to drop — you gradually feel the warmth leaving your body.”

Grandpa clears his throat and pulls a stained handkerchief from his flannel shirt pocket. He blows his nose, balls up the handkerchief, and puts it away.

“It’s a rather helpless feeling, truth told,” he continues. “The water is still pleasant, but you know it’ll soon become cold and there’s nothing you can do. I knew a few people who decided to leave the shower on their own terms. They knew it was never going to get warmer, so why prolong the inevitable? I was able to stay in because I contented myself recalling the showers of my youth. I lived a good life but still wish I hadn’t taken my younger years for granted. It’s too late now, and no matter how hard I try, I’ll never get the hot water on again.”

Grandpa keeps looking out the window with those eyes that have seen 91 years on this earth. Those eyes that endured the Great Depression in the ’30s, those eyes that survived the Pacific Ocean in the ’40s, those eyes that witnessed the birth of his three children, five grand­children, and seven great-grandchildren.

He has indeed lived a good life, I say to myself.

Later on that day, after dinner, I drive down to Home Depot and buy a bag of birdseed. I come back to the house, park in the driveway, and take the bag of seed out of the car. I open the garage door and find a plastic bucket. I empty the bucket and take it out to the yard, walking alone now. The sun is setting, the twilight changing into night, but I follow the well-worn brick path leading out to the pond, pulling any weeds I spot along the way. When I come to the end of the path, I set the bucket and seed bag down and lift the bird feeder from the tree limb. I tear a tiny hole in the bag and pour the seed into the feeder. After it’s full, I replace the rooftop and hang the feeder back on the tree limb.

I leave the yard. I dump the bucket of weeds in the trash and set the bag of seed inside the garage. I go inside, excited to tell Grandpa about what I’ve done. But the living room is already dark. I then notice the glow of the television bouncing off the walls and see Grandpa reclined all the way back in his easy chair. A blanket is draped across his legs; his eyelids are closed.

I sit down in the chair next to him. His hands are interlaced across his stomach like a Buddhist statue, his chest rising and falling ever so faintly. I think about waking him up but decide not to disturb his sleep, a sleep which will soon last forever.

I hope he is dreaming the dreams of his youth, remembering the warmth of days gone by, the days before the water ran cold.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here