Today's the day. I'm going into Manhattan after lunch to see Sylvia, as close to the big day (tomorrow) as possible.
I called yesterday to let her know I was coming. She still lives in her own apartment, but now has nursing care during the day -- a mild irony, because when she played an invalid in those TV ads for the visiting nurse service those few short years ago, she had no need of their services in real life. And that was despite breaking a thigh, when a distracted young woman crossing a Manhattan street in a hurry knocked Sylvia off her feet. (She's 5 feet 2 inches and about 100 pounds -- she doesn't offer much resistance.)
Sylvia had trouble identifying me from my voice, apologetically saying more than once that she gets muddled. A day short of a hundred, she's entitled to. And I expected that. The last time I phoned, again to set up a visit, it also involved a long conversation where I tried to remind her who I was.
"It's Alan," I said, as clearly as I could.
"Alan," I practically shouted. She wasn't getting my name. What would do it? I reminded her in some desperation that we used to work together at the library and often spent time together, especially back in the days before I deserted my beloved New York City for the leafy suburbs. Then I could drop in on her, with or without children in tow (or in Baby Bjorn slings, the world's greatest invention), at home, or in her younger brother's distinguished art gallery, Davis and Langdale, on 60th Street, where she was still working as a receptionist, a relentless enthusiast for the artists who exhibited there -- she knew them well -- and for the collectors' taste shown by Roy and his wife, Cecily (the Langdale half of the partnership).
Polite, regretful, she couldn't fish me out of her memory. It would have been the first sign for me that her mind, troubled at times but always lucid, was showing the wear of the years, that the actress's remarkable memory was losing its professional sharpness.
And then something clicked. "Oh, Alan!" she cried. "How are you? How's Mary? How are the children?"
I needn't have worried. "Who did you think I was?" I asked.
"I thought you said your name was Ellen," she admitted merrily. "You sounded like a woman."
So there it was. Nothing wrong with her mind, it was just her hearing. Or perhaps my light tenor is getting lighter. Anyway, I'm not put off by the limitations of the telephone. When I get there this afternoon, she'll know me. We go way back.