I’m not sure when the old man and I silently agreed that inane middle-aged conversation was acceptable now. It was probably another one of those telepathic, marital communications that we couldn’t verbalise due to the shame, but one day it was suddenly okay to talk about gibberish – about stuff like the weather or what the dentist said, or the cost of milk.
Like many of the symptoms of ageing, inane conversation creeps up on the best of us, and our situation is more dangerous than most because we work together from home, and there are only so many intelligent conversations you can have when you get caught in the kitchen making toast in between meals.
Today, we did the food shop together, (because obviously we haven’t spent enough time together this week), and when we noticed that our supermarket is changing the position of its entry barriers, our dwindling middle-aged brains went into lock down and we couldn’t help ourselves.
‘Well, it’s about time they did that,’ I said, trying to sound cheerful about this latest progress in our community in an attempt to disguise my innate middle-aged fear of change. ‘I can’t tell you how many times I nearly scraped the car on those old barriers.’
‘I know, right?’ nodded the old man in agreement, ‘I can’t believe they didn’t think it about it before. I wonder where you exit from now?’ he added, seriously.
There it was, another inane conversation, and suddenly aware, we looked at each other with embarrassment and sealed our lips lest we say another condemning word.
As the old man pointed out, though, if we actually knew any people in our suburb, the topic of the new barriers would make for wonderful dinner-party discussion – one that I imagine could go on for most of the evening.
‘I can’t believe you wore flip flops on a rainy day again,’ I commented later, as we were leaving the supermarket and I watched the old man carefully navigate the wet steps down to the car park. ‘Don’t you ever learn?’
I was referring, of course, to that time, a year or so ago, when he slipped down some wet steps in the rain in his flip flops, and cracked two ribs. He then took the problem to building management who hastily installed some ‘Slippery When Wet’ signs – before the old geezer in 308 sued them – which he would nod at approvingly each time we walked past them.
‘At least these have some grip on them…’he replied, before he stopped himself short, looked at me guiltily and pursed his lips.
When does it happen, this swift descent down the luge to old age? When did we start doing and saying all those things we used to ridicule our parents and old people on the bus for? When did I start caring about the garden? When did the old man decide that growing grass from seed was a good idea?
We are educated, intelligent human beings who used to know and have the confidence in our relationship to keep schtum unless we had something interesting to say – something that was worth sharing. When did we start feeling the need to fill in the gaps? Is it fear of loneliness? Does it give us some hidden comfort now to share our every thought or is it simply that we’ve lost the mental ability to filter out the shit?