Feels vulnerable today. Did yesterday, too. Tomorrow he’ll probably also feel vulnerable. No, he will, definitely; doesn’t go away so fast. Doesn’t know where it comes from. Knows the symptoms though. When he’s outside, walking to the mailbox, let’s say, he walks with his head down, eyes on the driveway. When he gets there and a car passes, he turns away from the road. Doesn’t want to see anybody. Feels weak, too. Maybe that’s the reason or a result of it. Stuff he used to do and liked doing—trimming trees, raking leaves—he can’t do as quickly anymore and gets tired faster than before. Meaning…meaning what? That’s another thing. His mind. Isn’t what it used to be. It’s just not as fast. He doesn’t articulate well what he wants to say. Which is another thing. He was never glib or articulate or succinct. But now it’s worse. He even stutters sometimes, something he hasn’t done since he was a kid, when he stuttered for years. When even his pediatrician would say to him during his annual exam “M-M-Meyer st-st-still c-c-can’t st-st-stop st-st-st—stuttering, r-r-right?” probably thinking it’d make him self-conscious of it and get him to stop. Till once after he said it, Meyer, who’d stopped stuttering sometime before—he didn’t know when or how; he just knows he was in the backseat of their car, heading to the country, and realized he wasn’t stuttering anymore—said, “Dr. Baron, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Could you speak more clearly?” For a while a good story for laughs in the family. His mother even brought it up when she was around ninety, after not mentioning it for what could be fifty or sixty years. “I don’t know why I just thought of this, but do you remember your pediatrician Dr. Baron and how he used to kid you?” “You mean with his st-st-stuttering r-r-remarks?” She laughed and said, “It was wrong for him to do that, of course, and I should have said something. But it doesn’t seem to have done any harm.” But where was he? That’s another thing. Gets off the track, or whatever the expression is. Loses what he started out saying and also can’t remember the right words and expressions. And his looks. His neck. It’s gotten like an old man’s. That’s the best way to put it, or will have to do for now, since he doesn’t think he’d be able to describe it more clearly, or just better. But his looks shouldn’t bother him. After all, he’s getting old, so what of it? But he just doesn’t look…he means, he just doesn’t like the way he looks, and hasn’t for about a year. He looks tired, haggard, gaunt, withdrawn. Not “withdrawn,” but something. Anyway, everything like that’s been making him feel vulnerable. Something—a sound behind him, which could be as soft as a pinecone dropping from a tree onto his carport—and he jumps. Scared. He was almost never like that: jumpy, scared. Now he doesn’t feel like he can fight off an attacker, or something jumping at him, like a dog. Doesn’t think his reflexes are quick enough anymore—they’re not, so say so—for him to dart out of the way or swipe at whatever’s attacking him before it hits or bites him. Okay, exaggerated examples—attackers, dogs—but what he’s saying, and he’s trying as hard as he can to be concise and clear, is that all this makes him feel vulnerable. Makes him vulnerable. Both, and which he knows he’s said, but maybe that’s the only way to get the point across. Pains in his stomach. Probably just from the last night’s drinking, but he gets worried. Thinks: he’s at the age where guys get stomach cancer, liver or pancreatic cancer, or some other serious diseases there. Pains in his chest: thinks it’s a heart attack or warning of one. Runs down his driveway to get the newspapers left there, and his legs hurt; they never did for so short a run. What’s it mean? If it isn’t arthritis or the sciatica he sometimes gets, he doesn’t know. Other things. He forgets what. Of course his eyesight, which has been getting worse for years, and now the early stages of glaucoma, or whatever the other one is, where he has trouble driving at night because of the other cars’ headlights, and his hair, which in the last year he’s lost all of what was left on top and the rest had gone from gray to almost white. But this isn’t the first time in the last few months he’s had these thoughts about his vulnerability. There! A good complete thought—articulately thought, if that can be an expression. Anyway…anyway, what? Just anyway, anyway, anyway, he isn’t—but don’t say it, but he wants to say it and can’t think of any other way to say it, so he’ll say it—the man—the person—the human being he was a year ago. He feels he’s fading, body and brain fading, and because he feels this way…oh, enough. He just wants to get in bed, under a blanket, nap, forget everything while he naps. But he has to go to work. He gathers his things, puts on his shoes and jacket and says to his wife, “Well, I gotta go. It’s getting late and I hate being late for class.” “Of course,” she says. “But you feeling all right?” “No,” he says. “I’m feeling vulnerable. Have I ever admitted that to you before? No. Very vulnerable.” “Why?” “I’m not sure. Or I don’t know. One or the other. But I haven’t time to go into it,” and kisses her and goes. “My keys,” he says in the car. “And my wallet. What the hell’s wrong with me?” And goes back and says, “Can you believe it?” “You forgot your keys,” she says. “Not only my keys but my wallet. Keys I would’ve known about before I left because I couldn’t leave without them, right?” “You mean, ‘couldn’t start the car?’” “Right. That’s what I meant. But my wallet. I would’ve been halfway to school, or got there, or even in the classroom, and discovered I didn’t have my wallet, and would’ve thought, not that I forgot it, but that I lost it along the way. If I was still in the car, I would’ve stopped, looked for it, and then driven back to get it and been a good twenty minutes late for class. But if I was in my class, I would’ve given the kids a ten-minute break and retraced my steps from the classroom to the car and not found the wallet.” “Then you would call me, wouldn’t you? Or done that first and asked if it was where you always leave it, on the shelf above the stove.” “Right. But would I have thought to do that? I would’ve worried. Because I’m so damn vulnerable today, I probably would’ve started panicking. Lost wallet, all the cards in it—driver’s license, two credit cards, school id, which gets me into the parking lot, and so on. Anyway, what I’m saying is my vulnerability would’ve made me worry, rather than be practical.” “It’s getting late, Meyer.” “You’re right. I don’t want to get to class, see a roomful of students who’ve been waiting for me for ten minutes, and have to apologize, though nothing’s wrong with apologizing. Oh, I don’t know what I’m saying.” “Yes, you do. Everything’s going to be fine. Now go, and drive safely.” “That too. When I get in the car, I sometimes think I’m going to get in a crash because I’m not paying attention. I gotta do something about it. Bye,” and he kisses her, gets the keys off the hook by the door, gets in the car, starts it up and thinks, “You idiot. Your wallet.” He goes back and gets it and says to his wife, “Can you believe it?” and holds up the wallet. “I’m sorry. I should have reminded you,” and he says, “No, no; I should’ve reminded myself. It’s everything I’ve been saying,” and gets back in the car and thinks, “I can’t go to school today. I won’t speak or remember well. I’ll seem unprepared. The kids will stare at me and give each other glances about my lousy teaching and during the break and after class talk about it. One day in my twenty-six years in the department I can call in sick when I’m not sick and stay home,” and he goes inside the house. “What did you forget now?” his wife says. “Nothing. I just can’t go to school, that’s all, and not because I’m sick,” and goes to their bedroom and picks up the phone.