The reporter sits across from me and asks very nicely if he can record our conversation. Video, he says. I know what video is, I tell him. My voice doesn’t sound like my voice. I’m 115 years old. I used to be the second oldest person in the world. Since February, I’ve been the oldest person still alive.
“1900 isn’t that long ago,” I tell him. “It’s still the twentieth century.”
“We’re in the 21st now,” he says kindly.
I could smack him for his kindness, if I had the energy. “I know that. I’ve still got my marbles.”
People want my secrets of a long life, like it’s something I invented. I was a laundress. If I had the brains to invent something, I wouldn’t have washed and ironed clothes for a living. “I was a laundress,” I tell him. “That was my first job. I did the laundry in one of those homes for unwed mothers. It was a good one. Not like the ones that you hear about that make the girls work in the laundry themselves, all heavy with the baby and breathing in steam.”
“How many children do you have?” he asks.
“Young man, didn’t you look that up on your thing. What’s it called, your moogle?” I’m teasing him. I know he’s got a mobile phone and you google it or you siri it or something.
“Let’s get right to the part you’re interested in,” I say. “I have sixty-two great-great grandchildren. There is one great-great-great, a wee baby. I’ve outlived two of my children, but the other three are still kicking. I’ve got no secrets of life to tell you. I’m a crabby old woman waiting to die in a nursing home. The only reason I’m in such a nice nursing home is that I’m the oldest woman in the world. Otherwise my children, and grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren would let me rot.”
I know that’s not true. They’re all good enough kids, but this young man is getting on my nerves. My vision isn’t what it used to be, and he looks all shadows and shapes to me, no face at all, but he talks down to me and that’s one thing I could never stand.
“What did you do after you became a laundress?” he asks. “I know I could look it up, but I just want to hear how you talk about your life in your own words.”
“I started working at fifteen,” I say. “It’s easy to calculate. So that was 1915. In 1930, with the crash, I lost my job and I scrabbled for a living. Then came the war.”
“The second world war,” he says.
“I would really be old if it was the first!” I snap. Then I decide to take another approach. “What about you?” I ask. “You tell me about yourself. If I like the story, I’ll tell you the secret of my long life.”
There’s no sound for a few minutes. Then he turns off the video. “You sure?”
“Yes,” I say.
“Ok. I’m from a small town in Montana. I have a younger sister. My father is dead, my mother is a waitress. I’ve been a journalist for three years, ever since I graduated. I have a lot of debt. I support myself by making online porn videos because journalism doesn’t pay. If you tell me a story that nobody else knows, maybe I can give it up.”
“Bullshit,” I say flatly. After a 115 years, I know it when I hear it.
He sighs. “I’m a runaway from an abusive family?”