He cursed himself daily for his reckless ways and the destruction of that vase so long ago. He had tried to glue it back then, but there were holes where the fall had pulverized the ceramic to dust. His parents shook their heads. It was not enough. That vase was special. Not knowing where to turn and badly wanting a birthday, he went to the kitchen cabinet and broke the extra set of saucers until they fit into the holes of the ramshackle vase. With the glue drying, Allister looked on with a sense of pride. He had not even thought about the anger his parents would have when they set eyes on his recreation and realized that they now only had one set of saucers. Where would they put their extra tea cups? With his parents' anger over the saucers, came the realization that he could not possibly put it back together the way it once was. So, year after year, he tried to replace the memory of his parents vase with a brand new one. But, no substitution could take the place of that broken one.
Every house he purchased in his adulthood stood as a museum, housing all his attempts to resolve the loss. Hundreds of vases, some in strategic places housing reeds and others just stacked on top of each other, cluttered every room. He did not have enough stuff to even put in the vases. And, in the end, who really puts things in vases nowadays anyway-except reeds (and there were not enough reeds to fill his vases)? At the end of the year, Allister would know for sure he was another year older, but just how old-he could not tell.
Allister eventually told his friends not to get him any presents (although most had already stopped long ago). He just wanted their company on those Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Cake and ice cream had been replaced by prune juice and multi-vitamins and pin the tail on the donkey became pinochle in Allister's yard. He had given up ever knowing his age when he heard the whisper. He rose from his wicker lawn chair with a giggle. We had thought he had finally gone mad in his old age. He gripped his cane and hobbled as lively as I had ever seen him hobble into the house. A silence. A howl of laughter and then the audible barrage of ceramic breaking as Allister laid waste to hundreds of vases. Hours later, he appeared in the doorway and hobbled back to us, covered in ceramic dust and sweat, but a smile pulled across his face. We looked at him, stunned as deer. He sat down slowly in his wicker chair, set his cane down with utmost care, and folded his hands in his lap before saying, "I heard it." Not knowing what to do in this situation-where a good friend might possibly have become a psychopathic maniac right in front of your eyes and with the weapon he used to bash all his inner demons, his cane, resting next to him-I simply asked, "How old are you?" He looked at me, grinned, and said, "They said it does not matter."