The Old Man (A short story)

*Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope you enjoy it. (Please excuse a few grammatical errors, for I have yet to proof this.)*

 

He rose the best he could, grunting as his old, broken down back shook at the brisk morning air. Years of worn down bones cracked with every pound of weight he forced onto it. Popping with an uneven motion. The final pop hurt worse than yesterday, he thought silently. With one final push, he forced himself upright. His breathing was heavy against the coming cold winter air, forcing himself to take small, shallow gasps. A visible cloud surrounded his mouth; winter showing itself, giving him a reassurance of another uncertain day ahead.

He paused for a moment, letting his crystal blue eyes adjust to the rising sun. Although his body had aged, his eyes still sparkled of a calm lake, peacefully resting through years of chaos. He never enjoyed looking into a mirror, as his ageless eyes disturbed the old man, causing him to regret a past that could not change. A life that seemingly, never existed.

Though his body ached and his mind raced, he quite enjoyed the sunrise. Somewhat of a promise of a new day to all. He liked that. A chance at something beyond yesterday, he thought. And this morning was different from the past few weeks. Angelic amber trails littered the horizon in a beautiful fashion. Ripping through the scattered clouds with a gentle force. A slight tint of violet peeked itself through the fiery painting, forcing itself to be seen, as if proving its beauty against the dominating glow of the sun beneath the mountain range.

A slight yawn escaped from his frozen lungs, bringing his mind back to his aching back. He rubbed it subconsciously, as if to make sure he could still feel the scar that ran horizontal along his spine. Although he already knew the answer. Finally a slight hint of motivation sprung to life somewhere from within him, and he pushed himself off his cardboard bed, letting out a louder grunt then before. It took him a few seconds to collect his balance, and for the blood to return to his head. But after a moment, he was up. A small accomplishment that he greeted with a smile. It was the small things in his life, that kept the old man from giving into the dark despair that followed him.

Heat flooded his shoulders; A warmth that always reminded him of the years of the past, a place that felt of home. The sun was creeping too slowly for the old man, so he decided to shuffle his bare feet until his entire body was greeted with a light glow. He enjoyed this newly found warmth, wondering how he even took on the cold air a few seconds before. With a new found source of heat, he began his day with determination. There was a lot to be done, and he wasn’t getting any younger. A chuckle could be heard, as this thought amused him. “Not too bad” he mumbled as he checked off his 3rd good happening of the day.

His camp was merely a collection of odds and ends, things he thought he might make use of one day; although they rarely saw the light of productivity. Old canned food with merely a licking left scattered the ground; things in which to place other things with. An assortment of clothes; that if he wasn’t wearing, would never fit on the slight mans frame. Shoes of all sizes; ones to patch his worn down boots, if the time ever came that they needed repaired. But there was something special in this odd assortment of ‘things’. A beautiful burgundy box laced with shavings of gold that made a symbol the man didn’t know. A foreign symbol of sorts. Behind the symbol were perfectly placed drawings of the smallest flowers. Roses he often thought, but who was he to say. The hinges creaked when opened, letting out the most ugly sounding noise he had ever heard. But within, was a lullaby for the angels themselves. It played instruments unknown, but he often thought he could hear a harp, one that made his heart explode with emotions he hadn’t felt in ages. A beautiful orchestra of strings, brass, and someone who had perfected their art.

His hand began to reach for the box without his knowledge, seeking a moment with the beautiful song, but he knew better. His heart sank with the thought of opening the box, and his good happenings of the morning. The box would be saved for another day he thought, pushing out the memories of the young girl in which he had given the music box to, he forced his mind to his tasks. Quickly, he swiped the sudden tear at the corner of his eye, and began once more.

Without another glance at the box, he dressed himself in his nicest of rags. An old flannel shirt, fitted with exotic buttons he had found on a beautiful pea coat. Although the reds had faded from years of use, the dirty whites still complimented his similarly colored hair. He dusted off the dirt that had accumulated on the underside, and put it on with a boyish pride, checking the broken mirror next to his bed, making sure it still fit. Sure as he had thought, his handsomeness shone through. A boyish ideal indeed. The pants were another matter. A mound sat a few feet from him, covered in layers not fit for this day. He began to throw one after another away from the pile, searching for the pair he had found months ago. He had dared not wear them, for he knew that something that nice shouldn’t be worn among the dirt and grime that surrounded him. For a yet another wave of despair ran through him, not knowing if he had kept them drove into his mind.

“Ha” he let out. Gently, he pulled out the jeans he had been searching desperately for. To most, these pants were nothing more than a bargain discount item. But to him, they were fit for a king. A beautiful shade of blue; not to bright, yet not to dull. Similar to his eyes. He wasn’t much of a matching man, but he took pride in this small feat. Between his childish ideal, and his still-intact pride, he raced to finish his wardrobe, not thinking of his elder back. Within an instant he was on his knees, covering his newly formed outfit in a layer of silt.

He didn’t think of his crippling body as he shot up, shaking the dirt from his clothes as quickly as he could. Desperately repelling the stains that were most definitely about to set in. He cursed under his breath, as he continued his attempt to reclaim the glory of his otherwise pristine outfit. A quick glance downwards, and he was proud of the quick work he had done. A small speck around the knee, but otherwise a wardrobe fit for a good man.

Unknowingly, a frown crept upon his face, washing away the pride he had just felt. An all to familiar feeling for him.

He pushed the thought from his mind once again. Small steps, he thought.

Next were his shoes. Nothing special. An old pair of black shin high boots that had covered much ground under his path. He tied the laces with ease, as the laces were nearing the end of their life, and tied them off loosely. Years of walking had taught him that if his feet couldn’t breathe, then the nights would prevent the next days journey. “Ready” he said aloud, dusting off the creases in his lightly faded flannel.

Before he left his camp at the bottom of the ravine, he paused, looking down at the ground. With a sigh, he turned around to face his belongings with a saddened face. Slowly he bent down; as not to anger his back once again, his wrinkled hand grabbed the small box and held it tightly. He didn’t want to think of the immense pressure it held against his heart, but the energy that resonated from it, was close to overwhelming him. Without another thought, he stuff the box in a small plastic bag that was floating around on the dried out dust covered dirt, and set on his way. Pushing the weight from his mind.

After a few strenuous minutes; the ravine was shallow yet steep for his old body, he exited to an open landscape. A few trees dotted the horizon; birch saplings that had already lost there beautiful buds, and dried up bushes that floated across the empty hills, seemingly making the baron land come alive. Power lines could be seen to his right; a mile or so away, that connected the still glowing lights to the barely visible town a few miles away. They buzzed as if to point the way towards his destination, calling him to his redemption he so desperately craved. As the sun rose, it turned the blurs of buildings, into to a uniform designed collection. A gas station at the end of the small strip, a bright light shone from the local grocery, and small shops that filled the in between. Small, yet quaint. It had been a few months since he had ventured to the alien place; one that caused his heart to sink, yet today was a day that he had yearned to seek.

One foot in front of the other, he thought to himself, slowly pacing his steps. The dried dirt crackled and bent with every step, putting his print into the earth. A solemn wave of humility washed over him as he watched his footprints. Astronauts’ steps stayed in the sky for eons, and he liked to think that he was setting his place in this inhabitable wasteland.

From above, the once comforting sunlight that had given him warmth in the frigid air, began to beat down on him. Crushing the little amount of un-charred skin he had left, burning skin that the frigid air was promising wouldn’t happen. Yet, he didnt let the resilient light overcome his drive.

The once tiny specks on the horizon soon formed distinguishable buildings. Small and cozy was the town, dressed in its mid American glamour. Flowers lined the street; contrasting the dry desert just outside the paved roads. Banners hung from street lights, letting all who passed through of the small towns unity. He always enjoyed heading into a town. The smell was clean as could be. People dressed in there work attire made him smile. Everybody working towards something gave him hope for the future. And usually in a town of this size, they did it with a smile on there face.

Of course people weren’t always handing out there greetings to him. Most would scoff as he approached, exiling him on first sight. But he never dwelled on such things, knowing at one point he had done the same. Human nature, he concluded a long time ago. Something that is ingrained in a persons physce is hard to overcome, no matter how big the heart. But today was different. The simple, yet clean, outfit he had put together made him seem like a regular old man, taking a stroll down main street. Not a homeless man. So on this day he received all the polite gestures from the town folk. A young girl had just got herself a ice cream that dwarfed her small body, only matching the size of her eyes as she prepared to make quick haste of the delicious desert. She smiled at him as he returned the favor, only to be grabbed by her mother, as she figured out who he was. Or what he was. He wasn’t sure. He didn’t mind, as the simple kindness of the child was plenty.

As he approached the middle of the strip, the building he sought came into view. A small flower shop that left most of its products outside. Ones that most likely lined the rest of the street, he thought to himself. Blues and yellows collided in a beautiful display of nature. Reds and purple seemingly accenting the brightness in front, creating a majestic tapestry of finely cut flowers. As he made his way inside, he couldn’t help but stop and take in the scents that bombarded his nose. Almost overwhelming him. But he wouldn’t let that happen, for it had been a while since he had smelled such things.

He entered the store with optimism, as he knew he had saved just enough to buy what he was after. Finding what kind it was, was a different matter. He knew of roses and lillys, orchids and ferns, but he doubted he could differentiate between the more exotic types.

From the corner of his mind, he could feel eyes turn on him, creeping into him. Mothers talked softly to one other, and whispering there discontent with themselves. A joyous conversation that had begun since he entered had turned into one with unjustified contempt. Once again, he didn’t mind.

He was searching through the bright selection next to the door, keeping his eye out for the tag that said “White Rose”. Of course there were plenty of white colored flowers, but he had to make sure it was the correct species. So he searched until he made his way to the back of the small boutique. After a moment he became quite discouraged. He wanted to ask for help but felt it foolish to attract attention to himself.

“Excuse me, sir?” Said an older women behind him. She wore a green mock and green flower hat. A green Hat that hung past her shoulders and made her relatively tall frame, seem the size of him. He turned to face her, hoping she might be able to help. But a face he had seen far to often was all that she had shone.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” She said without remorse.

“Please” he said timidly. “It is a very special occasion for me and I am searching for a white rose. If you could just hel-”

” I’m sorry sir but you must leave” she interrupted. He could feel his heart sink into a dark abyss, as this would crush his spirit.

“I have money.” He said as reached into his pocket, pulling out a few quarters and 3 ruffled up dollar bills. “If you could just show me where they are I can be on my way.” He said. A small bit of sadness resonating as he spoke.

“Sir, I’m not going to ask again. If I do I will be forced to call the athourities.

“Very well” he heard himself say. His head hung low, as he made his way to the exit. A tear began to build along his cheek, growing in size the closer he got the small glass door. But he didn’t let it escape into the shop, his foolish pride wouldn’t allow that.

The sun greeted him once again as Main Street came into view. Pride be damned, as he couldn’t hold the tears anymore. Them being the only sign of distraught. His face hadn’t moved through years of hardship. Besides this setback he continued his day, forcing his steps up the road, toward the small coffee shop at the end of the shops.

“Sir! Excuse me, sir?” He heard a small voice say.

He turned to face a slight young lady, who made him look 3 feet taller. Her hair was brighter than the sun itself, and her skin made him wonder if she’d ever seen the orb in the sky before. She wore a sundress that was adorned in beautiful pastels, making the flowers that hung above look like less adequate than before.

“Yes?” He asked, holding his voice, as to not let on his sorrow. A feat not easily masked

“My apologies for that rude lady in there” She said with a pure smile. “I couldnt quite hear which flower you wanted, so I got you all the white ones I could.” She said, twisting her arm from behind her, revealing a bouquet of flowers whiter than snow cap mountains, unearthing a beautiful piece of himself that had laid dormant for quite some time.

He couldnt help himself, as his tears began to flow freely down his burnt red cheeks, cascading down into his faded shirt, igniting the reds from long ago. He didnt bother brushing them away, he only raised a shaking hand toward the beautiful assortment.

“You didnt have to do that-”

“I wanted to” She said, giving a genuine smile. “I hope whomever youre giving these to will appreciate them. They sure are pretty, arnt they?” She handed him the flowers till he reluctently took.

“I dont know what to say. But thank you. Thank you very much.” He said finally wiping the tears. Her smile never left her quaint face, as she handed the flowers to him delicately, and made on her way. All he could do was stare at the majestic white variety of flowers, his world shaking with pure happiness.

With a renewed source of gratidude and motivation, he turned his head towards the end of the strip, right where a bright neon sign fought with the morning sun, inviting people to grab a cup of coffee on this chilly fall day.

The faces continued to stare and snicker as he made his way towards the shop. Buzzing with a small town excitement that came with a new issue to gossip. He would be the center of attention once the sun fell, and the night crawlers came out. But it seemed that the closer he held the flowers to his chest, the more the noise went away. It was like a beating energy that matched his heart. A warmth that felt like it was burning into his soul. “So kind.” He said under his breath, as he turned to watch the young women enter her car, and drive away. To his surprise, she waved at him when she turned back towards the outlying homes that dotted the outer edge of the strip.

It happened in an instance. About 10 full steps from the front door. His hands began to sweat, making it hard to grasp the bouquet. Making him grasp the plastic around the flowers, crumbling it more than he would have liked. They had to be perfect, he thought as he loosened his grip. A small bead of sweat began to form above his brow, gathering quickly till it ran down the side of his scruffy hairline. He swiped at his hair, brushing the sweat back into his hair; a problem for a different day.

He paused when his heart felt like it would explode out of his chest. It began to beat unevenly and rapid, like a beating a drum. His ribs rattled with every beat, rumbling down into his stomach with a ferocious thunder. For a second he was immobile; only a foot in front of the door, trying to calm himself. His knees began to shake, matching his chest in rhythm. He wobbled and thought he was going to fall, only to catch himself on the door latch. If that wasnt a sign, he didnt know what was. With a deep breath he opened the door, not knowing the outcome of what was to come.

It was a stark contrast to the outside world. Light music from some unknown band, played through the speakers in the ceiling. Bright lights were scattered through the open room, nearly blinding him, as his eyes had to adjust to the artificial light. People were talking softly as smoothly. There words mumbled through the overall noise of the small crowd. It was a small form of chaos, he thought. Pieces of a puzzle on a tiny scale, taking there place in that place in time, fitting themselves together in this small cafe. As his senses adjusted, a faint smell wafted into his nose. A lovely scent of spices that match the mood of the changing of the seasons. Pumpkin, he decided. It was a nice change of pace compared the his spot in the ravine. For a moment, he simply stood there, taking in the simple, yet powerful, aroma that this place held.

It was only when the room fell quiet, and the eyes focused on him, that he realized he had been standing there for a minute to long. With a hint of embarrassment, he moved forward to an empty table at the corner of the room, next the giant bay window that gave him a perfect view of the outside world. He wanted to see her walk in before they greeted each other. He wanted to see how she held herself.

Patiently, he sat perfectly still. A statue would be impressed at this sight. Brightly, his smile shone through his worry, cascading onto the earth with a grandeur that matched his soul.

Although he wasnt quite sure what she looked liked, he had a feeling he would know who his daughter was on sight. He imagined she had the face of his beloved wife, and most likely his slightly above average nose. A trait that had bothered him as a boy. But no doubt, would make her beauty even more unique. She most likely had the same blonde hair that she had when she was still an infant. Something that her mothers family had passed down through generations of beautiful women. It was that ancient kind of beauty that had attracted him to her mother. He had never seen anything like her, not even in his dreams. She radiated an angelic form of light, that he simple could never resist. And her smile, could make god blush. A deep sorrow filled him, as he remembered his life before she had left. It was simple and yet, fulfilling. And he had ruined it. Thrown it away with his selfish needs.

He sat there. Welcoming the conversation that was to come. Thinking of the right words to say to his long lost daughter. What a joyous occasion it would be.

But the sun passed over the small town, escaping back to where it came, giving way to the darkness once again. His bright smile, had slowly drifted into the abyss, as he sat in the worn down chair in the corner of the cafe. His eyes never shifted from the outside world. Yet now they simply stared at his dried out hands. They traced from edge to edge, outlining years of hardship in the desert. Only receiving much needed moisture, when a tear met them.

He made an attempt to glance around the room one more time, hoping to see her face in the now empty room. Only to find that he was alone. All except for young girl behind the counter, wiping away unseen dirt that laid on her prestine table top. She must have sensed his hollow gaze, as she met it with her beautiful amber eyes. An awkward smile came to her face. He wanted to leave here as to not to make a scene when his tears began to flow freely once again. But he did not want to leave his chair in the corner of the room, in case she showed. His mind knew she would not show, yet his heart wouldnt let go of hope. He hadnt realized he had been picking pedals from the beautiful bouquet. Horrified, he attempted to put them back. As a boy would do if scolded for destroying something so beautiful. Despair rushed through him, and his mind began to race. Suddenly, memories ran through his mind. Hellish memories of what had happened. What were these? He thought to himself, as his hands began to shake.

Just before an attack on his mind began, a small hand graced his shoulder. Startled, he jumped from his sitting posistion. “Sit. Please.” She said softly. He hadnt noticed the small women beyond the counter had hastly made her way towards him. “Do you remember me John?” She asked. Although he could sense she already knew the answer.

“How, how do you know my name?” He asked, rushing his words.

“This may sound… overwhelming, but you have come in here, everyday, for the last 5 years. You bring the same white bouquet of flowers, and sit in that exact same chair.” She said, frowning. As if she had crushed his spirit before.

“I dont understand.” He said timidly, trying to process what was happening. “I am waiting for my daughter. She was supposed to meet me here. You see, her mother took her from me when she was merely an infant. I enjoyed the bottle to much back then you see. But I havent had a drop in years, I swear. All because I wanted to be in her life. Thats what she had told me to do if I wanted them to return to my life. And now,” He reached into his back pocket, and pulled out a small, crumbled piece of paper. “My daughter wrote me this a few days ago, saying she wished to meet me and to catch up.” His mind began racing faster now, it was only till the young women sat down across from him, grabbing his hands in hers, did he calm himself.

“I know. And I am sorry. But we have had this same conversation for as long as I have worked here. The lady that bought you those flowers, has bought you the same assortment since she had found out what had happened.” She paused, clearly not knowing what to say. “She never shows, John. Each time when you leave, you beg me to not let you enter the cafe, but I cant do that. It would break you. I-I dont know what to tell you, even though I have had plenty of practice.” She said, letting out an awkward laugh.

He simply nodded. Not knowing how to process this information. Suddenly it all became clear in his mind. She never showed. He had always forgot this. Everyday, he would do the same exact thing. Always hoping with a pure heart, and always being crushed once the sun left. What a pathetic existence, he thought to himself.

Then there was nothing.

“Hello, my name is John.” He said with a radiant smile. “I am sorry to have to ask, but would you mind if I stayed here till you close? I am waiting for my daughter you see, I dont want to miss her.”

“Of course. Please though, take some of this leftover bread. No charge.” She said, with a hint of disappointment.

He smile grew larger as she placed a loaf in front him. He reached for the package of butter that laid in the middle of the table and began to spread it. Once he was satisfyied, he gaze went to the window once again. “Thank you ma’am, so very kind of you. If I begin to bother you please let me know, and I will be on my way. But if I leave please tell a beautiful young blonde, that I am sorry for missing her. And will try again tomorrow.”

She simply smiled, and walked to her spot behind the counter. He could tell that she had been crying, but didnt want to be intrusive, so he let her be.

He sat there. He ate the delicious bread with joy. And stared out the window into the darkness. Hoping to catch a glimpse of something from long ago.

 

 

He awoke the best he could. His back aching at the thought of lifting his dead weight from the dry ground. But he had get ready. He had a very special day ahead of him. He was going to meet his daughter for the first time in a long time.

A smile met his face.

 

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