He felt the raindrops brush across his wrinkled skin, the old scar on the back of his left hand ache with sorrow. Slowly walking past the streets he once used to run down as a child, alone or with friends, sometimes kicking a football around. The shopkeepers would use to scream at them to play elsewhere. A faint church bell suddenly tolled twelve, only another twelve hours until the day would be over. There was no joy, only gasps of disappointment and handbags used as hoods to shield their faces from the storm. He remembered the old clutch handbag he had given to his lost long love, consumed by the ravages of illness that transformed the healthy body into its own enemy.
The paving tiles were loose as his thick black shoes stomped across them. All he was trying to get was a pint of milk and loaf of bread from the corner shop, something not too difficult at all. But it was, talking was hard, especially when others easily got distracted. The familiar sign advertising free wi-fi and a cash machine to make free withdrawals came into view, only just. The broken lenses from his old glasses lay forgotten on the kitchen windowsill. Entering carefully, milk bottles sat quietly in the fridge to which he disturbed the slumber by removing one. A pleasant thing in life was drinking tea, not wine or cider. That was during the long days of summer innocence as a teenager. Fresh loaves of bread neatly stacked by the tills but one wrong move could have easily knocked them off. Behind the counter stood Haley, the shopkeeper, keeping a firm eye on the CCTV cameras just to make sure everyone and everything was still safe.
He approached her with the items and then, paused, stepped back and felt his shaking hand start to twitch uncontrollably. The time had dragged on, feeling unsafe because of being outside far too long. A main recliner by the front window was calling him home. If he had wings, the journey wouldn't be so time-consuming. In a flash, the wallet crashed down onto the floor with a thud making his body jump in fear. Anything could set him off, the littlest thing. Haley quickly showed herself away from the screens and bent down to count the money in the wallet.
“You’re twenty pence short my dear,” she said with a normal tone, “Do you have any spare coins to complete the payment?”
The old man shrugged in anxiety, the problems with food prices and bills increasing once again caught everyone off guard. A bread loaf wasn't so cheap anymore but having no food meant another night would be spent on an empty stomach. What a nightmare.
“Doesn't matter alright?” asked Haley, “I'll cover the cost which means you have both items and you won't owe anything extra.”
For once, he smiled, feeling his jaw relax into a happy position. Someone understood his pain, struggles but only for a split second. The shop door crashed open and in walked four teens, all wearing hoodies and tracksuit bottoms. Young, fast, furious and obviously looking for trouble. He needed to leave and fly away now. Gently nodding farewell, he walked out and was met by even harder raindrops falling down onto the road, outside displays and him. Alone and cold, his throat craved the warmth and relief of a hot drink. It was tempting just to stop by a local cafe and order something but just having pennies wouldn't cover the amount that a mug of tea would cost. Back home and shielding away from the outside world was the reality he lived day in, day out.
Grey clouds up above lingered like an old foe, waiting once more to pounce on its prey. Faint laughter echoed in his ears but not from friends or neighbours, evil giggles from youths close by attempting dangerous tricks on their BMX bikes. Arguing with them would have been a task to accomplish a decade ago but not bothering today was best. Thoughts heavy, he continued on past old houses with new cars on front drives, a bus speeding down the road to get to the stops in time and… someone familiar, very familiar to him. But staring across into the distance and then the rush of cold water seeping onto the trousers made him think twice. Person gone, sodden as a rat, he finally reached the red front door of his sanctuary, home.
Another bill sat patiently on the front door mat, next to the twenty or so others they lay alongside it. Unable to pick them up, he slowly rubbed his back and stumbled towards the kettle. Tea, tea, a teabag. Just the thing he needed. The all too recognisable noise filtered his senses, slowly unbuckling his belt, a pair of wet trousers lay abandoned in a heap and a fresh pair from one of the old chairs covered his hairy legs back up again. A few moments later, the mug was ready to drink. A moment of satisfaction crossed his path. On finally taking a seat, his TV suddenly blared into life. After a puzzled expression and wondering how it had turned itself onto near full volume, he discovered that he had sat on the remote.
As the lunchtime news flashes, energy prices rising, passengers stranded at train stations because of a strike and the latest series of The X Factor starting back up for a new series, his eyelids grew heavy. A nap was starting to drag over his face, releasing yawn after yawn. Maybe some shut-eye for a while would do some good. Out of nowhere from outside, he heard loud music being played from a passing car, some song he had never heard before in his life and most definitely not the classic rock and roll he used to dance too in dance halls. Acknowledging the fact that nothing really interesting was happening, his eyes again closed, blocking out the surrounds of his damp, wallpaper peeling walls and the drones of the news reporter about events in London. Politics, change on the horizon, protest marches on the street. That was today and also yesterday, what would tomorrow bring? A moment where he could finally be himself in the world? All would reveal itself when the lights came back into vision.
What was Mum and Dad in the images for? Who was the crying baby in the cot asking for a feed? It was me, all me. A miracle to even survive the traumatic home birth and breathe in this unstable planet. Our home, town, area was under heavy protection from the air raids in the sky. Little did I know, no-one I knew would come for me. Mum’s face, I can picture it well, the sight of radiance and complexion smooth. Dad away trying to serve his unit and county proud. Except I would never see them again.
A new image, my foster Mum Janet taking me in as a stray and poor orphan, educating me and putting all of my needs first. There was a diamond in the rough in life until she departed this earth a mere two years after the final bombs fell onto the soil. Working in the fields, moving from village to village, I danced for love, joy and passion. She came into my arms one night after her date failed to arrive. By the end of the first dance, I knew she would be my future wife. Kissing, cuddling, the perfect companion at night, she was all I ever wanted and more. Tying the knot quickly but quietly and finally settling into a house with a red front door.
Baby one, baby two, almost baby three but sadly not meant to be. They got good grades, jobs and now live on the other side of the world. I see them now, the sun is shining bright and with their families, the days are spent running around amongst the sand dunes and throwing sticks into the distance to which their dogs would chase after them. After thirty years of holy matrimony, her final breath brought a happy chapter to a close. No longer with me was the person I woke up next to each morning, the giggle she released since she was ticklish faded into obscurity. No wonder the depression kicked in.
I would see no-one, the house fell into a sorry state and once the money ran out, that was that. I'm only here because very few people remember that I exist. You always want to be the centre of attention right? Not me. I see her though, the way she moved to signal pure joy. In delight, I run towards her as she mouths the words “Join me.” I happily would except she's dead and nothing I can do will help bring her back to life. The resting place I haven't visited for so long, the stone probably the victim of overgrown branches. I will lie with her, reunited. What a moment that will be. Together in heaven, stars in our eyes, new adventures to be had and we’ll be healthy and fine. What a time.
Look at me, I'm now the old man, not the size and strength of the young man I once was. But my life was a happy one until loneliness kicked in. Don't shield yourself away kid, never do that. I am sending this thought to my grandkids in Australia, live your life my dears, kiss your fears goodbye. Avoid the final chapter if you can, I will still see you but you won't me. Living through a world war, currency changes, weather changes, government changes, I've seen it all.
Only fragment of me that will remain is the secret box, hidden on a shelf behind a concealed wall. A time capsule if you will, creating it after the death of my wife, photographs and jewellery to find. Perfect little treasure trove for the new owner to enjoy or in most cases, throw into the bin. But I've taken a little moment to realise that it's the end of my life.
End of my life.
End of my life.
He woke up with an almighty start, the TV was now off but the clouds outside were replaced with a perfect sunset for everyone to witness. Those dreams were vivid, the last drops of stale tea in the mug, frozen cold to the touch of the tongue. But somehow, his bones and muscles felt different, a feeling unlike any other. Seconds counted down like hours as he staggered around for a scrap of paper and pen to attempt a quick note. The curtains still placed back so anyone walking by could almost see into the room. Words, only words were left now.
Whoever finds me here, I'm fine, I did have a good life so thanks for that. But just try not to be lonely.
Breathing hard to control, his head crashed back onto the recliner in a daze. Everything was becoming clear now, he was dying. His kids would continue on with their chapters, their kids would work, marry and have children of their own. Being part of that cycle pleased him tremendously.
“My work is done.” he spoke out loud as he closed his eyes for the last time. Soon, he would be back with his loved ones ready to walk, run and play again without fear or injury. An Elvis Presley song burst into life that sealed the ending of the old man. He without a name but he with a story to tell.
Thank you very much for reading my short story The Old Man. I ended up seeing a picture prompt on Twitter which showed a face of an elderly man looking solemn and somewhat lonely in a time where the older generations are left alone for weeks on end. Let me know your thoughts and whether you would be interested in reading more short stories by me on Tablo! This was also a distraction from my Nanowrimo project Letters To Myself which at the time of typing this story, I'm still writing it. The word count from here will be added to the Nanowrimo count overall.