Sep 17, 2007

The Old Man

The old man shuffled into the kitchen and put on the kettle. His knuckle-bones cracked as he grasped the cupboard handle above the stove, reaching in for a mug. He sighed.

He had been powerful, once, but it was a power bestowed by his chosen career, and the pinnacle position he had occupied. Once removed, forcibly, from under him, he discovered that the strength he thought was his own was an illusion, an oasis, created by his mind. His age, which had never been an issue before, was suddenly confronting. 70 was not far off. The mind now knew it, and could no longer trick the body. Time had caught up with him.

He poured the boiling water into the chipped mug, which was labelled “World’s Greatest Grandad” in bright red letters. A sentimental keepsake; his wife would rather he stick with one of her fine bone china mugs, but he insisted on using this one. The words went around the mug, and as he drank his tea he could tilt his hand just so, in order that the words “World’s” and “Greatest” featured prominently in his vision, while “Grandad” was concealed by his palm. He would think about better words to complete the description: “Leader”, or “Australian”. Those thoughts served to warm his insides as much as the Earl Grey did.

He zipped up his green tracksuit jacket. At least he still had strength enough for his morning constitutional. He pushed open the back door, fixing his glasses firmly onto his face, and headed out into the warm summer morning.

The streets were still awash with dawn sunlight; it was his favourite time of day. He knew the air would be full of butcher-bird melodies, even though he couldn’t particularly hear them, having left his hearing aid on his bedside table. He turned right out of his street, admiring the white roses that grew in the front garden of the elegant home on the corner.

The old man didn’t see the Jeep Wrangler backing down the driveway to his left. When a blur of black and silver finally appeared in his peripheral vision, it was too late. The man’s knees weren’t quick enough to spring him into action; neither time nor strength were on his side anymore.

He lay on his back, eyes skyward, staring at the perfect blue dome above him. He pondered in that moment how little time he had spent looking up: always it was sideways, forwards, backwards, around. The perfect blue calmed him, and made him think of God. He had only ever paid lip service to religion before, but it occurred to him now that if the truth about anything was anywhere, it was most likely up, unrestrained by gravity, personalities, stories, policies, desires, thoughts, opinions, motives.

But suddenly the blue was gone, obscured by the blurry face of the Jeep driver, who had jumped out of the vehicle in panic, yelling for help. His worried eyes brought terror back into the old man’s heart, when he’d been so happy just a second earlier. He tried to move his eyes beyond the driver’s face, back to the blue. But the feeling was gone.

The old man sighed. He had been doing that a lot lately. He tried to think of warm, kind words about his contribution to the world, what people would say. Oddly, he could only think of his chipped mug, and its inscription, “Grandad”. He knew there were two other words, but they wouldn’t come to him now. “Grandad”, he thought, that’s me. He tried to remember what else he had been, what he had done, how he had lived his life. But none of it would come, except “Grandad”, emblazoned on the mug in red letters.

The old man closed his eyes. He clung to the last word. Grandad would have to be enough.

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