This is not a story….at least not yet. It is a character that won’t leave me alone though. I know that he’s going to show up somewhere. I just don’t know where yet or what that story will be. What do you think? Does he capture your attention?
He was not in denial about his age. He wasn’t one of those men who lived thirty years younger. There were no flashy clothes in his closet, no jet-setter tan, no polished white smile. He had driven a convertible only once in all his life and that was on the day he turned fifty; a memory that still managed to flush his cheeks and make him smile. His passport was filled but hadn’t been stamped in several years. He had traveled far in his younger years; sometimes because he had to and sometimes, when he was lucky, because he had wanted to. Only in his old age did he realize that those distant lands and faraway shores never held his heart. With such a realization came the understanding that all reason to return to those places had vanished as well. He had then stopped traveling and simply watched life slow down in steady cadence with his aches and pains.
For his age, he wasn’t in bad shape really. His hands ached most mornings with the dull throb of teasing arthritis. He found though he could still grip a hatchet, a rake and a handshake with steady confidence. He sometimes shuffled when he walked now; a tendency that offered him both annoyance and contentment at the same time. Evening walks had replaced his morning runs; a journey that had lost its speed but not its distance. He still rose with the sun but afternoons would often find him napping in his chair, on the couch or in the cool grass of summer. He squinted more than he had in years past but his eyes were still blue and clear enough to get lost in. His fingers though still long and strong, wore a lifetime of scars and bumps of stories he couldn’t recall. His arms no longer had the tightness of barbell lifts and push ups but he still easily split and lugged woodstove logs. He was thicker in the middle than he had been the years before but he took that as a statement to a life well fed. His shoulders sagged from exhaustion, weariness and life but his back was still ramrod straight. He found it harder and harder to clear the cobwebs from his lungs each morning; a testament to the fact that old age was winning. Thanks to the sun, the wind and life’s heartaches his cheeks were tougher than they had been in the past but could still be shave to a perfect smoothness. His hair though neatly cut had gone from brown to pewter and he couldn’t say exactly when.
Where his body was slowly beginning to turn against him, his mind was still completely his own. His forgetfulness was limited to the first few seconds when he woke up. Laying eyes wide open but seeing nothing he would wait. Expecting. Shallow breaths allowing every muscle to ready for action. Adrenaline moving within him in a dance he didn’t want to do. Then slowly, the room would surround him. His room. His ceiling. His home. His breathing would return to normal. The adrenaline would leave him in the only way it could, a clammy sweat that made him shiver. Even after forty years, a soldier can leave the war but the war will never leave a soldier. He hated those moments the most. This was his life now. HIS. And those old memories had no right to show up. They didn’t belong in his bedroom with the pictures, the feather pillows and the flannel sheets. He had never been able to figure out how to pack them away, though. Over time, he simply learned to accept them much like he accepted the ache in his knees and the stoop in his shoulders. They were another daily hindrance that he could do nothing to remedy.
He heard the wind chimes tinkle and come to life with the warm afternoon breeze. They were soft at first, rousing him fully from his late afternoon nap and then louder and more persistent refusing to be ignored. “Damn the day I ever hung those damn things,” he muttered softly. Words to fill the silent room not intended to be heard by anyone else. The truth was that day had been a perfect day. He never heard the wind chimes’ melody without being reminded of how perfect it had been. He rubbed his face, not wanting to relive the memory that he knew was coming.
The tinkling started again singing on the whisper of another breeze. “Enough already. I’m awake. I don’t know why I ever bothered to hang them up.” Another lie and yet he spoke it as easily as the truth. He had learned long ago the worst lies were the ones he told himself. That realization didn’t stop him in moments like these. He had also learned that sometimes a casual lie could hide a truth’s hurt. He had hung them, very simply, because she asked. He had known it would make her happy and he remembered clearly that it had.
She had bustled into the room somehow brightening it and bringing it to life merely by walking in. It really was that easy for her. She never believed him but he would have fallen in love with her even if she hadn’t had a breathtaking smile. There was something about her that he found soothing and exciting at the same time. Words failed him when he tried to explain it to her but it was as if he simply breathed easier when she was there.
He remembered that she still had drops of rain in her hair. She brushed them away, oblivious to the fact that they were even there. Thinking about it later, he wished he had made her stop. He wanted the moment back when he could brush them away for her. Not as an afterthought or as an annoyance but as nothing more than another way to be close to her.