I woke up this morning an old man. I can’t explain to you when it happened but it did. It feels like some kind of joke and I missed the punch line. The whole ordeal must have been gradual because I didn‘t take any notice. Age snuck up on me and started to kick hard. Feels like how the first big storm of the year always seems to surprise everyone like no one has ever seen snow before in their lives. Its much like when a season decides its done and it will be winter now.
I finish washing my face, place my soap back in its place on the shelf and quickly shut the cabinet mirror door above the bathroom sink. I take one more look at myself. You are old now, I mouth to my reflection. I leave the small bath, no bigger than a closet and move down my dim hallway. I walk squinting into the daylight. The screen door swings closed behind me on the front porch and gives my ears its familiar slam sound. I step my half-way caulked walk to my bicycle and get on. What’s it to ya, I answer myself. I push the left pedal first because its my good leg and follow it with the right one because its partly crippled these days.
The weather this morning puts me in high spirits. The fall sun is just strong enough to warm my back but the air is clean and cool to breath. The soft heat is like a woman’s sigh and feels redeeming. The sunlight is amber coloured and everything looks golden. The evenings are alright too, when the sun sets behind the row of identical wartime homes across the street from my own I imagine there is something glorious beyond it.
I ride my bicycle down two blocks and across one more to the market stores every day for my supplies. I greet the checkout ladies and pretend interest in their concerns.
“Apples one dollar ninety this morning Mister Kocher”, the girl tells me. I have heard the girls call me Mister Masher when they think I am out of hearing range. I believe that to be what this one thinks.
“Nice day it is.” I say back to her and smile through my mess of crooked, yellowing teeth.
The check-out girl may not think much of me. Come to think of it they may not think much at all. I know who I am and I still require supplies for my cupboard. I knot the stuffed bags to the handle bars of my bicycle and push on back towards home. Routine can keep you alive.
Pastimes I fix up old bicycles and sell them for a couple of dollars to the kids around the neighborhood. More often than not they look at me sideways like I’d be some type of debaser. I look past it though and ask if they’re buying or not. Best ask your folks first, I tell them. Better make sure it’s okay before you go spending all their money. Drop mention about the parents. Always seems to shut those brats up. I don’t want trouble over bicycles. And get yourself a good lock, I tell them. Better looking at it than looking for it.
I look for Lenny down by the coffee shop. He haunts the place like a ghost that don’t know he’s passed to God. He lost most of his vision back twenty years now from pulling up lime in glass tubes for Can-Co Company test samples. I would watch him while he put his lips on the tube and suck the lime up to the top of the rim and think that can’t be good. Lenny is still around though standing outside the red brick café building on the dusty sidewalk. An old bastard in old rags not much different than myself. That can’t be good either.
Lenny was raised same as me in a big family; six siblings and a bath once a week. The bathing orders always came the same too; youngest child to eldest in one tub of hot water from the stove and by the time you got your turn it was chilled cold and brown. When Lenny and me was kids we’d ride our bikes like terrors around the neighborhood and go as far from home as we could before we’d run half-ways out of steam and have to be saving some to get home again. We would ride over the train tracks and down the gravel roads that run beside the river where Billy Samuel was found face down, bloated and bobbing like a log. We loved pedaling as fast and as far away as we could; long before we’d sign up to work for the shipyards or began to look like men. Mothers then had a common means to rid themselves from children under-foot. It was to show you the door and say be home by sundown.
I was in love with Lenny’s second youngest sister Jenny. When she passed away it was alright with me. Love lost to one evening. I caught her entertaining another gentleman partly through her sliding backyard patio door. Up until that time we visited regular nights; me and Jenny. I can see her swinging her long brown hair over her shoulders and laughing while we played cards in her kitchen. We’d have conversations over cups of coffee or sour tasting gin until we were silly with one or the other and it was time to retire.
I was a spry man at that time. I was fit and bulked with muscle from hauling metal casings at the shipyard, fired up with excitement from watching the minesweepers roll out of our harbors ready to defeat naval mines. If a ship came in touch with a naval mine horn it would blow a hole in it so big as to send it to the bottom. Our shipyard could barely keep up with production. The work pace was lightning fast because apparently our enemy was as good at sinking ships as we were making them; sometimes better.
I didn’t think much of what happened that night. I grabbed the man with my rough hands and squeezed his neck with them, tighter and tighter. My heart didn’t complain once as I wrung the life out him. I watched the scene from somewhere outside myself during the few minutes it took for the man to die. He looked so shocked as the lights escaped from his bulgy eyes. Even when dead on the ground his face still held a look of surprise. Jenny screamed all the while like she was being killed herself. I turned to her and said You got to keep out of trouble Jenny. I felt she needed me to tell her. I dragged the man’s dead body down the dirt and pebble lane by one of his arms and buried him somewhere I can’t never say. When I finished with the burial I went back to Jenny’s house. I came back the same ways I left and found her in the shadows sobbing in her hands like women do. In the dark kitchen I sat down in the chair next to hers. As soft as I could I explained to her how it would be best if she would keep quiet about the whole mess for good. She threw her hands up in protest then and moaned something that sounded like an agreement. I walked out her door and never went back.
Its almost four thirty now and I lay in my bed fully dressed and wait. My small television tries to sell me some walk-in bath tubs with chairs built inside them and motorized scooter chairs. I don’t know why everybody wants to sit down so much. I enjoy the light that shines through the glass despite the dirt on my window, through the dingy sheers that were white fifty years ago. It is almost time for old men like me to have their supper.