A man has to change his life or die.
| Endings are new beginnings. That’s how Freddy was going to think about it. How he had to think about it. He didn’t want to die. He was a 72-year-old widower and retired bus driver, and had nothing special to live for, but he very much did not want to die.
At this moment, he was walking home from the doctor--a fact worth repeating-- Freddy Alan Abbot, was walking home from the doctor’s office! His bulbous stomach led the way. This was not something Freddy usually did. He never walked anywhere. Except to the bar. That he did daily, a thirty-seven-stepper from his front door. Not like this walk. This one was four blocks!
Freddy didn’t like walking and now remembered why. It hurt. He knew he waddled. He could feel himself waddling. He could see himself waddling, a bird’s-eye-view, a little, old, round, fat man with a bulbous stomach waddling painfully along the sidewalk. He’d only gone thirty feet and could already feel his heart racing, and his lungs striving for oxygen. Sweat was in his eyes and rolling down his face. His shirt was stuck to his back. Every step was getting more unpleasant. Old ladies seemed to be zooming past him on the sidewalk.
The doctor had weighed him in at 301 pounds, which shocked the hell out of Freddy. He knew he was fat. At five foot ten he’d always been heavy, but 301 was beyond heavy. He had to start walking every day. Doctor’s orders. He had to start dieting. He had to stop drinking. His blood pressure was sky high, as was his cholesterol. His echogram results showed his arteries were clogging. All things considered; he was a walking time-bomb and had to face the fact that any purchase of green bananas might be a waste of money.
And so be it, thought Freddy. The beginning starts now. He’d lose fifty, sixty pounds, get his blood pressure under control, the cholesterol down, open the valves back up and he’d be good to go.
If he didn’t die of a heart attack right here on the street!
He looked for a place to sit down, but the only place would be the curb and he’d never be able to stand himself up again. He went to the window of a dry cleaners and leaned both arms and his forehead against the glass. He tried to breathe. Was air getting into his lungs? He wasn’t sure. He was taking quick breaths and now tried to take slow, deep ones. It didn’t help.
“You alright, mister?”
Freddy looked over. A ten-year-old boy with bright red lips was staring up at him with deeply concerned blue eyes. The kid was sucking on a straw from a huge plastic cup and making slurping sounds.
“Yeah,” Freddy said between pants. He nodded his head.
The kid released his lips from the straw. “You sure? Your face is like, all purple!” he said, and went back to the straw.
Freddy looked at himself in the window. All he could see was a hazy fat man with a bulbous stomach. He saw man-boobs.
“You sure?” the boy asked again. He seemed far from convinced.
Freddy was about to nod his head again, but the boy’s worried eyes stopped him. Maybe he wasn’t sure. “My face really purple?”
“Oh, man! Bright purple!” the boy said.
“Well kid, let’s add that to the list of things wrong with me.”
The boy nodded, now in complete and whole-hearted agreement.
“What’s that you’re drinking?”
The boy handed his tall plastic cup over without hesitation. “Cherry slushy.”
“Cherry slushy,” Freddy repeated. He took a sip from the straw. “Jesus!” he said and handed the slushy back. “Not even vodka could fix that thing!”
“They were out of grape.”
“Ok, now,” Freddy said. He pushed himself off the window. The boy got out of his way and stood watching as Freddy walked down the sidewalk. He could feel the kid’s eyes.
Crossing Atlantic, he felt the eyes from the drivers waiting for the light. He was already breathing heavily again. Up ahead, maybe thirty steps, he spotted a streetlight. Make it to the light, he told himself. Make it to the light. He got there and hugged the pole. He closed his eyes, breathing hard again. His back now ached. His legs felt like they weighed a thousand pounds each. He had a long way to go to get home, and after a few minutes, began again.
Crossing Jefferson, he was on his home turf. Yancy’s pub was twenty more steps. From there, it was another thirty-seven to his front stoop. He stopped before he got to the pub’s door. He leaned against the brick building and could see the pub’s door was wide open. If he rested here, he could make it past the door and past the window without being seen by the patrons inside. This was his new beginning, and he wasn’t going to ruin it by going back to his old ways. If they saw him, they would call out to him. There was an old joke that began and ended with, “So Freddy was walking past a bar.” Always got huge laughs.
Well, he was going to walk past one now. His own stoop was just beyond. He came to the pub’s door and looked in—he had to. He saw Jimmy G. and Vic playing dominoes with Yancy at the corner table. That’s where he’d normally be, right there, at that table, yucking it up with the boys. It was 3:15, they’d be having beers, he’d have a scotch on the rocks. Take their money. Make them all hate him, make them all love him, make them all laugh, maybe even buy them a drink.
Those days are over, he thought sadly, and walked on past the door, past the window, past his old friends and his old life, and into the beginning of his new one.