by Ladee Caid
An elderly gentleman doesn't make it to his destination.
|Maurice shuffled down the alley, tucking into his coat when the wind blew mists of snow off of rooftops. Even with thick, padded gloves, he couldn’t bear the ache in his gnarled fingers any longer. He switched the grocery sack to his other hand that had been warming in his pocket. He stopped walking for a moment to look up and see how close he was to the basketball court. He would use it as a short cut. The surface would be level and the buildings on both sides would buffer the wind. He sighed when he saw it wasn’t far.
The pretty brunette from Maurice’s television screen cautioned the elderly and disabled to stay inside for a couple of days until the frigid temperatures broke, but he needed his medication. He lived alone. He and his deceased wife had decided against producing children. They didn’t want to bring a child into a world that was falling apart. Many times Maurice regretted that decision. There was no one to look after him. The only person who cared to help left for college, and a grouchy, unfriendly woman moved into the boy’s apartment a week after he vacated.
Swirling snow speckled Maurice’s rubbers and chilled wind found its way up his pant leg. He was thankful to have not forgotten to put on his long underwear.
Each step was an exercise in concentration. A walk such as this was treacherous for an unsteady old man. Rocks and holes were hard to see under the white blanket. Ice broke from a gutter and shattered on the ground. Maurice looked up and stepped on a stone that threw him off balance. He lunged forward with his other foot to keep himself from falling. He stood in that position until he felt balanced enough to stand. The next step sent him sprawling. He didn’t see he had planted his foot on a frozen puddle. He lay on his back stunned and wondering what had happened.
Maurice cursed and rolled to his side. His hip screamed and he let out a yell. A dog barked.
Well, I can’t lay here forever, he thought. I will freeze to death.
He rolled to his other side. The pain caused him to grimace and grunt. It took several tries and a lot of courage to get to his hands and knees. He crawled to the edge of the ice. Cold, wet long johns stuck to his skin, snow had stuffed itself inside his gloves, and arctic air bit at his stomach where his coat draped open and shirt had come untucked.
With considerable effort, Maurice stood. Each step sent shooting bolts through his pelvis and torso. He felt sick to his stomach. He inched his way to where his bag had fallen. He was tempted to leave the pills, but then his trip would have been for nothing.
The sun was sinking as he made his way to the chain linked fence that enclosed the court. When he was arm’s length from the opening, he lurched forward and used the metal pole as support. He clung to it, like a drowning man to a buoy. Between plumes of breath, Maurice spotted a picnic table. Gusts had blown snow from the end of the bench and it looked inviting and comfortable. He stumbled forward and hollered as he collapsed onto the seat. He eased into a sitting position. He was exhausted.
I’ll rest here for just a few moments.
Maurice closed his eyes and thought about his wife. She always made a bad day better. He recalled the vacation they had taken to Costa Rico. Pauline smiled as she kicked salty water and sand on him. Her hair bounced over the strap of her red bikini. He felt the warm tropical sun beating down on him. His imagination was so vivid, he no longer felt cold. He was so good at reliving those glorious days he no longer felt the pain in his hip. He was happy.
He recognized her voice, and his eyes flew open. There stood lovely Pauline. She was as young as she had been that vacation. She reached out and put her hand on his.
“Is that really you Pauline? Am I just imagining you?”
“It is really me Maurice.”
Maurice felt such love and relief he began to bawl.
“I didn’t think I would ever see you again.” He threw his arms around her and sobbed. “I have missed you so much.”
Pauline held him until she felt him calm. “Come my darling. It is time to go.” She took his hand and led him away.
“Dude,” Bobby snapped a back hand on his friend’s chest, “That guy’s been sitt’n there all morning. He was there when I looked out the window to see if it was still snow’n. Let’s go see if he is okay.”
Justin followed Bobby’s gaze.
“I don’t know bro. He don’t look right. He looks like a statue. I mean, look at ‘im. He has snow on ‘im.”
“Don’t be a pussy, dude,” Bobby said and headed toward the back of the court.
The boys stood in front of the man sitting on the bench. His eyes were closed, his skin was a translucent blue, and tiny icicles hung from his brows. Snow had collected on his shoulders, sock hat, and lap. His hands clutched a small, plastic bag. The man didn’t move.
“Hey sir?” Bobby asked, but there was no response. He spoke louder, “HEY,” but the man didn’t budge.
Justin elbowed his friend, “Let’s go man.”
Bobby tapped the man on the shoulder. It was like hitting a clothed wall. Bobby’s eyes grew round. Only then did he accept the old man was dead.
The boys took off across the lot with Bobby yelling, “MOM! MOOOOM!”