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Rated: E · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2195575
A Hymn to Old Age. First Runner Up in Senior Forum Contest, October 2019.
Ready to Fall

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

Morning again. Time to find my way between the pains to an upright position. Time to gather mind and body for the struggle toward standing. Here we go.

Not too bad, no more than the usual aches and twinges, standing, swaying a little but equilibrium more or less attained. Settle, give it time and we’ll try for the first step. Check the legs; can they be trusted? Only one way to find out.

First step achieved, pretty good really. Usual pains down the sides but nothing serious and no collapse. A couple more steps then turn and pick up the clothes from the table. Back to the bed and sit down. Everything working fairly well now. We can do this. Dressing proceeds well. For an old fart.

Stand again and walk the three steps to the door. Grasp the handle. Remember to turn it the wrong way. The other way jams the latch. Open the door.

She is calling something from another room. I listen, captivated, though I cannot make out the words. Her voice was ever beautiful to me. If I answer, will she hear me? I cannot shout; my vocal chords are drowning in mucus and I am always hoarse. A cough brings up the phlegm but now her voice has ceased.

I walk slowly down the passage to the bathroom.

Later, in the kitchen, I stand waiting for the toaster to spring into action. Then it’s knife at the ready to perform the ritual; pinch the toast from the heat, spread the margarine (Olivio, it’s very healthy), throw some cottage cheese on top (no, I don’t know if that’s healthy but I don’t want to find out).

Take the plate to the living room and sit before the television. Corner Gas while eating, the high point of the day.

Caught a vision in the stillness
Still see it, can’t get it out of my mind

Old Jim Baldwin wants me down at the pub this evening and me without the price of a pint. He’ll understand and buy in the drinks but who can bear the shame? To be honest, I’d rather stay here with Doris.

And Jim’s been dead these, what is it, ten years now? More like twelve. I remember; it was raining. And I was standing like a dray horse at the graveside.

Doris drifts through the room, duster in hand. “You need to move about more. It’s good for you.”

I mumble something and take my plate to the kitchen. I drop it into the sink and then gaze out of the window at the view. The side of the next building, a white landscape with dark, empty windows staring like orbits in a skull, half a tree pushing into the scene from the side and ride-on toys scattered in the drive below. The sound of a chainsaw and the tree disappears, only to claw its way back into the corner of the window. In time it will grow and maybe the toys, now gone, will reappear.

But that was thirty years ago and a new tree stands there now.

All of these ghosts, I’m letting them go this time

Back in the living room, I sit at the computer and delete senseless emails. I read a few posts in Facebook, despair and turn to the game. My interest was lost long ago and what keeps me going is the thought that, without the game, I’d have nothing to do.

In the factory there was plenty to do and the sweat would turn the iron dust on our bodies to rust red. There was pride in hard, physical work and the constant drive to finish the quota early so we could sit and do nothing.

And now I have nothing to do all day long.

Malcolm started a chess tournament and we bought trophies for the winners of weekly contests. We sat on boxes between the largest machines and played chess with much-fingered pieces on a grubby board. Weighty matters of the union and politics meant nothing to us; we lived for these secret struggles for power on a tired board.

Lost contact with Malcolm years ago. When they closed the factory, we discovered our mutual interest in motor racing and I’d visit him to watch and relive the races. He had seven kids and couldn’t afford to work ever again. I could and a job eventually dragged me away and we forgot each other.

Kevin, the kid next door, calls me over to the fence. Do I have a spade he can borrow, he wants to know. There’s a little one in the shed and I hand it over to him. He begins to dig toward China in his parents’ back yard. I watch for a while, then decide not to be there when his parents find out.

I wake up, still seated at the computer. And Kevin grew up and moved to Australia long ago. His parents moved away and I never saw them again.

I know my memory is going. Not the old ones - those keep returning and barring me from the present. But what they call short term memory, that’s full of holes.

I’m ready to fall
I’m leaving all behind
I’m ready to fall

Doris passes the door to the passage and calls out, “Is the cat in there? I need to find the kitty.”

If the cat is in here, it’s probably behind the couch. It has several dens and hidey holes but the favourite for this time of day is the couch. I reach across to Doris’ smartphone and run the video of cat noises. Two minutes of that and the cat can stand it no longer; she climbs up from behind the couch. I call out, “She’s here. Was sleeping behind the couch.”

Doris answers, “Okay, as long as I know where she is.”

It hurts that I know the cat passed away two years ago. She belonged to our daughter who never had time to look after her and we had raised the poor thing from a kitten. In the end it was the cat that kept us going; made life interesting and worth the candle. I understand now why old ladies love cats.

From habit, I turn the television on again and listen to the news. I swear it’s the same as it was yesterday and the day before. For a world that is changing so fast, everything sure happens slowly. Or maybe it’s just confusion. I am getting old, after all.

Now the tiredness is getting to me. My eyes are closing when I don’t pay attention and being alert is fast becoming impossible. I call out to Doris, “Getting too tired. Going to bed.”

She doesn’t answer. Probably fallen asleep in a chair somewhere. I turn everything off and head down the passage toward the bedroom.

Once in bed, of course, I’m wide awake. Gone is the tiredness and backache that sent me here. I wonder how long it will be before sleep claims me.

I been holding in everything
I just wanna say the words out loud
I’m ready to fall
I’m leaving all behind
I’m ready to fall

“Alright, Doris, I’m coming. I know we always said we’d go together but I’ve been stubborn. Most of the time I didn’t know whether you were really there or just one of my ghosts. But now I’m saying it out loud, Doris. I’m coming, Doris, I’m coming.”

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

T.S. Eliot

Word Count: 1,291

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