In the mix was this one. It's not really a story, as such. I think I was trying to write about what it must be like to be old and alone. I was 26 years old when I wrote it, and I think I did a pretty good job of figuring out what it must be to be a bitter old man. (In many ways, I've been a bitter old man since I was 12 years of age.)
The story also reminds me a little of a couple of Charles Bukowski works, but I wrote this at least ten years before I discovered Bukowski.
At any rate, here is the brief yarn:
“Let It Fall”
James Robert Smith
Approximately 1,500 words
The Winter always brings back the bad memories, the old man thought as he peered through the window, squinting his eyes at the back yard. Above, the skies were gray and overcast, threatening snow, sleet--something. He sat at the window, feeling a nagging draft slithering in through some crack near his elbow. He grimaced, remembering.
Nostalgia: It was a no good emotion. He hated it, for there was nothing sweet in his melancholy; it was all bitter. It was Winter, though. Winter always did this. Before him, beneath the old oak at the rear of the weedy lawn, he stared at the spot that once shielded a tire swing, where Nan liked to play.
He stood, feeling bones creak, muscles ache. I'm getting on, he had to admit; but it was hard for him to think of himself as an old man. Always, when he was young, he had imagined himself growing old with Rebecca, perhaps visiting their daughter, grandchildren that might be. When he'd been young it had never occurred to him that he would be old, and alone. There was a tapping at the window that snapped him out of his sour reverie. Sleet, after all.
It was time to go to the convenience store, he remembered. There were things that he was out of. Shelves in the pantry were empty, in spots, and he didn't feel like going to the supermarket. Not when he needed only a few items and the convenience store was barely four blocks away. Besides, he enjoyed the walk. But it would make him think of Rebecca and Nan. Everything seemed to, these cold, old days.
As he came out of his house--the same house he and Rebecca had bought more than three decades before--he heard the raucous yelling of the neighborhood children. There were a lot of them, this year. There had to be seven or eight ten-year-olds on the street, these days. Nan had been ten when his wife had left, taking the girl with her. He shrugged his coat on snugly over his still-broad shoulders and watched them, running about like mad animals in the pelting sleet. No smile etched his aging face. His eyes tracked a trio of boys dashing madly about the yard of the house across the way, as if there was already enough of the white stuff on the ground to toss a sled upon. There wasn't though; it had barely begun. The old man grunted and stepped to his lawn.
Good crepe soles crunched down on the icy stuff as he strode down the walk, headed for the store. As he moved along, he recalled days when he had made just such a stroll with his two girls, as he had begun to call them during that last year together. There hadn't been quite as many homes on the street in those days, and the convenience store had been merely an empty, wooded lot where Nan would go to climb a great magnolia tree with her friends. She had especially enjoyed that tree. Magnolias have limbs that go all the way to the earth--they're oh so easy to climb.
The sleet came down harder, bopping the old man atop his gray head, catching in the thick hair. He hadn't brought a cap. Behind him, little boys yelled louder, glad that the storm was intensifying. A girl screeched happily. The old man sobbed.
He strode along, crossing over to a side street, not bothering to check for traffic. His street was a blessing to live on if you were a parent. Old trees lined it, and few cars traveled its length. Reaching into his pocket, he felt for the money he would need, a couple of bills he had hurriedly thrust into it as he had left the house. His old fingers found the money, gripped the paper tightly. In days gone, he had often thrust small bills into the hands of his two girls so that they could go shopping, have a good time. Gone now. Gone for almost thirty years. And not once had he heard from them. Not once had he seen either of them, or received a single letter. Nan would be grown, now. Grown and with children of her own--possibly even grandchildren! She'd have children certainly, because he had seen, even then, that she was going to grow into a fine-looking young woman, like her mother. He glanced ahead and saw that he was at the convenience store.
Milk, he recalled. Milk and some crackers for when his stomach was upset. In the store he shuffled around, found what he wanted, went to the counter.
When the old man withdrew his hand to give the clerk the money, he brought his thick nails clear of the flesh of his palms, and spots of blood trailed across the bills. “I'm sorry,” he told the young clerk, who took the bills and touched them as little as he was able.
He started back, along the way he had come, crunching through the thickening layer of frozen sleet that continued to pelt down from the cold skies. Winter, you took it all, he thought. It had been cold and gray when Rebecca had left, taking Nan and nothing else. Everything.
It had been over the cat, he remembered. Rebecca and Nan had had a cat--he couldn't recall its name, only that it had been a girl, like them. Even now, it was fresh, bright: a pungent, biting memory. He had put the cat out one afternoon, not allowing it back in for days, though it had yowled to be let in. You're so cruel, Nan's eyes had accused, though she had said nothing. He'd just had enough of the thing, that was all. After three days of its constant crying, Rebecca had let it back in while he was at work, and it had made a bee-line for his hobby room and the closet above his tool box. Rebecca had opened the door at which the cat had pawed, revealing the single starved, now lifeless kitten it had given birth to days before. Neither Nan or Rebecca had even realized the cat had been pregnant. Nan had been there when her mother had opened the door to the little closet.
What was that in their eyes he'd seen when he'd gotten home?
And then they were gone. Gone. Gone.
The final straw, Rebecca had called it.
The final straw, Rebecca had called it.
Through the hard fall of sleet he walked, thinking of those awful weeks, waiting for some word from Rebecca. Surely, he had thought, she would call, eventually. But she hadn't. And then he'd awaited some word, some request. It had never come. Word from the lawyer, that had finally arrived; but it had only been a court order denying him knowledge as to his family's whereabouts, and barring him from his daughter. And that had been it. For almost thirty years, that had been the only word from them. Damn Rebecca. Damn her to Hell. Nan, too. She was old enough to see her father on her own. Damn her, too.
And the winter. Damn the winter when it had all happened. To Hell with every, lousy winter.
At the end of the block, he began to scuff his way through the cold, numbing stuff, kicking at it, wishing it was Rebecca's face, her teeth. He did not look up until he was almost standing before his house, in front of his own yard. There were no screeching children's voices echoing through the neighborhood, just a hushed kind of silence beneath the nagging hiss of falling sleet. He was almost surprised to see the police cars parked in front of his neighbor's home: the family of three who lived next door to him. The old man stood still in the cold sleet, holding his bag with its quart of milk and box of crackers.
He looked. Two police officers held back another, restraining him. A fourth broke away from the cluster on the old man's front porch and began to walk toward him. In one of the squad cars he could see that the mother from next door was lying, unconscious, on the seat. Undoubtedly, her husband was rushing home, called there by some official voice over his phone at work.
They must have gotten into my work room, the old man thought as the officer approached. And the little closet there above the tool box. They must have opened it.
And something else. The old man saw the look of grim determination of the officer suddenly change to one of hatred as he got closer, came within reach of the old man and saw the expression of numbness on his aged face.
Even though he saw it coming, the old man did not move when he saw the policeman's hand clench into a hard fist aimed at his head. Let it fall.Let it.