It Gets Old.

Reads: 61  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

An elderly man who lives alone is followed by both the past and the unknown.

The house stood quietly against the suffocating blackness of night. It assumed its position in the middle of a bland, impersonal residential, which had more personality under the weight of surrounding darkness. Not a single streetlamp adorned the cracked sidewalk of this ancient neighborhood. Large trees swallowed up the front lawn of the house in the middle, their billowing leaves sweeping over the edge of its slanted rooftop. They casted shadows that seeped within, dancing across the walls of old rooms until morning.

Inside the house laid its lone inhabitant, an elderly man who endured the strain of sleeping peacefully each night. This evening in particular proved to be an unsuccessful one for quality rest. He listened to the uneven rasps of his mangled breathing, the quilt’s fabric pressed tightly against his failing legs. The house was silent, yet prodded the old man in mockery at his failure to blend in as night slowly drifted away. He watched the imprints of leaves from the trees sway across the wall near his window. The old man perceived them as hands reaching towards him, beckoning him to come near the window beside his bed. But he didn’t move, and instead tucked his chin into the blankets, setting his gaze against the endless void in front of him. 

…………………………………………………………

Morning light broke through the room, warming the old man’s face while slowly burning his eyes into awareness. He was confused by the quick transition - how soon the sun disturbed the sleep he never got. Did he sleep at all? The old man grunted while bracing his back higher up against the pillows. He doubted his judgement, especially since those hours blended together, becoming a vague memory in his tired mind. 

He stumbled out from underneath the covers and placed his bare feet on the small rug below his bed. The old man looked out his window and studied the scattered clouds that partially blocked the sun. Brilliant beams of light sprouted from where the sky revealed itself, making the clouds appear incandescent against the blue canvas. The old man sighed and lifted his aching body off of the mattress. He didn’t care to admire the beauty of early spring. It couldn’t change the fact that his waning life dissolved with each second. 

The old man shuffled down the hall and crossed into the kitchen. He listened to the refrigerator hum loudly as he opened it, gingerly pushing items around as he contemplated what to eat. He let out a discontented groan as he slammed the door shut. Out of sheer impatience, he decided to have wheat toast with blackberry jam for the third time that week. The old man glanced over at the telephone while preparing his food, pretending not to notice how little he used it.He spent more time blending into the yellow walls near the small table, filling out boxes in crosswords he swore were recycled from 15 years ago. 

…………………………………………………………………………………...

The bus halted to an abrupt stop, jolting the old man awake as the brakes screeched loudly enough for even his ears to be annoyed by it. He looked down at his chest, noticing that a small dribble of saliva wet the tip of his jacket collar. The woman sitting next to the old man sent glares of irritation his way. Mortification struck him once he realized he had been snoring, especially with how the other passengers nearby tried their hardest to avert their eyes from the old man’s gaze. Scattered mumbles bounced off the windows of the bus as people absentmindedly collected their things and shuffled onto the street. The old man waited in silence until everyone had left. It wasn’t until he was completely alone that the old man dared to stand up and walk out the double doors. The woman in the driver's seat gave him a curt nod as he looked back briefly, her small smile helpful enough for him to forget his snoring for at least a little while. 

He continued to trudge forward with his cane as the damp wind wafted around his body with ease. The old man squinted against the rays of the fading sun as it slowly concealed itself behind the clouds which moved closer together. He could barely make out the bold lettering of the hospital sign as he edged closer to the brick walkway. Large SUVS littered the parking lot in the front plaza, making the old man fear the mass amounts of patients he could potentially have to swim through inside the waiting area. 

The glass doors slid open, revealing the true blandness of the hospital on the other side of them. Patients scattered themselves around the worn lobby chairs, but to the old man’s relief, there were far fewer people than he had anticipated. Nurses walked back and forth between various halls and the front desk, their white shoes squelching against the poorly-mopped floors. 

He hobbled up to the front desk, using his cane with such conviction that he willed the staff to notice him. The old man grimaced with each step he took, but forced the tight line across his lips to dissipate as soon as it appeared. No one would know how much he struggled. The man at the computer smiled up at him wanly, never removing his gaze from the cane that dug into the ground with such brute force. 

“Good morning,” the clerk greeted the old man, glancing back at his computer screen with complete disinterest of his surroundings. “Are you here for an appointment?” 

The old man suppressed the urge to roll his eyes at that question. What else would he reluctantly go to the doctor’s for? He looked at the name tag pinned to the clerk’s  plaid shirt, which read ‘Steven’  in faded, gold lettering. The old man frowned at the gray stubble that grew in patches across Steven’s rough skin. He was often disgusted by young people and their neglectful habits. 

Steven stared at the old man dubiously whilst remembering he still had three more hours of work to crawl through. “Do you have your record number on file?” 

The old man sighed and pulled out his wallet, sifting through the various pockets until he found his insurance card. “There,” he said gruffly, eyeing Steven until the poor clerk looked back at his screen, succumbing to the old man’s intimidation tactics. “You can type it in, right?” 

The clerk scowled at the old man in return while fumbling over his keyboard. “Yes, I just did. ‘Says here your appointment is at 10:45. Have a seat in the meantime. A nurse will be with you shortly, Barry.” 

“That is not my name,” The old man snapped. 

“Have a good day,” Steven replied, burying himself in his scheduling book. 

The old man hobbled back to his chair, avoiding the stares of other patients who gawked at him. A young woman held her baby tighter against her chest when he casually glanced in her direction. The old man scoffed and quickly looked away. He didn’t understand how he posed a threat to the woman during this current stage of life. 

His face grew heavy with fatigue once again as he sunk further into his chair. The voices around him morphed into a thick lull which numbed him to his other senses. The old man thought sleepily of his bed after crawling into it later that day, the sound of gentle rain hitting the roof above him. . .

The old man’s dozing was soon interrupted by his dingy surroundings. He blinked several times before realizing a nurse had been calling him the entire time. He grinned in response to her blatant irritation whilst taking as much time as possible to stand up and approach the doors she stood in front of. The old man felt no desire to move quickly, because the nurse was the second person who couldn’t seem to learn his name. 

 

………………………………………………………………………………….

Early afternoon light crept past the thick, burgundy curtains which veiled the windows of the old man’s living room. Though the sun attempted to break through the dusty fabric, its rays were no match for that solemn space. The old man listened to the crackling of the radio as it rested inside one of the mahogany bookshelves. He smiled, happy with the fact that an object as old as his radio was still useful. 

The refrigerator hummed in the kitchen. He grumbled at this, contemplating whether he should buy a new one. The old man laughed at the idea. There was no sense in purchasing an appliance that would most likely outlive himself anyways. Sunshine cascaded onto the front lawn, enhancing the separation between springtime and the old man’s dim atmosphere. He decided to pull back the drapes to enjoy the remaining sun of his menial day, but slipped into a deep sleep before he was able to. 

 Memories caved into the nothingness behind his eyelids. The old man was slowly swept up in a brilliant  mirage of color, images that unwittingly traveled through the deepest recesses of his mind. A screen had been pulled over the old man’s brain as it drifted into another realm. He was once again a young man, racing down the highway as Charlotte yelled at him from the passenger’s seat. He threw his head back and laughed, assuring his wife that ten miles over the speed limit wasn’t too fast. 

Another scene spilled into the dream. The old man was met with the resounding sturdiness of a tall willow tree. A couple sat at the base of it, sprawled out onto a red blanket the girl’s mother had knitted for her. The old man studied the couple from the dirt road at the edge of the field. He only half-remembered that this memory was his own. Charlotte smiled up at the willow’s leaves, green hues bouncing across her red hair like emeralds. 

The old man dared to take another step closer to her. But the image faded immediately after his shoe hit the ground, and he felt a rushing wind overcome him as his body was pulled back. A great force took him away from the willow tree, away from his wife as he continued to move backwards. The tree rapidly shrank until it was a mere dot in the midst of a bleak landscape. He remained stuck in place until the world around him faded to black. The old man was then allowed to open his eyes, as if an unseen entity had flicked them open at the snap of their fingers. He sat in his chair and scanned the room for anything unusual, anything that would explain why the old man didn’t feel alone for the first time in years. He was both relieved and dismayed to find that he was alone, undisturbed in a house that breathed on its own. 

His attention reverted back to the radio. The station he’d turned on was playing some long forgotten program that the old man could barely name. A siren wailed in the distance.  He wondered where the ambulance was headed as the sound moved further away, probably racing across town to aid someone his own age. The old man leaned back in his chair and placed his hands across his lap, eyeing the staircase that faced the front door. He hadn’t walked up those stairs in months, hadn’t traveled up to the master bedroom the way he would have in another time. This was not only due to his failing legs. The old man knew he would never go up there, even if his legs actually did work. His slow deterioration was simply a glamour placed over the real issue. 

The old man thought about the series of dreams he had in the living room. He let his mind drift back to the large willow tree where Charlotte’s eyes gleamed up at its leaves, the rims of her irises dark and watchful. The old man dared to remember the strands of copper that flowed seamlessly from Charlotte’s head, all the way down to the middle of her back. He pictured how gently they transitioned into a regal silver as more time passed. The old man forced himself back into the present before he could remember that wreath of silver mingling with the damp earth after being placed in the ground. He preferred not to remember that at all. 

Night slowly passed into the sky, swallowing each bit of daytime with its steady march towards it. The old man was stagnant, trapped in a warp he wasn’t completely aware of. He stood up and walked to the kitchen, the radio crawling towards his ears while searching through the pantry for a mediocre dinner. He glanced at the bag of prescription meds that lay on the counter, knowing that he would inevitably swallow them down with chicken broth since there was nothing else to eat. The old man grumbled and began preparing his food, wanting nothing more than to already be staring at the blank walls of his guest bedroom down the hall. 

 

…………………………………………………………………………………………..

The old man stood in the narrow bathroom next to the guest room, studying the reflection he typically tried to avoid. He narrowed his eyes at the sight of his age spots, which seemed to darken with every second that passed in his remaining life. He peered out the small window inside the shower, observing how the sky had morphed into a deep purple. The horizon was black, closing in on the trees that stood in front of it. The hairs on his forearms stood up against his skin. His neck pringled in obvious warning of something to come, but the old man didn’t listen intently to these messages. This night in particular wasn’t unique, and would dissolve into irrelevance like each one before it. 

He hobbled into the guest bedroom and flicked on the light switch, examining the space for anything that might be out of place. The old man relaxed after deciding that everything was in order, and that his worries were simply the onset of paranoia. He clicked his tongue as he pulled back the blankets on his bed. The old man deemed it best to add this to the list of things he didn’t divulge to his son, Brian, or even his stooge of a doctor. He didn’t need the looming threat of being perceived as more vulnerable than he already was. 

The old man gulped his meds down with the glass of water he placed on the nightstand, debating with himself how many times he would wake up to use the bathroom. He turned off the light and treaded carefully through the dark. Relief struck him once he slid under the covers, the cool sheets soothing his skin as he slowly swam into a promising sleep. 

 

………………………………………………………………….

He slept peacefully for much longer than he was used to. The old man kept to one side of the bed, not allowing a single pillow to be pushed or ruffled on the unused side. He did this even in the deepest moments of slumber, because he wasn’t ready to stop expecting her to be there beside him. Cold air filtered through the old man’s window, gently waking him as it touched the tip of his wrinkled nose. 

The old man stirred a bit, fighting the urge to fall back into the subdued blankness of his dreaming. He eventually awakened at the sound of an object hitting the hardwood floor, echoing within the pit of his stomach as waves of adrenaline rushed through his chest. The old man scanned the room frantically for an intruder. He relaxed after determining that he was still alone inside the house. 

As always. 

But once the old man thought he was safe, his back immediately went rigid as the muscles in his legs tensed. He noticed how damp his body was with sweat, the airy fabric of sheets clinging heavily to him as he tried to rip them off his skin. The adrenaline which had dissolved suddenly returned, encasing his entire being with dread. It was as if the old man were being told to expect something worse, yet he couldn’t form any sane explanations for why he felt this way. 

He witnessed sudden movement out of his peripheral vision, a swift motion near the furthest corner of the bedroom. The old man looked over to see it as empty as it usually was. He grumbled to himself to calm down, discouraged by the fact that his “paranoia” might actually be real. 

A small thud erupted on the other side of the room, away from where the movement had supposedly occurred. The old man gazed at the empty space near the foot of his bed, wondering why it looked as though a portion of the air were separating from the rest of the space. A shadowy void formed in the center of the bedroom, much darker than the surrounding atmosphere. The old man gazed in awe as it slowly drifted in and out of sight. 

The old man’s eyes remained fixated on the entity as it began to take a more visible shape. It seemed to possess an energy of its own, drawing the old man in with an ethereal, compelling force. He watched in horror as the shadow assumed a humanoid silhouette, its long limbs stretching out until they hovered over the hardwood floors. The creature craned its long neck toward the old man and studied him. He stared back at its faceless head, bracing himself for whatever the future entailed. 

Minutes passed, and the old man found himself stuck in the same position, staring at the shadow as it continued to watch him without moving. The figure held the old man in place, his limbs under invisible constraints which kept him paralyzed. He strained the tendons in his neck whilst desperately trying to free himself, but his body remained imprisoned. The shadow creature continued to stare at him from the foot of the bed. It never removed its forceful gaze from the old man’s frail body. 

The old man’s eyelids grew heavy with fatigue. He struggled to keep them open, because he feared falling back asleep with the presence of an unknown being beside him. But the old man could no longer bear the immense pressure the shadow’s energy placed on both his mind and body. He became delirious with exhaustion as the stunning weight persisted above him. The old man let his thoughts drift away. He had become too disoriented to remember what he was fighting, anyways. 

And once morning light broke through the window panes, the old man looked up and let it burn his face, knowing he would never understand what had happened before. 

 

……………………………………………………..


Breakfast was devoid of excitement, as it had been the previous morning. The old man looked at his toast with contempt, examining the edges of bread that were burned by his Hamilton Beach toaster oven. He cursed that “cheap piece of tin” which sat at the edge of the countertop. It glared back at the old man, silently jeering at him within the shadows the cabinets above had created. The old man would never admit that he often forgot his food. It was easier to tell himself that he “wasted his money on a piece of shit,” and that “manufacturing would never be the same.” 

The phone rang on the other side of the kitchen. It’s chimes sent the old man into a fit of anxiety, because he hardly had enough callers to remember how the phone even sounded. A tight grimace spread across his face while he watched the phone shake violently from across the table. The old man contemplated whether he should answer, suspicion creeping into his mind over who the caller was. 

He sighed and trudged over to the telephone, listening to the satisfying click the machine made as he pulled the yellow hunk of plastic out of the wall. The old man lifted the phone to his ear and heard faint mumbles on the other end. He rolled his eyes and began tapping his foot against the black and white tiles. The muffled voices persisted until the old man cleared his throat in annoyance. A deafening pause filled the space between both ends of the telephone line. 

“Uh - hello? Are you there, Dad?” 

A ball of dread lodged itself at the base of the old man’s throat. He was convinced it was the size of a cherry pit. “Brian,” he stated flatly. 

Silence pushed its way back through the speakers. He was about to slam the phone  into the machine before his son’s voice resurfaced again. 

“I don’t suppose you’re happy I called,” Brian said. The old man noticed a slight waver  in his tone. He wished he could’ve been forgiving enough to care. 

“No,” he replied, looking around the house nonchalantly. “I don’t suppose I am either.” 

The old man waited to see how Brian would proceed. He didn’t think there was any room for comebacks or quick remarks. He successfully pushed his son into a wall of guilt.

Brian whispered something under his breath. The old man heard a more feminine voice in the background mingle with the crackling static that erupted in his ears. “I didn’t realize this was a three-way call, kid.” He smirked, picturing how frantic Patsy must’ve been after he said that. “But tell your wife I said hello.” 

Brian sighed, his breath whistling through the phone like a stifling wind. “I just called to see how you’re doing, and Patsy wanted to know the same.” 

The old man’s face grew tense. He licked his lips while searching for the appropriate response. “Well, I’m about the same as when your mom died. Hasn’t changed in the last 8 months. You wouldn’t know that, but. . .” his voice trailed off. “Just don’t do things out of obligation, Brian.”

His son grew silent again. Several seconds passed before he spoke. “I should probably go. We’re gonna have dinner soon.” 

“Okay,” The old man said, then hung up the phone. He huffed in exasperation and placed his hands on his shining head. He displaced his anger with each ragged breath he drew, imagining that it left a visible trail which quickly dissolved as he continued to breathe. The old man glared at the telephone and switched his attention to the half-finished breakfast on the counter. He marched over to his food as forcefully as he could and contemplated throwing it away completely. He decided he had no patience for eating. But the red capsules stood out in his field of vision clearly. He grunted and reached for his burnt toast and eggs, scarfing each morsel down so the pills could follow. 

Once finished, the old man grabbed his jacket and wallet to leave. He studied the large creases in its aging leather, wondering how the thing still held his money together after so many years. The old man shoved the wallet into his pocket and reached for his cane near the front door. He looked out at the morning which unfolded before him and walked straight into it, the sickening taste of pills still prominent in his mouth. 

 

………………………………………………………………………….

The bus was the same as always, rumbling along as it ran over every bump and pothole on those ice-covered streets. After the phone call with Brian, the old man was relieved to have some sense of predictability in his day. For once, he was grateful to be on that rickety bus, sitting next to the same passengers who appeared to always judge the old man from a distance. 

He was surprised when he didn’t feel the urge to doze off. The old man assumed his anger had forced him awake, Brain’s whiny drones sending spikes of energy into his psyche. He chuckled to himself at the thought of his son ever returning. Brian would probably attempt to correct their relationship in a meager sense, but only because Patsy had nudged him to do so. The old man leaned back and rested his hands in his lap, balancing the cane against the back of the chair in front of him. He imagined the willow tree from his dream the previous evening. It was another tactic for the old man to try and remove his rage, placing it as far back into the dusty shelves of his brain as he possibly could. 

But all he could think about was his dumb kid. Their relationship had diminished long before Charlotte passed, her presence being the only thing the two men had in common. The old man grimaced at this realization, that he hadn’t been too fond of Brian from the time he was only a boy. He was often unsettled by his son’s more sensitive disposition. The old man cast his eyes downward and gazed at the floor, ashamed to revisit those feelings that persisted throughout their son’s upbringing. 

Perhaps that was why he had been left to rot in that house. Alone with his own selfishness, his only visitor being a strange apparition that was possibly his own creation. The old man’s expression darkened as he watched the town pass him by in the passenger window. He would never know how to rid himself of the shadow, or how much worse it would get before it consumed him whole. 

A sudden stop lurched the old man forward, expelling his thoughts for a mere second. The bus hummed in place at the edge of the sidewalk, its exhaust billowing over everything it touched. The old man grunted and hoisted himself out of his chair, avoiding nosy glances from a woman sitting nearby. He recognized her from the hospital, that same mother who clutched her baby tightly against her body as he casually looked her way. The old man cocked his chin upwards as he edged closer to the front of the vehicle. He refused to address any onlookers who stayed in their seats, analyzing each trembling footstep he made towards the glass doors. But the old man relished his slow feet, unashamed of them for the first time in this current stage of his life.

A light tap on his shoulder brought the old man out of his determined trance, pulling him back into the stares of the passengers before he could escape. He turned abruptly and was met with a timid smile. The driver beamed at the old man as he stood there in confusion, her blue eyes shining at him with mirth.

“Harry,” she began, not paying attention to the shuffling of other passengers as they exited. “How’ve you been?” 

The old man jerked his head back. He found himself unable to form words, though typically he had many. “Y-you. . .know me?” He eventually stammered. “How?” 

The bus driver’s smile faded, settling into a thin line across her face. “Of course I do,” she replied. He noticed the glimmer of red hair beneath her cap, mostly concealed by the tight knot she kept it in. “You just don’t seem to notice, I guess. Or hear when I call after you.” 

That stubborn scowl was eerily familiar to him. He observed the way her bottom lip jutted out slightly, accentuated by the sharp lines of her pale face. “I’m sorry,” he finally said. He tried to remember any time he had run into the driver in town, or if they had ever spoken to each other on the bus before. “I guess I’m very self-absorbed these days, Miss.” 

She chuckled, glancing at her white hand against the steering wheel. Harry noticed that her fingers were painted a dark plum, quite similar to the nail polish Charlotte always wore. . .

“Well,” The bus driver said, cutting into his observations. “Maybe you always were that way.” She scanned the streets for oncoming traffic before switching gears. “But it was good seeing you, Harry. Hope you’re having a good day.” 

I’m not, The old man said to himself, but only smiled and waved at the driver before exiting. He embraced the cold, early spring air as it ran through his jacket, chills inhabiting his body until the breeze passed. Harry walked along the sidewalk until he reached the dirt pathway into Boulderfield Park. His shoes crunched along the packed sand as he searched for a bench to rest at. The old man watched numbers of people meander through the park, tending to their own lives whilst completely unaware of his own. He found comfort in this, knowing that for once, he would be able to blend in freely without disturbance. Harry decided on a place to sit, under a large tree that kept him tucked away from the wind. 

The stone bench was cold, its legs firmly planted into the ground for as many years as Harry could remember. The sky opened up from behind its imposing, grey clouds, fighting against the oncoming rain. Harry smiled and closed his eyes as sunlight spread across his aging face. Children shouted and giggled in the background, aimlessly wandering the park with whatever adventures they created in their own minds. A gentle breeze caressed the old man’s ears, whispering words of peace as the world turned slowly enough for Harry to feel still.

 


Submitted: October 16, 2021

© Copyright 2021 alyssanicole. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:


Facebook Comments

More Literary Fiction Short Stories

Other Content by alyssanicole

Short Story / Horror

Short Story / Horror

Short Story / Thrillers