As Old As You Fear

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
R J Dent's short story about the age-gap conflict was inspired by Blank Generation by Richard Hell and the Voidoids.

Submitted: April 03, 2016

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Submitted: April 03, 2016

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As Old As You Fear

by R J Dent

 

 

Benjamin Cross was in pain.

As he walked unsteadily along the pavement towards the surgery, Ben felt that he had been treated unfairly by life.

He tried to remember a day during his sixty-four years when he hadn't been suffering from something or other. He came up with a blank.

Never! Not one single day of perfect physical or mental health!

Because of this, Ben resented his constitution. He had been born with a strong body, but one that had slowly and steadily let him down. However, Ben felt that he himself was not in any way to blame for this. If he had been a religious man, he would have blamed God, but he wasn't, so he didn't.

Instead, Ben had worked out an elaborate theory which involved a conspiracy in which the human race and nature conjoined to cause Ben constant illness.

Every person was in some way responsible for Ben being ill. Drivers were responsible for his poor respiration. Food packagers – and sometimes manufacturers- were responsible for his clogged arteries. The water company was responsible for his thinning blood. Builders were responsible for his claustrophobia. Power companies were responsible for his deteriorating immune system. There were many more people to blame and Ben knew them all. Each one of them used nature in some way to poison him. They had been doing it from the day he was born.

Seething from the indignity of being a victim of the world he was born into, Ben pushed a young woman aside as she blocked his way on the pavement. He walked on, ignoring her cry of protest.

He reached the zebra-crossing and walked across. A car screeched to a halt. The driver shook his fist. Ben mouthed 'Fuck off' and gave the driver two fingers in response as he made his way slowly to the other side of the road. The car gave a rubberised squeal and roared away.

I hope he wraps his stupid car – and himself – around a telegraph pole, Ben thought.

With no immediate targets in range for him to vent his spleen on, Ben thought back over his life. Gladys, his wife, was two years in her grave. Ben had worn her out with his constant demands, gripes, moans, attacks and occasional slaps. He had resented her dying – it was as though she'd escaped his clutches. He had married her just after coming out of the Army. He'd been a young Sergeant, a roarer and a shouter, and he'd left the Army after ten years of service, looking for somewhere to settle – and someone pliable to settle down with. He'd met Gladys at a barn dance and had presented himself as a dashing, romantic figure. Gladys had believed the surface – in fact had not known about the depths – and had agreed to marry him after a courtship of one year. Ben had then dropped his mask and had started to work on Gladys, moulding her into who he thought she ought to be. It had taken him over thirty years to get her almost right, and then she'd escaped into the cemetery.

Damn her! Ben thought savagely.

After a week of fake mourning masking his anger had passed, Ben had continued with his life. He made a few adjustments – especially after he'd found out that he could obtain some help from the state. He duly applied for – and duly received – meals, a cleaner, a bus pass which he'd never used, membership to something called darby and joan, and various free medical items. Apart from his walking stick – which he was never without – he hated all of it – he was, however, content to avail himself of as many gratis services as he could.

He began to visit his doctor on a regular basis. Sometimes he'd go into the library, read up about an illness, and then describe these symptoms to his doctor, as though he was suffering from them. His doctor sympathised and gave the prescribed treatment, which Ben duly ignored.

Thinking of his walking stick, Ben looked down at that particular item. It was a beautiful stick – mahogany wood, coated with a layer of ash, into which Ben had stuck small badges of the places he'd been too on the various Darby and Joan outings. He hated the outings, but he enjoyed knowing he'd been to places he'd never otherwise have gone to. The stick had a dragon's head handle – one that looked as though it was about to breathe fire over the planet. Ben liked that idea. He'd often thought of rigging up a petrol-spraying device inside it so that it actually would spray fire, but Ben knew that there wouldn't be enough fire for his purposes, so he had never bothered.

As he thought about this, a lone child wandered into Ben's path. The child, a boy of about ten years old, was at least two yards in front of Ben, so was not technically in his way. Still, Ben took umbrage at this insult. He raised his walking stick and pointed it at the boy.

"You!" he bellowed. "Get out of my way!"

The boy, reading a comic and not even aware he was being addressed, continued his slow stroll. Ben speeded up slightly in order to catch up with him and give out an admonishment.

Nearly catching up with the boy, Ben bellowed again.

"You, boy – what do you think you're doing? Show some respect!"

The boy, aware of sudden noise, stopped and looked around, uncertain. Was the old man addressing him?

"Sorry mister. What did you say?"

Mister!

Ben was nearly blinded by rage at being called mister by the little whippersnapper.

"WHAT DID YOU CALL ME!" he raged.

The boy was very confused now.

"I didn't call you anything, mister."

"See," Ben said triumphantly. "You cheeky young imp. Didn't your parents teach you to show some respect for your elders?"

The boy shook his head. His parents had died in a car crash when he was under a year old and his aunt – his mother’s sister, had raised him.

"No," he said truthfully.

Ben reared up to his full height, towering over the boy. This was blatant rudeness. This was the younger generation once again attacking their elders and betters. This was war!

"You cheeky little bastard!" Ben snarled. "I've a good mind to thrash you so hard with this stick that you'll never be able to sit down again."

The boy backed away, suddenly frightened.

"I haven't done anything wrong, mister," he said quickly. This old man was clearly mad. Perhaps it was a case of mistaken identity. The boy quickly turned away and continued with his walk.

Ben saw his chance and raised his stick. He smacked it down onto the boy's back and felt a small surge of joy. It felt good to strike the enemy. The boy yelped and ran forward. Ben hurried after him, the stick raised – ready to strike again. The boy saw him coming and doubled back, easily avoiding the old man and his stick.

"Too slow, too slow," the boy taunted, his pain and anger too big to hold on to any longer.

"You little fucker! Come here!" Ben yelled. "Come and take your medicine! You're to blame for it all – you're the cause!"

The boy, aware that a deranged old man was attacking him, ducked and dodged around the lumbering figure with the stick. It was easy to stay out of range.

Unable to hit his fast-moving target, Ben's rage grew more and more. His breathing became laboured.

Inside Ben's brain, a small artery – unused to such a hurried pulse – ruptured and spilled blood into his cerebral cortex. Ben felt a numbing pain sweep down his left side. He saw whirling colours and streaks of red inside his eyelids. His ears roared as, losing his balance, he slumped to the floor, his cane clattering on the paving slabs.

The boy watched as the old man crashed to the ground and began thrashing about, a thin, keening wail issuing from his toothless mouth. He looked around wildly for an adult, but there were none in sight – the reason the old man had been able to get away with attacking him, he supposed. He ran to the slumped body and grabbed the old man's hand.

"Keep still, mister and I'll go and get help."

Ben looked up at the boy crouching over him and saw his young face backed by the pale blue sky. The pain inside his body was intense – it reminded him of when he'd been knocked over by an exploding mortar shell in one of his troop's desert campaigns. He felt more scared now than he had then.

"Don't leave me," he groaned, looking pleadingly at the boy. "Don't go away."

The boy nodded.

"Okay, I won't. Don't worry. I'll stay here. With you. We can try and get to the doctor's in a minute, when you feel up to it."

Ben nodded. Yes, in a minute would be good. Just a little rest first, then a very slow stroll to the surgery.

"Don't move," the boy said. He reached out and grabbed the old man's walking stick. "Here's your stick," he said. "Hold on to it, if you want."

Ben clutched the walking stick to his chest. His left side felt as though it was on fire, but cold at the same time. He saw the boy take his jacket off and drape it over him.

"That'll keep you a bit warm," the boy said.

"Okay," Ben breathed. The boy wrinkled his nose in distaste. The old man's breath smelled putrid.

"What?" Ben asked, catching the expression.

"Your breath smells," the boy said candidly.

"So does the rest of the world," Ben said. "It's a giant turd – and it smells like one too."

"There are some beautiful things on it," the boy said.

"Name one," Ben rasped.

"Mountains, lakes, rivers, the oceans, animals, caves, beaches, butterflies, dragonflies, waterfalls, flowers, trees – your walking stick," the boy responded.

"Okay, okay," Ben said wearily. "That's enough. Shut up now."

The boy sat quietly by the old man. Soon the old man said he felt well enough to sit up. The boy helped him. After a long pause, the old man levered himself to his feet, using the stick. The boy watched as the old man stood up, leaning heavily on his walking stick. Finally the old man took his first tentative step. The boy stood on his left side, supporting him. He gently held the old man's numb left hand.

Hand in hand the young boy and the old man walked slowly along the path.

 

*

 

 

As Old As You Fear

Copyright © R J Dent (2016)

 

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