The Battle

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
An old man alone in his house has to deal with a morning filled with problems

Submitted: April 08, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: April 08, 2017



Luther Moss woke with a jerk. There was no need to look at the alarm clock on the bedside table. He knew it was 7:15 or reasonably close to it. He had awoke at 7:15 most days for the last ten years without the aid of any store bought contrivances. His body told him when it was time to get up. Now his body, namely his bowels, was informing him that it was 7:20 and he was five minutes late in getting his morning ritual underway. Some things could wait, but an old man's bowels in the morning was not one of those things.

At seventy-two years of age Luther had discovered that his body had become rife with anarchy. His eyes no longer watched the road when he drove but rather studied the neighbors' yards and made him wonder as to what brand of mower they used or if they fertilized or not. His ears seldom reported any accurate information at all, but were very adept at detecting the slightest of creaks and rattles in both his house and bones. His feet stumbled over invisible obstacles and his hands seemed to have a mind of their own some days as they went about knocking things over and dropping cups of scalding hot coffee into his lap. His brain was even against him. His mind was a colander and his thoughts the warm water running out, leaving him, at the end of the day, with just wet noodles.

He flung the heavy quilt back and was greeted by the combination of early morning chill and the escaping miasma that had been trapped and percolating overnight under the old quilt. He grimaced at both. He gripped the bed sheet at both sides of him for extra purchase, as he swung his bony, arthritic legs over the edge of the bed. They hung there momentarily, like some crazy dead limb protruding from a stump, then dropped with enough force that he was able to propel his torso into an upright position. Old age had given him a new appreciation for physics.

 Normally his feet dropped neatly onto his prepositioned slippers, but this morning they landed on the ice cold floor. "Whoop woo!" he exclaimed pulling his feet up with more speed and agility than he thought possible. He glanced around suspiciously for his truant slippers while holding his bare feet in the air. They were nowhere to be had. "Damn cat," he hissed between teeth clenched as much from irritation as the crispness of the early morning air.

In all probability the cat had nothing to do with his missing footwear, but he had of late, begun to blaming the cat for most of his small misfortunes. The cat had belonged to his wife, Mildred. He had never liked the animal when she was around and now that she was gone, he thoroughly detested it.

To his right was a pair of extremely worn ankle high work boots. Not being of a frivolous manner, he seldom threw away or replaced anything if he thought for one minute that there was any use left in it. So even though the boots were so worn that the tongue was thin and limp and the soles were slick as glass, and regardless of the fact that the left shoestring had been replaced with a length of twine and the right one was on the verge of breaking, he still wore them almost daily, and had actually worn them to bed last night leaving the slippers downstairs. Warm soft slippers were much more preferable to hard soled and cold shoes in the morning, but you had to take the good with the bad. It was a lesson one learned in one’s declining years. One also learned not to tempt fate by ignoring one’s bowels. Every pain in his belly was like a poke from God and a “take that, you grouchy old fart.”

He eased his feet onto the cold floor. He wondered why the shoes were so far down the bed and guessed that he couldn't reach them successfully with just a bit of leaning. Old age had brought along with it the need for many procedures and processes that youth found unnecessary. Bending, stooping, squatting as well as stairs, steps and cracks in the sidewalk were things a young man negotiated with little if any acknowledgement. When your joints have stiffened with years and your strength fades on a daily basis, you find there are many calculations and compromises to be made just in going about the mundane tasks of ordinary life.

So rather than stretching to reach the boots and risking a fall off the bed, he raised himself up and over in several small maneuvers until he could easily bend down and snatch up the dilapidated footwear. First the left, because it had a twine shoelace, then the right. The right one would take more care because of the fragile and frayed lace. Unfortunately, a sudden and sharp reminder that his bowels were on a much tighter schedule than his feet caused a spasmodic motion that snapped the lace as if it were a single thread rather than a few.

"Dang it," he swore. Mild oaths were the norm for him ever since having his mouth washed out with a bar of Fels-Naptha laundry soap when he was a child for muttering "Dammit" under his breath. Just muttering in the presence of his mother would have elicited some kind of punishment but swearing was something she held to be especially common and vulgar. He made a face at the thought of the soap. He could still taste that punishment after all these years. It had been the only profanity she ever heard out of him and that was evidence enough of the power of discipline and Fels-Naptha soap.

He glanced around the room for something to come to his aid, but here wasn't anything in the sparsely furnished room. Since Mildred was gone now, he had taken to sleeping in the guest room. He told himself it was because it was closer to the stairs and the mattress was more comfortable. He had almost convinced himself it was the truth. It was dim and dusty and disused. The only light was the cold early morning sun that seemed to struggle to get through the lacey curtains. What sun made it through danced in dainty paisley shadows on the wall in front of him and caught the dust that lingered in the air as he shuffled the quilt around. He told himself that he would dust in here later but he knew he wouldn't. He could already write his name in the dust on the bureau so he couldn’t imagine how a little more would make any difference.

Once again, a sharp stab in his abdomen told him that his regular morning ceremony had grown into something more tangible, an angry little beast. That beast was now pacing through his colon. It hissed and growled and he felt its hot breath coming out of his southernmost regions accompanied by the pain of a hundred tiny razor blades. "Oh Lord," he exclaimed, forgetting all about taking names in vain and laundry soap consequences. The situation was becoming quite urgent.

Now Luther was up and moving. His left boot was securely laced and his right held on with mostly hope and some prayer and a little pressure from his arthritic toes, bunched up as if to grip the bottom of the boot. He had put them on before his pants and now stood a bit bewildered. Time being of the essence, he decided to forgo the baggy carpenter jeans he now favored in his retirement, and snatched up a faded pink flowered bathrobe.

It was an old one of Mildred's. He tied the sash in front and thrust his hands into the pockets. Feeling their contents, he pulled them back out again to reveal wadded up toilet paper, some bobby pins and an old shopping list. For a second he felt a bit nostalgic, but seeing that the first item on the list was cat food, gritted his teeth and muttered, "Damn cat." The order of items on the list probably didn’t matter, but somehow seeing cat food before cornflakes took on the appearance of an insult and he was indignant. He would kick the cat for that, he told himself.

In quite the hurry now, he went out of the spare room and to the staircase. Trying to make his way down quickly and safely was his current challenge. Stairs had been an ever increasing obstacle as he aged. Every year a little harder to navigate. Sometimes it seemed they increased in difficulty each day. Down he went with his left boot making a KLUMP and scooting the right so as not to lose it. KLUMP, ssshhhhlemp, KLUMP, ssshhhlemp. There was an upstairs bathroom. The toilet had begun to have difficulty flushing and he had promised to fix it. The more Mildred complained and threatened to call someone the more obstinate he became. It had been one of the countless little quarrels they had had, but he was not going to knuckle in and hire a plumber to come in and overcharge him. He would fix it himself. "Besides," he would tell her, "we can use the exercise." Exercise, of course, was making the trip downstairs to the smaller bathroom off of the kitchen.

The right boot began to come off and he grasped fiercely at it with his stiff toes. He slipped rather than stepped down several steps with a loud klump klumpety klump but stopped himself by grasping the handrail with both hands. The angry beast growled and threatened to leap from his body and scamper down his leg, so with redoubled effort he clenched his bowels and his toes and made his way awkwardly down the stairs. Even though he had only been up less than a half hour, he knew this was going to be a bad day. It already had the hallmarks of something disastrous, and the idea of going back to sleep as soon as he had dealt with the growling monster was more than just a lingering thought. First things first, though.

Finally, at the bottom of the stairs, he began to pick up his pace crossing the living room floor. Still having to drag his right boot to keep it on his foot he shuffled hurriedly across the hard wood floor like an old locomotive. KLUMP shhhhhshh KLUMP shhhhshh KLUMP shhhhshh. Then he spied the cat, the reason behind all his misfortune. The devious feline devil was lying innocently enough on the furnace register waiting for the heat to come blowing out. He knew it was just the guise of a hellish little creature, for there wasn't anything remotely guiltless about that animal. The old man redirected his shuffle to the bathroom in order to pass near enough the accursed cat to deliver it a well-deserved kick with his boot. "That'll teach the little beggar," he thought.

The dozing cat seemed completely oblivious of the shuffling old man. Luther Moss approached as near as he dared without waking up the cat and quickly readied his right boot by bringing it back as far as his old leg could go, then, like a placekicker, he let it fly toward the unsuspecting creature. But as cats are apt to do when danger is imminent, he simply vanished. The old man's boot sailed harmlessly over the vent and then loose of his foot, flew under the heavy wing back chair in the corner. "For Pete's sake," he spurted, flinging a little saliva. He knew retrieval would not be easy.

That particular piece of furniture had been relegated to the dark corner under the stairs some years ago when Mildred had purchased a new loveseat. Also occupying the corner and adding to the difficulty of getting his boot back, was a long unused coat rack and a heavy upright vacuum cleaner. A few boxes of unknown contents had been shoved back there as well.

Time now seemed to be of the essence. The situation was dire. The thought of what could happen if he were waylaid much longer spurred him to action. He cinched up the tattered sash and he headed toward the bathroom as fast as he could with one foot now bare. The icy floor educed a "Whoop" from him whenever his foot touched it, but it was something he would have to endure. So, with a KLUMP whoop KLUMP whoop, he made his way across the floor.

Then suddenly he remembered the bathroom door and his heart skipped a beat. It was the doorknob, actually, that made his blood turn cold. The screws had become stripped a few weeks ago, leaving the knob prone to falling off of the door. If one was careful enough the knob could be turned without pulling it free from its perch, but more often than not, some utensil needed to be used to pry the plunger back. He originally had used the screwdriver but after being lectured by Mildred on the dangers of sticking a butter knife into a toaster, he had switched implements. The screwdriver was now next to the toaster to coax out stubborn bagels, while a butter knife was on the small table next to the bathroom door.

Prayer was not something that the old man resorted to with any regularity. It was reserved for only the most hopeless of situations. He prayed that he had left the door open. When Mildred would complain about the knob he simply told her to leave the door open. An open door, however, blocked the hallway so it was often shut. Also, she found it less than lady-like to use the facilities while the door remained open. Now days he usually left it wide open. He hadn't gone down the hall to the kitchen. There was a reasonable chance that he had left it open. He turned the corner, telling himself that it was definitely left open. His heart sank. The door was firmly shut. Somehow it seemed more firmly shut than ever before. He wondered if the cat had done this and was even now gloating from under some piece of furniture.

He approached the door like a man sneaking up on a wild animal, as if it would suddenly fly from its hinges and soar about the room. He reached his hand out, slowly, steadily. The apprehension palpable, making his hand shake like a palsy victim. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly to steady his nerves. It came out with a raggedy “Oooo,” that sounded like an asthmatic ghost. Gingerly, as if a sudden movement would cause calamity, he touched the knob. He could feel the cool metal press ever so lightly against his fingertips. He took another steadying breath. The far end of the knob fell noisily to the bathroom tile. He squeaked a little and so did the little monster that ran loose in his abdomen.

All hope was not lost, he still had his end of the knob now firmly gripped in his hand. It was, unfortunately, utterly useless without its mate. He turned quickly, hoping to use the useless handle as a missile to strike the cat. The cat remained completely hidden from his view although he thought he may have heard it snicker a little.

 He exchanged the knob for the butter knife on the small table in the hall. He had performed this operation many times over the last few weeks, sometimes for himself and sometimes for Mildred when she would become imprisoned in the bathroom. Sometimes he came dutifully as soon as she yelled his name through the door. Sometimes he finished watching The Wheel of Fortune or whatever program had his attention. Once he left and went to the American Legion. In the end he always got her out.

Things were becoming desperate. The animal inside growled and hissed and pushed against his bodily constraints on it. He prayed a little, possibly pooped a little too, he thought, and wildly probed the back of his robe for any tell- tale signs. He considered knocking the door down but that was a young man's game. This required deft manipulations with the knife, not brute force. He twisted and turned the blade. He cursed and kicked at it with his left foot. He wondered why he put off fixing the door and exactly where Mildred kept the cleaning rags should things go any more awry. Then it suddenly opened up and he beamed as if the gates of Heaven had opened up and he was looking on at his eternal reward. It was salvation of a sort at any rate.

Inside at last, there was no time to waste. He lined himself up for the sitting procedure. Age had turned simple act of sitting down into a maneuver that required precision. Luckily, it was an oft practiced exercise, so fell easily into routine. With his toes on the appropriate tiles he threw up the back of his robe, like a pianist throwing up the tails of his tux. He squatted as much as his tired old joints would allow. Then with the confidence of a well trained professional, he dropped into place.

As soon as the cold seat touched the warm flesh of his pasty white thighs, nature took its course. There were reasons acts like this were done in the privacy of one’s own bathroom. It is what separated man from the beasts, he thought. Especially those beasts who frequented the men’s room of the local Wal-Mart.

The ensuing onslaught was frightening in its intensity. When it was over, Luther could do little more than wipe the sweat from his brow and try to catch his breath. Breathing had become a major task of its own. Breathing breathable air, anyway. He fanned himself by swinging the door to and fro. He had left it open during the ordeal, ignoring decorum for fear of becoming locked in with the noxious fumes. Now getting fresh air into the suddenly tiny and cramped room was of paramount importance. He swung the door vigorously in his attempt to avoid suffocation, but his sweaty hands slipped on the wood and the door slammed shut with the finality of a coffin lid.

Luther lit out a little gasp of horror from both ends.

He pawed at the door in a futile attempt at opening it. He knew that it was a job for the butter knife. He also knew that the butter knife was on the little table in the hall. It may as well have been on a little table on the dark side of the moon he thought. He looked around for some implement that might lend itself to freeing him from this malodorous tomb of toiletries and tile and wallpaper displaying little ducks holding umbrellas.

“Rats,” he exclaimed. “Shoot,” he spat out vehemently. Then deciding that those words did not efficiently reflect the seriousness of his situation, he added, “Shit-shit.” One word, hyphenated, he imagined. Because he was not used to curse words and their proper usage, he added a “Damn!”

There was a window in the bathroom that would lend itself splendidly to gaining some fresh air if not for it being painted shut. It was the only reminder of Luther’s one and only attempt at painting. After years of nagging, Mildred had finally cajoled him into painting the bathroom. She had bought some deeply discounted paint at the local hardware store and Luther loathe to waste anything, agreed to use it.

So after painting shut the window and defiling several towels as well as the shower curtain, they stood together and looked aghast at the debacle before them. The bathroom now wore no Earthly hue and gave one a distinct feeling of claustrophobia. The following day Mildred hired a lady she knew from the American Legion Auxiliary to put up the duck wallpaper. Luther hated it also but it did provide him with some alternative subject to think about while he sat there, chiefly, why would ducks need umbrellas? Maybe they didn’t need them, they just preferred to stay dry.

There wasn’t any time for those ponderings now. Now was the time for extricating himself from this porcelain prison. Since all other business had been concluded, he could give all his attention to the problem. He began to rummage through the medicine cabinet for anything resembling a screwdriver. He had a “Eureka!” moment when he came across a nail file. Appearing very butter knife-like, it would surely work. Unfortunately, Luther Moss was not well acquainted with the various tools used in manicure work, and mistook the emery board for a metal nail file. He stood there slack jawed when the utensil snapped.

He could feel the anger welling up inside, but it was still early in his escape. The first attempt was fruitless, so he would just have to try again. The toothbrushes would not work for they were much too thick. He stood for a few long minutes staring at Mildred’s toothbrush. He had never noticed it before. Now it seemed a painful reminder so he tossed it into the waste basket beside the toilet. Q-Tips were far too frail for such a job. He tried a pink disposable razor. It also was Mildred’s. It also did not work. It also was tossed into the little wicker basket beside the toilet. Rummaging around in the medicine cabinet he found several small devices whose uses were unknown to him. They proved equally as inadequate for his intent as the things whose purpose he knew. He almost had them join their cousins in the waste basket but decided that he may need them one day if and when he discovered what they were for.

The telephone began to ring. Luther Moss did not believe in answering machines or call waiting or any of that brand of technological advances. Useless crap was his exact name for those and other things that most people considered conveniences. The phone ringing for some irritatingly long period brought out his old and faithful dog, old being the operative word. Through the hole where the knob had once resided, Luther could see Bruce lazily scratching an ear and yawning. He stared at the phone on the wall as if it was going to do something miraculous, perhaps feed him. Luther briefly considered calling out to Bruce -like Timmy calling for the heroic Lassie. Bruce, who often seemed confounded by his food bowl, would be less than worthless in a rescue mission Luther decided. He sighed wearily and sat down on the commode to think.

He couldn’t help but consider the possibility of Bruce being able to retrieve the butter knife and somehow slip it under the door. However, Bruce removed that possibility from consideration when he trotted into the living room to bark at something that had got his attention. Luther knew he was up on the couch, barking at a delivery driver or the mailman. Even though Bruce was well into his golden years, he could still hear a UPS truck from two blocks away, and had enough vitality left in his bark to elicit a few swear words from the local Jehovah’s Witnesses. Luther thought that barking might be the answer to getting someone’s attention. But then what could he do? Tap on the window and say, “Hey fella, how ‘bout lending me a hand?” No, Bruce was out of the equation.

The cat suddenly appeared from thin air and parked itself in front of the bathroom door and began licking its paws. Luther yelled at the cat through the small hole and banged on the door in an attempt to drive the infernal beast from his view, but all he succeeded in doing was making the cat stop in mid lick to stare quizzically at the bathroom door. Satisfied that the noise was just some anomaly, he turned to licking his most private of areas. To Luther, this indecent action seemed directly aimed at him, and it was more than he could stand.

With a shout of “Damn cat!” he kicked the door as hard as he could. To his great surprise, the door flew open. To his great discomfort, however, he had kicked the door with the bootless foot. He grabbed his injured appendage and dropped back onto the toilet seat as the door, rebounding off of the spring door stop, slammed shut once again. Luther, in too much agony over his toe to be angry over the door, just whimpered and probed gently at the injured digit. It was surely broken, he thought. He had to extricate himself from the bathroom soon. His toe was beginning to swell. For the first time in a long time, he wished Mildred were home and could help him out of this predicament.

Luther Moss was a creature of habit. He followed a routine of some kind in every aspect of his life. Always had. It gave him a sense of normalcy, of continuity. There was not a spontaneous bone in his entire body and Mildred had often lamented that fact. But now he found himself well past breakfast time and still engaged in his morning constitutional. This day was obviously ruined. It was beyond salvage. He may as well just go back to bed- although he wouldn’t. Not unless he was deathly sick, had he ever gone back to bed once he had risen. Even so, he resigned himself to losing another productive day and he was bitter over it. He hadn’t so many days left that he could just go throw them away willy-nilly. In all actuality, he had nothing planned and being stuck in the bathroom would probably have no ill effect on his day at all, he just like to tell himself that he still had a busy schedule. That he was still relevant.

“Well, first things first,” he told himself, looking at his throbbing toe. He would bandage it, put a splint or something on it before once again tackling the door. Using a few of the implements of unknown purpose that he found in the medicine cabinet and a roll of gauze, he set about wrapping the wounded toe. With his foot on the toilet seat, which now seemed to him to be of some incredible height, he began to fight with the un-cooperating roll of gauze. Deciding that scissors were in order, he cast his eyes about in hopes that they might spy a pair. There was indeed a small pair on the sink behind him. In turning to reach behind him, Luther realized that he was now in a most unnatural position. With one foot raised up on the seat and his torso twisted he outstretched his arms for the scissors. As it turned out, this move provided his body with the exact amount of force that was needed to cause the small furry bath mat, his booted foot was standing on, to relinquish its hold on the tile floor.

Luther, in mid topple, began to thrash around in hopes that something would intervene on his impending doom. For a second, he thought he was saved, as his hand grasped the towel bar. For a second, his face lit up with pride, as he remembered the occasion of his installing the towel bar for Mildred. At the time, he had told her it was unnecessary as one could simply hang a towel over the curtain rod. He didn’t-how could he-know at the time, that the thing would save his life. Mildred had told him that the screws were too small, that it would never hold. But it did. For a second.

Then the towel bar, along with its too short screws and a towel that he had been meaning to throw in the wash, pulled loose from the ducks and their umbrellas. It had held wet towels without any problem, a grown man was something else, he thought, as he gripped the bar tightly. And so, with one foot wrapped in gauze that flapped loosely, like a flag of surrender, the recently detached towel bar, held like a sword, and a dirty towel draped over his shoulder, like a cape, Luther crashed backwards through the bathroom door, like some great Civil War general falling from his mount. This morning’s great battle of man versus his enviorment was at an end.

He lay on the remains of the door that had moments before held him captive. He took a mental inventory, searching his mind for the telltale signs of broken bones and obtrusive splinters. Satisfied that he was, in fact, still in one piece and still quite alive, he called for the faithful Bruce. His hope was that the dog would be able to provide him with the necessary assistance to pull himself up. Bruce was a stout animal and very often, completely immobile. Bruce was, however, content to simply watch the spectacle from a safe distance. The cat joined him shortly and began to lick itself in a most disgraceful manner. And for at least the second time today, Luther Moss found himself wishing that Mildred was still around.

© Copyright 2019 Terrence Lee. All rights reserved.

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