That Old Man

The only thing we ever knew him as was “that old man”. Our parents might have been able to tell us his real name, but none of us really cared. He wasn’t that interesting, really – he’d just sit on a bench, basking in the sun and rarely paying us children any attention. He wasn’t of the “nice, child-loving grandpa” type, but on the good side, he wasn’t of the “awful, child-hating bitter old guy” type, either. All in all, well, we pretty much ignored him, like he was a piece of furniture or something.

Amy was the one who noticed, the day he’d disappeared. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and it was really odd that he wasn’t sunbathing like always. When I asked my mother about it, she said that the old man had had a heart attack and been taken to a hospital. We found this exciting, and even a little bit scary – was the old man going to die? Could we have a heart attack and die, too? Some of the older boys tried to convince us that yes, any of us could have a heart attack and die right now, and while we tried to ignore them, the thought was more than a little discomforting. I slept with lights on for the next two weeks, afraid a heart attack would sneak up on me and catch me unawares.

Well, the old man never came back from the hospital, and over time we forgot all about him. We grew up, went to school, got our own lives. By the time we finished high school, I was the only one who remembered him, and even my memories of him were vague. I think that was the last time I thought about the old man in many, many years.

Time goes on and on, and nothing ever stops changing. I married, had children. I watched them grow, fly out of the nest. My wife died before me, leaving me alone in a house far too large, the house where we’d raised our children, the house we had never wanted to move out of. It was more than just a house – it was home, and it held far too many precious memories. I couldn’t move out of there any more than I could stop my heart from beating.

Now that I’m alone, I find my thoughts constantly returning to the days of my youth. I remembered the old man for the first time in years, and the more I think of him, the more curious I grow. Was his tale anything like mine? Had he had a family once, or maybe he’d never found his true happiness? What crossed his mind when he watched the children play, or did he care at all? Did he, like me, relive the days past, or was he just content to sit in the sun?

Now I can’t help but feel a deep sadness when I think of him: I’m sad that I never talked to him, never found out his story when I had the chance. As I watch the children play outside, I feel a feeling of companionship, bonding with that long-dead man. Maybe he’s still somewhere, watching over me, still watching the children that always played in front of his eyes.

I feel my age weighing on me – I don’t have much more time here. Maybe I’ll get to meet him again soon, ask him for his story. Then we’ll have a good time together, share the stories of our lives. But there’s still a while before that.

In the meanwhile, I’ll go sit in the sun. The warmth feels good on the old bones.

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