[My first #FridayFlash. I moved it from my "regular" blog here so all my Flash fiction is in the same place. Be gentle; I know it's not the best thing I've ever done, but I've been working in my own universe for so long and pretty much exclusively that it was hard to break away and try something different.]
The old man bent over and dispensed a handful of cracked corn for the pigeons in front of his bench.
“There. That’ll have to hold you until Emily gets here. She’s coming soon.”
He glared at a teen who flew past him on a skateboard. The birds scattered, flying away in a flutter of wings, and then came back to the corn quickly. They were park pigeons, too canny to be disturbed by ordinary activity, especially when food was involved.
The man leaned back and watched a young couple go by holding hands. When did young girls start getting tattooed like sailors? He shook his head and chuckled ruefully. If I didn’t know I was old before, I’d know it now. No doubt it’s entirely acceptable and I was just too caught up in my own life to pay attention to anyone else’s. He carefully folded down the top of the bag of corn and began to reach for the newspaper at his side. He stopped. There’s too much bad news in there. Maybe later. Maybe when Emily gets here. One of the best things she always brought him was a sense of perspective. “Never borrow trouble,” she’d grin. “The rate of interest is too high!”
He tried — Lord knows he tried — to adapt to her viewpoint. Only the names have changed, she’d say. It’s wars and politics and scandal — Obama instead of Roosevelt, Afghanistan instead of Normandy, today’s starlets and murders instead of the ones we read about when we were young. You put too much importance on reading about things we can’t change.
But you wanted to change them, once upon a time. You wanted me to change them, too! He had told her that once and she had laughed. “What is that song says, the one the kids sing these days? ‘I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.’ I learned wisdom, Edward, and you should, too. It’s kinder to let some things alone. My new motto is ‘help where you can change things and ignore what you can’t’. The only really important thing in my life is you.”
They had finished that day making gentle, middle-aged love and falling asleep wrapped in each other and a few sections of the Sunday Times that hadn’t gotten knocked off the bed.
He looked at the watch strapped firmly on his scrawny old man’s wrist and then looked around the park. “It’s after noon, Emily. You’d better get here soon. I’m HUNGRY!” He eyed the pigeons balefully. “Don’t tell me — you’re hungry, too. All right, then.” Edward carefully unfolded the bag and scattered another handful of corn. “You are all very greedy, you know that?”
He wasn’t sure exactly when sitting in the park on a Sunday to feed the birds had become a habit with the two of them. She’d looked at him wryly. “We’re getting to be like that old couple on Laugh-In, you know.”
That reference he’d gotten. He’d waggled his eyebrows Groucho-style and said, “Hey, lady, want a walnetto?”
She smiled at him warmly and said, “I think you’re cheating. You know you’re safe because you know I don’t carry a purse.”
“What’s a walnetto, anyway?”
“Some kind of candy. They started making them again when that sketch became popular.”
An older woman walked toward him, and he sat up, recalled to the present. But it wasn’t her. This woman was moving slowly, hamstrung by age. Emily was still vigorous, not as fast as she’d once been, perhaps, but with the energy of a much younger woman. You keep me young, too, beloved. Hurry up, please. I’m aging by the minute.
The day passed, and Edward watched. People passed by him, young and old, male and female and even a couple he wasn’t completely sure about. Several times, he began to reach for the paper beside him, and always stopped.
A youngish man with a pitiful attempt at a goatee and dressed in clothing Edward couldn’t have begun to describe, passed the bench carrying a sign: “The End Is Upon Us”.
“It used to be ‘The End Is Near’. Glad to see you’ve changed your advertising slogan.” Edward gave him a hard, wicked grin.
“What?” The younger man turned around. “What did you say?”
“Oh, look. People like you have been around for ages. The end’s not all that much closer than it was then. My Emily always knew that.”
“Scoff if you want, old man. The end is near. You’ll see, but then it will be too late.” The would-be prophet furled his dignity around himself and stalked off.
Edward shook his head. He extended his hand, and this time, he picked up the newspaper. But it was dark now, far too dark to read the newsprint, which waved and blurred before his eyes. He looked around at the nearly empty park and his eyes filled with tears.
“She didn’t come. I was so sure she’d be here today.” He put the newspaper back down.
“Sir?” The police officer was both courteous and awkward. Geeze, he looks like my grandpa. “Sir, the park is closed and you need to leave now. It’s not really safe to be here after dark.”
“I’m sorry, young man. I didn’t realize. My Emily, she was coming. I was sure she was going to show up.”
“Yes, sir. Well, that’s too bad. But you should go now, okay?”
“Yes, of course, officer. I’m leaving.” He took the empty bag, screwed it up and tossed it in the nearby trashcan. Moving slowly, he walked off into the gathering dark. “I was so sure …”
The policeman watched him and shook his head. Poor old guy … As he started to walk further down the path, he saw the old man had left his newspaper behind. He picked it up, and called, “Hey, hey, mister!” Too late. He’s gone.
The officer glanced at it. The obituary section. Man, I hope I never get that old that that’s what I spend my time reading. One of the entries was circled.
Emily Powell, 85, passed away today
at St. John’s Hospital. She was survived
by her husband Edward. There will be
no public services.
“Aw, gee. Aw. Poor guy.” The officer tossed the paper in the trash and continued his patrol.