Monday, November 06, 2006

A Flickering

The old man could often be seen strolling around the mall. He would put one foot in front of the other and sort of swing his body from side to side. No one could call him graceful; his method of walking was more akin to a loping steer than a slinking cat. Sometimes he would fold his hands behind his back, moving forward at a leisurely pace as his shoulders swung to and fro. This was the way that he felt royalty walked. That is, not loping like a bovine, but at a gentle pace with their hands behind their backs. He did not realize how ungainly his walk looked.

It bothered him when people would rush to stand in front of him on the escalator and then just stand and wait to be taken to the top. The thing was, he never stood on an escalator. In fact, when he was on an escalator that was when all of his sauntering ended. On the escalator, he moved with the furious energy and purpose of a high-paid lawyer. No, when someone stepped in front of his doddering old form on the escalator, he would wait, arms folded in front of him, until that person had completed their journey to the top. Sometimes, if the mall was especially busy, he would have to wait for half an hour until he could make the journey to the top of escalator the way he wanted to.

He hadn't always sauntered. There was a time when his escalator pace had been the pace of his life. He had been a brisk walker with hard long steps and almost no wasted movement. This had been when he had known his precise destination and purpose. Now -- now he drifted along slowly, and tried to let his mind catch up to his languid pace. He had hated malls before and avoided them whenever possible. Now he would spend hours at the mall. He had carefully calculated his walk to give the impression of an old man enjoying the twilight of his life, but inside he was panicking.

Smiling wistfully, he strolled along with his hands folded behind his back. Why had he come to the mall? He winked at a tiny baby to spite the panic welling up inside of him. Why was he here? He felt the sack brush him gently on the back of his knee. He brought the sack from behind his back, slowly, as if he were merely admiring his merchandise. There were four cans of tomato soup. Why did he need four cans of tomato soup? Perhaps he was making tomato soup for his daughter. He smiled, imagining that tiny bundle of joy running to greet him at the door. It was such a pleasure to have a daughter. He glanced at the four receipts scattered amongst the cans. Why had he bought tomato soup four times? He couldn't answer this question, but the despair and confusion this caused him were not apparent on his beaming old face.

Once he had wandered the parking lot for two hours, looking for his car. Up and down the rows he walked, doing his best to appear to be an old man enjoying a pleasurable walk in a parking lot. A couple of minivans and an SUV had almost hit him. He had not been able to recall if his car were green or blue or turquoise. He would stop suddenly at a familiar-looking car, pretending to admire its chrome sheen and then moving away when he saw an unfamiliar bumper sticker or a foreign item dangling from the rearview mirror. Finally he had seen a car that looked like his and when he had reached for his keys he had realized that they weren't with him. He had not driven that day. In fact, he had not driven for a month. His wife had told him she had lost the keys the day after he had run out of gas on a rural highway far from home. He had been exploring, he told his wife, but there had been a worried expression on her face.

He thought of his wife now, but he couldn't remember what she looked like when she was worried. Her face was young and happy and there were no lines whatsoever on it. Remembering her, he smiled to himself. He wasn't pretending this time.


Dave Beldman said...

You never cease to amaze me, John.

John den Boer said...

Thanks Dave. I'm glad you like it.

Jono_or_Janice said...

If the character weren't so forgetful, I'd think he was Opa.

John den Boer said...

Ha ha, I was thinking of his way of walking when I wrote it.

Who deh?