The old man floated in a field of stars at the boundary of his dreams. It was a wonderfully pleasant sensation that slowly dissolved with the arrival of morning and departure from night’s sleep. His eyes broke the crust that had formed upon them in the night. The stars that had surrounded him resolved into spots of light on faded wallpaper, projections of dawn through the moth holes of a tattered curtain. The serenity that had been his night gave way to the reality of a small grey one room apartment.
He lay for a moment organizing his thoughts. The tubular bed, once bright brass but now the patina of an old penny, was barely wide enough to accommodate the slow turn of his body. It creaked as he extended his hand toward the window that was the room’s only link to the sights and sounds of the street below. Sliding the curtain to the side the room exploded with Fall light that overwhelmed his senses. Sight slowly returned to eyes that drew focus upon his hand still holding the edge of the drape. The skin, once thick and full, had become paper thin and translucent. Light pierced his fingers like an x-ray, illuminating veins and bone. Beyond the hand he saw through the panes of dust etched glass to the street that ran before the storefront below. The park beyond was a network of sidewalks woven between the trees that cast their branches skyward.
Getting up in the morning, once a fluid and unconscious movement for him, had become a daily challenge that began with the act of grabbing the headrail of the bed with one hand and slowly pushing his body to vertical with the other. Legs extended over the side of the bed as knees audibly creaked the first bending that took his feet to the floor. The arches of his feet were like the rusted leaf springs under a tired old truck, function diminished by thousands of miles of road and the burdens that they had carried. His feet had tread uncounted millions of steps, carrying a body that was once large and powerful, but now shrunken and fragile. The pain of placing his feet upon the cold linoleum floor gave way to pressure as he slowly stood with the uncertainty of a man on a tightrope.
Taking a moment to steady himself he surveyed the room. Overhead was a single unshaded porcelain fixture with sockets for three lightbulbs but now holding only one. It was an accommodation to the economy that an inadequate retirement income thrust upon him. Across the room was a small painted wood table and a single bentwood chair. They were the only furniture that he owned save for the bed. The chipped surface of the off-white table revealed colored layers of paint that gave hint to its age like the rings of a tree. A counter with white sink and hotplate served as his kitchen. Separate hot and cold water spouts were pitted chrome with crazed porcelain handles that bore “H” and “C” respectively. They mocked him daily as corrosion had long made them inoperable. The drain still worked and a walk down the hallway outside his door to the communal bathroom served the sanitary needs of his body and gave him access to water for his pitcher.
He stood at the sink and faced the faded mirror above it. He plugged the drain with an old rubber stopper that was secured to the sink by a length of string. He poured tepid water from the pitcher into the sink to continue his morning routine, preferring the privacy of his room to the running water of the bath down the hall. The sink in his room served for washing his face, brushing his teeth, and the alternate day task of shaving. Today was an even numbered day. Shaving would be his purpose tomorrow.
Peace Everyone. Pete Schloss
5 thoughts on “Tomorrow’s Purpose”
Jackie Haymes says:
Such a sad snapshot of a life. It saddened me and yet I see this man’s resilance and pride. His daily focus on caring for himself… moving out of bed despite the emense efforts it takes; washing each day, even with tepid water from down the hall; keeping track of odd and even days so his shaving routine remains intact; all show how strong humans are and that we can find comfort that somehow we have the endurance to survive and even thrive. We have ourselves to count on to the very end…we are NOT alone.
Pete Schloss says:
Jackie, when I wrote this piece I “knew” what I saw in this man and his room. However I didn’t know what others might see. Perhaps our view is colored by our own strengths and our fears. Thank you!
PaULINE Schloss says:
Unfortunately -, this is the plight of those who have lost touch with family and friends. Perhaps of our own choosing ,when strong and able. Age sets in –all of a sudden, life deals you loneliness and despair.
You paint the most amazing pictures.
Pete Schloss says:
Thank you Moira!