Coming of Old Age
The ceiling looked higher from the floor. Ron massaged his side and caught his breath on the rough carpet. He grunted onto his stomach and raised his torso with his arms. He hovered for a few seconds, trying to control his shaking arms until they gave under his weight and he crashed into the rough carpet.
“Come on, Ron,” he said to himself. “You’re not old yet.” He started to bend his right knee underneath himself, but stopped when the pain in his stiff joints exploded. “Dammit!” Ron rolled onto his side and did his best to bend his body into a V so he could massage his stiff leg.
Across the room, thick layers of dust collected beneath his bed. The cane and brace he’d kicked underneath so long ago were blanketed in gentle layers of neglect. Beside the bed, a breeze through the screened window made the curtains dance away from the wall. A three legged table stood in the corner beside the window. A lamp sat beside a photo of Ron and his son. The bookshelf towered beside the table along the adjacent wall. The chain of Ron’s unwanted emergency pendant draped over the top shelf, mocking his situation. Ron hadn’t touched it since he and his son argued over Ron’s health. Ron didn’t want it now any more than he did then. Ron didn’t want the phone in the hallway either.
Ron straightened at the waist and rolled onto his stomach. He aimed his body for the corner table and began to crawl. “Just like in the service,” he said. When he reached the table, his knees ached even more. He strained to bend his back and propped himself up on his left elbow. He reached for the ledge above him, missed, tried again, his fingers brushed the edge. “C’mon, Big Ron.” He dug his left elbow a little farther, grunted, and pushed into the air. His right hand grabbed the edge of the table and pulled. The table crashed to the ground.
The angled corner brushed Ron’s ear, the antique lamp shattered to the floor and the framed photograph fell onto his chest. Ron cried out and massaged his aching ear, checking for blood. He wasn’t bleeding. He laid on floor, catching his breath and spewing in anger. He examined the photograph on his chest. Alex and he stood in front of the fishing boat in front of the lake. Alex draped his arm over his father’s shoulders, flashing his trademark smile: the stubborn grin, the mischievous smirk. Alex tried to make him carry the pendant. Alex tried to make him move out. Alex tried to make him use the cane. Alex’s smirk thought it knew better. Ron chucked the picture across the room, cutting into the wall and bouncing the floor, cracking at the edges. The glass broke into two pieces. “Damn you, Alex, I’m fine!” Ron lay on the floor with new determination.
Ron turned his body in a new direction, this time for the window drapes a few feet away. The wind had stopped and the drapes hung motionless above the carpet. Ron crawled the easy distance and reached up. He grabbed a drape and pulled. Hand over hand, he slowly inched one painful knee underneath himself. Then he dragged a howling foot in front of the rest of his body. Pain ripped through his legs. He shook trying to hold himself steady. His eyes squinted and blurred with salt. Ron pulled himself up. His mechanical motions slowly lifted him above the ground. Then the drape snapped. The support rod broke in two and Ron crouched in his position, bent backwards, flailing for the other curtain, finger tips rushing, swimming through a wave of fabric, searching for support as he tumbled backwards, the wave crushing him from all angles, robbing his breath.
For a few seconds, Ron couldn’t breathe. Then his body recovered from the blow and he choked on his sobs. Helpless. Completely helpless. Ron’s back ached and his legs were boards and his arms burned. Helpless. Ron turned his head and looked at the picture of his wife beside the bookshelf. She was beautiful, smiling on a tree stump beside the lake, laughing at a joke he had just made. She was his age but looked half as old, her young skin reflecting the sunlight. “Where are you, Mable?” Ron heard the second curtain slide to the floor. The wooden rod bounced to stillness. The pendant chain still hung near the heightened ceiling. He couldn’t use the bookshelf to stand up because it could tip over. He didn’t want to use the bed because the springs would give and offer little support. But the beaded chain hanging from the bookshelf taunted him. “Dad,” Alex had said, “Just take it. You don’t have to use it, but keep it close by just in case. Just press the button and I’ll see it on my pager, okay? Then I’ll be over as quick as I can.” Ron had taken it, and then closed the door in front of his son. He walked right back into his house and tossed the useless thing on his bookshelf. It took a few minutes for Alex to stop knocking on the door and calling his name and finally drive away.
Ron rolled over and found the photograph he threw. He crawled a few painful feet and pulled the picture from its broken case. Mable had taken the picture. Ron examined his son and himself. They had the same smile. The same stone eyes, the slight squint, and the same angled mouth. Ron had never noticed. Ron remembered that day: the breeze on the lake, the fishing, and the laughs between the three of them.
Ron dropped the picture and rolled onto his back, closing his eyes. He lay quietly for a few minutes and then rolled towards the bed. The cane was still visible in the dying light. Ron pulled himself forward, groaning most of the way. He managed to pull himself parallel to the bed and the cane, pushed all the way against the wall.
Ron couldn’t reach it. Even with himself positioned as far underneath as he could manage, the cane was still two feet away from his outstretched hand. Two impossible feet. Ron suddenly felt claustrophobic, pressed in, airless, sealed tight. He pushed and rolled his way out, clambering to the middle of the room. He struggled to control his breathing. The phone. The phone was in the hallway. The door was open, he could make it to the hallway. The phone was on the table. He could just pull it down by the cord. He’d be alright. Alex would come. He’d help him get the cane and pendant. He’d be alright.
Rolling back onto his stomach, Ron aimed himself out the door. He pulled himself forward so he could call his son.
Patrick Schober © 2010