The hum of the television, the chatter on cellphones, the unrelenting bass beat of the music made Alex uneasy. His eyesight was going, his hips ached, but his hearing remained fine. One of the little jokes God plays on old folk, Alex told himself. He wished he could tell Roberta, his wife of fifty-two years, his little joke.
Worrying someone would find him talking to himself, he needed to escape the loving bedlam of his daughter’s home.
He eased down the stairs with the sideways gait of an old person, both feet on each step, one hand clutching the railing. Old Man Descending a Staircase. Duchamp be damned.
As he pulled open the back door he considered that the main advantage of age is people don’t pay attention to you. He wouldn’t be missed until dinner time. Maybe Amber would be sent by her mother to make sure he was all right. She’d see he wasn’t in his room, shout, “Grandpa,” a couple times, assume he was in the bathroom, and by the time she’d be downstairs, she’d get a call from a friend and forget her search.
His daughter, busy with dinner or simply enjoying some time for herself, would forget she had sent Amber to look for him until food was on the table.
Alex shuffled through the freshly mowed backyard, past the barbeque pit and the swingset still used by Arlo, the ten-year-old, to a fence that separated suburbia from the “wild.” A simple lift of a latch on the gate and he felt free.
Birds flew from tree to tree and squirrels scattered to higher branches as he trudged through the woods, limping slightly but determined not to fall. He remembered how Roberta would grab his arm fearing she might get her sandals caught in a root.
“Why aren’t you wearing your sneakers?” he’d ask.
“You know how I hate closed shoes.”
He’d sigh dramatically as if he were annoyed. What he wouldn’t give now for such an annoyance.
A rabbit jumped from behind a log and disappeared into the briar. Roberta would have loved to have seen that.
He followed a path originally made by deer on their way to the creek below. He knew that his son-in-law cleared the path every spring, probably to escape from the bustle of the house. Paul, a good man, understood the key to sanity and a good marriage was the ability to find a place to disappear to.
Alex held tight to low hanging branches as he eased down a small embankment until he found the familiar wooden bench overlooking the creek. It was never this hard getting here before. Exhausted, he sat down and watched the lazy creek. It looked the same as it did when he and Roberta last saw it, but in that time so much had changed.
His mind wandered to when they’d visit the family. They loved their daughter and son-in-law — and the grandchildren were delights — but they’d escape to the woods to sit by the water and listen to the hum of insects, the twittering of birds.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” Roberta would say.
They’d hold hands and let time breeze by.
But that was before her cancer and his stroke. Now he sat alone and watched an ancient turtle inch its way into the slow-moving water.
“Good for you, old timer.”
“So there you are, Grandpa.”
“Huh?” For a second, Alex thought the turtle had responded. He turned and saw Amber.
“I knew you’d be here. This is where I go to escape.”
“But you have your cellphone.”
Amber smiled. “Sometimes I need to get away to find my place. I never bring my cell here.”
“You’re wise for a teenager.”
“Grandma told me you taught her that.” She rested her head on her grandfather’s shoulder. “Can we just sit here for a while and think of Grandma?”
Wayne Scheer has been nominated for five Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net. He’s published numerous stories, poems and essays in print and online, including Revealing Moments, a collection of flash stories. His short story “Zen and the Art of House Painting” has been made into a short film.
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