Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Golden Years

The old man could not remember how the sore had begun. a pimple, an ingrown hair - he didn't remember, but now there was a red bulbous sore on his chest. He stood before the mirror and looked at the sore reflected there. Using the mirror as a guide he touched the inflammation and felt hot pain radiate through his chest. His toes curled.
The old man decided to go to the clinic and see a doctor. He left the bathroom and went into the kitchen-sitting-bedroom that made up the rest of his apartment. He wanted no  undershirt. Choosing a white dress shirt, he put it on carefully, holding the shirt away while he buttoned it. He opened his wrinkled black wallet and fingered through the bills. He slipped the wallet into his pocket and left the apartment.
The old man walked the five floors down to the street and stepped outside into the soft summer morning. At the corner he waited for the bus. When the bus came it was full and he had to stand holding a strap. At several stops before the clinic, people passing him in the narrow aisle brushed against his chest and the old man stood there with a queer smile on his face as the pain spread through him.
The clinic was a group of rooms in the basement of one of the city's large hospitals. Inside he took a place among the others waiting there, many old like himself, others poor or pregnant or alien. He felt proud of his affliction this time. It wasn't typical of the kind of problem old people have, and the pain, or feeling there, while it hurt, pleased him too. He held himself close and tried to feel calm so he could concentrate on the tiny pulse that throbbed within the sore.
After some time a nurse came for him and led him to a cubicle where a doctor with a white coat was scribbling on a pad.
"Well, old timer, what's your trouble today?"
The old man opened his shirt for the doctor to see.
"Ummm. Come here and sit down. Let me look at that."
The doctor touched flesh near the sore and watched the old man wince.
"How long have you had that?"
"I'm not sure," the old man said.
"Well, nothing to worry about. We'll have that taken care of. Nurse!"
The doctor wrote something on a card. "I'm referring you down the hall to another doctor. He'll fix it for you."
"How? What will..."
"Lance it. Clean it up. Won't be much fuss. Nurse, will you direct this patient to Med 12?"
In the hall the old man told the nurse that he felt weak.   He asked to rest for a few minutes in the waiting room.   She led him there and soon her attention went to the other patients.   The old man got up and left.   He wasn't sure  he was ready to have his sore lanced. He needed to think about that. He decided to go the park where he spent much of his time.
He wanted to avoid the other old men whom he knew. He took a different path and went to an unfamiliar part of the park and sat on a bench.

This day the park seemed unusually green and the paths curved attractively over the landscape.   A young woman was standing a short distance away. He saw the breeze press her skirt against the roundness of her thighs. He saw the profile of her breasts and her long hair reflecting sunlight. Suddenly the old man realized that he was thinking of his dead wife, remembering her, remembering their life together when they were young. It had been a long time since he had thought about her, but now he knew that he had been missing her all day. He brought his hand up and touched the sore beneath his shirt. He gasped with pleasure at the feeling.
He rose and left the bench to walk out onto the grass. He lay down on his back and looked up at the bright blue sky.  He closed his eyes and brought his hand to his chest and pressed against the sore. This time he did not take his hand away but pressed and pressed again, and again, exulting in the heat and pain until at last, sated, blinded by tears, his heart serene with knowing that he had not felt so much in a long, long time, he slept.

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