Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Flash Fiction by Barbara Tate

Night of His Own Loneliness

Each time I saw him he seemed smaller, shrunken.  The old man had nowhere to go, shoulders hunched against the snow that blew in off Lake Erie, he'd never belonged anywhere till nowhere was where he belonged.

I saw him a week ago last Tuesday where I'd seen him before, sitting on a bench at the Lorain Avenue bust stop tracing old age spots that spread across the back of his bony hands.  I nodded and sat down wanting to ask him how he was doing but you never knew what would set him off in a downward spiral of self pity.  I played it safe, unfolded a newspaper and turned to the horoscopes.

"I saw her staring at me this morning from 15,000 feet," he said.

I lowered the paper and looked at him.  Not knowing whether he was talking to me or some imaginary friend that frequented the bench, I decided to ask.  "Who?"

"Mama.  She was in a cloud," he said.  "My days are like a shadow that declineth," he recited.  "I am withered like grass."

"You what?"

"Psalm 102:11," he said.  "Yep, withered like grass.  That's me, Clarence." he thumped his chest with his skeletal fingers.  "Withered like grass," he repeated in a small childlike voice.  "Clarence."

With the hungry look of the hollow eyed, he pulled his faded jacket tighter against the cold and yanked his stocking cap lower over his ears.  "She'll be back," he said.  "One of these days she'll get off the bus and Clarence will be right here like a good boy, waiting right here like she told me to."  Existing in a night of his own loneliness he went back to tracing the old age spots.  "I'll be good, Mama, I promise.  Clarence'll be good, you'll see.  Clarence'll be good."

I said nothing.  There was nothing to say.  He saw the buses approach, struggled to his feet, standing as straight and tall as his old age pain allowed and watched the third one in line.  The door opened and closed.  No one got off.  Not today.  I folded the paper, wanting to say something.  But what?

His shoulders sagged with the look of the defeated.  "Clarence'll be good Mama, Clarence'll be good.  Just come back," he whimpered as the bus pulled away.  Without a backward glance, shoulders hunched against the wind, he shuffled down Lorain Avenue like a drifting ghost and disappeared in the snow.

Barbara Tate is an award winning artist and writer.  Her work has appeared in The Storyteller, Arizona Quarterly, Santa Fe Literary Review, Modern Haiku, Contemporary Haibun Online, Frogpond, Cattails, Bear Creek Haiku, and Magnolia Quarterly as well as Switch (The Difference), Objects in the Rear View Mirror and Element(ary) My Dear Anthologies.  She is a member of the Gulf Coast Writers Association, Haiku Society of American and United Haiku and Tanka Society.  She currently resides in Winchester, TN.

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