Short Story: Growing Old

Words don't always flow. Brains grow old and forget many of those words that served so well in past years. Sentences come haltingly. Depressingly. He has felt it coming over the past three years or so. Dementia. Losing his edge.

He gazes out the window, past the wintering poplars, beyond the frozen and cracked pond, staring really at nothing. Everything out of focus.

He doesn't have long to feel sorry for himself. The great-grandkids are on their way, little bright sunbeams with endless energy and enthusiasm for life. The whole family will soon be there, crowded around the table, spilling into the living room, filling the room with sound and energy.

Not much space for an old man to grow older. Sometimes he feels so unseen. Or maybe that's how he prefers it. No need to draw attention to the miserable.

There's a tentative knock at the door. Outside stands the young boy from the next door farmhouse. His bike leans against the fence. He hands over a package, hands chapped from the cold. "Mama sent this, said you might like to see it." Innocent eyes, so much life ahead.

"Thank you, boy." "My name's Scotty..."

"Thank you, Scotty."

"Well, aren't you going to open it?"

"Wasn't planning to...not as yet."

"She hoped you would. Wanted me to tell her if you liked it."

So he unwrapped the brown paper, pulled down the purple ribbon, and paused.

He read the words: "Papa's Favoritist Stories" written by Ned Pierce and illustrated by Jill Cason

"Look inside! Do you like the pictures?"

His wrinkled fingers pulled back the hard cover, gently fingering the soft pages, recognizing the stories as his own, admiring the beautiful artwork that accompanied them.

"It's beautiful," he murmured, lost in its pages.

"Good. I'll tell mama she did a good job."


He turned, leaving the door open, rode his bike to the end of the drive, then turned onto the road home.

Ned watched him go, letting the tears flow now, holding the book to his chest. Years of memories, the best years of his life, captured within its pages. Made alive by a talented artist. 

He sank onto the porch swing, wiping his eyes with the back of his hands, and carefully turned the pages, looking for a specific story from his childhood.

In it, he had been celebrating his fourth birthday, with friends. Turning four had been the most exciting thing ever, better than cake and ice cream, but when it came to blowing out his candles, he was nervous.

He had been practicing...holding his mouth just so, aiming the air, blowing as hard as he could. But when the big moment came, something went wrong and only one candle blew out with his precision blow.
"The girls giggled, the boys lamented, and I nearly cried. What had gone wrong? If my mouth was a bit bigger...maybe those candles would have been blown away altogether. I was ready for another birthday, a second chance, with a bigger mouth."
He laughed out loud, remembering his last birthday, ninety-two. With only two candles -- a nine and a two -- and he nearly lost his false teeth trying to blow them out.

Aaaah -- old age.

Holding this book in his arms made him feel armed against it. Gave him ammunition against his failing memory. Made him {he hoped} more interesting and desirable to his family. He would sit in this swing, arms around two of his grandsons, and read stories to them. Stories about a little boy, years and years ago. A little boy with bouncy legs, glittering eyes, and a loud voice.

He could be young again. Immersed in the pages of his book. Immersed in the memories.

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