The Old Man

Note: This story had to (1) use an element, (2) use the words jowls, hidden, and traffic, (3) have something that buzzes, (4) start and end with a word that begins with “s”, and be a maximum of 500 words. For an Aussie site, and I had about ten minutes to do it.

Smiling. It made me nervous. It’d show his gold tooth. When he laughed, his jowls shook in time with his rocking head.

He told us once that he used to traffic in unspecified narcotics and that’s how he financed his bohemian lifestyle. We doubted it was true, but we humored him by nodding when he told this to us for the umpteenth time. He was really harmless. Mike thought it might be true and that there might be a hidden trove of cash or coke or something that would allow us to finance our own bohemian lifestyle but after a while he gave up on that thought and with the rest of us realized he had to get a job.

So we found jobs in offices in the city and didn’t see him as often. I hadn’t seen him for about a year. A Saturday in early October and I heard the buzzer for my apartment go off. I let him in and a minute later he was knocking at my door.

“Can I come in?”

He looked less ratty than usual. He had come, it happens, into the city and he looked like he’d foraged through his things to find the most presentable—or at least the least unpresentable—clothing he had. It was all ill-fitting. It was early, but I offered him a beer which, surprisingly, he turned down.

“I came to tell you something.”

Over the years, I sometimes questioned whether he knew who I was. Apparently he did. And apparently I was important enough or significant enough that he tracked me down and was now sitting on my little living room couch.

“I knew your grandmother.”

This was not a surprise. It was a small town.

“I loved your grandmother and for a time I thought she might have loved me back. But I don’t think she ever did. It was a long time ago and she picked your grandfather over me and I can’t say that I blamed her. Or blame her. Long time ago.

“Anyway, I just thought you should know.”

Then he just up and left. I offered to drive him somewhere but he just waved it off.

“I do things on my own. Always have. Always will.”

I meant to stop by to see him again, but I never got the chance. Then word filtered down that he had passed. The other guys laughed about it, wondering whether anyone knew how old he was. Eric laughed, “I wonder who’ll get the gold tooth.” And they were buzzing about stuff like that. I’d probably have joined in with them but for that visit. I dwelled on it. “I loved your grandmother and for a time I though she might have loved me back.”

I forgot about him, except when I’d drive by where his ramshackle house had been, now a vacant lot awaiting development.

A year or so later I got home. There was a message from my dad. “I was his son.”