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The Ramblings of an Old Man
by Kent Roberts
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(This is an extended {by approx. 200 words} version of a short story entered into a Writing Challenge entitled “Guard Your Heart”.)

Everyone else had gone to lunch. The vigil was left to the boy. Alone. Indifferent. A hardened, young shoot dangling at the end of a stray branch of the family tree; annoyed with his circumstances the way only a coming-of-age teenager could be; hunched over his Ipod, his thumb moving swiftly and silently over the control.

The old man’s frail body quivered beneath the sheets, rustling the fabric to match the wafting drapes stirred by a slight breeze through the open window.

The man sighed, whispering the boy’s name.

Great, he’s awake, the young man thought, his face hopefully masking the irritation he felt at the interruption of his game. Now I’m gonna have to feign interest until they get back.

The old man slowly opened his eyes, blinking in the severe I.C.U. light. He called the boy’s name once more; his voice barely a rasp.

“Yeah,” the boy answered grudgingly. “I’m here.”

The long pause that followed led the boy to think the old man had drifted back into his morphine slumber.

“The worst thing,” the man began, startling the boy. He spoke through long ragged breaths, as if in a great effort to merely force the words past his lips and into the antiseptic air. A monitor beeped and another machine clicked, followed by a slow whoosh as the old man’s chest silently rose, then fell. “The worst thing . . . about dying . . . is looking back . . . over your life and wondering . . . if you’ve ever really . . . lived.”

As if on a slow swivel, he turned his head to gaze at the boy, moving the young man to discomfort with eyes of sudden intensity.

“A man may walk . . . by his neighbor’s house . . .” the old man continued, his eyes locked onto the boy, “and admire . . . a gleaming new car. Yet he also sees . . . the weeds . . . and unkempt grass . . . surrounding the driveway.”

The man turned his gaze once again to the lights above as he continued. His voice was steadying now, deepening to a quiet baritone.

“A young boy may revel in all of his toys . . . yet never notice . . . the sheer amount that lies broken . . . or gone lost.” Another deep breath, as he fleetingly glanced to the boy. “Or that he himself is lost . . . and broken.”

The strength of his words labored and grew in momentum; measured by the steady, rhythmic thrum of the machinery surrounding him. Still he continued. “A man may know . . . in his head what he wants . . . but only because his eyes . . . are the closest gateway to the world beyond . . . seeing only what surrounds him . . . knowing that he wants . . . only more.”

Another click. A muted whoosh. Rise. Fall. “Yet that is a ruse . . . a game the world plays . . . within the minds of men . . . who cannot be all, do all, have all . . . A game that will always end . . . in bitterness, jealousy . . . and disappointment.”

Click. Whoosh. Rise. Fall. “It is a man’s heart alone that truly knows . . . what he wants, what he seeks . . . and what he must have . . . Because a man’s heart is closest to his soul . . . to his spirit . . . which heeds nothing of this world . . . yet sees all . . . Knowing that it wants not more . . . but simply the One.”

The boy looked up from his distraction and scoffed. “So you’re saying,” he asked through a smirk, “that if someone believes in ‘the One’, they’ll not only have a great car, but a perfect lawn, and constant happiness, and all they’re stuff’ll never be broken . . . ?”

The old man smiled with a patience only the old and learned could have for the young. “No. Not at all, my boy,” Click. Whoosh. Rise. Fall. “I’m simply saying . . . that if you seek the One . . . the rest will find its rightful place.

“Search your heart. What would you truly rather have? Shiny, nice toys?” he asked, his eyes shifting to the boys tightly clutched Ipod, “or time spent with your father? Your family?”

The boy scoffed again. “Depends on which dad you’re talkin’ about.”

The old man nodded, almost imperceptibly; knowing full well of the boy’s mother, his daughter’s, troubled past and indiscretions. Knowing too, that her journey was far from over; her choices becoming wiser the more she began to relinquish control. “Indeed.”

He closed his eyes, sighing in rhythm to the machinery—a moment to pause, a lifetime to reflect. “Guard your heart, boy. For the heart pays heed . . . not to the eyes . . . but to the soul . . . and to the spirit.

“The heart knows what it wants. What it needs.”

Opening his eyes once again, he turned, looking to the boy for a hint of understanding. Of acceptance. He sees the boy’s eyes, alight with the iridescent glow of the Ipod screen, as cartoon birds continue to smash into rickety structures of brick, wood and glass which hold the pigs aloft. A long, mournful breath escapes the old man’s lips.

“But, what do I know,” he says to himself, closing his eyes and settling in once again to await the arms of death; to awaken forever into the arms of the One, “For I am only an old man.”

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Member Comments
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lynn gipson  28 Jun 2012
oh what a story...you had me all the way through. and now that i am getting older and have been near death's door(not anymore, God'Grace) I can truly understand your old MC. Beautiful... God Bless Lynn


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