The Wrong Story

Where do stories come from? Anywhere people congregate and I can watch them. Here’s one:

ASSUMPTION

            A thin old man comes into my local coffee shop. He is bald, has a prominent bandage over his right eyebrow, thick glasses, a walker, a brace on his right leg. He wears a plaid shirt and dress pants, black tie shoes and a zipper hoodie. A pregnant woman gives up her easy chair for him, and the barista brings his coffee. His walker has a black bag attached, so he must rely on it. I wonder how he got here. Driving with that brace would be a problem. Maybe he has adaptive hand controls, or someone dropped him off, and will come back for him. Or not?

At some point he becomes angry, then anxious that his niece has not returned. Long after the appointed hour he admits his predicament and asks the barista to make a call for him, but she cannot complete the call. She suggests he get a cab. He has no cash, having just spent his last five dollars for coffee. At closing time he’s still there, weeping. Cops come. “What happened to your ride?” He refuses to leave the chair, prefers to believe that Pauline will come. She has to come for him. He tells the cop, “Please, call her again.”

            “Sir, I’ve called this number. It’s out of service.”

            He hesitates but at last allows the cops to drive him home. The house is dark and locked. He has no key. His medicine is in that house and he’s in pain. They drive him to the ED.

            He’s now homeless, hurting and broke. His next check will slide into the mail slot at that dark house in a couple of weeks, unless someone can perform a miracle with Social Security and have the check rerouted. Pauline has access to his account. It’s been cleaned out. He’s outlived his wife, his sister, and his friends. Not a churchgoer, he is without resources. Maybe Senior Services will sic the law on Pauline, although she was nice enough when she dropped him at the coffee shop, and that bureaucratic ploy might take weeks.

This is the wrong story. The old man finishes his coffee and goes outside to a roomy old Buick, struggles to put the walker into the back seat and prepares to drive himself home. Now there are two old men, the one who just drove away and the one I have left stranded when his greedy niece deserted him at the local coffee shop. Both of them will live in my head and now in yours for a while, until we forget them. Maybe someone else will read this vignette and enlarge it. What will you do?

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