written by: Maranda Cress
“Come on dog,” the old man said in a gruff voice to his German Shepard. The old dog, grey in the muzzle, got slowly to her feet her tail wagging as her master grabbed his coat and they headed out into the weak Fall sunlight.
It was time for her afternoon walk and she knew it. Throwing caution to the wind, she pranced happily at her master’s side and ignored the pains in her hips, staring around at the ground and the trees as though she had never seen them before. If only she had known then that this would be their last walk, perhaps she’d have run ahead of him and played in the browning tall grass alongside the road.
She knew the path they would take, down the hill, over the tracks, and into the heart of the small town. The old dog loved the walk as much as the old man at her side. She walked it daily, never straying from his side, always on the watch for anyone coming too close to her or her master. Ahead of them, a black cat wandered across the road. She paused and sniffed in his direction before her master called her attention back to their course.
They paused at an intersection, waiting on a line of passing cars to clear before they continued. A loud black truck passed, a cloud of exhaust spraying behind it as the owner pressed down hard on the pedal. The smell emitting from the engine clearly said the owner needed work done.
The old man sat on the front steps of the large, white gazebo, a small smile on his weathered face. He gazed around at the trees, leaves from the summer were slowly falling from the trees as the promise of a cold winter was setting in.
For most of the afternoon, the happy couple, man, and beast sat in the small park in the town’s square, the old man occasionally reaching down to pet her sides and whispering warm loving words to her. Every hour the bell tolled sounding the time to the busy folks rushing to their jobs, or home to grab a quick lunch.
The old man and the dog, however, sat, motionless in their favorite place, occasional waving or nodding at the passersby. They watched as birds flew overhead and squirrels poked tensely out of their nests, searching for their last meal before winter. The old dog saw them, her ears peaked at their soft noises and the old man remembered fondly the days when the dog would have jumped up and taken off after them. However, with the pains of old age setting in she sat contently at his feet, staring wistfully in their direction, her nose following their scent.
He sat in the dying sunlight thinking of his glory days, of friends and family that had once gathered here on the court square’s lush green lawns. He felt like a warrior that was late, attending his last party, watching in his mind’s eye the friends that had once joked and laughed under the oak tree, of the loved ones that had spent many nights talking about their dreams under this very roof.
As a very young boy, the square had been a popular place for the town to gather on weekends. He and his older brothers had played in the street as his parents sat on blankets, coolers open at their feet, laughing as they watched people dancing to the popular sixties music of the day coming from the small dinner on the corner.
He remembered the pharmacy across from the court square had the best soda fountain in town, and penny candy was bought in handfuls for the mass of children playing outside its colorful windows.
In the summer the train would stop just down the road. Hordes of hungry passengers, from the wealthy to the very poor would rush off and on, some coming from far away, all of them hungry from their travels would swamp the dinner, joking and telling stories from far-off places. It had all seemed so glamorous in those days.
They had festivals there in the summer, roller skaters would weave around small children, sitting on the sidewalk, their tin cans dented from being kicked back and forth across the street.
He flashed on being a young teenager, pushing his bike along the sidewalk, his shaggy brown hair gracing the tops of his bare shoulders, a group of his friends tagging along behind them. They had sat on the lawn that day, his brothers had stopped by, offering them a ride in his shiny red Monte Carlo to their favorite fishing hole. The boys had laughed and joked about what size fish they were going to catch before accepting the ride just outside of town.
He remembered fondly as his baby girl, now a full-grown woman with children of her own learned to walk on the cold grey sidewalk at his feet. She had fallen several times always getting determinedly to her feet and trying again, refusing his hands to help her balance. He relived in his mind the smile that she had given him when she had finally gotten it right and the pride that had swelled in his chest, watching her.
Sighing deeply, he got to his feet and ran his hand along the railing, taking in for the first time its rough, unpainted texture. Thinking of all the hands that had once touched this spot and how he would love to touch them just once more.
Was this as close as he could get? Did the wood remember their touch in the same way he did? His back began aching in protest, as he began to walk the old familiar path around the outside of the courthouse, his dog grunting as she followed at his heels.
Along the street he noticed how busy everyone seemed, rushing from one stoplight to the next, their phones and bits of hamburgers in their hands. In his head, he saw a more laid-back time. When these streets were once crowded with old cars, all parked with their windows down, the sound of 80s music blaring from their speakers. Those days, along with the businesses that had once occupied these buildings, were long gone, only their shells remained.
Once a wealthy man, strong and able-bodied, he ignored his poor financial state and his stooping walk as he reflected on how he and his friends had spent the nights walking from car to car, talking in the balmy summer weather and laughing with its occupants. They had joked about when they got old and how they’d never die.
He realized with a flash that all those that had sworn this oath had already broken it. Alone in the dying light, he was the last of the group left to remember these days.
“That had been the good old days,” he thought as he stopped by a large maple tree. He watched in his head his daughter as she ran, skipping and laughing by that tree, and he looked down at his feet, ignoring his well-worn shoes with the faulty stitching at the sides and choosing instead, to see how she had fallen and skinned her right knee there. He had picked her up gently, her blonde hair trailing over his strong arms, as he blew on the scrape and assured her it was alright.
He spent many hours sitting, waiting, and watching, the sun steadily growing smaller before it dipped below the horizon and a cold chill swept through the square. Driving away from the summer breeze that had been filling his mind with the memories of earlier days.
He blinked back tears as he spent time enjoying his view of yesteryear, a small puppy, its black ears flopping in the wind as she rolled and played in the mud by the front step, the shadows of friends crossing over the grass, their hands full of supplies for a BBQ, large smiles on their face and the sweet smell of the cherry trees in full bloom. Each memory held its own treasure, a smile, a look, a wave, how he ached for those days and their fond returns.
From above him the clock bell began to ring out the time to the square and its townspeople. He knew each note of the tune and welcomed it like a long-lost friend, drinking in its sound and its sweet reminders.
His back now protesting to the extreme, his knees throbbing in a painful rhythm, he walked back to the steps of the gazebo. His gaze fell upon a tree at the entrance to the square and in his mind, he watched as a younger, tougher him had climbed the trees that were now gone. He had watched from afar as the older ones had been removed and new ones had been planted in their place.
“The circle of life,” he thought to himself, “out with the old and in with the new. That’s all this is the circle of life.”
The bell tolled with its last rings as the pictures in his memories died away in his mind’s eye and he was left staring at the cold, empty square. Next to him, the dog began to whimper as he pulled a small, silver gun from deep within his coat. He raised the barrel to his temple and listened intently for the clock to strike nine, its last toll for the night and the last sound he would hear.
The warrior, the last to the party, had arrived.
- The Warrior - May 13, 2022