For the record, this is my 100th post!!!!
Edited and polished is chapter 26 of Among Others. Enjoy…
She looked up and over to the old man she now knew as Geissler. With exception to the occasional breath, he remained motionless. He took no notice of Collins looking up at him as continued staring at his own front door, giving no recognition of his attentive gaze. For the first time since she met the old man in the alleyway so many months ago, she truly took notice of his features.
Looking passed his pale blue color and starving veins, sun spots emerged on his neck like pocks in the moon’s surface. Gray stubble emerged along his jawline. Between his old age and slowed metabolism, he was just now showing signs of growing facial hair. Caring so much about food, concealer, and other necessary supplies, Collins neglected the finer things in life, like shaving products.
Guess it doesn’t matter now if we shave or not. Does it? But he’s home.
She could not budge, so her gut felt a chuckle bubble up and disappear again. It made her sick to her stomach.
The old man’s overalls were a faded dark green. Time and use started to show around the knee and where his leg bent at the hip, at least on the side visible to her. His overalls draped over his knees and covered his entire ankle where it frayed from constantly being stepped upon. Protruding from the cuff of his overalls were black leather boots. The kind of boots factory workers wear. Old. Ragged. Scuffed and scraped by countless walls, random metal objects and other rough chunks of life jetting out of weird orifices at ankle height. Tattered black laces snaked out from the cuff of his overalls, over his boots curvy sides and slithered toward the cold linoleum.
This poor old man. How was he to know what he was getting himself into when I brought him into my home. His wife left him because they both believed his newly awarded condition was a function of his lack of faith and faithfulness. The life he built for himself, his wife, his whole community. Each rejected him outright. Never giving his decades of commitment a second thought, he was thrown out with all the other refuse to be discarded like some old pair of pants too worn to mend or hand down.
Fate put him in that alleyway by that particular grocery store at that exact time. For what? To be fed to the demons of bad fortune by a seemingly well-intentioned passerby. How was he to know that his moment of weakness where he ate that particular canine with that specific small group of Wretches who also fell off the wagon of temptation would end in serving him up to Death’s door.
Why? Why did I do it?
I felt for them, she realized.
Sure, I was lonely. I’ve always been lonely. Researched in the quiet bowels of libraries for half my life. The other half of my life was spent segregated from a family that wished for better lives but fought against any positive happenstance.
The old man’s image blurred as tears welled in Collins’ eyes.
Why the hell didn’t they try? All those years. All they did was hate their lives. And any attempt by life to better their station of existence they fought against it. That explains why I’m so self-destructive. But why did they have to do it? Why did they follow me out of that damn alleyway. All they had to do was turn away. Pretend they never saw me. We didn’t know each other. They had no obligation to me. I had no obligation to them.
Now look where we are. The fat man and the young man with the rebroken face are in jail. That poor woman over there. She’s so scared she’s lost all her senses. And Geissler, sweet Geissler. I just demanded we take over his house. For what?
“I should never have told you all to follow me that day,” she Signed to nobody in particular not knowing she was Signing at all. A crash on the table grabbed Collins’ attention away from her leaking thoughts. She looked up at the old man. Still blurry from welling tears, she wiped the puddles out of her eyes with the back of her hands. Then she looked back up at the old man, his faded green overalls pronounced by her position on Geissler’s floor.
Lifting his fist off the table, he Signed, “You get something straight.” He Signed with such force, such anger in his sunken black eye sockets that she trembled.
“We do not choose how the world sees us,” his hands jetting in every direction they might fling off were he but a week older, “We do not get to choose what happens to us. But, bet your sweet, blue ass that I chose who I am today, kid. Do not feel guilty about me, for what I chose. Or for her, or what she chose,” as he pointed to the woman with knotted red hair still watching the television on Geissler’s much older box television, “Or for those stupid kids you sent out the other day.”
“But you did not choose to be who you are.”
Collins was certain the old man’s face actually took on a reddish hue with anger.
“I am the same person I was before all this.”
“But you are a Wretch now. You don’t hate that?”
“I am still the man I was at birth. I feared God then. I fear Him now. I did not change. The world around me changed. I’m old. Happens all the time. That is beyond my control. The government’s choice to make us bad people is out of my control just like everything else.”
“They hate you now.”
“They never cared about me.” The old man slunk back into his chair at the kitchen table. As it creaked with age, “They do not care about us.”
Collins and Geissler both calmed as they realized the “they” spoken by the old man did not reference the people heading the checkpoints or beating Wretches in the streets or even the police that captured the fat man and the young man with the rebroken face.
“You talk of choice,” Collins said after a long pause, “You had no choice in what they made you.”
“They made me nothing.”
“Exactly,” Collins interjected before Geissler Signed another word. His eyes sunk further inward, his mouth imploded into itself.
“Even our name,” she continued, “They gave us this horrible name. Wretch. Even if we are given rights. We will never be equal.”
“But you keep using that ugly word,” the old man pointed out slowly.
“I choose to take control of that word. If they want wretched, they will get wretched.”
Collins stood with fists clenched. The old man just looked at her quizzically.
“We will wait for them to come looking for us. They will.”
He did not respond, only watched.
“When they do, they will think we are going to go easily. When they open the door, we will attack. Every last one of them.”
“I choose not to.”
“They will not knock on my door with calm.”
“What will you do?”
“I will sit here.”
“Die, I think.”
“You will just die.”
“Not ‘just’ die. I will sit here, give my trust to God. And what will be, will be.”
“You can’t just let them murder you.”
Geissler leaned in toward Collins still sitting on the floor, “Look, I built this house with my bare hands. These walls are stained with my blood. I built a family, a life. A loving, God fearing life here. We came here because I let you. You helped me. I’m helping you. My life is in this house. This is where I choose to die.”
Neither moved for a time. Then the old man leaned in closer to Collins using the table for support. “You want to go out fighting. Correct?”
“That is your choice.”
The old man raised his hand to Collins when she attempted to interject.
“That is your choice. It is also your choice to hide quietly in that closet there when that door knocks. We will be long dead, I assume. But they will think nobody else here. When someone opens the closet door, well, you know.”
Then the old man sat back in his chair grinning from pale blue ear to pale blue ear. Collins smiled back.