Saturday, March 10, 2007

by D. Bowden

Albert put the water on the stove to heat for tea. Mr. Tibbs rubbed his charcoal-gray body all around the old man’s ankles. Pulling his worn navy blue sweater around his chest, he leaned down to pet his loyal friend. Wind beat against his shabby house, rattling the tiles on the roof that needed replacing. Fire crackled in the iron pot-bellied stove in the corner, which was all there was to provide warmth for his little cottage. “Gettin’ dark already Tibbs.” He spoke to the cat as if talking to a person, and the feline looked at its master as if it understood. “I hate winter, and the darkness, and the gales.” The kettle whistled announcing that the water was hot and Albert poured some into a waiting cup which held a bag of Earl Grey. He carried his steaming beverage carefully to the worn-out chair that faced the windows and sat down to look out into the twilight. Leaves furiously flew about and sailed hither and tither to the ground only to be blown back up into the air again and spun about. “Alone again, hey Tibbs? Just you an’ me. No one cares about an old man and his ol’ cat.” He sat there sipping his tea, watching dusk turned to darkness, and when the fire in the pot-bellied stove dwindled to a few smoldering embers, he bid Mr. Tibbs goodnight and went to bed.

In the morning, the winds had died down and sunbeams burst through the window panes and shone across the pitted wood planking of the floor. Mr. Tibbs was stretched out in a pool of light, basking in its warmth. Albert bent down and scratched the cat’s soft stomach. “Good mornin’ kitty. You hungry?” This was their daily routine. Following Albert to the kitchen, the cat pranced back and forth and meowed for its breakfast. “There you go lil’ buddy.” He set the dish of tuna and liver on the floor, watching Mr. Tibbs devour it in seconds. Putting an egg in a pan of water, he set it to boil on the stove. Filling the kettle, he started water for his tea, then he walked to the door, opened it and there was his newspaper left on the mat as it always was each morning by six o’clock. Picking it up and shaking it open, he wandered back to the kitchen table and looked at the headlines. Depressing. War. Violence. Murder. “It’s always the same, “ he muttered. Folding the paper he rose from the table. His knees creaked and his joints crackled as he stood up and went to the stove to retrieve his egg and to pour his water for tea. Bringing his meal to the table, he just got comfortable and was about to take his first bite of food when the telephone rang.”Bloody phone! Always when I am about to eat!” Shoving the chair back angrily, he got up and walked to the front room and lifted the receiver. It was his daughter, Ellen. “Hello Dad. How are you? Did I wake you?”
“No, as a matter of fact, I was about to eat my breakfast.”
“I was thinking of coming by today to bring you lunch and have a chat.”
“What in the world about?” He looked longingly at his egg, which was getting cold.
“I found this very nice place for you to live where you won’t have to do a thing. Just enjoy life!
Let other people do the maintenance for you, make your meals . . .”
“Wait a minute! I told you I don’t want to talk about that. I’m done talkin’ about that. I’m not
goin’ anywhere! Now can I get back to my breakfast?”
“But Dad, you are alone there. What if something happens? You need people around. People
your own age. Don’t you get lonely?”
“I like being alone. I don’t like bein’ around old people. All they do is complain!”
“You could make some new friends.”
“That was fine when I was ten, but make a friend at my age and they’ll die on your before you
even get to know them, so what’s the point?”
“You are impossible, Dad! I will be over around noon to show you the brochures. The least you
can do is look at them after all the trouble I’ve gone through!”
She hung up the phone before he had another chance to speak. His egg was inedible.
“Why can’t she just leave me be?” He scraped it into the cat’s bowl while grumbling to himself
and went to his room to dress.

At noon, peering out the window, he watched for Ellen’s Land Rover. “Hope she gets here soon, Tibbs.” A quarter after twelve and she still hadn’t arrived. Twelve-thirty. He sat for awhile on the front porch, waiting with the cat in his lap. At quarter to one he grew angry. “We’re not waitin’ any longer, Tibbs!” and he marched back into his tiny house to make lunch, Mr. Tibbs rushing inside ahead of him, his tail high in the air. The screen door slammed behind them and he heard the sound of gravel crunching under tires. She had finally arrived, but wanting to make a point, he pulled the bread from the breadbox, quickly cut two slices and a hunk of salami from the roll, slapped it all together and was holding his hastily-made sandwich in his hand when he stood in the doorway to greet her. “I thought you weren’t comin’!” Taking a bite of his sandwich, he looked at his watch in an exaggerated manner.
“I’m sorry Dad. I left a little late and was held up in traffic.” She pushed her way in and set bags of groceries on the kitchen counter. “I brought some extra things for you since I was at the store.”
“You don’t have your fancy portable phone with you?”
“Yes, but you knew I was coming. I would have called if I was going to be really late.”
“You are really late! My stomach was growlin’. Young people today are so inconsiderate!"
“I’ll make you something to eat while you look at these.” She laid a handful of pamphlets on the table and started unloading the bags of groceries and putting them away.”The place is really nice, Dad. Brand new.”
“Hmmm. I don’t want to look at them. I like it here.”
“With the roof falling down? And the drafts that make you sick every winter? Be reasonable, Dad.” She lit a fire under a pan and put a little olive oil in the bottom and let it heat up. In
another pan she put rice and water to cook.
“I have my lunch, you don’t have to bother with that.”
“White flour with animal by-products do not make a good lunch.”
“I’ve been eatin’ it for years and it hasn’t hurt me.”
“There are additives and preservatives in that stuff.”
“That’s why I’ve lived this long. I am well-preserved!” He laughed, wheezed, then coughed. She rolled her eyes as she chopped vegetables.
“You’re going through a lot of trouble for nothin’. I just finished my sandwich. I’m full. I won’t be able to eat any of that stuff.”
“Then I will have some and you can have the leftovers for supper.” She tossed the vegetables in
the pan and stirred rapidly.
He stood next to her and watched. “What is that anyway? “
“Stir fry. It’s healthy and good for you.”
When the rice was done, she spooned some onto a plate and put some of the vegetable mixture on top. She took it to the table and started eating.
“Well?” He stood in the middle of the kitchen, pouting.
“Well, what?”
“Well, don’t you care about your father? You just sit down there and eat without me?”
“You ate. You don’t want any of this stuff, remember?”
“Maybe I will try a teensy bit. See if I like it because if I don’t, then you can take it with you when you leave.” He ate two platefuls, complaining the whole time that the vegetables were raw. Afterwards she cleaned up the dishes and finished putting the rest of the groceries away.
“Now Dad, please look at these pamphlets carefully and keep an open mind. Consider all of your cold winters here, all the maintenance you can’t do or afford anymore and try to find the positive
in this place I’ve found.”
“You just want to make it easier for yourself! I am too much bother! It’s easier to put me in an old-blokes’s home than to trouble yourself around here!” Tears of frustration filled his eyes.
“Dad, you know I have to work. I can’t be here all the time and I worry about you. I would be here if I could, but it’s not possible. Please try to understand. Don’t make this more difficult than it already is.” She kissed him on the forehead and said she would call him soon.

He listened to the Land Rover idle away as he looked at the pile of brochures in his hands “Sunnyvale. . . Huh,” he grunted. Scratching his head then smoothing back his gray thinning hair, he looked downward through his bifocals as he read the glossy advertisements. “Vera would have liked this, but it’s not for me! I’m not goin’ anywhere! I’ll be just fine!” He tossed the pamphlets into the trash and went back outside to sit on the porch, Mr. Tibbs following close behind. How he missed Vera! How he longed for days gone by, when he worked loading and unloading the great vessels that docked at the quay. Ipswich had changed so much since those days, and so had he. He had been strong and life was good when he was protector of and provider for his wife and young daughter. He had been a man! Now what was he if he couldn’t even take care of himself?

A chilly breeze snapped him out of his melancholy musings and he found the purple shadows of evening had settled around. Mr. Tibbs had gone off into the garden to hunt for whatever cats hunt for. The sun was nearly gone. He pulled his sweater tightly around him and hugged himself as he thought about Sunnyvale Retirement Home. ‘She just want to make it easier for herself,’ he thought to himself. ‘Put the old man in a home and she don’t have to bother with him anymore.’ He looked at his scraggly garden. Dried stalks that had been green and leafy with flowery crowns of color on top only a few weeks before stood naked in the fading light “This is my home. I built this home with little help from anyone. And now she wants me to leave it. This is my home . . . my home!” Mr Tibbs appeared from the shadows and wound his way in and out between Albert’s feet, purring to be let inside. “Want your dinner, huh Tibbs? Let’s go put the kettle on.”

It was cold in the cottage. “Better get the fire going. It’s getting a bit nippy in here.” Picking up two pieces of wood from the pile, Albert opened the door of the pot-bellied stove and shoved them in. He struck a match and as he leaned over to light the wood, the match fell from his shaking hand, landing on the floor and immediately igniting the fringe of the old Persian carpet. “Oh no! Oh! Help! Help!” he yelled, frantically stomping at the burning rug. But no one heard his cries. Running to the kitchen, he grabbed some towels, ran back and began swatting at the flames. Mr. Tibbs ran off to hide underneath the bed. Grabbing the entire rug and flipping it upside down onto the blaze, he stomped and stomped until the flames were extinguished. Breathing heavily, collapsing into his ratty, old chair, Albert put his face into his hands and wept.

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