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The Old Man, And the Tides of Winter
It was after midnight, although not much more. It was winter time, outside was snow, wind, and cold, one of the strongest elements on earth, the old man told himself. All the windows and doors were closed tight, he made sure of that. He had but to lift his eyes to see the elements at work outside,– he could even smell the cold, taste it, even create an emotion for it, if he wanted to, he need not even be out there, to experience it, do nothing but sit and look out the window. But most often it was just another Minnesota winter looking at him, peering back at him through his own window; –as he sat in a sofa chair two sweaters on, a blanket over him. He told himself he still was not used to the cold, not even after 83-year; –yet you’d think one would be used to it, — he pondered on this dilemma, a moment, and went back staring out the window.
He had seen many winters come and go. And many people had asked him, what where the ‘Great Tides of Winter’? Something the old man coined in a book he wrote some thirty years prior. The old man called them the winds, the snows, the blizzards of which were the makings of the Tides of Winter, yes, these were the same elements he confessed –he compared them to the tides of the ocean, saying, ‘…the white snows are the tides in the day time which, –they can blind a man; –and the stillness of the endless night, that darkens and covers the white snows, –again, blinding man, –these are the ‘Tides of Winter’, he explained to the curious.
He was a thick man, who could tolerated the cold at one time, and now, thin with age, and will, he sat staring at the darkness outside his window. He knew the great tides were at work outside, he could hear the wind whistling around the garage, the trees that stood by the garage; along side of the house. The window sills allowed the wind to seep through, as if it had broken its will also.
A spacious room he was in, but with no furniture, he had sold it all, he had only a sofa-chair he sat in, and a sofa to sleep on, no more, no less. But it was how he wanted it. He had asked himself at one time if he should leave his wealth to the good people he met in life, no, they would only sell it and probably get drunk; plus, what made them comfortable he never had enough of anyway. Or so he convinced himself. No need to cultivate rich soil, he told himself.
He was a gentle old man, with a gentle slope to his right side of his face, where two strokes did not harm him, but the third one did. As a youth he was wild, as an old man he was tamed.
“It is God’s way of bringing us back to reality,” he told people: –a kind of phenomenon, that brought all things back to its senses, he felt.
It was four days since his son had come to visit him. He would most likely come tomorrow, it was Friday, and he stopped by to check on him after work each and every Friday, he had no reason to think he would change his pattern, knowing quite well, people are often chained to habits like white on rice. He had told his son he need not bother with checking on him, but he insisted, so he left well enough alone, and seeing him could be meaningful. He knew the old man’s will to live was gone, and so it worried him more. Yet the old man tried to explain his view to his son, saying:
‘When the desire of life hides too deep to be found in your vaults of the mind, then it is time to move on.’
His son was fearful he might commit suicide with such thoughts, but that was far from the old man’s way of thinking. The son even told him it was a cardinal sin to do such a thing, but the old man countered it by saying:
‘It is not the unpardonable sin, but yes, a sin.’
He had told his son many of times, that desire was only for those who had not lived; that if you had, you would understand the time given you is really long enough. But his son was much too young to take it to heart, and so he came each Friday and sometimes called to see how he was, and the old man said nothing to stop him. He was a good son, as far as sons go. His wife had died on him long ago. So long he couldn’t remember the date anymore. But that was good enough for him. It was the way he liked things, simple but proper. And there was no need to remarry he told his son, when asked, saying, “Does God need another son, no–likewise, I don’t need another wife, she’s waiting for me now.” What could the son say; –time could not heal something that was not broken between the two. And again, he left this along.
The Great Tides
He was once a lean young man of the world; a traveler, a writer and poet, a soldier of war, an unpopular war to say the least. He had worked his way through college. Was a fighter of the ring, —he told himself as he sat there staring out the window listening to the giant infusing winds and snows hit his windows, roof and siding of the house, as if it wanted to slap his face, –he told himself, he was at one time a man of many things; but what he like the most was being a ticket-taker at a movie theater, of which was his first desire as a young man of fourteen years old. He had worked the job for a summer, that was all, but he like it the most.
And now he told himself he was a man who had lost his will to live–like a dog run over by a car, hoping for it to return and do the job right. Nothing, but nothing amazed him anymore. All his desires had been filled now, either God was kind or cruel; –or possible, it was his way of saying it was time to come home. In either case, he had fought the good fight within the ring of life, and God had given him more than an extra mile, he was ready; he was not complaining. He did not put a claim on another day.
At one time the old man was very rich, but had spent the money traveling around the world; and many investors wished he would return to the financial world. But it held little interest for him. Money was a means, not life itself. It was a desire, if you never had it, but he had it. He mumbled to himself, ‘This winter is a very, very cold one…’ clapping his hands to keep warm, for he would not turn the heat up, inside his big house which he never live in. That is to say, he only lived in the dinning room, kitchen and bathroom. The second floor was vacant, as was the living room and basement.
By and large, the old man could tell how cold it was outside just by looking, call it intuition, instinct, whatever, but he could. And as it got colder, he never turned his heat up he left it at 64, no more, no less. A creature of habit his son told him he was. But he wanted to feel the cold, just a little, for it was winter, and in winter, he told his son, it is suppose to be cold. There is a message from the great tides that circle the house. And his son would ask, “What is the question?” And he said, “It is the answer you should be seeking.” As if nothing was said, the son said nothing, it was as it was.
The old man knowing how cold it was outside, turned the lights off, as he often did when the moon was out; –it was a natural light he told himself, good enough for me. And there he sat, staring into the wilds of the cold.
When his son had stopped by some four days prior, he noticed his father was getting a little quivering in his hands, with pale -yellow eyes and teeth; tighter and thinner skin on his cheekbones, which were starting to be sucked into his face. He wanted him to see a doctor, but the old man refused. He would just continue looking out the window if he insisted, and become catatonic until his son gave in, and when he changed the subject, they’d sit and talk for a moment, laugh, smile, and then the son would leave as bewildered as he was just before he arrived.
Unwilling to move his face, the old man just stared out the window. It was going on 2:00 AM. He buttoned up his second sweater he had on, and put the blanked around his legs, over his cotton brown pants. He did not have shoes on, rather two pair of thick-green wool socks. Then went back to staring, and thought how peculiar he must look to his son because he wants to stare and be alone, for the old man was not lonely, but knew his son was, that is why he was sad for him.
His eyes were looking out the window, but not unseeing; he recognized everything within his mind; he knew where every branch was that had fallen off the tree from the earlier part of the day. He was his own distraction if anything. His sofa chair was two-feet away from the windows. As he leaned back into the depths of the chair, he remained gazing as he moved to get situated, talking to himself a bit, looking into the darkness of the window; at all the events outside. He told himself, it was a good day to die and disappear from the face of the earth; a very good day. It was not new, the idea of death, going to meet other dead people who had long gone. War had shown him the colors of death, and they do have colors he had told his son. Red for blood, gray and pink and darker colors for rotting white carouses. Much like animals he’d explain.
No, death–was not new to him, insofar as he had known friends who had died in the cold of Minnesota winters, frozen to death by sitting and resting too long; going through cracked ice on lakes while walking, ice fishing. Caught in a storm in a car and being alone too long, thus, out of boredom they go leave the car only to challenge death and the frozen North while the winds ripping at their skin, telling them in everyway to turn around and go back, they–none the less– go forward instead, defying their better judgment, –and the wind with no mercy, or care thereafter, rips and frizzes their skin, to a raw like red meat texture; killing them.
In Egypt he’d seen dying camels along side the roads, they had also lost their will to live, like him. He had seen women and children curled up on bridges with cardboard for a cover, who had ardent desires to live, not sure what for the old man told himself, they were all but dead. A paradox he claimed, part of the nature of things.
His son had told him he had become a great man in the eyes of many that he should want to live. The old man recounted that day, and remembered he had only a few words to say on that, ‘In heaven and on earth are we not judged separately, and therefore we must all die separately?’ And then he told his son that one of the secrets in life is ‘balance’, once lost, sometimes it can never be found again. And what he did not tell him was that he knew he was no longer usable or available for life to enchant him with its antagonistic desires. That should he be tempted, it would have to be something better than what he had, and that was only in heaven; –even the tides of the winter winds knew that.
And so the old man, remained in his chair, unmovable, with frozen eyes. He had never forgot what his grandpa had told him so many years ago; he was just twenty-seven then, –when his grandfather was leaning against the old stove, green and white, cigar in one hand, eighty-three years old. He was telling him a story of the little men who were coming to get him. Digging a tunnel from down the block to his basement, –they were coming, he was assured of that. He had told his grandpa, it was foolish to think such things, and his grandfather simply looked at him and said:
“Come into my world, and then you’ll see.”
And so now he was the old man, and now they found something they had in common, the right tones to the reality of death. He whispered to himself, ‘I see it speaks to everyone a little differently, it let’s you know immortality is not an option; –that the veil of life can be taken up at a moments notice. It is what the cold and its tides have been trying to tell me for a long time.’
It was rumored that the old man had said in one of the books he wrote, that is rumored by the media, to the public that the old man said,
“There was no secret in life.”
But the old man knew it was a misquote, what he really said was, what they didn’t want to write, that being- : “Man seeks the nature of man, when there is no real secret to his nature, just look; the secret is in God’s nature, where we do not want to look.” But he had been misquoted many of times; it was old news, water over the dam.
“What more do they want from me,” said the old man still staring out the window, “…perhaps my blood.” He looked up into the sky, at the cold stars, it looked as if they knew his name, his time, even though they were both silent in the dark cold. He in his house, and they in the upper part of the heavens: –they had a desire to remain lit; he wanted his candle of life put out. The stars seemed as if they were laughing at him, and he told them to “Stop!” Adding, “I don’t want my lost desire back, I want your desire?” But it never gave him an answer it wouldn’t, for they didn’t want to share, so the old man convinced himself of. But he knew it was the one thing that was better than what he left behind, called ‘desire’ but not practical.
As he stared almost into a trance through the window, he liked looking at the naked trees by the garage, the blizzard winds were picking up now, he could hear them whistling, and the white snow glittering as it passed his eyes, and the light of the moon. Then all of a sudden he saw a little lost puppy walking against the wind and side of the garage, being tossed about like a robber ball.
‘You can’t find shelter’; he told himself.
He was being blinded by the shifting snow. The old man look about, realizing the pup was separated from its mother, and now lost. But he couldn’t spot the mother either, so he turned on the outside garage light, and his side lamp light. The little dog now was looking up at the bay-window that was lit. The old man leaning into the window, his nose smashed against it, –quickly he got up, and stumbling to the door, opening it without shoes on or jacket he ventured outside, down the fourteen steps to the garage, —-the pup was shivering, almost froze, he didn’t move. His eyes looked like they were white snow on black tar.
“In due time Lord, in due time,” the old man said, as if he was asking for a few more minutes of life. Next the old man scooping the pup into his hands and hugging him under his sweater, protecting him from the oncoming winds that could take your breath away. He knew the dog did not know this, and so he guarded his face with his hand, allowing only a little air to seep through to his nostrils, moreover, allowing only the needed amount of oxygen in, and started back up the steps: –but some how it was easier going down than going up. He turned around so the wind would hit his back, and he could breath, the pup was half frozen. The old man’s feet were starting to get frost bitten, his face turning raw; his eyes were crystallizing into a film of ice capsules. Finally he made it to the door, and got into the house. Standing still for a second to get his breath, and balance he wobbled over to the chair, and fell into it butt and back first.
“We made it!” he told the puppy.
It had seemed the pup had died when the old man sat back into his chair picking up his blanket from the floor, and putting it around his mid section to keep the doggie warm. “Desire” he said, “That is your name.” The old man leaned back in the chair, turned the outside light off, but leaving his, on, incase the pup got scared. Then he felt the poppy’s leg move against his stomach, and then it started to wiggle more, trying to get closer to his skin. The old man unbutton his shirt, for the pup was already in-between his two sweaters, but now he was rolled up under his chest, and on his belly somewhat. And then knowing the puppy went to sleep,
“Good night,” quietly, not to wake him.
In the morning the old man’s son stopped by to see his father, and found him dead in his chair with the little pup jumping
up from hearing his voice,
“Father, father…” and then a strong cry came from his mouth…
The son looked at the pup, wiping his eyes, taking him from his fathers lap, gently, —-the dog being a little resistant, he hesitated to pull the dog so he stood there a moment, then as the dog looked up at him, again he brought him to his level, the pup just didn’t want to leave the old man. The son bewildered, trying to figure out where the dog came from, and absorb his dad’s death. It was sweat and sour, but for some reason, it was easier for the son to take than what he had thought it would be; –he knew this day was coming.
And so it happened that the son took the pup and raised him. The years went on, and the son watched the dog grow old, twelve years had passed. And then on the thirteenth, the dog was losing sight, had a hard time walking up and downs the stairs. Had a hard time chewing for he lost most of his teeth. And one morning when he woke up to feed the dog he laid still, not a move from his body, he was dead, –he died by the mantle where the old man’s picture sat for all those years.
The son looked staring at his dog, which was really an extension of his father, for the most part, and then it dawned on him, he was old, very old for a dog, and cried. The dog had died like his father, distinguished, old and wrinkled. He then took a picture out of his photo album, and inserted it into the frame he had with a picture of him and his wife in it taking it out and putting that into the album. Then he went and told his son,
“…in time, and it will come, please put my picture in-between theirs.”
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