…the final segment of a story written for my high school newspaper in 1983. By rights, I should wait to post this ’til Christmas, considering the theme, but I’m sure y’all would rather see a photo of me at Christmas with a wreath, or a herd of reindeer on my head.
The nurses hung the long banner high up on the wall. It read “Merry Christmas”. The year was 1983.
One nurse jumped down from the chair she was standing on and walked to the far end of the room, where an old man sat huddled in a wheelchair, his right hand shielding his left protectively.
“How’s it look?”
Carol studied the banner. “Looks good.””
“Uh-huh.” She looked down at the old man, and wondered what his life had been like.
The second nurse climbed down carefully from the stepladder she had been standing on and dusted off her hands. “Ever wonder what the old goat thinks about?”
“Tammy, don’t talk like that in front of him!”
“Oh, come on! He can’t hear. All he does every day is sit there and veg out. He should’ve been dead years ago, anyway!”
Carol looked at him again and felt sorry, remembering a few years ago, when he had been able to at least see a little, and could hear.
She looked up. “Huh?”
Tammy was looking at her strangely. “I said, are you coming? It’s time to get out of this zoo.”
“You go on; I’ll be right there. Tammy turned and left the room.
Carol turned slowly and looked again at the form in the wheelchair. She knelt beside him and placed her hand on his arm. The sightless eyes stared past her at the wall.
She sighed and patted his arm. “Happy birthday, Mr. Walters,” she whispered. Then she stood and walked from the room. The door closed silently behind her.
And Cecil remembered. He knew it was Christmas. He couldn’t see it, or hear it anymore, but he could still feel it. He always knew what time of year it was.
He could still remember the voices of the Christmas choir singing carols. And he knew that the Christmas lights were blinking on the huge tree in the corner, not three feet from his chair. They always put it in the same corner year after year.
“And they put me in the same corner every year, too,” thought Cecil.
Now Cecil could hear other voices. They were singing to him on his birthday. He remembered that the year was 1975, because he’d lost his hearing a year later. He had just turned 104 years old.
He couldn’t see the cake that year, but he could feel the heat on his chin from the candles. He had leaned forward to blow them out, when a pair of hands pushed him violently back in the chair.
His face had had to be treated for the burns the candles had made. He hadn’t even felt the pain.
Cecil remembered the day he had married Rachel. She had looked so beautiful in her handmade gown.
And he remembered his proudest moment – when his son was born. He’d name him Gerry, for his best friend.
Now Cecil recalled the day his son had died. Cecil had lost the use of his left hand in the same explosion. But it had gotten him out of the war, and he had gone home, prepared to console his family.
When he’d arrived, he had found this three daughters mourning not only Gerry Walters’ death, but the death of their mother, who had committed suicide. She had thought she’d lost her husband as well has her only son.
Cecil recalled the many funerals he had had to attend during his long life. None of his family were still alive; and now he was ready to die too.
Suddenly, he was back in Battery Park, watching the birds. He felt the sun on his face, just before he felt the hand on his arm.
When he turned, he saw an old man’s face. Then Cecil remembered. This man had made him live forever! Cecil’s fear grew; the man’s hand was pushing him from the bench and he couldn’t stop himself from falling. He felt himself sliding to the ground.
The arm of his wheelchair held his fall. He was in an almost horizontal position with his head at an awkward angle. He held his eyes shut tightly as he caught his breath.
When he opened his eyes, a blurry vision startled him. He could see!
As his vision cleared, he realized that he was staring into a shiny gold Christmas ball, hanging from the tree. He could see the face reflecting back at him. Cecil gasped in astonishment and fear.
It wasn’t his face. It was the face of the old man from the park and he was laughing Cecil.
“Hello, Mr. Walters. Are you enjoying your life?” The man laughed cynically.
“Please,” Cecil whispered. “Let me die!”
The man’s laugh mocked him. “Whatever for, Mr. Walters? Don’t you want to live forever anymore?”
Cecil could feel the tears streaming down his cheeks. “I never paid you,” he said.
“Of course you’ve paid me, Mr. Walters! I like to see you suffering there — hating life more and more as the days pass. I would call that paid in full for services rendered!” he laughed again. “You’ve nothing to owe me.”
“You owe me death!” Cecil cried.
The man’s eyes regarded Cecil’s for a long time. Then his face softened.
“I can’t let you die, Mr. Walters. But I can make it easier for you. You can live your life again. Over and over again.”
Cecil watched the man’s face fade from the Christmas ball. The ornament began to glow, and Cecil felt fire in his chest. As the ball glowed brighter, the pain became more and more intense. Then the ball exploded, and Cecil was home.
Cecil Walters had slipped into a coma. He was 112 years old.
Cecil stood at the kitchen door leading out into his backyard. He could hear the voices in his head calling to him. And he could see Gerry Thompson swinging from a branch of the huge oak by the back fence.
“Hey, Cecil! Come on out. We can build a tree-house!”
Cecil heard his mother’s voice, calling for him to be in before dark.
“Come on, Cec!” Gerry had dropped to the ground and stood looking at him.
Cecil shook the voices from his head, and began to run across the yard toward his friend.