Fiction Friday: “Old Man”

A selection from the story of an old man haunted by his greatness. Mostly character study and setting. Seems to be what comes naturally. Inspired by my reflection on what people would be mad about in a compassionate society. Again, presented unedited, the way I wrote it in a burst of inspiration late at night in March 2008. Was it maybe the first Earth Hour?

Old Man

At this point, I should take great care to disabuse you of your impulse, however well-intentioned, to attribute to age my utter cussedness before, on a good day, 10:30AM.  On that point, I claim for my character full credit.  I’ve been an obstinate riser since I had autonomy enough to set my own bed-time, and I guard jealously my right to meet the dawn at noon (so to speak) if I so choose.

“Mr. Mit– M-Mitch – Anya send me down here.  She – She wanted me to remind you, that…  She said ‘get him out of bed, goddammit, I won’t have him late, today of all days’.”

“Yes, Josephus, tell her I’m well aware of today’s itinerary, and remind her that I am, after all, a grown man, more than capable of managing his own time.”

“Yes Mr. Mitchell, but she told me to say ‘if he gives you any lip about being “old enough and I do believe I’ve earned the right, and I am, after all” tell him he’s a crusty old bastard and I won’t have it’.”

Good God, have I gotten that predictable?

“Fine, then, tell her to cool her britches and I’ll be there when I’m good and ready.”

Josephus, the poor darling, no doubt rushed straight back to Anya with a verbatim recreation of our touching domestic scene.  I admit I find it challenging to work up a healthy frustration at my youngest granddaughter, but employing my youngest great-great-grandson as messenger boy and chief elder-wrangler does wonders for the cause.  Josephus, the darling boy that he is, exhibits all the admirable characteristics I’ve spent my life trying to eradicate — obedience, respect for his elders, credulity.  I can only hope that his first Ordeal will cure him of it, or at least crack it enough that the subsequent hormonal ordeal that is puberty shakes it loose completely.  I grant that he’s a clever boy, but as the man once said, cleverness and wisdom are very different things.

Anya, the meddler, should know better than to think I’d be late for my own Acclamation, as repugnant as I find the things.  People used to say “so-and-so would be late for his own funeral”, until we sensibly did away with the charade (of funerals, not, of course, of punctuality, though we’d made great strides in that direction by the 70s), but now in the perfectly orthodox pretense of “honouring our elders” we’ve moved the damn thing to the end of life, and in doing so removed the macabre dignity of the option of declining to attend.  These days, the best someone can hope for is a quiet affair with a few dozen of their closest family, and that’s if they’re blessed with particular ordinariness and lukewarm passions.  The downside of achieving our “compassionate society” is that nobody has the poetic luxury anymore of dying in the gutter, forgotten and alone.

I, in particular, am a hopeless case.  I — on the recommendation of a specially convened (if you can imagine such a thing) citizen’s council of the Shire of Springridge, approved unanimously by the combined Citizen’s Assemblies of the Free Realms of New Albion, Sneneymulth, Tsenech, Malahat, and the Southern Chameq Islands, respectfully accepted by the Conclave of Elders of the Sovereign Territory of Great Cascadia and passed on to the office of the Vox Populus of the United Americas, and approved, again unanimously, by the Committee of Awards and Honours of the Global Gathering of Sages — have been Invited to Accept the Honour of a public Acclamation at the seat of the Global Gathering in Geneva, the ceremony to take place in the synod chamber itself.  Revolting.

Of course, it would set off a minor global scandal if I were to refuse, given, to quote the invitation, my “tireless commitment to furthering the aims and values of” horseshit and blather.  More gravely, it would ignite an absolute familial shitstorm in the Mitchell clan, which has tipped me reluctantly in favour of accepting — the prospect of enjoying my last few years with a generally affectionate family outweigh the prospect of a few weeks or months of otherwise intolerable hagiography and interrogation under the moronic pretense that I’m a “public figure”, let alone one worthy of public admiration.

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