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Old Men Wearing Shoes
I always wondered if I would die alone.
It's a common thought, I guess, one of those that happen in passing but you never really pay attention to because you know. You know that, of course, No I Will Not Die Alone because I Am Loved. But Old Men like me, Old Men with no family alive, no wives, no children, no pets and no thoughts, aren't loved. So maybe I will die alone.
This is the thought that haunts me today. It slithers in and out of my heart strings like a great snake, a beast of burden on my back, weighing me down. Old men think about these things, about if they'll die alone, the most, I think, because we're the most likely to die that way. Our children moved away, pets long gone, wives dead from heartache years ago. Of course, I don't have any of these things. No, I've been alone for as long as I can remember, really.
The street under my worn shoes is hard. It almost surprises me, how worn those shoes are and how hard the ground is under them. The shoes are brown and muddy from rain months ago and I never got around to cleaning them off, and the concrete under my dirty shoes is filled with holes and cracks and pebbles the size of shiny pennies. My filthy shoes look down-trodden and sad, kind of like my heart right at this moment. Heavy. I know I will die today.
I move my cane and start to walk again. Where am I going? I barely remember, and then it hits me: food. I'm not quite dead yet. I still need nourishment. I'm already half-way there, almost to the super market, when I realize it's worthless. What's the point of food when your shoes look like mine do?
I see a woman walking near me. She passes me in a quick flash, a brush of lilies and blonde hair. Her ankles are delicate and her shoes a fire-engine red. Shiny. New. Her heart is new, too, I can hear it in her footsteps. Not like mine, not like my slow, worrisome footfalls.
She notices my staring and turns back for a moment. Her nose wrinkles, and she digs around in a leather purse for a moment and hands me a ten dollar bill. The woman assumes I'm in need of something and then it really, really feels like I need nothing in the world. She turns away and I've never felt so lonely in all my years. I suddenly felt very, very, very old and I drop the ten dollar bill. It floats down, down onto the concrete with the penny-sized pebbles and shiny pieces of some kind of rock, and it's crisp. Unwrinkled. It lands near my shoe.
The contrast between new, crisp money and my worn shoes makes me cry. It comes softly at first, with little pricks at the edges of my eyes, and then it's like a floodgate of pain, hurt, jagged edges and water. Salty water - I can taste it on my lips. My wrinkled, old lips.
As I slide to the ground to cry, I realize I haven't done this in years. Maybe even decades. Half a century? I cry like a baby and the irony of the feeling, of being a baby, doesn't elude me. I see it for what it is, God's cruel joke on a dying man.
Tears splash on my shoes and some of the dirt rubs away. But there's too much to cry away. Too much to clean. Those shoes will always be worn in, broken down, dirty.
There's no way I can cry enough tears to clean those darn shoes, but I try anyway. I close my eyes and I just cry, and cry, and cry, and no one notices. Not one soul stops. The city moves on around me, with people side-stepping my crumpled, old form. People never stop.