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Youth is Wasted on the Young
“My boy,” the old man says as he leans in conspiratorially, preparing to tell a long-waited secret. His foul breath heats the boys’ unlined face and the boy recoils from his yellowed teeth. The debilitated old man’s bright blue eyes pin him to his seat. “Youth is wasted on the young.”
Back away, old guy. The teen carefully and slowly moves away from his elder. The memory of the creepy old mummy returns to him. It was old, very old, wrinkly, and out of its time. There’s no way something like that should be that old and still be around. It should never survive like that, the teen had thought in the museum. Thank god it was under glass.
The teen sits on the pink floral patterned, plastic encased sofa in the empty lounge of Sunhill Rest. The senior across from him creaks his chair back and forth, slowly. The screech penetrates the teens’ eardrums in a constant, irritating shriek of wood despite the Carpenters record in the background. A light pillow covers the seat, padding it, but the old mans’ back still aches from the pressure. He can’t take much more than lying in a bed anymore, and even then it hurts.
The fluorescent lights hurt both their eyes, no natural lighting except for the window across the room. The lights overly light the entire room, making the white all the more unbearable. The smell of lemons and feces and disinfectant troubles the youth’s nose and he holds his breath, trying to get rid of that awful smell of slow-coming death.
The withered old man hangs on to his rocking chair. Liver spots dot his hands, leading up to the IV that stabs his forearm. His body is ancient and withered, but his mind stays sharp even now. The pain brings clarity to him and the cunning shines in his eyes, something the boy never considered. A nose tube distracts the teen from whatever the old man was saying.
“…I saw things that would have youngins these days cryin’ for their mommas.” A wet cough wracks his small frame. He wheezes for a few moments more and coughs into a crumpled tissue. “Damn, diseases catchin’ everybody from the War. Johnny got Hodgkin’s or some s***, killed him in a matter of months. Agent Orange they said it was.”
He just goes on and on… Goddamn war ended twenty years ago, you think he’d get over it. Sighing, the boy stared at the clock. It mocks him. Tick, tick, tick. Time never goes fast enough when you need it to. Thoughts of the mummy return again. The old man in front of him becomes yellowed and wrapped in bandages; eyeless sockets stare out at him begging him to come just a little closer…
The old man is back in the mummy’s place. The teen resists the impulse to rub his eyes.
That young whippersnapper won’t never understand the rock of things. The rock is the center of all… kids these days don’t understand that you put you’re head to that stone and get to workin’. If you work ‘nough, than you’ll get what’s comin’ to ya. They all are thinkin’ that everything just comes right to’em. Nobody ain’t never gonna beat any sense into them. His hungry gaze touches the boys’ blue and yellow letterman’s jacket. None o’ them ever appreciate what they got. “Where was I?”
“You were talking about the war,” the kid says earnestly. He lost his place again. Old man never keeps a thought in his lousy head.
“Oh yeah… The War. My best buddy got a’blown up over in there Vietnam…”
Veet-NAM. That’s how he said it. The teen starts tapping his foot lightly on the floor to the phantom rhythm of Same Ol’ Situation.
“…That’s what I’m sayin’. Kids these days don’t understand what we had to go through and they don’t ‘preciate what we fought for neither. Ain’t none o’ them ready to go out in the world.”
I get it, the teen wants to snap. But he doesn’t. Tick, tick, tick. Finally.
The teen rushes to his feet, a flop of brown hair falls into his face and light dapples his boyish face. “Sir, I’ve gotta go. I’ve got practice…” Got to get out of this place... It’s not good to stay here too long, you start seeing things… He thumbs at the exit while he says, “I better get goin’. It’s been great talking to you!” He ends with false cheerfulness.
The boy makes his attempt at escape. He doesn’t know yet that escape is impossible. His Nikes squish on the linoleum as he rushes to the entrance. The old man calls out weakly from behind him, “Hold on, boy. Just one more thing.”
Hanging his head briefly, the teen reluctantly retraces his footsteps. He doesn’t look at the old man until he lowers himself back into the sofa. “I just want to say…” The old man lifts his frail hand with an effort and places it on the young boy’s. “Thank you for your time.” It’s cold.
Just let me go, the boy thinks. The mummy’s hand grips his tighter. Its paper-thin skin crackles on top his firm one. He expects a chunk of the hand to unravel or disappear on his fingers. Were mummies’ hands cold? Dizziness overcomes him and his vision blackens around the edges. His hand now feels numb where it touches the old man’s. The offending hand is removed and the teen lifts his hand to his head and is struck odd by how heavy his hands feel. Lead weights must be pressing them down, they shouldn’t be so heavy.
He looks up to see if the old man feels it to. In front of him is his twin. Brown hair, green eyes, letterman’s jacket, freckles. His twin sits on the couch, oblivious to the cares of the world. The teen looks down at himself and is shocked to see wires and tubes and a shriveled body.
The old man gazes at the former teen. Their eyes meet. The boy recognizes the old man’s eyes even from inside his own. They’re his now. The mummy got himself some new eyes…
The teen, trapped in the old man’s form, tries to stand and encounters a band around his chest. It squeezes tighter and tighter and he’s forced, grasping his chest, to sink back into the rocking chair.
The old man bends his new body over the shell of a man. I ain’t never goin’ there again. No sirree. “I’ll ‘preciate the gift you’ve given me. Trust me, you couldn’t never understan’ what it means to be young again. Youth is wasted, I tell ya.”
The teen grabs his jacket and casts it over his shoulder, strutting out into the day.