Location Challenge; The Old Man & The Sunrise
Another Location Challenge, because one was clearly not enough.
We have to have one real and one fictional, you know.
- The Old Man & The Sunrise -
The stones hold memories. Uneven, crooked, cracked and worn with age, the old man wonders how many times his feet have trodden them. Ever since his boyhood, it's been. His boyhood, when the alley was newly-paved and hopes were high.
Things were different, back then. Fresh-cut cobblestone and fresh-painted houses and fresh-faced boys running and hollering and tussling about. Well, things have changed, and that's for certain. He hadn’t really noticed the changes as they happened. But, he considers, that's the way of things, isn't it? Gradually shifting and falling apart and no-one ever noticing until one day when they wake up and the world has gotten unfamiliar.
He certainly has to pay more attention now than he did back then. Back in the day, when the paving was clean and even, and people threw their rubbish into the proper rubbish tips and he’d had two strong, young legs instead of one arthritic knee and another fashioned from clumsy wood, he’d skipped along these alleyways without anything more than a passing consideration for what lay underfoot. Now he grimaces as he picks his way around a pile of garbage, frightening away an alley cat that skulks in the shadows, glaring. The smell, and the miscellany of grisly bits and ends, announce that this is the back end of Mame’s fish shop.
She used to have more pride than to throw offal into her back alley.
But then again, so had they all.
And perhaps the arthritis is getting to her knees, too.
Seagulls swoop overhead, prospecting with beady eyes for any morsels that the cat might leave behind. The shrieking of the gulls and the hollow, ‘clap, clap’ of his walking stick reverberate through the dim light. His breathing comes in short gasps as he walks the ratline between hurry and asphyxiation.
Sometimes, he jokes about this walk with his granddaughter;
“Hurry too fast, and I’ll turn up top-sails foremost into a rubbish heap. But if I’m too slow and the wind’s not to my favor, I’ll end up choked to death on rotten fish and stale...erm...urine.” He made a promise to her mother that he’d not teach her ‘low words’, and he sticks to it, even if it means talking like those high n’ mightys up the hill.
The ratty back ends of the buildings on either side of him lighten to a soft grey, as the unseen dawning gathers strength. He is glad of the extra light as he limps through a particularly rough patch where the cobblestones have been torn out by a householder to repair a hole in the street out front. The alley squeezes down to a narrow passageway, filled with the rising rustle of the tide. His arthritic knee aches, but no matter, he's arrived, now, anyway.
He steps out from the odorous mouth of the alley and into the freshness of a sea wind. The last of the cobbles blend out into a wash of loose stone. He slows, prodding carefully with his stick before entrusting himself to the treacherous shingle. A few deliberate steps, and then he lowers himself onto a battered old crate - his crate, no-one would ever think of putting it away - with a pleased grunt. He is, as usual, just in time.
The sun slips up over the grey ocean, turning the wavetops to a brief gold, highlighting stone and circling gull, warming the stiffness from his legs. He closes his eyes and savors the briny wind. It smells of fish and ships and industry; good smells for the starting of a new day. He relaxes, easing his wooden leg into a more comfortable position, stretching out his arthritic one to limber in the sunshine.
Things do change, he thinks, as certain as the tides, they do, but life's still well worth the living of it.
He leans forward, walking stick firm against the shifting of the stones beneath, and laughs boyishly, familiarly, at the rising sun.