Short story about a mysterious old man
A retired janitor named John May sat drinking and smoking on his front porch. His faded stone blue eyes scanned the road for their guest. Her lips trembled slightly and her hand was not quite steady as she raised the drink to her pale pink lips. He wiped the snot from his nose with his tattered flannel shirt. It looked like the trail of a silver snail. John absentmindedly brushed greasy hair out of his eyes with a hard, callused hand that held the glass of whiskey. Scotch splashed his face.
“Damn” John said wiping the whiskey off his face with his flannel shirt, the frozen snot transferring to his face. John didn’t seem to notice. He was never a bright kid as a kid and still isn’t to this day.
“Hey Beth, get me another drink, will you?” John said cocking his neck towards the front door so his wife could hear him better.
John loved his wife, when she sang her sweet warm and inviting voice, it made John cry with joy. John could now sing in the kitchen “Hush Now Baby”, one of John’s favorite songs that he loved to have him sing. He had never laid his hand on her. John’s own mother had raised him to treat women with the utmost respect. John had a terrible temper, but he had always controlled Beth, sometimes he would go out into the wooden shed and bang on a pile of wood to light it. The ax hitting the block of wood always made John happy with the way it sounded, so crisp, so clean. Sometimes his hands were red like apples and blistered like big throat lozenges.
John decided he could wait for another drink and set his glass on the small chipped table, an act he had done so many times in the last five years.
A car pulled into John’s driveway, a red BMW sports car that sparkled like a jewel in the morning sun. It seemed to show the immense wealth of the man.
John looked at the man with fierce contempt. His eyes showed hatred and fear. The handsome young man climbed the stairs in his expensive shoes clicking on the concrete. The footsteps emitted a weary groan as the man approached.
“Good morning sir” said the man extending his hand.
John looked at the hand solemnly and with deep concentration (as if it were clenching into a fist and striking it).
The nails were neatly manicured.
John raised his hand slowly and deliberately to shake it.
“Soft as a baby’s bottom” John whispered with a slight smile.
“I am sorry?” The man in the expensive charcoal suit asked.
“Nothing” John said dropping his hand suddenly as if it had turned icy.
The man looked awkwardly down the street where two children were playing with squirt guns. One was drenched as if he had plunged into a pool still dressed in his clothes.
John spat on the veranda.
The man hurriedly threw back his head.
“Why are you here?” John said. Looking at his feet.
“I am here to represent you in a court of law,” said the man who was obviously a lawyer.
“I don’t need a lawyer” John then looked up and added “Do you know what I mean?”
“Sorry I don’t”
“Look buddy, Beth is inside making lunch for me and I’m hungry” John paused and then spoke slowly and in a much calmer tone “Go away”
“Listen, Mister May, I know you’re dealing with a lot of things right now, but …”
“Shut up” John said, jumping to his feet with surprising grace that even puzzled him.
The lawyer flinched like old John was a ferocious mad dog.
“You come to my house in your elegant car and your impeccable black suit” John was crying as he screamed
“You don’t know the real job sir no sir”
“Mr. May, please be reasonable, we can work this out,” the lawyer crooned, his face an expression of revulsion and fear. But his eyes remained calm and wary like those of a cat that a small child had sprinkled with water.
“No, you can’t help” John said shaking his head from side to side.
John opened his mouth to speak, but stopped mid-inhalation. He paused. A tear runs down her cheek like a melted diamond.
“Yes, Beth is coming, just dealing with this man who will leave now,” she said turning her gaze to Mr. Fancy Lawyer in the impeccable charcoal suit. The lawyer noticed that he was begging him not to be because of his mouth but only because of his eyes, they were bloodshot and tired.
“Okay, it seems you are tired Mr. May, I’ll go” Said the lawyer looking at John mercilessly. He was glad to go. The place felt eerie and sad.
John grunted a goodbye as the man climbed into his bright red car.
John watched the man go.
He sat slumped in his chair for half an hour and fell asleep. I could hear Beth singing from the other room. Her voice sounded like her mother’s when she used to sing her a lullaby and kiss her forehead.
Johns Gut grunted hungrily.
Beth will have lunch ready for me, John thought, sitting up. His bony back and knees exploded like a children’s toy gun would.
John grabbed the door handle as he had so many times that he had lived here.
He went into the lobby. Inside the house it was quite cold. Cold enough that John’s breath could be seen, as if he were exhaling cigarette smoke.
He hadn’t read the fire in over a week. Now he didn’t like going out into the wooden shed.
“Beth” John worried. His voice echoed down the hall. Nothing moved.
“He must be sleeping,” John muttered to himself so as not to wake Beth.
John’s boots clattered on the wooden floor. The sounds were multiplied by the absolute tranquility of the rooms. His boots absently kicked the scattered McDonalds burger boxes. John came to the kitchen. He glanced at the table that served a variety of dirty dishes and half-eaten fast food. The flies dispersed as John approached the table. He seemed unaware of the flies or garbage on the table.
“Beth,” John roared. He stopped and listened.
“Damn bitch” John spat.
How could you do this if you haven’t packed lunch for me? John thought angrily. He opened his mouth to roar another order down the stairs where Beth was no doubt sleeping.
What if she leaves you? A voice crooned in the back of John’s head.
“No, she wouldn’t dare, she loves me” John said but his eyes had taken on a distant look.
“Do you know what I mean?” John continued.
“She loves me” John finally said.
John was no longer hungry but rather happy. He concluded that he was going to cut firewood. Beth will be down in a while and I’ll fix things with her. John thought absently, he was already at the door.
The wooden shed was in the back. Its roof was made of rusty old tin and one side of the shed had sunk to one side. John lumbered over to the shed. He had a wicked little smile on his face. He quickened his pace. He wanted to get to his ax.
John loved to sharpen his ax until the edge gleamed menacingly like shark teeth.
John reached the shed. His heart beat like a bass drum in his chest. He fumbled in the dark for the switch. He located the switch and flipped it. The shed was bathed in light. John ran fervently for his ax thinking that the lawyer had returned and was hiding in his shed.
The touch of the ax handles reassured John. He immediately felt calmer there.
He pulled out a piece of wood from the pile and immediately began pounding the wood. It felt so crisp, so clean.
He laughed madly. I could hear Beth’s sweet voice singing.
He continued to gain more speed.
Beth was there too, watching her beloved John from the top of the shed roof, her head hanging to the top of the shed by a rusty nail.
John remembered how his head had fallen, so fresh, so clean. Like a block of wood did.