Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Old Man

He appeared in my window, an elderly man with white-gray hair and a slight paunch. I'd been trying to pour my problems into the moon, and the next thing I knew he was there.

I drew back, startled.

"What are you doing here?" I asked. I didn't mean to sound rude, but he and I had a checkered history; in the past, his visits had not often been pleasant.

"It's lovely to see you, too" he said gruffly. His wispy helpers wheeled around him, shining and insubstantial. "We need to talk."

"I'm not in the mood for talking," I countered. "Do you know what time it is?"

His face was expressionless.

"Time is an illusion," he answered stoically. "As you know."

"Right," I said with a roll of my eyes. "Well, I'm pretty sure the ten-thirty class I have tomorrow actually isn't an illusion."

"Since when do you suddenly care about going to class?" he asked.

I scowled but he waved my irritation away.

"Beside the point," he continued. "Issues of a pressing nature have arisen and will soon arise. We must discuss them."

"No," I answered. "No, we won't. You and I have nothing to discuss anymore."

I scoffed at his absurd cross-legged posture.

"You realize I'm on the third floor, right?" I asked. "You look ridiculous."

He surveyed the night air around him and seemed for the first time to take stock of the fact that he was floating nearly forty feet in the air on the outside of my dormitory building.

His gaze returned to me with some irritation in it.

"Once again, beside the point," he said.

"How?" I asked incredulously. "Someone's going to see you."

His stare yielded nothing.

"In order for someone to see me they would have to be paying a great deal more attention than most are apt to do," he offered. "But this is all periphery. We must return to the matter at hand."

"No," I insisted. I jumped off the bed and my bare feet hit coarse carpeting. "You and I said our last words to each other back in '09. Leave me alone."

He assessed me.

"I've always judged you to be a bright young man," he said calmly. "And as my judgement by definition cannot be in error, I feel confident in asserting that you never truly imagined our relationship to be concluded."

I gave him the angriest stare I could.

"You should go," I said. I was trying not to shake. "I want you to go."

"I can't," he said simply. "You of all people should know that a man cannot escape his fate."

"I don't believe in fate," I came back immediately.

"No," he declared. His voice was stern now. "You don't want to believe in fate. That's quite different from not believing in it."

I huffed.

"Well, that's your perspective."

He leveled that scourging gaze at me again.

"In your moments alone, all the doubt fades away," he said with disconcerting authority. "When you walk home in twilight and cannot shield yourself from the scrutiny of the setting sun; when you stand in the shower and hold your own arms, always with the lights out; when you find yourself lying awake in bed on nights like tonight, you know. It is your constant terror."

I tried to glare but failed. The expression came off as weak and frightened, and the eyes I'd hoped to make huge with anger were just big with fear and sadness.

"Oh, BB," he sighed, and in that moment I believed he really pitied me. "My dear, sweet boy. Did you really think you could escape? Be normal?"

There was no sneer in the last word, no hint of mocking. I appreciated that but wouldn't tell him.

"I..." I began. "I don't know. I don't know what I thought. Maybe I believed it. For a little while at least."

"And it's not as if credit isn't due," he assured me. "Really, you've done a fine job of it. Even the most perceptive of those around you are aware on only the dimmest of levels that something is a"

He reached through the window and patted my shoulder.

"A finely engineered facade," he commended. "But a facade nonetheless."

I looked away, my silence the most damning admission I could give.

"You see the truth in what I'm saying," he went on. "It's obvious."

I brought my hand to my forehead and rubbed my eyebrow.

"You're right," I said. "I just don't understand..."

"What?" he prompted. His face held a look of such sincerity that I opened up even though I didn't want to.

"It's just..." I began. "There seems to be this undercurrent of tragedy."

"Ooh, 'tragedy,'" came the helium voice of one of the helpers. "A bright one, boss."

"Yeah, he doesn't miss a thing," said another.

"Quick, hide the drugs!" a third piped in.

"Enough," the old man pronounced. "That is neither necessary nor helpful."

His servants buzzed off into the night and careened into a few trees across the courtyard. The man suppressed an urge to grumble under his breath, then turned back to me.

"Everyone's destiny holds both positive and negative elements," he said. "Yours is unique in several respects, but that does not make it inherently worse than anyone else's. In fact, it's quite better than normal in some respects."

"I know," I said. I was still looking down. "But sometimes I wonder..."

I looked up at him and saw the guileless compassion in his eyes. I decided to take a shot.

"How will it end?" I asked.

"That will be up on you," he said. A subtle grimace shaped his face. "To a degree."

I sent him a quizzical look.

"No matter how well you do," he explained. "There is a chance that it will all end quite badly."

"How badly?" I asked.

He inhaled.

"Appallingly," came his answer. "Appallingly. It's one of those things I regret but can't change."

I swallowed.

"Why?" I wanted to know. "Even if I do well..."

His eyes narrowed.

"When you were a child, were you particularly cruel?" he asked.

I was confused.

"Not at all," I replied. "In fact, I was weirdly kind, all things considered."

"And did that for a moment stop people from hurting you?" he asked.

I understood his reasoning, then.

"Ah," I said. "Right."

"You can at least rest assured that it won't be mediocre," he said. He shook his head in disgust. "In truth, there's a sort of a hellish grandeur to it."

I shuddered at the idea of something that, for him, had already happened. Or could have happened. Or might happen. Things with him were always complicated.

"But that, even should it come, is far away," he continued. "And there will be great brightness in between, regardless of whether the conclusion is pleasing or not."

The old man smiled.

"And, of course, the ultimate conclusion will be quite joyous where you are concerned," he said. "No matter how you are dispatched to it."

I tried to feign resolution.

"Okay," I said. "I guess I'll just have to be strong."

He smiled again.

"You will be."

He started to float away, but I called after him.

"Wait!" I exclaimed.

He descended to my level once more.

"I'm sorry," I said. "But have you seen Good?"

He shook his head.

"But fleetingly," he said. "It is an unfortunate fact that our paths do not cross nearly often enough."

"I figured as much," I admitted. "But Fate?"

"Yes, BB?"

"The next time you run into her, please tell her I said hi," I requested. "I miss her. I need her help now."

"Of course, BB."

"Okay. Thanks, Fate."

He nodded humbly.

"It is the least I could do."


laura b. said...

Fate sounds like an interesting guy. I have a question or two for him myself!

naturgesetz said...

I think it's better that we don't know how, or when, it will end. We can live much more truly without being burdened by knowledge of an appalling end or being uncaring because of the knowledge of a good end.

We have only to try to live as good people — live in truth, in beauty, and in love, for these are the attributes of Good.

I admire you. Despite what Fate says about the facade (and nearly everybody has one), this conversation tells you that you have had to be strong to become the fine and caring person you are.

Selina Kingston said...

I don't think you should focus too much on what Fate has in store for you and concentrate solely on the positive and the brightness. It's how we make the most of those times that help us deal with the not so good times.
Keep your spirit up and look for the Good