Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Act Three When the Footlights Fade

On a warm September day, in the full sunlight of bright afternoon, Millie Rennart was enjoying a mid-afternoon walk with no timecard to punch when she was accosted in the middle of the Main Street crosswalk by a man with shaking hands and a set of teeth too regular and too white to be anything but false.

"You," he snarled in a low voice like rust and dark spaces.

Millie was raised to be polite, but he was being so very rude, and they were in the middle of the street, for Pete's sake. So she walked on, trying not to limp. She was no spring chicken, but she was twenty years the man's junior, and outweighed him by a good hundred pounds, and that was before lunch at Harry's, where that good looking Howson boy liked to smile at her as if she was half her age. (She'd like to rip his clothes off right in the freezer, is what she'd like to do. But that would be to forward by half, wouldn't it just?)

The old man reached out a wrinkled hand, too slow. She was past him.

Behind her, she heard footsteps. Surprisingly quick for someone his age. Nervousness twinged in her belly. She kept moving, but his scuffling steps closed the gap behind her. Closer, now. She didn't look back.

"It was you," he said again from behind her. Low and rough, like a man much younger. "You're the one killed her."

People were starting to stare. Millie wanted to crawl into the sidewalk. Instead she turned to face him. Summoned up her considerable size. He wasn't intimidated, or if he was those fierce black eyes didn't show it. "I've never seen you before, sir."

An older man, only a decade her senior, stepped from the passers-by. "Now, Tom," he said placatingly.

"Don't you 'Now Tom' me," Tom said. "It was her cost me Evelyn, you know it was."

"I'm sorry," Millie said, looking between the two men. "I think you have the wrong woman. I decorate cakes for Marty's Bakery. Or I did, until last week. I'm retired now." As if it was a defense, as if he would say Oh, I thought you were still working, I'm sorry, I must have made a mistake. Jesus Christ on a silver pogo stick, she could be stupid sometimes.

"Don't tell me I have the wrong woman," Tom said, shaking a finger at her. "I know who you are. What you did to me."

"Tom." The other man put his hand on Tom's shoulder. "You've never seen this woman before in your life."

"'Course I have," Tom snarled. "You think I got the Alzheimer's? I'm telling you, Rook. It was her cake."

Millie shook her head hopelessly. "I really need to be going," she said.

"You owe me," Tom said.

"She doesn't owe you anything." Rook tightened his grip. "Trust me on this, Tom."

Tom flinched at the pressure on his shoulder, but he didn't look away from Millie. "You know what you did."

"I don't."

His fists bunched, his shoulders knotted, he looked ready to hit her if Rook freed him. Still, she stayed. She had nothing to do with his wife, she knew this for a fact. But there was a haunted look to his eyes that rooted her.

"Why don't you tell me," she said. Gently. Watching him, so he could see her doing watching. See her not walking away. "Come sit on that bench over there and tell me."

Rook caught her eye as he let go of Tom's shoulder. He smiled sweetly. She caught herself smiling back. He wasn't a bad looking man at all. And certainly more age-appropriate than the Howson boy. His back was a little crooked, but he had broad shoulders and not much of a belly at all. She wondered if he would consider shaving the hairs poking out from beneath his polo shirt--

She pulled her thoughts back to Tom, who had begun talking as they made their way to the bench.

"--the roses, she always did like the roses. But I said Evvy, you can't eat that much sugar. Not anymore."

Tom's voice had turned almost gentle with the memory.

"Was it diabetes?" Millie asked.

He sagged down onto the bench and Millie sat next to him. The old man's eyes had gone wet and all the strength had run out of his voice, as if his rage had been all that was keeping him upright. "I went to the bathroom for the insulin, but I twisted my ankle. When I got up there, I told her we should have moved the bedroom to the first floor, we were too old to go climbing stairs, when I got there, she'd let the prescription run out. And our phone was out, we're on a fixed--I'm on--the bills get so high now. By the time I got someone, by the time the ambulance came--" He swallowed, waved a hand, caught his breath. Millie found a lump in her own throat.

"I'm sorry," she murmured. Sorry would never be enough, but it was all she had. "So very sorry."

"I sat with her for weeks," Tom said. He looked away from her now, looked from her to Rook, to the street behind her. His voice a broken whisper. "Talked to her. Told her I was waiting for her. I did, I waited for her. But she never came back for me. She never came back." He swallowed again. Looked her in the eye. "I'm sorry," he said. "I had no right."

"It's okay," Millie said. Summoning a smile, patting him on the knee. "It's okay."

From behind Tom, Rook rested a hand on the smaller man's shoulder. "Come on, old man," he said. "I'll walk you home."

"Yeah." Tom braced himself on the chair, pushed, rose unsteadily. "Yeah, all right."

She watched him cross the street again, the tiny broken man and the bigger one with his crooked back. With the afternoon sun laying across her knees like a blanket, she watched the younger folks pass by, and she wondered what she was going to do with the rest of her life.


This one from /r/writingprompts, from a writing prompt my little database generated that no one else had a story for. I've never written anyone over 60 before, strangely enough. So why not?

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