Flash Fiction: Old Man Tells it Like it Is.

As I did yesterday, I thought to share my flash fiction today. Maybe I’ll make a habit of it…

Today’s exercise was to write a scene w/ at least 3 people and in which (1) there are very few dialogue tags (e.g. “he said”) and (2) there’s a clear insider and a clear outsider.

I’m open to feedback, as always. What do you think? Do you want to try your hand at the same challenge and send it my way? Drop me a direct message on twitter. I’m reachable: @CaponeTeaches.

Scene length: 817 words.

As the old man spoke, the boy listened. The child – he’s only seven, but a bold seven – looked nowhere but at the man’s face and heard nothing but the man’s words. No one else would have stuck around for this hardscrabble soliloquy. But the boy wanted to know everything. The old man was glad to have an audience. He wanted to tell everything. The pair had been sitting at that old, brown, canvas-topped folding table we’d set up in the living room as the “kids table” for the past two hours, and I wondered how long he’d last. At first, I had thought the boy would be finished in no time at all. Not so, as it happened.

I continued listening from the kitchen. Given an opportunity to cut in while the old man sipped at his soda, the boy spoke for the first time in what felt like five minutes about his life story. The old man had been discussing what had gone awry according to original intentions – what in his life hadn’t worked out as he’d hoped. The boy asked the old man a question.

“So why are you happy if things have gone so badly?”

“I’ve accepted it, I suppose.”

“What – what does that mean?” He wrinkled his nose.

“Well, you’ve had to go somewhere with your parents when you haven’t wanted to go, right?”

“Yeah.”

“And if you whine and shout and kick and scream, you still have to go?”

“Uh huh.”

“If you would just stop all that and get in the car to go, wouldn’t that be a lot easier?”

“I guess so.”

“That’s acceptance.”

“So just don’t complain?”

“That’s about the size of it. If I’d have whined and shouted and kicked and screamed when I lost my job at 55 instead of retiring at 65 like I’d planned, they wouldn’t have given me my job back, and I’d have been miserable. I decided I’d take the money they offered me to leave the company, go on a cruise, and be done with working forever. It was tough – we didn’t have a lot of money – but if I’d have stayed stuck in wanting things to go the way I’d planned them, I’d probably still be sore about it today instead of being grateful.”

“You’re grateful you lost your job?”

“Absolutely. If I hadn’t lost my job, your gram and I wouldn’t have been able to move to Pineview Reservoir, wouldn’t have been able to go on that cruise… I would have had a lot fewer years with her.”

“And she died.”

Ouch. Kids have a way of putting things.

“Yes she did, in fact. And because I lost my job, I got to spend six wonderful years without needing to leave her every day before she went.” The man paused. He hunched forward across the table toward the boy. “You want to know the horrible truth that isn’t so horrible but that no adult will tell you?”

The boy leaned in, saying nothing.

“The truth is that life is shit. The friends you have now will move away, or you will – or no one will move, but you’ll find out that you don’t actually like each other very much. And your parents are for their part just waiting for you to move out so that they can be free again. And you’re going to take a job that you don’t love because you have to, and you’re going to have less money than you will hope to make, and your kids – if you have any, and you really ought to think that one through – will annoy you. They’ll take everything you have to give, and then they’ll take more. Then they’ll whine and shout and kick and scream when you want to take them to the dentist who’s gonna keep their teeth from rotting out of their heads.”

The boy twisted his own face in concentration. Neither of them said anything for a moment.

Then the old man shifted back into his seat again. “But it’s not all that bad,” he said. “The trick is to expect less and want the things that you have instead of the things that you don’t. That’s why I’m a happy old man instead of a grumpy one.”

“Expect less?”

“Just want different things. You’ll never get what you wish for. And if anything is ever fair, something has gone wrong in the world.”

The boy looked at the ceiling. Tears formed, though he seemed to be fighting them. His mother entered the room at that moment. Upon seeing the boy’s condition, she scooped him up, holding him in a defensive posture, and spat at the old man, “You shouldn’t scare the kids, Tom. Every time… you know what? Forget it.”

She left the room with the boy.

I stood at the sink, though I had stopped pretending to clean dishes a while ago.

About Steve Capone

Interested in Domestic and Foreign Policy, Ethics, and Political Thought. Part-time adjunct instructor of Philosophy and full-time Middle School educator. Europhile, historiophile, & bibliophile. @CaponeTeaches on Twitter M.S. Philosophy (Univ. of Utah 2013) M.A. Humanities (Univ. of Chicago 2007) B.A. Philosophy & English (Washington & Jefferson College 2006
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