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In the Same Boat

by Jack Burnsed

He had been walking for as long as he could remember. An old man in black cargo pants who walked alone beside the two-lane highway. His name was Lorenzo. Nothing looked familiar to him but he knew he was on the right road.

Everything about him was mild and ordinary except for his eyes. They were the color of dark mahogany and were hard and determined.

He picked up an empty bottle from the grass and examined it. When he was a boy he would pick up empty soda bottles and return them for the deposit money. He would take the money and go to the movies. This bottle was not worth anything. He tossed it aside.

A car sped by him. His eyes followed the car as he searched his pockets. He took a small pocket knife and a slightly worn movie theater ticket stub from his right side pocket. The other pockets were empty.

Another car approached from behind, passed him and stirred up a gust of wind causing him to grip the movie ticket tighter. His brow furrowed and he blinked a few times as he studied the ticket stub. He shrugged, shook his head and put the ticket and knife back into his pocket.

The sun was low and he walked close to the pine tree forest that cast long shadows across the side of the road. The sweet smell of the pines came to him.

He felt no need to do anything other than to keep walking. There is nothing really important except finishing what you start, he thought.

His left knee ached and his head hurt. He gave no thought to the fact that he needed a shave and a bath.

He became aware that a dark green truck had pulled over and stopped. He approached the truck on the passenger side. The window rolled down. “Need a ride?” The man smiled, leaning across the seat.

Lorenzo reached down and rubbed his knee. “I could use a ride, thanks.”

“Where are you going?” the man asked.

He hesitated. “I don’t know. I’m not sure.”

“Are you okay?”

He touched the blood-crusted cut on his cheek. “Yes I’m okay.”

As the truck pulled onto the highway, he sighed and relaxed into the seat. He could smell the odor of cigarette smoke and lowered the window slightly. When the driver looked at him again, his head had fallen sideways and he was asleep.

He dreamed of when he was a boy in a dark movie theater, watching the same old black and white western movie over and over. He could smell the popcorn and taste the chocolate candy. The Sheriff, his hero, was a man to be feared and respected and he reminded him of someone... but his face was blurred. The old man had a good sleep.

“Wake up,” the driver said and shook his shoulder.

Lorenzo opened his eyes. The sun was down. “Where are we?”

“Truck stop diner,” said the driver. “Let’s grab a bite.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Come on and eat. It’s on me.”

He experienced a pang of hunger. “That’s kind of you.”

They went into the truck stop and ordered burgers and fries. The smell of coffee was strong and they ordered two black coffees to go and carried them back out to the truck. They drank their coffee slowly.

Sometimes one of them would speak but for the most part they were silent. In the dark, the old man was awake now. He watched an occasional bug splatter against the windshield.

Then he said aloud, “I wish I had a truck.”

“Beats walking, that’s for sure,” the driver said, not looking at him. “Maybe you will get you a truck one day.”

“I don’t know... when... you...” His voice trailed off.

He became aware of his lost train of thought. He took out the theater ticket and studied it again. Be patient, he thought. It will come to you. Sometimes it’s so easy to forget things that you need to remember, but then you can remember other things. And the things that you need to remember? All of a sudden it didn’t matter what you forgot. You just close your eyes and listen or sleep.

The driver watched him close his eyes and sleep again or dream and remember.

The night before, Lorenzo had sat near the back in the dark theater. It was an old, old run-down theater that played old, old movies. For the most part it was deserted. Very few people came here. Admission was a dollar and you could stay as long as you wanted. The seats were ratty and the floor sticky from spilled sodas.

The aging theater attendant was bald, soft and fleshy. His was skin dotted with very large dark brown age spots. He wore no uniform but dressed simply in grey slacks and a thin white short sleeve shirt.

Lorenzo had paid the attendant with one of his last three dollars for his ticket.

The man tore the ticket in half and gave Lorenzo his half. “You like these old cowboy movies?” the attendant asked.

“Yes. I like them very much.”

“I do too.”

Lorenzo went in and sat down. He was happy as the black and white western movie played on the huge silver screen.

Now, the balding attendant wiped the sweat from his brow, looked at his watch and followed him into the theater and took a seat a few rows away.

Lorenzo just wanted to rest and watch the movie. Maybe sleep a little, he thought. He settled comfortably into his seat.

When you are old and alone, you don’t have to think about what you can’t do anymore, but you do, he thought. He was tired. He hated that he tired so easily. He thought of how old he was. Then there is not much that he can do about that.

He fell asleep without knowing that he was asleep. Sleep came easy for him.

Suddenly he felt something heavy on his shoulders. It was the hands of someone pushing him down, down into the seat. As he went down he could feel the heaviness of a man.

“What!” he grunted and twisted his body to the right as he tried to turn around. A fist struck him hard.

Dazed, he struggled at the hands now patting his pockets. A hand reached into his pocket, searching. He pushed at the hands. Again, he was punched in the face and pushed forward. He felt his wallet being wrenched from his pocket. Then, unexpectedly the hands were gone. He turned and the man was not there.

He felt his face. There was a cut below his eye and his head hurt. He noticed the odor of urine. He had wet himself.

I wish I were younger, he thought. He rested for a moment, leaning against the seat in front of him. He remembered the time he had fought a pair of men. One was a big man and the other a smaller man. The big one made a wild frantic fight, while the smaller man circled them both, but the big man soon tired.

He hit the large man and knocked him unconscious. The big man’s smaller friend came in close. The old man hit him in the face and the small man ran away. He was not an old man then.

Now, he saw the dark form of his assailant. A huge man, not far away, was hitting another indistinct victim. The man struck hard with both fists. He struck again and again, alternating as he swung each arm with all his strength and weight. The old man heard a loud smack each time the big man swung. He remembered the attendant had sat there. The big man was hitting him. The elderly attendant did not utter a sound.

Lorenzo shouted, “Hey, hey...stop... Somebody...”

Several dark figures rose from their seats and hurried without a word through the exit door to the outside.

He looked around the dark theater. Now, he was left alone with the big man and the attendant, as far he could see.

He stood and went to help. He took hold of the mugger’s right arm and pulled until the man looked at him.

The man stopped swinging. His hands appeared to be fixed firmly to the attendant. He kicked at Lorenzo. Lorenzo was aware of a sharp pain in his left knee. A Novocain-like numbness spread from his knee to his thigh.

The shadowy form of the attendant emitted a low hissing sound as if the air had escaped his body. Then he slowly stood up and the attacker was pulled over the seat. The hands of the troublemaker seemed to be attached to the attendant. He struggled as if he were trapped and kicked at the elderly attendant. His foot stayed planted where it had struck. Now both of his hands and one foot were attached to the elderly man like a fly to flypaper.

Lorenzo slowly moved closer. Then he thought: You must be careful. “I wish I were younger,” he said aloud. It helped to encourage him, to talk, to himself, if no one else.

Just then the attendant gave a sudden lurch that pulled the assailant even closer. A loud sucking sound filled the theater. The big man shrieked.

Lorenzo was close enough to see that the suction sound came from a number of tiny mouths. While dormant, they had appeared like dark age spots on the attendant, but now every time a part of the big man came into contact with the attendant, they instantly twitched into motion like tendrils, twisting, turning and sucking, exuding a very adhesive sticky dark substance, of a very powerful and nauseating odor. The minute blood sucking mouths quickly sprang up and fastened onto the man as if they were parasites.

The big man went limp. His head fell forward as he succumbed. Slowly, the elderly attendant drained the life out of him.

Now, the attendant’s face and body began to swell. He appeared puffy and soft-looking in a way that reminded Lorenzo of a human leech. The nauseating sticky substance dripped from his engorged body. He absorbed the blood from his tormenter and discarded the gory remains to the tacky floor.

Lorenzo watched. He did not remember to run away.

He was aware of a certain chilling sensation. He gestured at the body. “What are you going to do, now?” he asked cautiously.

“He was a bad person, a very bad person,” said the attendant.

“Yes, he was.” Lorenzo reached for the small knife in the side pocket of his cargo pants. He tightened the pressure of his fingers around the knife. He would take it out carefully and open it, he thought.

“Are you afraid?” the attendant asked.

“I am not afraid,” replied Lorenzo. He was afraid but he would not admit it.

“Yes... you are a brave man.”

Lorenzo was not aware that he was a brave man. “Maybe I have watched too many old movies,” he replied warily. “I do not feel brave. I feel old and tired.”

“You and I,” the attendant said, moving away. “We both are still here.”

He could not see the attendant now but only his vague outline. He carefully watched the dim figure. I hope I do not have to fight him, he thought. If I do, I will take the knife and stab the sharp point into his bloated body. Maybe, just maybe, I can be quick enough.

The elderly attendant spoke in a low appeasing voice. “I hurt from where the man hit me. I don’t know if you are as old as I am or not. But, you are right.... not to be afraid... Of someone that is in the same condition as you. If you will notice, we are both just trying to survive?”

It was then that Lorenzo realized the attendant was speaking kindly to him. He leaned one hand against a seat and took the weight off his aching knee.

“I’d like to suggest that you not stay any longer. Why don’t you go far away and forget what happened. There will be no more movies tonight.”

Lorenzo nodded in agreement and limped to the exit. He walked lamely until he came to the highway and kept walking. He walked for as long as he could remember until he forgot.

Copyright © 2010 by Jack Burnsed

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