He sat in the reclining chair, feet up, air cool, gasping for each and every breath; 19″ color television forever in his range of view, always set to PBS, because there was no satellite hookup or cable; it was an office after all, a place of business, where one lone craftsman struggled to scrape out a living.
Eighty-seven years old and only four people in the entire world that he knew; each and every one of them, going out of their way, following the goodness in their hearts, to help the old man in any way they could.
For years he had done alright for himself; in his old white van with his box of tools; up and down the beach he’d go, taking any odd job he could get, giving it his all, as if his was the most important job in the world; and to him it was; knowing how tight-knit the beach community was and that if he made one business owner happy, chances were he’d find work elsewhere.
He hadn’t always been that bad off, not back in the day when he reported to the mob boss; all his needs and wants taken care of; and at the time, giving up his identity and living off the grid didn’t seem like much of a trade-off at all. Until the day he was forced to flee to the south, his train ticket to Jacksonville leaving him barely with anything left; but the beat of his heart and the air in his lungs.
Two things taken completely for granted, that he lived long enough to feel himself struggle for; praying each night as he closed his eyes that God would show mercy and not force him to wake to see another day.
Then one morning they came for him, just as he knew they eventually would. The craftsman whose office he’d turned into a flop house, stood in the corner with his head hanging down; the old girl Cecelia, who had once gotten him an under-the-table job, who still came to see him on a semi-regular basis, and bought him a cell phone to call if he needed something, stood by his side, arm resting on his chair; then Bob and Mike, flanked by paramedics, who had each taken him in at one time or another, and bought the camper trailor that for five years had sat parked behind the craftsman’s shop.
He struggled and he fought, protesting the entire time; cursing the craftsman for making the call, finally begging as they got him strapped on the gurney, “I’ll clean up your office, boss – I won’t make any more messes. I’ll move back out to the trailor, just don’t let them take me…”
It was more than any of their hearts could bear, but he was a sick old man on the verge of death. He was in hospital for nearly three weeks, lasting only 18 hours after they made the decision and turned off the ventilator.
A week later, Cecelia pulled up to the shop on her way to work; explaining to the craftsman that she’d been out of town and had received several calls from the old man’s cell phone, but each time she answered he hadn’t said anything, just sat on the line until she eventually hung up; so she wanted to check if everything was alright before she went rushing off to the hospital.
He shook his head and looked down at the ground, took a drag off his hand-rolled smoke, then looked back up and met her eyes, “No, I’m afraid Pappy passed on early Saturday morning,” he said in his slow southern drawl.
Tears welled in her eyes and she dug a tissue out of her purse. “I don’t understand,” she said as she dabbed at her eyes, “the last call I got was just last night. Do you know if someone has his phone?”
He told her that Bob and Mike had cleaned the office and taken all of his things, including the camper trailor; leaving no trace that the old man had ever been there at all; and that as far as he knew, he always kept his cell phone in his pocket and maybe it fell out on the way or in hospital and someone took it, but that he’d check with them both and let her know.
Bob rode up on his bike that evening just as he was closing up shop. When told about Cecelia’s visit and asked about the phone, Bob said the same thing had happened to him three different times; that he’d received a call from the old man’s phone, but no one said anything when he answered.
They deduced that he’d obviously lost it once they’d taken him from the shop and whoever found it was going through his short list of contacts, making prank calls. Bob said he’d call Cecelia and let her know, so she could get the service shut off before they ran up a fortune and she got stuck with the bill.
Saturday morning came with the rain and though he had no pressing jobs, the craftsman decided to take advantage of the ugly day and go to the shop and reorganized his office, which he hadn’t yet had a chance to do. He stopped on the way for his coffee and newspaper and spent a quiet hour sitting at his desk, in the office that once again was his, completely at peace and uninterrupted.
He finished off his tepid coffee, folded the newspaper and took it out to the recycle bin; went to his truck and grabbed the supplies from Office Depot, went back inside and emptied the bag onto his desk. He unwrapped a pack of invoices, gathered up envelopes and boxes of pens, thinking to himself how nice it would be to have his supply cabinet back, that had been a medicine chest and pantry for far too long.
He walked across the office and opened the cabinet doors, and there on the shelf, sitting next to the television remote, indicator light flashing low battery, was the old man’s missing cell phone…
©2012 jill terry