Growing Old Disgracefully

Jack could think of better ways to spend his golden years than working night shift at a cattery. But bills don’t pay themselves. Three children’s university fees (still amassing interest), a recently deceased wife (one of many) and a penchant for single malt are not covered under the national pension scheme. The cattery was not a complex building, three large rooms lined from wall to wall and floor to ceiling in cages and a small office. There was no need for a large staff at night and so Jack sat in the office, on his own with only a small flask containing “coffee”. The job was simple: Walk around the cages every so often and ensure the animals were ok and start feeding them in the morning before the day staff arrived. Not the ideal job, but it sufficed.

            As Jack looked up from his book at the budget clock, which barely kept the correct time with its warped hands, he realised that it was time to check the cages. With a large swig from the flask, he started to stand. To this day his left knee gave him trouble. Not a particularly obscure complaint for a sixty-seven year old, however this was not a recent ailment. Aged twenty-two, Jack had been a long distance runner, a hopeful for the Olympics. This was dream which was not to be, after an awkward fall caused irreversible damage to his leg. “Torn cartilage, a displaced knee cap and snapped ligaments?” the doctor had said when Jack asked about the likely path to recovery. “I’m sorry to tell you, but you’ll be lucky if you walk again”. This memory haunted him with every miraculous, yet awkward, step he took. He resented using a cane, but could no longer avoid it.

            Walking through the first room of cages, the old man stooped every so often and looked in on one of the newly arrived animals. This particular room was reserved for rescued cats. When Jack looked into the cages, the story was always the same. He would walk close to the mesh wire (so close the animal was probably intoxicated from his whiskey breath) and coaxed the animal to come towards him. As they grew near, kind faced Jack turned into a man possessed, rattling the cage and hitting neighbouring cells with his cane. Needless to say, this was quite a trauma on the newly rescued felines, and probably was the reason behind the slow rehabilitation rate of the animals in the building.

            Chuckling to himself as he meandered towards the next room, the tormentor became acutely aware of a draft softly brushing through the hallways. As he emerged into the building’s atrium, he discovered that the door was wide open. This did not come as a shock. He probably forgot to close it after his last smoke break. His late night tippling made him forgetful. The door was simply closed over, and a path back to the warmth of the office was chosen on the basis of where the largest number of new arrivals was.

            As the door slowly creaked open on its ancient hinges Jack stopped in fright. This was not the office he had left. It was the same room, but now it was plastered with things from his past. Pictures, report cards, pay checks from jobs long since forgotten; “what the hell is happening,” thought the old man. In his attempt to take everything in, Jack had neglected to notice that there was a man standing in the corner. A youngish man with brown hair, a truly unremarkable character, but Jack couldn’t help but think he knew him.

“Makes you think, doesn’t it?”

“Who are you, and what do you want? I’ll call the police!”

Paying no attention to the old man’s threat, the intruder started going through the things which adorned the walls.

“Remember this? Your first date with Sara. You were so happy when she said she would go to that dance with you. Who’d have known you’d end up married?" The intruder reminisced, as if oblivious to the old man's confusion, "Equally, who’d have known you’d be an abusive fool, and she’d have to leave you?

Jack was startled. He stood in stunned silence, as the whirlwind tour of his life continued.

“Oh yes, and who could forget the degree that you neglected in your last year because you 'didn’t see the point'? I hear that physiotherapists make a lot more money than cat de-wormers these days.”

Piping up some courage, Jack went to reach for the phone, but was pushed into the chair by the younger, stronger man.

“What about your stint in prison. How long was it again? Four years?" The young man's expression had become more menacing. A wry smile was slowly working its way across his face. "Well, I suppose you can’t expect to get away with credit card fraud on that scale, now can you? One last thing, when exactly was it that you last saw your kids? Have they forgiven you yet for what you did to their mother?”

Jack’s head started to spin. This did not stop the barrage. The young man carried on picking apart Jack's life as he toured the many scraps of memorabilia which papered the walls.  He was sweating profusely and before long he passed out.

When he woke up, he was not in the office. He was lying in a hospital bed attached to all sorts of machinery with his leg suspended in mid air. Outside the room he could hear his parents talking to a Doctor.

“Will he be O.K. Doctor? He has his tryout for the team in two months”

“I don’t know about that now, Mr and Mrs Johnston. I think your boy will be lucky if he can walk again. We’ll do what we can, but I should warn you, keep an eye out for signs of depression. In a boy of that age the loss of such an opportunity could be very serious.”

Tears started to well up in Jack’s eyes, as he used his hands to trace his unwrinkled face. The first person that Jack saw when the door opened was Sara, who ran towards him and embraced him with both arms. Jack could no longer hold it in and broke down crying.

Ezy_scorpio   Ezy_scorpio wrote
on 10/6/2011 9:00:37 PM
REad it. Very nice.

Roxanna   Roxanna wrote
on 6/29/2011 5:48:31 AM
Really good Scott! =)

Short Story
writing ScottMcWhinney
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Rating: 10.0/10

A Word from the Writer
I think I might try to expand this. Any comments?