prompt "toes" title "so small the moon" in misc. flash fiction

  • Aug. 25, 2020, 4 p.m.
  • |
  • Public

Our neighbor Walter seemed born-old to me, of course, because I was three when I met him. He lived with his father who may as well have been Methuselah, gnomic, Yoda-like, smoking a pipe on that porch, eastern-European accent, unconvinced we landed on the moon because “up in de sky, moon is so shmol”. His dad lived to damn near a hundred. Walt loved drinking and fishing and gambling at the downtown OTB, he reveled in the freedom of age. He was a mystery to me as a kid, only as an adult did I discover he had once been young himself. You can’t imagine that when you’re little. It seems impossible. Everything always just was and always will be.

But nothing just is, nothing will ever just be. Eventually, he declined as we all do, as we all will. My dad fixed his television, my mom shopped for him, my girlfriend patched his clothes. We’d pick him up along the streets back from the bars, sometimes passed-out in a snowbank, gave his sister rides to visit him for the holidays. We helped him get a few extra years of independence, I think, but nothing lasts forever. When he passed away, though, I learned something from when he was young, much younger than I am now. Time works on me just as well.

Walt stepped on a landmine in The War, lost a few toes and was sent home for the duration. I’d known that much. In the notes he left on the event of his passing, however, he said in the years after that, he worked in a women’s shoe store while the other men were all still locked in battle. He wanted his obituary to say during that time, he’d touched all the prettiest legs in town, fitting ladies for shoes, while the others were still stuck off killing and dying. Because of his toes, Walt lived better than kings!

His sister, of course, wouldn’t allow that in the paper but as I get older myself, I realize writing isn’t just about making new things up, it’s also about preserving the stories no one else realizes deserve remembrance. We’re not just lore-makers. We’re also lore-keepers.

As we helped care for him in his failing years, and because he left them more in investments than they’d suspected, his family gave us his house that we might choose our next neighbors, we fixed it up some and have rented it out to extended-family ever since. However.

In the unfinished attic, my brother and I have a shelf where we put any dirty-old-man stag-party gag gifts we find at garage sales and we call it the “Walter Altar”. Time-to-time we’ll pour a beer out by the fake-titty swizzle sticks for him, to evaporate out into the next world. No one, nothing lasts forever, but in ritual and story we can last so much longer. I don’t go to church, neither did Walt, but I know this one truth as my faith.

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