MARK: My wife and I used to rent a place a couple of blocks up that way. She got a new job and we moved here to cut down on the commute. That sort of thing. It’s a nice little spot, isn’t it? Quiet. Lots of sun. Plenty of trees. Parking’s a little… But we made it work.
Sorry. Drifted away for a second.
Anyway. The first few nights, I slept better than I had in years. But after that… I don’t know. Maybe it was the stress from the move, sleeping in a new place with new sounds and new people making sounds, but after that first week, I’m sleeping less and less. I’d just lie there in bed for hours until I’d dozed off without even realizing it. Eventually, I’m up pacing for just as long, back and forth, back and forth, until the sun’s starting to rise and my feet beg me to stop. I don’t want to read, I don’t want to look at a screen, I don’t want to listen to music. I just want to sleep. But I can’t.
After a couple of weeks of me waking her up and keeping her up, my wife went from concerned to annoyed to leaving me a hand-rolled joint and a note that said, “If you’re going to huff and puff for several miles all night, I would prefer you do so outside.”
So, I went for a walk.
I went for a lot of walks, actually. A lot of walks on a lot of nights. And something about doing that, walking around when the rest of the world was asleep, it worked for me. I still wasn’t sleeping much, but I was sleeping.
And as I kept doing this, I developed a little routine. I’d walk up Gomer, cross to Pyle, and then back up around Howard or Fine. Just like that. I liked to watch the ships come into the harbor from the hill.
That’s where I first saw the old man.
Actually, I’m not sure when I first saw him. One night, it was like he was just there. I mean, nothing stood out about him. Not really. Aside from him being this one-hundred-year-old man walking up Pyle at two in the morning with what had to be about twenty, thirty pounds of something in this large canvas bag. I never saw him in or around a car or bus. Every store in walking distance closed hours earlier. But every night, there he was, inching his way up the hill with that heavy bag of his. Crawling in and out of the shadows and street lights.
It never even crossed my mind to offer to help the old man with that bag of his. Not once. Not until that woman did.
Can’t remember her name off the top of my head, but there was a bit about the woman in the news. I think. Right after it all happened. I didn’t know her, but I’d seen her around here before. Probably lived in one of these apartments. She was always in workout gear, always out for a jog. A lot of people run by you like you’re not even there, but she’d always look your way, give a little wave or smile or nod.
That night, I heard the woman before I saw her. They were standing right over there, on the other side of Pyle. I was standing about here, bunch of cars parked in front of me, and I heard someone say something. I don’t know what she said exactly, but with it being as quiet as it is at night around here, I still heard her say something to the old man from this far up the street. Maybe she was trying to get around him, or she turned the corner and almost ran into him. Anyway, I heard someone say something, so I looked around and saw her standing over there with him. And she pointed at his bag, clearly offering to help. But the old man shook his head and waved his free hand at her and clutched that heavy bag with the other. The way he’s acting, I figured he’s told her, “No, thanks,” and wants to be on his way. But then, she insisted. And then, he resisted. And they went back and forth like that for a minute.
Finally, the old man relented.
I remember reading something about how the woman had some kind of heart defect. That she must have just dropped dead on her jog that night, blissfully unaware that her heart was ready to stop at any second. It’s a cute story. But, uh…
(SCOFFS) Look. I know this sounds absolutely crazy. And I feel crazy for even being here, telling you all this and hearing myself say it out loud. I know I’m crazy every bit as I know that woman didn’t drop dead from a bad heart. I know there was an old man with a, uh… a bag. This plain, normal, not-crazy looking bag with, I dunno, something in it just as plain, normal, and not crazy. But when he opened the bag and she looked at whatever it was she found there, that’s when she dropped dead. She didn’t tip over. She didn’t clutch at her heart. She didn’t even try to brace herself. She just, uh… It was like she was a puppet and someone cut her strings. Whatever held her up was just… gone. And then, she… she collapsed and folded up on herself. Just right over there. Sometimes, I think I heard her ribs cracking.
And the old man, he stood there for a bit. I don’t know how long, but he stood there. He didn’t look around. Didn’t call for help. He just stood there, shaking his head.
And then, he left. Same way he always did. Walked right up Pyle, passed me like I wasn’t even there, and then over the hill.
Sorry. I was just…
Anyway. That was, uh… that was years ago now. I don’t go out much after dark these days.