An Undeserved Hand
The worst part about the pain, then, was knowing that it wouldn’t end anytime soon.
Harold stared hard at his front door from where he lay on the asphalt. Tiny streaks of flame, white hot, shot up and down his back from his left hip. His mailbox towered overhead, uncaring, its contents spilled uselessly onto the hot pavement, waiting to be blown away.
One of the envelopes winked up at him innocently, the offending article he’d dropped a minute ago. Rewind ten years and picking up a discarded piece of mail from the ground wouldn’t have carried a second thought with it. Now, at the age of seventy, it carried a thrown-out back and bitterness so sharp it made Harold’s mouth twist.
The front door, he reminded himself. Can I reach it?
At this early hour none of his neighbors would be awake, and he had left his phone inside.
A second attempt to heave himself off the ground brought nothing but gasps and pain.
“Harry!” a young voice called through the morning gloom. “Harry, what happened?”
The kid who ran up to him couldn’t have been older than eighteen. His fancy new electric car was pulled up to the curb half a block away, silent as the grave. It hadn’t made a sound on approach.
When Harold looked up, his were narrowed, uncertain. They took in the kid’s tight jeans, the fitted purple polo shirt.
“Are you all right?” the kid asked again.
“Fine. Fine. Quit your askin’. It’s just my back.”
The kid’s face fell at Harold’s reply, the rough voice bringing back unwanted memories. They flashed to the forefront of both of their mind’s – two years of them – echoes of Harold’s yells, phantoms of thrown newspapers. “Stop loitering around my yard, this is private property!” “What are you doing sitting on the front step here, I told you to stop hanging around this place!”
As he often did these days, Harold weighed his options heavily. In the end he sighed.
“Will you help me get inside?” he asked quietly. “I can’t do it on my own.”
Seconds passed, unaccounted for, and off in the distance the barely audible sounds of stirring households could be heard. The slam of a door, the swish of feet on grass, the hiss of coffee cascading into a pot.
The chatter of families eating breakfast together.
It had rained last night. Harold’s pants were damp from the leftover moisture that clung to the road. It made everything smell crisp and new.
Enough time had passed for the moment to become awkward. The kid’s face was unreadable.
“Never mind.” Harold looked away in disgust, trying to figure out how he could crawl up his driveway to the front door.
A hand grasped him roughly under one arm. He grunted in surprise and pain as he was pulled roughly to his feet. His back protested, but the hand under his arm carried most of his weight.
When Harold looked over, the sad but hopeful smile on the kid’s face brought back all of his unwanted shame. It was a smile that was impossible not to recognize, because the expression made the kid look identical to the man in the fifty-year-old pictures hanging on his walls. It was a smile he hadn’t seen in a while – he’d forgotten how much he liked it.
“Of course I’ll help you, grandpa.”
Well, this was fun to write! It’s a story I dashed off over the course of an hour this morning, when I felt the need to write something from start to finish (and the only way to do that with a novel would be to literally freeze time).
In addition to this story, I also wanted to share a couple thoughts on the actual writing of it!
Mostly I wanted to share what I was trying to accomplish. So what was my goal, here?
Well, first of all, I wanted to get back into microfiction and short stories. The more creativity you use, the more you have (thanks Maya Angelou!).
I also wanted to start practicing different writing techniques in shorter fiction so that I could really hone my skills.
Learning how much power you can fit into each word is the specialty of short stories and microfiction – as a writer, I want to be able to pack as much punch as possible into however many words I have. This is a start!
In the story itself I wanted to convey conflicting emotions – need, shame, anger, dislike, rejection, acceptance, love. But I also wanted to play with a mini-twist. I wanted to know how I could make the story seem like it’s about one thing, when in fact it’s really about another, more powerful thing.
So, what if I can get some people to think it’s about this crotchety old man who yells at kids for messing up his lawn? Then what if he needs help? That’s good. People might like that.
But what if it’s not just a crotchety old man? What if this old man is actually a grandpa who has rejected his grandson for unstated, but imaginable, reasons? Then him needing help would conjure the same feelings, only magnified. It’ll still be a mean old man needing help, but now the person he needs help from is someone to whom he is powerfully connected.
This way the contact in the end is more meaningful, even if the old man is still in the wrong. It took an accident to get them speaking again. Life isn’t always fair. People aren’t always nice. But in the end there might be hope for a better future between them. And isn’t that all most of us want? Hope?
Anyway, thank you so much for reading – let me know what you think of the story! And I’d love to hear if any of you write microfiction or short stories as well!