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Can You Really Start Over? - A short story
St. Pete's Beach
People have been searching for the Fountain of Youth in Florida since 1513. Did the old man find it in God's Waiting Room?
The frail old man sat in his chair by the window, reading only his own mind. Back when his eyes still worked properly, he read the newspaper every morning.
As his sight had dimmed, his thoughts turned inward. Memories were old news; but they were all that he had left. The worst of the bygone times were better than the endless boredom.
He felt the young sun on his wrinkled face.
They were attentive enough; his handlers. Coming in, seemingly a hundred times a day, they brought food that tasted like steamed cardboard, changed his bed and bedclothes and chatted endlessly to him - even though he never replied.
They tied a white bib around his neck, so he wouldn’t make a mess as he pecked away at his food. The strongest protest he could muster, was to tear off the bib and stuff it in the pocket of his old red flannel bathrobe.
He had been in “God‘s waiting room" - a one bedroom flat on the 15th floor of a Pompano Beach High Rise for a month or a year or more. He couldn’t remember. It might have been ten. Ten? Ten years - ten months or ten days? Pick one. The old man couldn’t. And he didn’t care. He only wanted out.
As the sky’s golden orb slowly moved from one cheek to his nose and then to the other cheek, the old man knew that he would be leaving before the sun got past his ear.
With as much strength as he dared to spare, the old main shifted in his chair.
The afternoon sun now hit him full on and the heat warmed not just his body. His thoughts also became hot and he remembered another torrid day some seventy Springs ago.
His body strained in the chair. After one last lurch, he slumped over. The old man left the building.
The sun was especially strong that afternoon in April when the young man awoke. He was lying on his back, in the sand, at the gate of St. Pete's Beach. . The sun had burned its way across his face.
He did not remember how he got to the beach. He recalled only that the hot sun had roused him from a drunken slumber, at the end of another in a series of whiskey soaked nights. Daily drunks that had started in his school days, had become a ceaseless, incoherent blur.
He got up from the sand and walked rapidly; in a hurry to get back to his house. A strange feeling had been building in him since the sun had nudged him awake.
From nowhere, and for no reason, he had an odd thought.
"Caps don’t have to be thrown away. They have two uses. That’s why they make caps,” he shouted aloud, oblivious to the onlookers who stared at him. “They make caps so you can close bottles too. They are not just for opening them!”
Running now, with a pace that would make the winner of the Boston Marathon envious, the young man continued his dash home.
He felt new, changed.
Later, sitting in his chair by the window, he reflected on what had caused his awakening.
It was the dream, he decided. No, not a dream. It was a nightmare. He was old and at the end of an unfulfilled life one moment; and the next, he was sprawled out senseless, on the beach.
The hot, southern Florida sun was setting now. He didn’t want a drink. For the first time in memory, he didn’t NEED a drink.
It was the dream, he told himself again. No. It was a nightmare. It seemed so real, but it was just a…………
“Huh?, What’s this?”, he asked aloud as he felt a bulge in the pocket of his new red flannel bathrobe. He fished out a crumpled, wadded up bundle of thick, white paper.
Unfolding and smoothing out the paper, he was shocked when he realized that it was a bib.