Fiction

The Hermit

By: James Bates

Even though he hadn’t left his house that day, nor had he for the more than three years since his beloved wife had passed away, here’s what Bob Anderson wrote later that night:

            ‘I lay under the covers and watched the clock in anticipation for the start of the coming day. When the digital numbers finally rolled over to five-thirty, I leapt to my feet and quickly made the bed. I hurried downstairs to the basement where I did the same routine of exercises I’d done forever: pushups, jumping jacks, sit-ups, with stretches in between. Tiger my three year old tabby cat joined me, purring away like crazy. When I was finished with my workout, I hurried upstairs to the kitchen and fed him, and then fixed myself my usual breakfast of oatmeal, brown sugar and a banana. I looked at the clock on the wall, it read six-fifteen. I still had plenty of time to catch the seven-twenty bus to downtown Minneapolis from here where I lived, the small town of Long Lake, twenty miles to the west.

            While eating I checked the weather app on my phone. It forecast a high of eighty-seven degrees with a dew point around sixty-five degrees, so it’d be hot and humid. Hmm, I thought to myself, I’d better bring some bottled water.

            I washed my dish, petted Tiger and got dressed. Today I chose my tan cargo shorts, a light green tee-shirt and my Clark’s walking shoes. On my head I’d wear my favorite dark blue Minnesota Twins cap. It’d be bright out so I also made a mental note to bring my sunglasses. By six-fifty I was ready. I put my water bottle, sunglasses, a book and an umbrella (just in case) in my daypack, petted Tiger some more (I love to hear his loud, purring motor) and went out the back door into the relative coolness of an mid August morning. I took a moment to enjoy my shady backyard with all of the hosta’s Liz and I had planted over the years, then walked along the gravel driveway to the front, where I stopped to enjoy the sunny front yard and my pretty sun-loving flower gardens (again, planted by Liz and me), making a mental note to weed and water tomorrow.

            I love the bungalow house I’ve lived in for the last forty-five years. I’m seventy-nine and have been a widower for the last three plus years. Getting out like this was a good thing to do, I told myself.

            I checked my wristwatch. It was nearly seven so I needed to get a move on. I hurried down the street, took a right and went down the hill to the bus stop. I was a few minutes early, so I watched the morning commuter traffic streaming by in the direction I was heading until Ed the bus driver wheeled up and opened the door.

            “Hi, Bob,” he greeted me with a smile.

            “Good morning, Ed, beautiful day, isn’t it?” I said cheerfully and went to find a seat. I ended up five rows back from the front on the left. At first I was the only rider, but by the time we got to downtown Minneapolis the bus was packed with mostly, if not all, commuters. The ride took about thirty minutes (we used the express lane), and I got off on the corner of Marquette and 10th, surrounded by the tallest skyscrapers in Minneapolis. I took a deep breath as I stepped off the bus and exhaled happily. I was enjoying being out and about and found myself in a really good mood. I even gave a five dollar bill to the first street person I saw.

            The sun had risen above the tall buildings so I slipped on my sunglasses and walked down the Nicollet Mall to Washington Avenue, where I took a right and continued for a few blocks. Washington Avenue is probably one of the busiest and most congested of all the streets in downtown: loud, smelly and hectic. The noise almost made me almost turn around and head back for peace and quiet of my home. Almost. But I didn’t, and I’m glad.

            Instead, I took a left on Portland Avenue and continued walking for a block until, suddenly, I stepped away from the noise and congestion of the busy city into a different world; a lush, verdant green, riverfront park that led to the Stone Arch Bridge, the iconic foot bridge that runs for a quarter of a mile over the Mississippi River above Lock and Dam Number One. I paused to take in the scene of the mighty Mississippi with its thundering rapids. Suddenly, I was inundated with memories of when Liz and I used to come down here, to this very spot, in fact, right up until just before she died of a brain hemorrhage three years, two months and seventeen days ago. God, I missed her so.

            I shook off the beginnings of a creeping melancholy and crossed the bridge. The rapids were churning and boiling due to recent rains, and the air was filled with their deafening sound. It was breathtaking. On the far side there was a quiet back water where Liz and I once saw a beaver swimming, playfully diving and rolling around in the calm water, driving a frantically barking dog on the shore absolutely nuts. I took a look but, of course, the beaver wasn’t there. It made me a little sad, but that’s life, I reminded myself. It goes on.

            I walked on and stepped off the bridge and into a large, grassy area; a shady park filled with mature oak and maple trees. There were plenty of people around, everyone in a good mood, people grinning and happy to be out on such a pretty, summery, sunny day, me included. When I smiled at folks they smiled back, and the connection with them was nice. I found a park bench beneath a huge maple tree and sat down to relax and have a drink of my water. So far it had been a wonderful morning.

            It got better. After resting and people watching for about an hour, I walked down a tree lined sidewalk for a few blocks to the Astor Cafe, located in a restored turn of the century brick warehouse. I found a quiet table outside on the patio and ordered a cup of English Breakfast tea. I’ve got celiac sprue, that gluten intolerance thing, so I had a chocolate coconut macaroon to go with it. Now that’s how to treat yourself! I sipped my tea and savored my macaroon and watched people some more, the Mississippi River less than one-hundred feet away, and the breath-taking skyline of Minneapolis on the far shore less than a quarter of a mile beyond. It was like I was in another world, and I sat for over an hour, taking it all in, happy that I’d made the journey from my home all the way down to the Mississippi riverfront.

            It dawned on me that I was having a delightful day. There was so much to see that I roused myself to get off my butt and get going to check more things out. I ventured further north on another shady sidewalk that followed along the shoreline of the Mississippi. In a few blocks, I crossed a narrow bridge onto Nicollet Island, a narrow sliver of land in the middle of the river only a few hundred feet from downtown Minneapolis. I strolled down old time streets lined with quaint Victorian Style homes dating back over a hundred years. I found another bench near the river and took a little rest, had some morewaterand watched the world go by some more. I had a book with me, but who could read with so much going on: people out walking and enjoying the day, birds singing happily in the nearby lilac bushes, even a minstrel in a nearby park playing a guitar. It was all wonderful.

            Around two-thirty I started to get hungry so I strolled back to the Astor Cafe and had a nice mixed green salad with strawberries, almonds and feta cheese, some tea and, you guessed it, another macaroon. I leisurely ate my lunch, chatted with the waiter for a while (whose name was Josh) until I decided it was time for me to head for home. I said good-bye to Josh and slowly made my way back to the Stone Arch Bridge. As I crossed, I took a moment and stopped, leaned against the railing, and pondered once again the beauty of the mighty Mississippi with rainbows now appearing out of nowhere in the mist rising above the turbulent river. The view was so pretty it almost brought a tear to my eye. I wished Liz could have been there to see it with me, but, of course, she couldn’t.

            Breathing a heavy sigh, and conscious of not letting my spirits sink too low, I made myself leave and continued walking into downtown and over to Marquette Avenue where my bus stop was located. I caught the five-thirty five express to Long Lake, walked up the hill to my street and turned into the driveway of my little bungalow. I checked my watch. It was just about six-thirty.

            Once inside, I breathed a contented sigh of relief. It felt good to be back to my little home, my sanctuary, as I often referred to it. I did some housework (vacuumed and dusted the living room), fed Tiger, and then relaxed with him in the backyard while watching the sun go down and sharing a bowl of salty caramel ice cream. (He loved it!)

            As darkness fell, we went inside and I turned on the ten o’clock news and watched for a while, something Liz and I used to always do. When it was over I went to bed and read a few pages from the newest James Lee Burke novel, thinking to myself, what a perfectly glorious day I’d just had. Tiger came in, jumped up on the bed, turned around a few times getting comfortable, before plopping down and curling up in the bend in my knees. Around eleven o’clock I turned off the light and went to sleep.”

            Okay. That’s pretty good, Bob thinks to himself after he’s finished reading what he had written. He sits back and sighs. Anything else to add? He ponders for a moment. Nope, nothing comes to mind.

            He had awoken at twelve-thirty, gotten up and gone into the kitchen for a drink of water. He had turned on the light to check on Tiger’s dish, wondering if he’d forgotten to feed him. He couldn’t remember, so to be on the safe side he gave him some more food. The big cat’s loud purring motor showed Bob how much he appreciated it.

            He usually did his writing late, like now, so he had gone downstairs to the basement to work on his book. He’d read once that you should write about what you know, so he’s working on a book about a guy who’s a hermit. He lives by himself with his cat and the story is about how he’s trying to adjust to life as a widower. Bob can definitely relate.

            Once downstairs, he’d turned on his computer and brought up his “Hermit” file, opened it and started typing. The day at the Stone Arch Bridge is what had come into his mind so that’s what he wrote about. He’s happy with how his book is progressing. He tries to do a page or two a night. He’s written nearly one thousand and two hundred of them so far, almost one page for ever day his wife Liz has been gone.

            It’s about two-thirty when he scans what he’d written one more time. Satisfied, he shuts off the computer. He’s suddenly tired. Tomorrow’s another day. He’s got groceries to get, and he’ll be up soon enough, anyway, at his usual five-thirty, only a few short hours away.

            He makes his way upstairs to the kitchen. He’s happy with his story about the hermit and how even though he lives alone with his cat, he’s doing such a remarkable job adjusting to life as a widower; making the most of things, getting out and about, trying to live a meaningful existence. He sighs a huge, heavy sigh, and says out loud, “If only it were only that easy.”

            He turns off the kitchen light and goes back to bed. It’s nearly three in the morning and he finds himself thinking about the day ahead. His grief is such that he continues to find it impossible to leave the house. It’s been like for the last three years, two months and seventeen… no, make that eighteen days, now. He decides that later today he’s going to water his outdoor plants, weed his garden and do some laundry. He’ll get through the day, just like he has ever since Liz died. My god, he misses her so much.

            But he’s got Tiger. They get by. Life goes on, and he’s trying to make the best of it even though the only time he leaves his yard is in his imagination. In fact, he lives in a kind of limbo dream world between present day reality and past memories. Thank god for his memories, he often thinks to himself, like today, when he spent the entire day in his easy chair by the front window, reminiscing about the trips he and Liz used to take to downtown Minneapolis, and how they used to go walking by the Mississippi River and on the Stone Arch Bridge. Oh, but those were wonderful times.

            He sighs once more, pulls the covers close and turns out the light. He’s about to fall asleep when he remembers about getting groceries. He and Liz used to go to Cub Foods for them but no more. They don’t deliver, but thankfully there’s a grocery store in the area that does. He’ll have to call them first thing in the morning. What will he write about tomorrow? Well, he’ll think of something. He always does. After all, he’s got a lifetime of memories upon which to draw.

            He closes his eyes and in a moment falls asleep, the next long day looming only a few short hours away.

Categories: Fiction

2 replies »

  1. Hi Elaine! I’m glad to see you made it through your terrible loss. You are a wonderfully giving person and are making the world a better place by your presence and actions. Thank you for that, and thank you for being you 🙂

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