The old man was on his porch. He sat in his rocking chair. The morning sun shone on his face. His eyes were closed. He did not sleep. He rocked. His chair rocked in a gentle rhythm. The neighborhood and its houses stood empty. The men had long left for their work. The women had gone to their shopping. The children had been sent off to their schools. The houses and the bushes belonged only to the old man. He rocked. An old tom sauntered by him. It glanced at the old man. It saw he was not a threat. It sauntered away.
The old man reached down. He lifted a Mason jar. It held a clear liquid. He brought the jar to his lips. The liquid touched his lips. It flowed into his mouth He swallowed the liquid. He coughed. The liquid spilled over his undershirt. The undershirt was threadbare. It was yellowed like the old man and in places it bore holes. He sat the Mason jar back on the porch. It landed with a thud. He placed his hands on his lap and he faced the sun. His eyes closed. The empty neighborhood belonged to the old man and the old tom and the buzz of the warm electric wires. Silence surrounded the old man. The smell of many gardens filled his nose. He smiled. He rocked. He heard gravel crunching. He heard a whirl. He guessed a bicycle. He stopped rocking. He waited and he listened for the whirl of the wheels to pass, but he heard a skid. He heard the crash of the bicycle landing against the earth. Footsteps landed on his steps. He heard them.
"Go away," the old man said.
"I will not go away," a girl's voice said. "I came here to talk with you."
He opened his eyes. She looked down at him. The sun had burned her to a deep brown and bleached her hair to a mix of dark and light. Her hair came to her shoulders. She wore no makeup. She hadn't the need. Her dark eyes needed no assistance to make them attractive. The girl sat next to the old man.
"I do not wish to talk with you. I do not wish to talk with anyone. I wish to be alone with myself and the sun."
"I came to talk with you. There is no one in the neighborhood," the girl said
"That is good. It is very good when there is no one in the neighborhood," the old man said.
"It is not good when there is no one in the neighborhood. No one truly wants to be alone," the girl said.
"You are wrong. I truly want to be alone," the old man said. "I am old and have had enough of people. Now is my time to be alone. Now is my time to be sitting in the sun and rocking in my chair."
The old man cleared his throat. He looked at the girl. She wore a white top with thin straps. The top was as thin as his undershirt. The hem of the top stopped just below her large breasts. Her tummy was brown with a silver dumbbell in her navel. Dark circles showed she had no bra. Her skirt was made of denim. It was short like her top was short. It exposed her long thin legs down to the tops of her white tennis shoes.
"Where were you going dressed like that?" the old man said.
"I was going out. I was going out to talk with you."
The old man turned away. "Girls did not dress like that when I was your age," said the man.
"I am not a girl. I am a woman," the girl said.
"When I was your age, I thought I was a man. I was not a man; I was a boy. You are a girl."
The girl reached for the Mason jar. She placed its mouth beneath her nose. She smelled the liquid. She wrinkled her nose. She stuck out her tongue and she went "ick". She dropped the Mason jar back to the porch. The liquid sloshed. A small amount ran down the side and wet the wood decking.
"How can you drink that stuff?" the girl asked.
"Shouldn't you be in school?" the old man said.
'No, I shouldn't be in school. I am finished with school. I took enough classes to be finished in the winter," she said. "How can you drink that stuff in the Mason jar?"
"I take it to my lips and lift the jar and swallow when my mouth is full," the old man said. The old man picked up the Mason jar. He showed her how he drank the liquid. He coughed. He returned the Mason jar to the floor.
"No, that is not what I meant. I meant why do you drink that stuff."
"It is bad for me. That is why I drink that stuff," the old man said.
"The girl wrinkled her face and shook her head. "That is not a good reason to drink anything," the girl said.
"When you are old, everything is bad for you. Everything is bad for you except pills. I am tired of pills. I am tired of things that are good for me."
"I see," the girl said.
"No, you do not see. You don't see anything. You are young. You need to be old to see anything," the old man said.
The girl sat next to the old man. He rocked in his chair. A small breeze blew through the neighborhood. Leaves rattled as it passed. Another power line began to buzz. The girl turned to the old man. She peered into his face. Lines crossed his loose skin. She reached out to touch his face. Whiskers scratched her fingers. His skin felt thin and hard, like the paper skins of onions.
"What is it like? What is it like to be old?" the girl said.
The old man opened his eyes. He blinked and closed them. He gave a hard rock to his chair. He waited a long time before saying anything.
"You can't do things when you are old," the old man said at last. "You can't do things because you are feeble. People do things for you because you are feeble and they think that they can make you stop the things you like. They make you take pills. That is the worst thing. They make you take pills until they come out of your ears. You don't like the pills, but they are good for you and you take them.
"It is like being a baby. But it is much worse than being a baby. You know that it is all unfair. Babies do not know that it is all unfair."
"How do you know what a baby knows?" the girl said.
"I know what babies don't know. The young think everything can be fair. If they ever knew that it was unfair, they would never think that anything can be fair."
"Things should be fair," the girl said.
"No. Things should not be fair. Things cannot be fair. No thing should be what it cannot be."
The old man looked down at her nose. Her nose was not small, but it was small enough. The bridge swept down from her forehead in a gentle concave curve to its rounded tip. It turned up a fraction and it splayed no more than it protruded from her profile. It was a fine nose. It was a beautiful nose on a woman. It was a fine nose to place between two big dark eyes.
"You are young and you are pretty. You have learned nothing. You have learned nothing about life and what is fair."
The old man turned away from the girl. He closed his eyes. He turned his face into the sun. He rocked his chair. He wanted the girl to go away. He wanted to be alone in the sun. He wanted to be alone to enjoy the day and the liquid in his Mason jar. The old man had not deterred the girl. He could feel her sitting on the porch next to him. He turned to look at her. The girl sat with her long slim legs curled next to her. She smiled up at him. Her teeth were straight and perfect and uniform.
'You are not like the boys," the girl said.
"No, I am not like the boys. I am an old man. Boys are foolish and dumb. Old men take lots of pills. I am not like a boy."
"I know nothing about pills but I know that boys are very dumb."
"Yes, boys are very dumb," the old man agreed.
They sat in the sun together. The old closed his eyes again. The sun warmed his face. He felt himself start to doze. He reached down for his Mason jar. His hand touched the hand of the girl. It was soft and smooth. He moved to the side and grasped his Mason jar. He lifted it and drank. He swallowed the liquid. He coughed.
"You shouldn't drink that stuff. It is bad for you," the girl said.
"I will drink that stuff if I like. I am tired of being old. I am tired of taking pills. I will not be treated like a baby. I just want to do this one thing and I want to be left in peace."
"You always drink that stuff. Every day when I go pass I see you drinking the stuff in the Mason jar."
"I take a lot of pills. I am very old and I need to take a lot of pills. I need to drink a lot of the stuff in the Mason jar to make up for all the pills"
"You are not old," the girl told the old man.
The girl took the Mason jar from the old man's hand. She placed it back on the porch. She took his hand in hers and ran the soft smooth tips of her fingers against the thin, wrinkled skin of his hand. Her tan skin contrasted with his paleness. He squeezed the thin, frail fingers in her small fist. She brought them to her lips. She kissed them.
"You are not old, but you are not a boy any more. You need to take care of yourself."
"That is why I take the pills. I take the pills because they are good for me."
"You should not drink the stuff from your Mason jar."
"I must. It is the one sin left to me. Every man needs one sin to keep him alive. The Mason jar is my last sin."
The girl stared up into the old man's eyes. She touched his cheek and she stroked it. She ignored the bristles of his gray whiskers. She smiled at him.
"I can think of better sins than that old Mason jar. I can think of sins that are much more fun," the girl said.
"What do you know about sins? You are young. You are young and have not been around long enough to learn about sins," the old man said. The girl smiled at him. It was the smile of someone with a deep secret. It was a deep secret. It was a secret she longed to share with some one. "You must be old to know about sin."
.... There is more of this story ...