Sunlight shone into the room, a red hue through his thinning eyelids. His eyes opened relunctantly. The old man grunted, heaving himself out of bed. Joints creaked, ancient parts, old termite-infested wood coming to the end of its usefulness.
Not yet, thought the old man. I still have something left to do. I’ve not yet reached my expiry date, although something is definitely smelling sour.
He sniffed the air, wrinkling his already wrinkled nose in disgust. The realization that such a rancid, stale odour emanated from him was almost worse than all the chronic pain. His body had withered, like worm curling up to die in the flames of an immense bonfire.
If his old body was a temple, it had long ago been pillaged and razed by angry villagers, leaving it mildewed and smoldering in the damp indifferent earth. He didn’t have any mirrors in his small, bachelor apartment. Bachelor – an ironic and almost insulting term. The mirrors frightened him. The bitter creature staring back at him in perpetual shock was not him. His face, with its many pronounced valleys and blemishes, looked like some perverse inhuman caricature from the depths of hell.
But I’m not, he reminded himself, a demon. I’m a person; I still have a soul. This thought proves it.
The old man shuffled laboriously to the sink. Yellow-brown not-quite-liquid. Nicotine stains. Futile scrubbing. A quick brushing of the gums. He walked back to his bed and briefly considered making it, not finding the will. More shuffling, to the desk this time. He sat down with a sigh on the lightly cushioned straight-back chair with its worn edges, picked up a half-smoked Pall Mall sitting sitting at the edge of his desk, lighting it with an ancient Bic. Inhale. Cough. Wheeze.
I’ll find it, he thought. There is an idea inside of me. Some startling revelation that I must, will share with humanity. I have a story. Everyone has a story. What makes Hemmingway so important? I’m important.
His calloused fingers reached for the yellowing stack of 500 premium Eagle paper, feeding one into his Remington portable typewriter – not that the old machine, like the old man, had left the small dusty apartment in recent memory. Cigarette lightly held between his lips, the old man sat, fingers poised, waiting for inspiration, expecting words to start filling the page.
Meaningful words, he mused. No drivel. It’s got to be for something. Anyone can write something. I’m going to change the world with the words on this page.
A thought from another lifetime fluttered through his mind. Write about what you know. Write about what you’ve done. Think, old man. But all that he could remember was this – sitting in his old dusty little room, at his old dusty typewriter, bed unmade, suffocating in smoke, an overwhelming lethargy filling his soul.
The blank page, unmoving, taunting, filled his entire view, permeating into his mind with its crisp, clean, lack of anything. Anger rose in him then, a bile slowly rising until it filled his throat. He resented this page for its obstinate refusal to become filled with the brilliance to which he so deserved to lay claim.
His cigarette burned down to the filter. An inch of ash crumbled and dropped in a perfect cylinder. The old man looked down to see the ash sitting perfectly upright on the letter P. Eyes drooping he looked back up at the page, still blank. He removed it deliberately from the typewriter, made sure there were no creases, and placed it neatly back on the stack of 500 premium typewriter pages.
The old man dropped the burnt cigarette butt on the window sill. He stood up once again, angling himself towards the unmade bed. He laid down carefully, feet still planted on the floor. The old man stared for a few seconds at the stuccoed ceiling and then closed his eyes.
Consciousness faded quickly.