The old man owns a house and a piece of the sky.
The house sits at the end of a dead-end street.
The piece of sky hangs right above his house, at the end of a dead-end street.
The old man had a wife, once, a lifetime ago. She died young, leaving behind the memory of a perfect, unspoiled human being that only gets prettier and better as the years go by.
His wife was a small blond woman with very green eyes. He fell in love with her nose, which looked like a drawing of a woman’s nose. Perfect, straight, with just a couple of tiny freckles along the ridge.
He loved her freckles. They made her blush as a sign of imperfection, but he loved them and remembered the contours of her face by their position. They were like a star chart, a map, a secret code that she couldn’t hide.
His wife had ugly ears, but she used her hair to keep them out of sight. They protruded out, away from her head, and if she pulled her hair back to reveal her cheeks, they made her face look small and alien.
In the beginning, he wrote her letters. Shy, at first, then racy. Then vulgar. But it was just between the two of them, a secret communication nobody needed to know about. Nobody ever would. He burned the letters when she died, in a big fire that consumed her favorite scarf and diary. He just knew he needed to get rid of the scarf because it still carried her smell. The diary was the most private thing she had possessed, and when she didn’t take it where she went, it was up to him to get rid of it. He did his duty, that was all. She would have done the same for him.
Nobody in the neighborhood talks to the old man. Kids don’t care for old people. Middle-aged people are too concerned with themselves to notice old folks. And other old folks live in their own memories and don’t need other old folks to remind them of how old they are.
The old man is hated in the neighborhood. Everyone knows he has money. They can see the house and the piece of sky above it–that’s his visible fortune. What they can’t see but believe in strongly is the money they believe he has in the bank.
He does have money in the bank, but not as much as everyone thinks. It’s money he should have spent on his wife and two boys, but he always thought there would be more time. Time ran out, the money didn’t.
On sunny days he sits outside, on the front steps. He soaks in the sunshine like a battery, storing the energy for later.
On cold cloudy days he sits in front of the TV. He doesn’t watch, he just sits there staring into space with his eyes. With his mind, he looks back, back, back, to a time before his wife, to a time with his wife, to a time right after his wife.
The present holds little interest for the old man. The present is bland and without any potential for developing flavor. Like a carelessly prepared meal that no amount of herbs or spices can save.
The woman next door smiles, but not every time. It depends on her mood. Once in a very great while, they exchange a few words. She doesn’t like him, he knows that, but unlike the rest of the neighbors, doesn’t mind sharing a moment or two. As long as he doesn’t ask anything of her.
When the old man dies, he will take his piece of sky with him. It will hang above his grave, just like it hangs above his earthly house now. And he will look at it with his eternal eyes, and every day will be sunny.
Under that sky, someone will talk to him.