In room 226 at the Via Christie Medical Center
the old man awakened to see the blurred vision of a woman standing near his bed. The woman spoke to him in a low mumble he didn't understand.He propped himself up on his elbow and reached for the dark rimmed glasses that rested on the table beside his bed and put them on to msee a young woman in her late twenties or early thirties with blond, short cropped hair, large blue eyes, along nose and pursed lips. She was wearing a whote sleeveless blouse and grey slacks.When she spoke to him again, he picked up his hearing aids from the table, aand with trambling hands, inserted them.
"I'm sorry, Missy," he said laying his haead back on the pillow. "When you reach my age everything seems to wear out."
The lady smailed showing a mouthful of perfectly spaced teeth. "Mr. Partridge, my name is Shelby Meeker, a reporter for the Eagle, and I'm here to interview you about your experiences the past couple of days."
The old man sighed heavily. "Damned stupid thing I did." He closed his eyes as he reflected back upon what happened. when he opened them, he sat up as his bones creaked and cracked. "Bring me my clothes and step out of the room. There's nothing really wrong with me other than being tired. They want to keep me here for a couple of days for aht they call observation. They seem to think I should be put in an old folks home, and maybe that's where I should be." The girl laid his clothes on the side of the bed. "It's a nice day, so why don't we go out to the garden where I'll tell you all about myself and what happened." Shelby nodded and left the room.
Abner Partridge was a tall, thein man with white hair an angular features, pulled off his hopital gown and slowly dressed himself, then he joined the young reporter who was leaning against the wall in the hallway. They took the elevator to the ground floor, then he led her through the slinding galss doors to the garden where the flowers were in full bloom. There was a fountain where a bronze statue of a boy who was trying to catch a frog out of a smsall pond in front of him. He led her to the gazebo where he sat down on a bench.
"How long have you been working for the Eagle, Miss Meeker?"
"Almost two years," she replied. "I started with the paper soon after I graduated from college." She paused. "You can call be Shelby."
"And you can call me Abner." he scratched his nose. "Are you from here?"
"Yes, I live with my parent's on South Broadway."
"Got a boy friend?"
She sat down beside him, opened her notebook and crossed her kegs, "Yes, and I think he's going to propose soon." She sighed. "I'm here for your story abouty what happened the past couple of days."
The old man adjusted his glasses and looked across the garden. "I was born her in Wichita eighty five years ago next month," he began. "I served with the Marines in World War 11, and I am a survivor of the landing at Omaha Beach. When the war ended, I came back here and went to work at the Colier Hardware Store which I eventually bought. It was there that I met my future wife, Evelyn, a regualr customer at the store. We dated for a years before we were married in a church ceremony. We had two girl whom who were killed in an automobile accident involving a drunk drive when they were in high school. My wife quit her job as a nurse here at the hospital to help me at the store. Nineteen years ago I sold the business to an associate who had worked there a number of years. Evelyn and I planned to travel, but she was diagosed with cancer and died two years later."
Abner fell silent and looked down at his hands which were clasped tightly together on his lap.
Shelby looked up from her notebook and uncrossed her legs. "Do you have anybody who can help you?"
"A much younger widow neighbor lady does some of my house cleaning and makes sure I get the bills paid on time," he said. "My lawyer will take over my affairs should I lose my faculties."
Shelby bit down on her lower lips and glanced down at her notepad. "Now," she said in a firm voice, "tell me what happened the past two days."
"After being involved in two seperate minor accidents, I decided to sell my car," he explained."The grocery store, the senior center and the church I attend are all within three blocks of where I live. If i need to come here to the hospital or go to the cemetary to visit my wife and daughters, I call a taxi, and the bus stop is only four block away."
"I had planned to go to the senior center as I sometimes do on nice days for lunch, spend some time with old friends, stop at ther grocery store and walk back home." He got his handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped the saliva that drooled out of the side of his mouth. "I guess I wasn't paying attention, but when I reched the end of the sidewalk in front of my house, I turned a walked the wrong direction." He shook his head in dismay.
"After walking for some time without recognizing may landmarks, I knew what I had done. When I got tired, I would stop and rest. I was afraid to ask anybody where I was or how to find the senior center because I didn't want anybody to think I was a doddring, senile old man who had wandered away from his charges. I was confident I could find my way back home by myself. I no longer planned to go the the senior center because I knew by then the place would be closed for the day."
"Evbening found me on the bank of the Arkansas River. Fear gnawed at my insides when I saw the black storm clouds approaching out of the southwest. I had twenty five dollars in my billfold, and I knew I'd be an easy target for a mugger."
"I stood on the riverbank staring at my reflexion in the water and trying to decide what I should do when I was aware of a woman who standing beside me. She was thin, of medium height with grey hair, and she wore a long billed ballcap pulled down over her eyes, a blue long sleeved shirt and jeans."
"We better find shelter for the night," she said in a baritone voice. She pointed at the bridge which was a quarter mile to the south. "With the storm approaching, we can keep dry there."
"within a half hoiur after my benefactor and I sought shelter under the bridge, the storm moved in with constant thunder, fierce lighning, torrential rain, hail and gale force winds. I managed to stasy dry, but the rain colled winds and the had ground made every bone in my body ache. Even asfter the storm passed and the winds subsided, the chill remained."
"With the dawn of a new day, I could barely stand my body was so stiff. The early morning sunlight brought some relief. When my benefactor took mer to a relief shelter where the homelss were being served breakfast, I realized I hadn't eaten anythiong in twenty four hours. The building, the warm food and coffee chased the numbing coldf out of my body."
"When we left the center, I trailed after my benefactor. Having gooten slmost no sleep, and having spend the night on the ground, I was weak and had to stop several times to rest. My benefactor was pateient with me, and she didn;t seem to have any plkace special she needed to go."
"I was certain the lady was leading my home, dog tired I continued to follow her evehn though my legs had become numb, and I was barely able to keep my eyes open. My benefactor led me to a stone bench under and oak tree. She told me me rest there. I sat down and immediately fell asleep."
"The sun was low in the west when I was awakened by a nurse. As tired as I was I didn't realize my benefactor had brought me here to Via-Christie. Thinking that I was ill, they brought a wheelchair out to the bench, put me in it, and wheeled me inside where they asked me a bunch of questions and did some tests on me. They didn't find anything wrong with me except for the fact of being old and worn out, and by then my neighbir had notified the authorities that I was missing."
Abner fell silent and watched as Shelby checked her notes. He glanced up at an airplane as it flew overhead, then he adjusted his hearing air and looked back at the reporter.
"Are they going to let you go home?" she asked, looking up at him.
The old man sighed heavily. "I hope so, even though we all know the same thing could happen again,"
"You had money, so why didn't you hail a taxi and have the driver take you home?"
The old man pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket and blew his nose. "I was certain I could find my way home by myself." He grinned. "Just call me a stubborn old fart."
Shelby chuckled, crossed her legs and glanced across the garden. When she looked back at Abner she was frowning. "What happened to this woman you call your benefactor, and why didn't she hail a taxi for you?"
The old man clasped his hands tightly together
and looked up at the sky. "We wanted to stay together for as long as we could." He looked Shelby squarily in the eyes. "I didn't recognize her at first, but she was the ghost of my late wife."
A 1,700 word Story