by David Halliday
“I’m an old man with regrets”, the old man said staring into the spin dryer at the laundromat sometime in the mid afternoon of a warm July day. I’d like to confess my sins. But I don’t believe in absolution.
“Excuse me sir, do you have a quarter?”
The old man looked up. A beautiful young girl in a red dress and blouse.
“I’m a bit short,” the girl added.
The old man rose up from the stool he’d been sitting on and dug into his pant pockets. Something moved. He fished out two quarters, a nickel, and an old penny.
“What’s that?” the girl asked pointing at the penny.
“Its a penny,” the old man said. “They don’t make them anymore.”
The old man left the laundromat. He might have forgotten his laundry except he hadn’t brought any laundry. He just liked to watch the clothes spin around in the dryer. It comforted him. The cycle of life, he liked to think.
He stopped by Genova’s Fruit Market to examine the produce. He picked up one of the apples and shook it.
“Take one,” Mr. Genova said. “Its on the house, Mr. Penny.”
He put the apple in the bag that hung over his shoulder.
“I’ll eat it later,” he said, “when I get home and put my teeth in.”
He’d been sitting there for almost five minutes when the receptionist spoke to him.
“Do you have an appointment today, Mr. Penny?”
“I was feeling a little angst so I thought I might catch my breath,” he replied. He looked around the waiting room. Several people were standing. Mr. Penny offered his seat to an elderly woman. A large cherry faced woman barged in front of her and took the seat.
Mr. Penny shrugged. The old lady shrugged.
“I’m an old man with regrets,” he explained.
The old man sat on the bench in front of the Catholic church. Our Lady of Sorrows. He leaned back and stared at the blue sky. So blue. So deep. At one time he would have recalled why the sky was blue. He could no longer remember. Maybe that was better.
“You shouldn’t stare into the sun, Mr. Penny.”
The old man sat up. It was Dolores. The only known prostitute in the Kingsway.
“Can’t complain. Well, I could complain but I won’t on a marvellous day like this.”
Dolores took a seat beside the old man.
“You look like someone whose dog died.”
“Don’t have a dog. Don’t like dogs.” Mr. Penny explained his dilemma to Dolores.
“Regrets! Most of my best customers have regrets. Regrets put a down payment on my house.”
He couldn’t believe it. On his third scratch card he was a winner. Just enough money to pay for his scratch cards.
“Irony,” the shop keeper said.
“Or a bad joke, Mr. Kim,” Mr. Penny said. “I’ve been scratching cards for fifteen years. I’ve kept count. And I always come out even.”
“The human condition,” Mr. Kim said.
“Do you have any regrets, Mr. Kim?” the old man asked.
“Regrets,” Mr. Kim broke into song, “I’ve had a few. Too few to mention.”
The old man looked at Mr. Kim who was laughing so hard, he had tears in his eyes.
“Give me a package of Rothman’s,” Mr. Penny said.
Mr. Kim wiped his eyes. He turned and grabbed a package of cigarettes.
“I didn’t know that you smoked, Mr. Penny.”
“I’m going to start,” he said, then looked at the package. “These aren’t Rothman’s.”
“Cigarette companies all changed the names of their brands.”
The old man sat in the bus seat behind the driver.
“How is it going, Mr. Penny?” the driver said.
“I’d like to complain but I’m told that is socially inappropriate.” the old man said. “There are too many rules. Not laws. I’m alright with laws. Rules. That nobody voted on. They just sit there in the air like a virus waiting for you to say or do the wrong thing. The great Rudolph Valentino ruptured his insides and died because he refused to fart in public.”
“You should be in a bus load of teenagers” the driver said. “Place smells like a barn at milking time.”
“I just didn’t do enough with my life,” Mr. Penny said. “I wanted to be an opera singer but became an English teacher instead. God, I hate kids. And the world was falling apart right in front of me and I did almost nothing to stop it. I mean, I was in a protest against the war but that didn’t help the environment.”
“They say,” the bus driver said, “that there is an island of garbage in the Pacific Ocean the size of Prince Edward Island. That would put a knot in that spunky little red head’s shorts.”
“Anne with an E.”
The old man turned around and tried to kick the dog that had latched onto his trouser leg. And then the car whizzed past. The dog looked up at the old man.
“You just saved my life,” Mr. Penny said to the dog. “Why did you do that? I’d have been fine with an automobile taking me out rather than dying alone in some god forsaken rest home.”
The dog continued to stare at the old man, his tail waving back and forth.
“I am not adopting you,” the old man said. “I hate dogs.”
“Hey mister, that’s my dog,” a red headed kid with freckles, big ears, and a gap between his front teeth, said.
“I wasn’t going to steal your dog,” Mr Penny responded harshly in his own defense.
“Someone stole my bike,” the kid countered.
“You should have more respect for your elders,” Mr. Penny said.
“What’s an elder?”
The kid looked at Mr. Penny for a moment then put the leash back on his dog.
“You don’t look so good,” the kid said.
He woke up in the ambulance.
“Am I on a gurney” he asked.
“You’re back with us,” the female of the two attendants said. “We have some questions we’d like to ask you.”
The attendant went through a list of questions. The old man could hear the siren wailing.
“Am I dying?” he asked.
The attendant smiled. “My guess is that you’ve had a case of heat stroke. We’ll know more when we get you to the hospital.”
The old man asked. “Do you think its possible that we could stop at a wine store on our way?”
The emergency room was packed. The old man’s gurney was parked in a nearby hall. And time marched on. A young woman in a wheel chair was parked beside him. He asked her why she was here. She sprained her knee playing soccer.
“Tell them you’re having heart palpitations,” the old man said. “They’ll see you sooner.”
A nurse came by and took some blood. He asked if he could get some water. The nurse returned in a short period of time with a bottle of water. He fished in his pocket for some change.
He looked up at the nurse. “I’m a quarter short.”
He had a nap. When he awoke he sat up. And looked around. The young girl in the wheelchair was gone. He got onto his feet and stood. Not bad, he thought. Then he made his way to the exit doors of the emergency room. A sense of wellness overcame him when he stepped into the parking lot. An ambulance screeched to a halt. A woman screamed. A dog barked.
Mr. Penny looked down as the bumper of the ambulance softly grazed his trouser leg.“Whew! That was a close one.”
David has published poems, short stories, plays, art works in reviews and publications across the United States and Canada, including, murder by Coach House Press, winner of the 2001 Eppie for poetry. Church Street is Burning was a finalist in the 2002 Eppie for poetry. Sleeping Beauty, published by LTD ebooks.com was a finalist in the 2003 Dream Realm Awards and a winner of the 2004 IP Book Awards.