The Living Years

The floor was sticky.
How the fact had managed to escape his attention until now was a mystery.
Of course when one was on their hands and knees’ rooting around for one’s dropped eyeglasses the condition of the flooring tended to become disgustingly evident.
“Retirement Living,” the gaudy sign had trumpeted on the day he’d visited the housing facility with his late wife.
It wasn’t great, but it was what they could afford.
But life without her was no life at all…only existence.
The young man who was first in line called out, “What’d you lose down there, pops, your brain?”
The other customers chuckled uncertainly.
“I’ll be with you in a minute, young fella’.”
What was he doing here anyway—a man of his age and stature—crawling around on the filthy floor of a convenience store doing a menial job for minimum wage?
Shaking his hoary head slowly in frustration he struggled to stand, the arthritis having long since won the battle for dominion.
“Now then, what can I do for you?”
More quickly than his rheumy eyes could follow, the kid pulled a gun from the waistband of his pants and stuck it in his face.
“What you can do for me, old fool, is give me all the money in that there cash drawer,” he shouted.
“Don’t resist. Whatever amount is in the drawer is not worth your life.” The store manager’s words rang in his ears.
The kid shouted to the three other customers, “What are you people lookin’ at? Get on the floor. Now!”
The two men dropped quickly to the floor while the other customer, a young girl in her late teens, stood trembling in place.
He took two steps, grabbed a handful of her hair and screamed, “Shut up!” before forcing her onto her onto the floor where he stood leering over her outstretched form.
The old man observed the scene with a growing conviction—a conviction that compelled him to take some action. But what could an unarmed old man do against a young thug like this?
“Where’s my money?” the punk raged as he stomped toward the counter.
Wild thoughts raged through old man’s mind, thoughts of younger days when he would have dispatched this arrogant child without hesitation. Thoughts of what he liked to call the living years which stood in stark contrast to this slow death.
Suddenly the old man’s ears heard his mouth say, “What if I don’t give you the money and instead I take that gun away from you and slap you up-side the head with it?”
The old man glanced at the customers on the ground.
They stared back in open horror.
He winked at the girl.
Turning his attention back to the young punk, he said, “What’s it going to be, sonny?”
Without saying a word the young man took careful aim and pulled the trigger.
Once.
Twice.
The old man had been through enough combat to know when a bullet had his name on it. And those two had been close enough for him to not only read his first name, but his last name and middle initial as they whistled by his head.
The kid had missed from point-blank range.
He held the gun up in front of his face and stared at the barrel uncomprehendingly. His attention was so focused on the gun that he didn’t duck the bottle of wine that crashed into the base of his skull.
He dropped like a marionette with cut strings.
The girl stood with a broken bottle dangling limply from her hand, staring at the inert form of the would-be robber.
Blood poured from a four-inch gash, pooling under the young man’s battered head. One leg jerked spasmodically, tapping out a crazy rhythm on the tiled floor.
One of the men rose to his feet and kicked the gun away from the kid’s hand.
The other man said, “Is someone going to call the cops or something?”
Expelling a breath he seemed to have been holding for five minutes the old man said, “I’ll do that just as soon as I find my glasses.”
He looked at the young girl and smiled. She dropped the remnants of the bottle and smiled back hesitantly before yielding to a wave of emotion.
Dropping his gaze back to the sticky floor and stepping back a pace, he heard an all too familiar crunch.
“Well whadda’ ya’ know. There they are.”

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