By: J.J. Cheesman
Every morning for about six months now, I have been getting up at six in the morning, and heading out for a run. I started doing it as sort of a ‘new year’s resolution’ to stay in shape after gaining a couple unwanted pounds last December. When I first began, I started like anyone would, just going out the first couple of mornings to see how far I could go without killing myself. I quickly found out that I could do a mile pretty easily, (which I was very proud of by the way) so I pushed myself to go further after the first week. Two miles is what I decided on being happy with eventually. My morning routine never wavered as far as ‘where’ I ran however; I would always run to the end of my street, head right down another called ‘Walnut’, then I would go a short distance to turn left down a street called ‘Florence’, and take that street all the way down to its dead end and turn around. Once I make it home, the running app on my phone reads 2.2 miles.
I suppose as anyone would, I came to know the routines of the houses I passed if they were up that early. Months after running the same route day after day, you tend to notice things about your fellow townspeople. For example, Mrs. Carter; my neighbor, is always letting her dog out just as I pass her house. There is also Jerrod, a guy I know from work who lives on Walnut Street, he can always be found smoking on his front porch around 6:20 a.m. Now, it’s not like I am a creeper or anything. Like I said, you just can’t help but notice consistencies when you pass by the same places every day. That’s why it was inevitable that I noticed the old man at the end of Florence Street.
At 6:30 a.m., I would reach the very last house on Florence before I turned around to run back. The house was a quaint little yellow building, with huge bay windows in what I presumed to be the living room. To be honest, I cannot really be certain if he was there for the first week or so, but it wasn’t long before the old man became known to me. There in that bay window he would watch me. He stood there, unmoving and ever vigilant. Day after day he would be in the same spot, without fail. He had a cold and angry stare that followed me until I got to the end of the street and doubled back. Then, when I passed the yellow home the second time he would still be standing there.
He was a stoic-looking old geezer, with a balding head, and horn-rimmed glasses. He wore a yellow cardigan that comically matched the color of his home and brown slacks. The wrinkles on his head and face suggested he was in his late 70s, but I couldn’t be sure. What I AM sure of, is that his angry scowl never once wavered from his face. At first, of course, I tried my best to ignore it. I kept my head forward and my gaze fixed at nothing but the sidewalk every time I ran by, but I could still feel his eyes burning on me.
This went on for months, and I had no idea what the old man’s problem was. Not once had I ever met him before, so I didn’t understand why he seemed to be so angry with me. The logical explanation at the time was that he was simply just an angry old man with nothing better to do than just be angry at the world and scowl at passersby. So, I thought to myself, I would simply change my route. Which I did, for about a week. I simply just started running the opposite direction down my street, and turning down a street called ‘Maple’. About three days, I found out exactly where I needed to turn around to get my two miles in. So, problem solved. Except, for me, the problem wasn’t solved.
I was angry, it bothered me that just because of some grouchy old man, I acted like a chicken and let him scare me into changing my routine. With new determination, I decided I wasn’t letting anyone dictate where I was going to preform my morning workout. By Monday morning, I was back to my regular regimen. The old geezer was waiting for me though, as I had expected he would be. Running by the yellow house that morning, I smiled in pure passive-aggressive defiance at the old man. He just stood there, scowling and angry as ever, as I ran by. That’s when I started to feel kind of silly for having this silent battle with some old man I didn’t know. In the back of my mind, I had known it wasn’t just me, ‘he likely stood there every morning, scowling at any would-be hooligan’ I thought to myself.
Well, things returned to normal for a long while after that, the old man actually became something I was accustomed to. Just part of the routine. Then on Tuesday, last week, he wasn’t there. As I was running by the bay windows he usually guarded, I glanced over, and saw no one standing there. Instead, I saw an elderly woman walking out of the yellow home with a rather heavy-looking trash bag that she seemed to be having trouble with. Of course, I ran over to help her.
“Let me take that for you, ma’am.” I said. The lady jumped slightly and looked up in surprise, but her expression quickly softened into a smile.
“Thank you dear, that’s very nice of you, you really don’t need to.” She said.
“Oh, I’m happy to do it, it’s no big deal.” I told her, taking the bag from her hands. I walked the short distance down the driveway and chucked the bag into the trash can. I then turned and waved to the woman, and told her I should be going.
“You look awful tired, why don’t you come in for some tea, I ought to pay you back for your kindness.” She said. I thought about it for a moment, a glass of tea would have hit the spot right then, but I thought of the old man and shook my head.
“No, I better not stop; I have to keep to the schedule.” I told her.
“Oh won’t you reconsider?” She asked, now seeming was a little distraught. Something in her voice made me feel bad for declining her offer. How could I say no? I pretended as if I was thinking hard about my decision, then I nodded.
“I guess I can come in for just a minute.”
The woman led me inside her home and into the kitchen where she insisted I sit down at the table while she fetched some glasses and the pitcher. From my spot at the table, I could see into the living room and at the bay window. I thought of the old man, and I shuddered. I really was hoping I didn’t meet him.
The old woman sat down at the table with two full glasses of iced tea and the pitcher. She sat and talked awhile, I sat and listened, taking occasional sips from my tea and looking toward the living room every couple of minutes. The woman, who told me her name was Eliza, noticed this and asked me,
“Are you worried about my husband?” I didn’t know what to say, but she chuckled.
“Yes, he told me about you, he said he was worried you might be some vagrant.” Eliza’s expression then became solemn.
“His mind comes and goes sometimes I’m afraid, he just gets crazy ideas in his head.” After saying this, Eliza looked up suddenly, as if remembering something.
“I’m sorry dear, thank you for coming in to talk, but I have some things I need to take care of.” Eliza rose from her seat, and walked through the living room entrance and out of sight before I could even say a word. I didn’t plan on staying long at all but Eliza’s sudden departure stunned me for a moment, but a moment was all it took. Eliza’s husband walked into the kitchen just as I was standing from the table. His expression went from stunned surprise, to hot anger.
“What in the hell are you doing in my house?! Come to take what you can from me huh? I’m calling the police, you’re in big trouble boy!” I fumbled over words, trying to explain to him that his wife invited me in but it only made him angrier.
“GET THE HELL OUT!” He snarled, starting towards me with angry determination. And I did.
I ran out of that house like a bat out of hell, all the way home in fact. When I got into my house, I took a hot shower, thinking about that embarrassing encounter. Leave it to me to piss off a poor, angry old man with Alzheimer’s. That wasn’t the reason I stopped my workout regimen though, THAT came about five minutes later, pounding at my door.
I answered the door, still drying my hair with a towel, to find a policeman at on my porch. It was someone I knew, of course, his name was Billy Denton. It is a small town.
Billy stood there with an unimpressed look on his face, and my own face immediately went red with embarrassment.
“Hey Jeff”, Billy said, “Look, Mr. Ankenbrand called and reported that a man that matched your description broke into his house this morning, you wouldn’t know anything about that would you?” I felt like such an idiot.
“Billy I’m sorry, his wife invited me in for tea, she’s a real nice lady and I couldn’t refuse. She told me about his Alzheimer’s though, I didn’t know I would bother him that bad.” Billy raised his eyebrows at my words in a look that said, ‘oh, is that so?’.
“What Bill, you don’t believe me?” I asked him. Billy breathed in hard through his nose and then exhaled before saying anything.
“Uh, no Jeff, I suppose I believe you just fine. It’s just that it’s impressive that Eliza was able to invite you in.” He paused for just a moment before continuing.
“Considering she was murdered by an intruder last year.”