Mr Wisniewski picked at the brown wood on the bench he was sitting on. The sun was shining and the birds were singing in the garden, although he didn’t seem to take in any of the beauty.
Mr Wisniewski jumped at the sight of his daughter bringing him a cup of tea.
“Here you go Dad.”
“You startled me. I didn’t hear the whistle of the kettle.”
“Remember we use the new ones now?” Anna giggled, her eyes brightening to his sunspot blotched hands reaching for the tea. She sat down next to him and breathed deeply.
Little Jimmy skipped over to the bench, the tufts of bright green grass barely remaining suppressed under his four inch feet. His rose-coloured cheeks brought a smile to his grandfather’s face. Mr Wisniewski longed to feel the familiar rough texture of Jimmy’s ball, to hear Jimmy’s giggles as he writhed in ticklishness. Ever since the death of his wife, his daughter has always taken extra precautions, way too exaggerated for the likes of Mr Wisniewski. As the boy jumped on the bench, his arm flew up and sent the cup and saucer flying. Tea spilt all over Mr Wisniewski, bringing memories of Mrs Wisniewski’s nervous breakdowns. He thought that his days of cleaning tea stains from clothes were over, but apparently not.
“Jimmy! Be more careful next time! Look at poor Grandad!”
That word remained ringing in Mr Wisniewski’s head for longer than it should have.
“Sorry Grandad,” Jimmy bowed his head down in shame.
“It’s no problem sport. I’m very good at cleaning tea you know? Grandma used to be quite a clumsy young lady,” Mr Wisniewski assured the boy, wiping his shirt with a used tissue.
Jimmy giggled and skipped to play with his toys, sitting under the shade of the weeping willow.
Mr Wisniewski lowered his voice, “I don’t need this Anna.”
“Dad, please. Don’t be difficult.”
Both the father and daughter shifted in their seats rather uncomfortably. It took longer than usual for them to express their feelings.
“Difficult. Difficult! Listen to this! First I’m poor and now I’m difficult?!”
“It’s for your own good. I’ve lost mum and I don’t want to go the same way. I don’t want to lose you either.”
“What are you suggesting? That I brought on her attack? I wasn’t even around her Anna. I was away for so long.”
Anna bowed her head. “That’s how it started,” she murmured.
Mr Wisniewski felt his chest tighten. He sniffled and tried to hide it by scratching his nose.
“Dad, I don’t have time to look after you. I have more shifts at the hospital and have to look after Jimmy. I think it’s best for all of us if Jimmy has at least one man in his life, for as long as possible. Please Dad.”
Mr Wisniewski didn’t reply. He simply stared at his insufficiently ironed clothes and tried to straighten them.
“I’m afraid we have to go Dad,” Anna leaned in and kissed her father on his cheek. “Come on Jimmy!”
Jimmy hopped over to Mr Wisniewski and gave him a big hug. Anna stood next to her father, looking at him while a tear slowly rolled down her cheek. Mr Wisniewski did not notice, simply staring at his clothes. She wiped the tear away with a sense of urgency and left, hand in hand with Jimmy.
Shadows settled on the places that they left. The weeping willow was slouching more than before and the people at the home were walking slower than before. His age had never stopped him in the past. Even when he was serving in the army, Mr Wisniewski was as able as any of the other men, despite the twenty-year average age gap. Quite suddenly, he felt an overwhelming feeling of wonder, excitement and guilt. His mind did not wander; in fact it was focused.
He sat up straight and tensed his eyebrows. Something like this had never occurred to him, even as a child. He looked at his surroundings. Ahh jeez. Mr Wisniewski sighed. All he could see was a large drooping tree, old people playing bridge and birds singing in the sky. Although the sun was shining, there seemed to be a pale, dull stillness to the air. It was all so boring. So boring … and lonely.
How ironic. He thought. To have such a childish thought at my sorry age. His heartbeat quickened its pace and his stomach had manoeuvred itself into an uncomfortable knot with incredible ease. His mind was contemplating, he fiddled with his shirt buttons. Even the weeping willow perked up a little. Finally, he decided to side with the devil.
His clothes were waiting for him, perfectly aligned and crease-proof in a small duffle bag with spaces filled with enough food to last him a week. He was sitting on his bed, waiting patiently for the spotlight under his door to pass down the corridor. It came, and it went. It was time. Mr Wisniewski waited for ten more seconds and then slowly stood from his bed. He grabbed his bag and quietly shuffled to the window, making sure not to allow a creak to slither from the hinges. He was excited although his body did not allow it to be shown. Before leaving, he stopped in front of the mirror and stared. He felt nothing but a tad unsettled. He shifted his feet, tilted his head and changed his position. The feeling remained.
Slowly but surely, he had made his way out of the window and safely onto the ground. After closing the window after himself, he turned around to face the well-groomed garden. The flowers were sleeping, but the weeping willow was. It lifted its branches, its leaves turned to face Mr Wisniewski. Free, he thought, although he wasn’t liberated yet. He still needed to get past the main gate.
With as much stealth as his muscles could remember, he walked to the main gate. Fortunately, the guard was asleep.
Of course the lad’s asleep. With good reason too, thought Mr Wisniewski. This place has never had a break-in. I wonder if the gate is even locked. He gave the steel gate a slight pull and cringed at the rusted groan it expelled. His heart danced to a beat, which was far too fast for Mr Wisniewski’s own good. He stepped out of the home’s property and slipped off into the night.
Mr Wisniewski walked, as fast as his feet would allow, with his head held high. The moon shone off of his wedding ring. His chest had opened and he breathed with a new relaxed comfort. The world looked different.
“It’s strange how moving a few paces can change a person,” Mr Wisniewski pondered. Although he did not ponder for long. He had stopped in his tracks.
Before him was an old man lying on the side of the road with what appeared to be a wine bottle in a paper bag held tightly in his hands. The man was sleeping soundly in a very uncomfortable position. Mr Wisniewski stared at the man, tilting his head one way and then the other. There was an uncanny resemblance between the two men.
A thought had seized him. Where exactly was he planning to go? He had the freedom to go wherever he chose. He could travel the world for all he cared. But he could not go to Anna, as she would send him straight back. He could not go to his house, as it was sold yesterday. He could not go anywhere where he truly wanted to go. His body was free but his mind was trapped. The devil had lost.
Mr Wisniewski stared at the ground as he was turning around. Soon enough, the gate was right in front of him. This time, he did not care about the screech. He did not care about being caught. He walked through the gate and did not even bother to close it. He walked through the sleeping garden, no different from the other members of the retirement home. He had had his fun. It was enough to keep him happy for a long time. He left his thoughts with “it’s probably for the best.” Before entering his room, he looked at his old friend, but did not acknowledge the weeping willow. It seemed just like a regular tree now. The wind lifted the tree’s branches and turned its leaves with a parallel similarity as when Mr Wisniewski was making his escape.
No, he was setting fire to his insides for fun.