by: Daniel C. Aaron
He tossed the ball to the dog, who ran off down the pathway to retrieve it. The man smiled at the dog’s enthusiasm, giving him a gentle pat on the head when the dog had returned to him, dropping the ball at his feet for the man to throw it again. He bent down to grab it, his eyes shining as he looked at the dog and held the ball aloft for a moment.
“One more throw, then we go inside.” He told the dog, then tossed the ball.
He watched the dog bound after the spherical object once more, saw as he scooped it up in his mouth, turned around to face the man, then gave a muffled bark at the man, a bark that slowly faded into the still air the same way that the dog itself did, transitioning in the man’s mind from a solid form to an outline to an empty space.
The man stared a second longer at the emptiness, looking at his hand a moment after as if expecting to see the ball there at least, but there was nothing.
A few moments more and he turned to go inside, his feet crunching the fallen autumn leaves underneath as he made his way through the yard and up the steps to his lonely little apartment. There was the smell and sound of coffee brewing as he entered, sitting down a moment later with a warm cup he had poured for himself in his favorite chair. He thought about watching TV a moment, fumbling for the remote, before his brain caught up with him, reminding him that there hadn’t been a TV for a while, and nothing to watch on there much anyway, or that he cared to.
How about a book then? No, he’d sold them off, hadn’t felt much need for those either even of late.
He sat in his chair and stared out the window to his right. The rays of sun llght were beginning to fade as the sunset came on, dusk beginning to settle over the world, or at least his part of the world. The autumn leaves seemed to catch fire as the fading light hit them and bounced off to reach his eyes through the window. Maybe they were on fire, he could almost imagine it, the flames devouring the leaves, at the trees, then the walls of his apartment, slowly making their way inside to reach him.
He wondered what that would feel like. Awful, he thought, but not as bad as dying completely alone and just be a nameless—even if they knew what he was called—person with not much of a story to leave behind. And then he began to wonder, “should I really let things be that way—leave myself known as an unknown person?”
And how could he become any sort of known person? He supposed he didn’t need to do anything grand or amazing per se, no need to try and change the world, maybe just do what he could in the small places that were his immediate surroundings. But, for a while now, he had no desire to do such a thing, didn’t want to get involved with anyone, do anything. What good could it do him?
Maybe that was a selfish thought, but as he looked around, he saw all he had lost, or given up. His apartment was bare, he saw, looking around, remembering. He looked to the kitchen. It was empty, and he knew the coffee cup was an illusion, he hadn’t made coffee, hadn’t poured a cup, didn’t have it beside him. His living room was empty too, no furnishings at all, completely empty.
What about his chair then? No, even that was a lie he told himself, imagined for himself. In truth he sat on the floor, no chair, no coffee cup beside him, he sat alone in an empty apartment.
How long had he imagined all these things?
“Maybe more than a month,” his brain told him. “You do this every morning, isn’t it time to stop?”
The one thing that remained was a picture in the corner, the thing he stared at every day for almost the entire day, rising early in the morning, till the sun set and it became too dark to look at anymore.
He realized that he had been selfish, not thinking of anyone but himself, not thinking of those that had gone, who would want him to live life the way they no longer could. They would want him to be happy, not to alone and despondent.
“What was that?” The man asked, confused, as a sound came to his ears from the direction of his door, a scratching of some sort.
Slowly he got up from the floor, his legs protesting. He went to the door and listened, definitely a scratching, then another sound, one he knew but couldn’t make out.
Cautiously he cracked the door open just a bit and peered outside. Nothing. Had he imagined the sound—
He looked down to see a small tabby cat nudging his head against the door frame, meowing profusely and looking up with pleading eyes. The man stood staring in disbelief and with cold eyes, uncertain what to do. Then the cat looked up again at the man and meowed loudly. A smile broke across the man's face and he opened the door farther, the cat happily bounding inside.
“I don’t have much...but if you’re hungry, I think there’s a little bit of food we can share, and you’re welcome to stay as long as you like. Tomorrow I’ll buy us both a little more,”
The man closed the door behind him, flicking on the light switch and illuminating the small apartment as evening set in.