17 July 2011


"Heffries" they called him, which they could see on the faded name tag on his threadbare camouflage shirt. The old man's name was really Jeffries, but the kids had grown up with Spanish as a mother tongue.  The old man never told them his first name, he didn't talk much and wasn't inclined to correct them on his last name, and the kids, they got bored watching a half-blind cripple shuffle his way into the plaza by the fountain.  They usually drifted away pretty quickly when he didn't respond to their questions or their taunts.

Jeffries didn't mind.  He bore them no grudge.  All he wanted was to warm the metal grafts on his legs and left arm, relics of the war, in the equatorial sun.  It felt good, this low burn.  His slowly regenerating nerves often left him feeling cold, no matter what the temperature.  It was his habit to hobble over every day to sit on the worn granite of the benches in the plaza and dream about what he had lost in this Latin soil.

Every day, the old man sat in plaza, listening to the city and for the cry of the panela vendor once he had opened his stall in the small mercado just across the way.  He knew the owner, had broken bread with him long ago before the guns and the terror had ripped the country apart.  Every day, the owner's son brought Jeffries a small lump of piloncillo, and every day Jeffries tried to press a few pesos into the kid's hands.  Every day, the kid refused.  There was some low-key banter, apologies and thanks all around, and then the kid would scuttle back to the market.

Jeffries turned the small cone of dark brown sugar over and over in his hands.  Through the cracked and frosted prisms he called his eyes he could only see it as a vague shape that occasionally shifted into sharp focus.  The old man wasn't sure if his eyes were healing; the docs said so, but between the nanophages and the slightly out-of-date secondhand Swiss optics, nothing ever seemed to get truly better. 

Jeffries sighed.  He wouldn't worry about that now.  He wouldn't think about the flesh and bone he had lost in the war; that was over now.  That he was far from home mattered little as well.  The old man had begun to give up on returning to the land of his birth.  Distance and a ravaged body made it hard to think about travel.

He lifted the cone to his lips.  A faint whiff of molasses reached his nose, and he smiled.  The sugar broke apart, sweet sand upon his cracked lips and eager tongue.  Of all the things his body had absorbed under an alien sun, the local sugar had stayed with him the longest.  He scraped a small chunk off the cone with his front teeth, and let it sit to dissolve.

Jeffries leaned back, thin skin and knobby spine scraping with a pleasant scratch against the warm stone of the bench.  He swallowed, took another bite while turning his face to the sun.  The warmth spread through him and he thought of youth he once knew.  There under the argentine sunlight,  Jeffries fell asleep and died with a smile on his lips, dreaming of a girl he once knew who tasted like piloncillo.

1 comment:

  1. what a great character, you made him very real.

    i'm intrigued by last moments and last visions.

    i felt the shock wave sweep right through me with your last line.

    thanks for the ride!


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

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