Frederick cursed as he trudged through the park. One of these days, he thought, my legs will fail me completely and I will no longer be able to do my daily stroll.
He halted for a few moments and shook his head. That would mean he wouldn’t see old Bruce anymore, and that would be a terrible shame. He enjoyed the conversations he had with his friend immensely. The days wouldn’t be the same without them.
He resumed his walk, carefully and not without difficulties. He peered ahead and saw a figure sitting on a bench. Could that be old Bruce? He quickened his pace. Considering his age and the condition of his legs, that expression had to be taken with a grain of salt.
As he drew closer he saw the figure was Bruce indeed. The man must have seen his friend coming too, despite his poor eyesight, as he started waving and shouted, “Good afternoon, Fred. Good to see you again.”
Frederick was panting with the exertion and glad he could sit down on the bench. He waited until his breathing was back to normal and said:
“It’s when I make my daily walk that it becomes painfully clear to me I’m not getting any younger.”
Bruce nodded affirmatively. “You’re not the only one who has problems. I can’t deal with all this technical stuff. I just hate those remote controls and their small buttons. I can’t read what’s on them, and I have to crank up the volume all the time. Maybe it’s down to my hearing. That’s what my daughter says.”
“I remember the time when I went jogging for an hour a day,” Frederick continued. “Even if it was raining, even when it was cold. There was no stopping me. Did I ever tell you that as a boy I wanted to be an athlete? I hoped to achieve fame and fortune that way. My parents were opposed to the idea, though. They wanted me to find a real job.”
“I see,” Bruce replied. “I remember the old TVs and radios. They had no remote controls. You had to get out of your chair and press big buttons on the equipment itself. That was fine with me. I never had a problem with that. But now everything comes with a remote. And then there’s all this new stuff. Computers. Cell phones. I just can’t use them. I prefer to do without.”
“My dad wanted me to become an accountant. That was a decent job, he said. They’ll always need accountants. He didn’t mind my running and jogging, but he couldn’t accept that as a professional career. It just was no serious job. As if you couldn’t make a living as an athlete. My parents were a bit traditional and narrow-minded, but they did it all for my own good. They wanted me to have a steady job, so I could support a family. Now, that makes sense, I guess.”
Bruce nodded. “Those damned cell phones are about the worst things I’ve ever seen. My daughter showed me hers. I could hardly see the buttons on it. Sometimes I see her typing away on it without even talking or listening. You call that a phone? And then there’s that other contraption with the earphones that my grandson is always carrying. What’s it called again? I fail to remember. My memory is not so good anymore. Not to mention my hearing. Did I tell you my hearing is not what it used to be?”
“I think so,” Frederick confirmed. “Now I must say that being an accountant was not such a bad thing. I can’t really blame my parents for pushing me in that direction after all. I’ve made a good living and have always been able to support my family. Still, running and jogging was where my heart lay.”
“I see your point. I guess there’s no stopping progress, but you’ll never see me using one of those cell phones. I prefer my regular phone, although I have a problem to hear the guy at the other end. At first I thought the phone was malfunctioning, but then I was told it’s my hearing. Apparently my hearing is not what it used to be. Did I ever tell you that?”
“No, but I guess it means we’re both not getting any younger.”
For a moment Frederick’s attention drifted off into recollections of bygone days. He heard Bruce who kept talking in the background, but didn’t quite catch what he said. When he surfaced from his reminiscences he said:
“I guess I’ll be on my way now, Bruce.”
“I’m heading back home too, Fred.”
“See you tomorrow then.”
They both rose to their feet, shook hands and parted company.
I really enjoy these conversations, Frederick thought as he walked off. Good old Bruce is a guy my age, which is why there’s this perfect understanding between us. We’re of the same generation, one that’s slowly dying out. We should cherish these moments while they last. One day one of us will go, and the other guy will be a lone survivor, left to his own devices.
It was just that he had the feeling that Bruce didn’t always follow the thread of the conversation. Maybe he was a bit absent-minded, or perhaps his hearing wasn’t what it used to be, even if he had never mentioned that problem–or had he?
As he walked back to his nursing home he thought: If my legs allow it, I’ll come back here tomorrow. He was already looking forward to another conversation with his friend. Now what was he called again? Never mind, he would recall his name when he saw him. He was the last friend he had. They should stick together. That perfect understanding they had was becoming a rare commodity.
Frank Roger was born in 1957 in Ghent, Belgium. His first story appeared in 1975. Since then his stories have appeared in an increasing number of languages in all sorts of magazines, anthologies and other venues, and since 2000, story collections have been published, also in various languages. Apart from fiction, he also produces collages and graphic work in a surrealist and satirical tradition. By now he has more than 650 short story publications (including a few short novels) to his credit in 28 languages. Critics describe his work as a blend of genres and styles: fantasy, satire, surrealism, science fiction and black humour.