The old man stands on his porch and takes a full breath of the autumn air, the pleasantly sweet smell of decaying apples drifting to his nose from his front yard. The jays’ lilting song and the sun’s golden gaze envelop him in a momentary state of happiness before he turns around to go back inside. Sitting down at the kitchen table, the old man picks up the newspaper, flipping through the thin gray sheets as the black print stains his fingertips. They are full of stories about people he does not know, so with a sigh, he sets the paper back down on the table.
The old man stands up and walks toward the counter where he pours himself a steaming cup of black coffee, careful not to let the hot liquid splash on his trembling hands. He reaches for the creamer and dumps in the last few powdery clumps, reminding himself insistently to make a trip to the grocery store to buy more. For a moment, he stands still, his eyes clouding over as his mind wanders across the counter, trying to remember where he put the jar of sugar. It takes a few seconds, but the recollection emerges from the depths of his memories and he proceeds to open the cabinet above him where the jar sits on the bottom shelf, just where he left it. He swirls the sugar around in his mug, watching the white disintegrate into the black and forming a lovely brown that reminded him of the eyes of his three children.
There was a day when he could remember everything, from the exact number of blueberries his wife used in her pancakes to the final score of the 1975 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. Today, he sits down at the sandalwood table and finds himself rereading the same sentence on the front page, over and over again. Each time, he forgets the words as they fall between the cracks of his mind, and each time, he struggles to fish them out again.
The old man takes a sip of his coffee and the heat burns the tip of his tongue like the frustration stinging his mind. He inhales deeply, wiping the sweat from his furrowed eyebrows with chalky white hands. The words in the newspaper articles hang fuzzily in front of his eyes, phrases jumping out here and there before merging into each other and creating an incomprehensible mess. He can’t remember if he put sugar into this coffee already, so he scoops another teaspoon into his cup. The tiny crystals cascade through the air like snowflakes and for a fraction of a second, he is reminded of the wintry December nights he spent around the fireplace as a child. The shadow of the memory evaporates as quickly as it condensed, and he pauses to remember where he is sitting.
The old man blinks steadily as his hand roves across the tabletop, as if to reassure himself that he is not dreaming. Here is the placemat he has been using for the past thirty years, torn at the edges and stained with tomato sauce from Saturday spaghetti dinners. Here is the corner of the table, slightly chipped and neatly sanded from when his son had thrown his baseball inside the house against his mother’s orders. And here is the coffee-filled mug, the ceramic warm and comforting to his touch. Had he added sugar? He couldn’t remember. He picks up the teaspoon again, an object both familiar and foreign between his fingers, and hollows out another cavity in the jar, watching it fill back up quickly again, an avalanche fusing into a sinkhole.
It’s time to get the paper, the old man thinks as he rises slowly from his chair. The grandfather clock in the living room strikes nine o’clock, the ringing echoing in his ears, but time no longer possesses any meaning for him. The same legs that once carried him and a fellow combatant across a raging battlefield now take him across a laminated wooden floor, breaching the silent and empty house. He is still a soldier, but today he fights for a different reason. The old man gently pushes open the screen door to greet the morning, stepping out onto the front porch for the fourth time this morning.