Chapter One - Richard

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Old age was the most vicious of bullies. Life had already scorned him, knocked the books out of his hands, and beaten him to a pulp. Now, here came Old Age to kick sand in his face. It wasn't fair. All his life he'd been promised a retirement from hardship--a handful of golden years before Death's bony hand reached for him. Now, when it was far too late to do anything about it, he realized the whole blasted world had conspired against him.

There were no golden years. Only a lonely descent toward oblivion waited for him.

Everest Senior Living Facility was not the nursing home of his nightmares. As a younger man, in his seventies, Richard had woken up in a cold sweat with visions of dirty, closed-in rooms, abusive nurses, and seeping bedsores. The reality of his old age was nothing like that.

The old folk's home was bright, full of sunlight that streamed through enormous, plentiful, spotless windows. Perky young girls who always smelled faintly of coffee bustled about with rhinestone studded stethoscopes draped around their necks.

The food was bland and mushy, but it was at least as good as what he'd lived off  since his sweet Barbara had died. There was ice-cold prune juice at every meal so his guts kept moving like they were supposed to and, thanks be to the Holy Lord above, there were no olive loaf sandwiches. He'd eaten enough olive loaf to last a dozen lifetimes.

All in all, Everest was as good a place as any to be abandoned by your family while you waited for death.

Well, it would have been, if it weren't for Stanley Kapcheck. Stanley with his shiny bald head and perfect teeth that were all his own. Stanley had a flat stomach and a British accent. He wore a leather coat.

Honestly! What kind of respectable senior citizen wore leather?

Pretty nurses, young enough to be his grandchildren, giggled and blushed when Stanley spoke.

Richard loathed Stanley.

Was it so much to ask for a man to grow old and die the way nature intended? Something was weird about a man Stanley's age who still wore well-shined lace-up shoes that he tied himself.

Consequently, the sight of Stanley's pristine wingtip tapping on the white tiles of the dining hall floor was chipping away at the core of Richard's soul. And if that weren't enough, the pompous old peacock had an extra helping of chocolate pudding on the table in front of him. That new girl with the wild black curls had brought it to him, offering it like she was presenting her dowry.

Richard used the back of his chair and the edge of the table to push himself to his feet. He held on for a moment to make sure his balance was good and steady, and then moved his hands to his walker and shuffled in Stanley's direction.

The insufferable old fart smiled at him. "Good evening, Dick! You're looking well. How's that hip of yours?"

How dare he act like they were friends? And, Lord, but how he hated being called Dick.

Richard lifted his chin and looked down his immense nose at Stanley. "I see you have two puddings."

"Yes, a little indulgence is good for the soul, don't you think?"

"No. I disagree completely. I think this world is a sick and broken place where people indulge all too often and abstain not nearly often enough."

"Oh, come on now." Stanley reached forward and patted the round paunch of Richard's stomach. "It seems perhaps you've enjoyed one or two indulgences over the years."

That was it. That was going to be the comment that sent his blood pressure so high something inside would finally burst. He pointed a shaking finger at Stanley and tried to get a word out, but his lips were pressed into a thin, tight line of fury. He couldn't quite seem to remember how to get them to move.

"Mr. Bell," the wild-haired girl said, "did you want to have dessert over here with Mr. Kapcheck? Here, let me move your pudding for you." In a flash, she scooped the little bowl away from his seat and plopped it down across from Stanley. "There you go. Now you can sit with your friend."

She trotted away to refill the teacup Mrs. Wiler was holding in the air and left Richard standing there, red-faced and trembling with rage.

"Your shoes are ugly!" Richard spat the words out of his mouth with all the force he could muster.

Stanley threw his head back and laughed.

Richard spun on his heel--or, well, he turned around with pathetic, tiny, careful little steps and did his very best to stomp out of the room. It was difficult since he lived in mortal fear of falling down again and therefore never lifted either foot more than an inch or two off the ground.

Back in his room, he lowered himself into the soft brown armchair and clicked the TV on, just to have some noise. He sat there, staring at some stupid nature documentary. After a minute or two, he realized that he never enjoyed a single bite of dessert. Instead, he'd left Stan Kapcheck sitting in the dining room with three bowls of chocolate pudding laid out in front of him.

The unfairness of life was a burden nearly too great for someone as old as he to bear.

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