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The Old Man And The Boy 8

by RandomTalks


He felt his absence before he saw it.

Standing in the shade at the edge of the clearing, under the trees that did not move, did not greet him with their usual rustle of leaves, the boy knew it would have been easier to turn back around and walk back to his home instead of facing another day of uncanny silence. When he had first walked into the clearing and spied the empty bench, he had felt none of the anger or disappointment of the previous day; in fact all he had felt was a defeated kind of resignation with this reality where the old man wasn't sitting there, staring at the water with his all seeing gaze. He clutched his painting to him and settled into his seat, eyeing the place the old man used to sit. It seemed strange somehow, impossible even, that the lake, the trees, the wind, the entire place could still exist without the old man, but it did. With a strong sense of unease, he decided he did not want to get used to this.

He reached inside his brain, rummaging through possibilities. Maybe he was sick and had no one to look after him. Or maybe, he with his son and making up for the past that was lost. Or maybe he had just grown tired of spending his afternoons in his company. Whatever the reason, the boy realized that it did not matter. He wasn't there, was he?

Giving in to the lingering thought at the back of his mind, he realized that it was alright if the old man had decided to give up on him. He had learnt enough from him in all those afternoons to know that he wasn't going to give up on himself. Not now, when he had seen all that he could be, all that he could still have in life. The old man and this place had given him so much, and he wasn't sure if he would ever be able to return it, if he ever wanted to return it.

So he sat there all afternoon, looking at the lake and sky in his painting and the lake and the sky in front of him, that felt smaller somehow, incomplete, without the old man beside him inspecting the scene with his eyes. Time seemed to have slowed down and each second dragged on to the next almost hesitantly. He watched the sun set as it usually did and then he walked back home with his shoulders slumped, thinking that maybe his parents would like to see his painting.

Returning home was almost a welcome change from the vastness of the lake and it's unrelenting silence. He never thought he would see the day when he would be glad to be home, but then again, a lot had happened that summer, a lot that had made him question and wonder.

But as he walked into his house, he found it alarmingly silent. There were none of the cries and footsteps of everyday, and the absence disturbed him in a way he did not understand. He went through the living room, looking for something, anything that would give him back the noise and commotion and the sense of normalcy along with it. This was too strange, too different and his life wasn't allowed to veer off course without his permission.

He finally found his mother in the kitchen, sitting in a chair and going over some old photo albums he did not recognize.

"What's wrong?" he asked, his voice sounding hollow in the loud silence of the house. His mother's head shot up and she instantly jumped up from her seat.

"Oh there you are! Where have you been? Never mind! We just received some news about your grandfather and your father left a minute ago. I need you to watch your brother and be careful please!"

There were so many questions that the boy wanted to ask but his brain was still stuck at one point.

"What news?"

His mother looked at him with a confliction of emotions on her face. "He passed away. Last morning. He lived alone, and he wouldn't answer the door when the milkman came. The next morning he returned and found the maid standing there. When he still wouldn't answer the door they pushed it open and found him on his bed. He had already been gone for hours by then," her voice broke at that point but she reigned it in with a perfection that made the boy wonder. "We didn't even know he lived here! Not until the police called your father from the hospital this afternoon!"

The boy walked to his mother and carefully folded his arms around her in a gesture that was unfamiliar and foreign to him. She still accepted it for the sign of comfort it was and squeezed him back.

"Take care of your brother please," she whispered, and then she was gone.

The boy stood alone in the empty kitchen that seemed suddenly too big for just one person. He thought about his father and how he never got the chance to make up with his father. He thought about his grandfather and how he went away from this world still thinking that his son hated him. And he could not decide who he felt more sorry for.

He sat down in the chair his mother had previously occupied and tried to stop thinking altogether. He set his painting down on the table and glanced at the album on the table.

He stopped short.

Black hair combed across the head, kind eyes, and a smile that reminded him of a softly burning candle. A face he wouldn't have been able to distinguish from the next aged person's, but a face he would now recognize among thousands. He looked at the old man in his painting and at the picture of his grandfather in the album. And then a feeling erupted inside him that made him clutch the table for support.

All this time.

A million thoughts ran around his head, and a million more memories tried to catch up with them. His scratchy low voice telling him that he had disappointed his son, that war had robbed him and he had lost what he had had left. All the sunsets he had described, he, his grandfather had seen them all through his eyes. And he had never known.

He felt angry. He felt cheated. He thought about the stories the old man had told him, the smiles he had given him, the friend he had been to him. He thought how every feeling and every thought he had experienced beside him had been a new discovery in himself, and he remembered him telling him that he was a good man and his heart nearly collapsed from the unfairness of it all. Loss was a new experience for him as well, and he wished he had never had to know what it felt like, at least not in this way, not in this terrible mind numbing way. No one had prepared him for this, no one had sat him down one morning and taught him how to do this, how to grieve over the death of someone he loved.

He should have known, he realized. He had spent weeks with the man, he should've known. But he had so carefully crafted this fine line between the lake and the world outside, never allowing the two realities to escape, to merge. Maybe that is why, even with the truth thrust upon him without any warning, he still found it difficult to connect the two images in his head. He would try again later, when he could rely on the world to stop spinning before his eyes. For now, he grieved for his friend.

He thought that the weight in his chest was going to crush him any moment, but a sudden cry around the house reminded him that he was not alone. He walked to his brother's room without knowing that he did and picked him up from his crib. He felt so soft in his arms, his wide eyes innocent and blissfully ignorant of the ways of the world.

Yes, he was better off that way.

He felt a tear slip past his eyes, and he traced the tears trailing down his brother's cheeks. They were the same, he realized. The old man, his grandfather had been right. They were family, they would find a way. 

He wiped his tears away and sat himself down on the edge of the bed, where he cradled his little brother all evening until their parents came home.


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Wed Sep 08, 2021 3:16 am
Liminality wrote a review...



Hi RandomTalks!

Oh wow, this chapter was a lot to process, and yet some of it felt ‘inevitable from the start’, I realised. From the beginning of the chapter, I had this impression that the tone had become very mournful. There was a sense of the world subtly being turned upside down, foreshadowing the reveal later. The boy’s home becoming more appealing to him when it had always been the reverse solidified that for me.

I had suspected earlier that maybe the old man might be dead, but the last chapter made me think I was just being paranoid, and now !! The story seems to take a whole other direction than I thought now that this has been revealed.

The scenes with him and the mother, and later alone with his brother are so perfectly sad and realistic. It seems like even though the old man’s conflict with the son was never resolved, a lot of the threads in this story are being brought together.

Plot

I thought the plot twist wasn’t too unexpected, but just enough that it leaves an impact. The amount of time before it’s revealed is just nice, I think. It kind of lets the atmosphere sink in, and left me thinking ‘wait, maybe it’s not all going to go the way I thought after all’.

He finally found his mother in the kitchen, sitting in a chair and going over some old photo albums he did not recognize.

I’m a bit confused as to why she’s looking through photo albums when she seems to be in a hurry? Do they need the photos to fill some documentation?

This was too strange, too different and his life wasn't allowed to veer off course without his permission.

I like that the boy has to shift his attitude on this by end of the chapter and he manages to do so somewhat successfully. It comes across as realistically difficult, but I like that he manages to accept his grandfather’s death or at least start trying to accept it. The chapter has a very definite positive progression in that sense, despite the tragedy.

But he had so carefully crafted this fine line between the lake and the world outside, never allowing the two realities to escape, to merge.

Now all those lines about the lake being a ‘separate’ world make sense as a way to explain why the boy doesn’t consider the old man might be his grandfather. I had thought they were just decoration or atmospheric description at first, but it’s super cool to see they had a character-driven purpose.

I like that the ending loops back to what the old man said. The themes in this story are well strung together, I think, like the idea of “finding a way” and holding on to the family that’s precious to you is pretty evident throughout.

Style

Something that is characteristic of your best chapters is what I mentioned in the last review, which is that the pacing and lengths of the sentences really convey the tone. That matching of structure with content is really effective.

"He passed away. Last morning. He lived alone, and he wouldn't answer the door when the milkman came. The next morning he returned and found the maid standing there. When he still wouldn't answer the door they pushed it open and found him on his bed. He had already been gone for hours by then . . .

For instance in the dialogue here, having the two short sentences in the beginning conveys how rushed she is and also the intensity of the conflicting emotions.

And he could not decide who he felt more sorry for.
This line is so sad. Especially since I think the last chapter built up this expectation that everything would be resolved in the end.

Loss was a new experience for him as well, and he wished he had never had to know what it felt like, at least not in this way, not in this terrible mind numbing way.

I love the way this line builds up. It conveys the boy’s feelings of overwhelm and shock and his response to it, especially with the last two phrases which repeat the structure “not . . way”, which gets across the initial feeling of shock and denial as well.

That’s all

Thanks for sharing this work with us! It was a really fantastic read and I can’t wait to see what else you come up with in the future. As usual, feel free to ask me anything about what I’ve written in this review. I’ll hopefully get to the epilogue sometime tomorrow.

Cheers and keep writing!

-Lim




RandomTalks says...


Thank you so much for the review! It was really helpful and made me understand a lot of things about my writing!
Now all those lines about the lake being a %u2018separate%u2019 world make sense as a way to explain why the boy doesn%u2019t consider the old man might be his grandfather.

That is what I had tried to show from the beginning, that he keeps the two realities separate.



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Fri Aug 13, 2021 2:37 pm
MailicedeNamedy wrote a review...



Hi RandomTalks,

Mailice here with a short review! :D

So we are slowly coming to the end, which I like. Because I think you've already done a good job of working towards that point.

I see this chapter as an extension of the previous one, because again you tried to describe things the boy feels, and add new emotions that show he's changed. He observes things, he recognises them, but he doesn't react to them in a negative way. He partly blames himself for the absence of the old man on the bench, and I think that's a stark contrast to the beginning of the story, where the boy would never do something like that.

You've done a really good job here of getting to the point where the boy realises, and does a reflection that goes beyond himself. He asks himself questions about his family and his father, which clearly shows me that he has developed compassion. The conclusions he draws I think are very well portrayed and liked that it was easy and quick to follow through in this flowing text as he nurtures these points from beginning to end.

You really put a lot of effort into this and did a masterful job of taking this boy's development up a notch here and presenting it in simple terms.

I was a little disappointed that the boy found out that the old man was his grandfather, because it takes away some of the magic of the story. That's your choice, of course, and I still like the way you portrayed how the boy found out by seeing the photo. I thought that was a nice way to present it.

In summary, it was a really great chapter. A good summary of the story and a good final chapter.

One thing that stood out to me:

Standing in the shade at the edge of the clearing, under the trees that did not move, did not greet him with their usual rustle of leaves, the boy knew it would have been easier to turn around and walk back to his home instead of facing another day of uncanny silence.


I like what you've tried to do here, and I also appreciate your attempt to present the beginning in a dynamic manner, but I also find that the structure of this sentence leaves the reader breathless, because you're always trying to add something that may not always be necessary.

Have fun writing!

Mailice




RandomTalks says...


Thank you for the review!



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Thu Aug 12, 2021 4:34 pm
ForeverYoung299 wrote a review...



Hey! Forever here with a review!!!

There were none of the cries and footsteps of everyday, and the absence disturbed him in a way he did not understand

That 'were' will be 'was'

Now, I am without any words... You really had to kill the old man and make all cry😢 Couldn't there be a happier ending? No, all stories can't have a happier ending and yours is one of those for sure. To be honest, I was crying... I rarely cry, though at many times I feel like crying.

Anyways, putting aside all my emotions amd feelings, the chapter was a great one. Again, I should ask a few things though I guess you mentioned those in the previous chapter but I have forgotten, as usual. First of all, what is the age of the boy? Neearly 15 or something? And when did the old man that is his grandfather left them? How long ago was that? If it's very long, the boy will kind of have difficulty in recognizing the old man. If I am not wrong, the pictures are of before the war cuz no one will actually want to shoot photos when the grandfather was depressed. So, just clear it a bit.

This was written in the perfect tone, depressing tone. It really hurts when you lose someone in life after learning so much and having so many best memories with them. The scene where he took care of his brother was incredible. Though you didn't mention directly, you managed to show the change. He was responsible enough to do that and to realise so many things. The melancholic silence seems so sad...
A lot of sad things actually happened. The grandfather actually liked the boy but he didn't even have the chancw of knowing that he was his grandson. It would have been splendid if he had known that.

Now, as I mentioned you have gotta mention the time span that they had spent together. Right, the summee vacation, I remember. One month, maybe? We get an one month vacation. Now, if the time is much more longer than that or shorter than that, maybe mention it. The time is actually relative. And yes, did you find a reason for the father to know that his grandfather lived in the town?

I will be reviewing the epilogue soon.

Keep Writing!

~Forever




RandomTalks says...


The boy is 11. And the picture of the grandfather was taken in his younger days. That is why he has black hair. But the boy instantly recognizes him by his eyes and especially his smile. If you remember I chose the exact same words to describe the old man when the boy say him first in chap 1. The whole thing took place during the summer. So 1 and a half months maybe? Vacations used to be so much longer when I was a kid. And the father did not really know he lived there until the police called. He knew who his father was as a person, and he guessed that he would never leave the town behind as it represented everything he had lost and everything he still had. He did not know for sure. Unfortunately, I could not find a better reason for him knowing it. I might have to go back to that earlier chapter and do some editing! Anyways thanks for the review! Hope this cleared things up for you a bit.





Oh right. Thanks for the explanation




An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backwards. So when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that life's going to launch you into something great, so just focus and keep aiming.
— Unknown