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Old Man Falling Off of Stool

Story by Timur Jonathan Karaca (Read author interview) May 4, 2015

Art by David Sifry

There were no seats left at any of the tables, so the old man stepped over to an empty high stool at the counter, sliding in with his hands full—a plate (gruyere and pastrami on sourdough) jittering in his right hand, and a novel (a spy-thriller) clutched in his left—and lowered one haunch down toward the worn vinyl surface where no one quite saw whether he missed the stool completely, or slipped, or tripped his shoe over the loosened metal skirt around the stool’s base, and he was never sure whether it was his bad right knee that buckled, or if he took his eye off that seat a half-second too soon, but he went down over the ledge, upended sickeningly, the plate upset and clattering on the tile, the book still clutched firmly in his other hand, and his right shoulder and hip coming down together into the hard tiles, his bald head glancing the edge, almost imperceptibly, of a passing table as he fell, and a woman standing near let out a short, startled cry while other diners stopped talking or chewing and some half-stood as if to help or to see, and quickly a young waiter had set down his tray and was kneeling beside the old man as he righted himself on the floor, grimacing with his lips rumpled into a look of vague confusion, and another diner, another young man in a track suit, was crouched eagerly by them too, and they put their hands on the old man to steady him and asked if he was all right, and the old man, just now coming round to what had happened, smiled at them and laughed at his own folly, and the waiter helped him slowly to his feet, and the old man, wanting to thank him, but also to make light of the whole absurd affair, quipped that he hoped the waiter or the restaurant had a good lawyer, and he winked and half-smiled to make clear that he was joking, but the young waiter looked back at him blankly, not getting the joke and unsettled even that the old man might be serious because he, the waiter, desperately needed that job, but he nodded and helped the old man back onto the stool, and asked again if he was all right, and the old man looked back at him and nodded, but it was clear enough now that he was not, not quite, that something was wrong, or beginning to be wrong, and the old man himself had a sense of it, though it was hard to define or pinpoint, and there was no way for him to suspect or articulate that the blood was pooling already along the left side of his skull and beginning to exert a certain pressure onto half of his brain, but he could detect already a loosened quality to half of his field of vision, like a sheet unfurling behind which some of the laws of physics or time had reversed themselves, and the waiter could see now that the old man was unsteady, that he canted to one side when let go, so he called over to his manager that maybe they should call an ambulance, which the manager promptly did, and in twelve minutes—though it seemed to take much longer with the old man listing farther and farther to one side—it arrived, driven by two more young men, blue-uniformed paramedics who knelt beside the old man and spoke to him in hushed voices, and the old man didn’t follow most of what they said but he understood that he was going with them, and they took him by the elbows and eased him onto a gurney where he sat as they loaded him into the back of the ambulance, looking a bit lost now, as the diners and the waiter and the manager watched but were slowly returning to their business, and the ambulance carried the old man to a hospital, where they drilled a hole in his head to drain the blood, and where he then slipped into the last few weeks of his life on a rehab unit, where it was a challenge to speak or to hold a blue plastic fork, where he sometimes forgot where he was, and people from his past came to visit: his ex-wife, a friend who’d moved to Arkansas whom he hadn’t seen in years, the pastor of his church came, and on some days he recognized them and on some not, and in time a pneumonia took hold in his lungs that would spread and undo what was left of the order of the workings of his body, and his mind would return often in those days to a memory that hadn’t quite happened, though he would see it clearly, of the moments after the fall, or instead of it, of being seated at that counter, the pleasant sounds of the café, the pastrami and cheese, warm and spiced and rich on his tongue, and of leafing through the pages of his novel, the protagonist caught in the belly of some foreign nuclear reactor with moments left to defuse everything, but calm and grinning into the faces of his enemies, invincible.


Notes from Guest Reader Margaret Luongo

Tightly written, all in one sentence, this story can’t be stopped and neither can death.

About the Author

Timur Jonathan Karaca’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Baltimore Review, Indiana Review, Narrative Magazine, Potomac Review, Redivider, and other journals. He is a practicing anesthesiologist and a student at the Writers Studio, San Francisco. He lives in Oakland.

About the Artist

David Sifry’s photo was used via Flickr Creative Commons. Visit his photostream for more.

This story appeared in Issue Forty-Eight of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Forty-Eight

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