The Old Man Who Lives Two Floors Below

World Literature Today|Spring 2020

The Old Man Who Lives Two Floors Below
Down the first twist of stairs and Josie hears she is not alone, like hearing a tree in the wind beyond her bedroom window. The old man: splay-legged before his door like a failing easel, he moves slow as death.
Peter Sheehy

Right there on the mat are the old man’s keys and Josie says, “Let me get those for you.”

The old man makes a sound although his position does not change. “Please,” he says and jockeys his limbs.

Readjusts to try anew. “Please,” he says again, and Josie knows what that’s like, so she leaves the keys be.

When again she happens upon the old man, he struggles to navigate the entrance with a single bag of groceries. “Allow me,” says Josie, working the lock, holding the door.

“Thank you, thank you dear,” as he shuffles past. “But please,” and he motions for Josie to take her lead, up the narrow stairs. He moves slow as death.

One morning, Josie finds the old man on the stairwell landing, just the one flight to go to reach his door, yet there he rests, his bathrobe cinched at the chest with bony legs spread, darkness within. While he catches his breath. On the marbled floor beside the old man shimmer scarlet drops like liquid pennies. Hard to ignore the stench as Josie slinks past.

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Spring 2020