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The lonely man

He was sitting by the creek, waiting for his fishing pole to bob when he got a distinct feeling that he was being watched. The man had been half-asleep in a reverie when he suddenly felt that he was not alone, and it definitely was not the fish. Slowly, he looked around and finally spotted the cat sitting there. It was quite young and definitely scrawny. A sad, slow smile went across the man's face, and he tipped an imaginary hat towards it. The man was a little happy to see that he was not the only one out on the outskirts of town. After his wife had died and his children had gone off to discover their own worlds, he felt that he was pretty much alone in the world. But since this scrawny, underfed cat had decided to stop by and pay its respects, he felt he had no other choice than to offer it some food and companionship.

He never approached the cat; usually, early in the morning, both he and the cat would meet by his bench near the creek. He would share some fish and cheese with the cat, sometimes goat's milk, other times well water. He had even thought that it was only proper that his guest had the good china for the occasion. He would set the bowls in a shady area nearby and go ahead and start fishing. Suddenly, after he had cast his line several times, the cat would appear, sitting or lying beside the bowls, watching his every movement. The man started to converse, and for some reason, the cat began to look more intense and completely enraptured by what the man was saying. The man was surprised, but he seemed to be encouraged by this level of interest and told the cat more of his life story. Over the passing of several days, he told the cat about his hopes and his dreams; about his very few victories and his many failures and defeats. He told the cat about the woman he loved, the times they laughed and cried together, even about the times that they were angry and hurt. He told the cat about his children and the pride and joy he felt in seeing them grow up strong and making it in the world. He also talked about the pain, disappointments, and regrets that he suffered in raising them. He would talk about the 'what ifs,' 'how comes,' and 'what should have been' to the cat until the cat felt it had heard enough for that day and left. The man would take the bowls back to the house, wash them, and then rest until their meeting the next day.

The man brought the bowls early that day, but it had gone well past noon, and he had still not seen the cat. At first, he thought maybe the cat had decided that it was time to move on or that the man had started to repeat his stories and was no longer interested in them. He left the bowls there, hoping that maybe his guest was preoccupied with something else. But when he returned later near dusk, the bowls sat there completely untouched. However, when the man went to pick up the bowls to take them back, he could see the cat laying there, hidden under the bush, its head horribly gashed, and the same with the side of its body. The man tossed the bowls aside and reached out to touch the cat, and even though the cat looked like it was dead, its body was still warm. Gently, he picked the cat up and carefully but quickly went back to his house. He found some old salve that his wife had used on their children and softly applied it to the cat's wounds. He had and needed only one blanket, but they still had some of his wife's old dresses, so he used one as a blanket for the cat and used one of the children's eyedroppers to give the cat food and water. Slowly, over time, he was able to nurse the cat back to health.

Over the many, many months that the man and the cat were together, they built a bond of friendship that brought much joy to the man. But unfortunately, just as the cat's health, strength, and capabilities increased, the man noticed that his were starting to slip away. He noticed it at first when he was watching the birds sing but was unable to hear them; he knew his hearing was gone. Then, when he really had to get up close to see them, he knew his eyesight had worsened. Everything was in its familiar place, so that was no problem, but even the walks to the nearby creek and back could not be accomplished without several rests. But the time went by comfortably, mostly because of the cat. The cat would nudge his head in the morning to let him know that the sun was up, then it would go about in and out of the house, doing whatever it felt was worth inspecting, and it would return later that night, curling up in the man's lap, letting him pet it and tell his stories. The cat would eventually get up, and the man knew that it was time for bed.

It was not the cat that woke him that morning but the pain in his chest. He tried to sit up, but his arms and legs seemed to be no longer his to control, and he slumped off the bed onto the ground. The insufferable pain seemed to last for an eternity before it would subside, then start again for another eternity; the man knew that now he was suffering for all of his mistakes, the things he did wrong, and for the people that he cared about and hurt. He was sure that there would be absolutely no forgiveness or peace when he suddenly felt the cat kissing his brow. Had someone walked by the man's hovel that day, they would have sworn that they saw a mangy cat nibbling on a corpse, but the man knew better. He knew that a miracle had happened just then, for suddenly the pain in his chest had stopped, and he could see and hear again. And the first thing he saw clearly was his wife, cradling his frail body and cooing out his name. He saw his children standing there as young and as proud as the last time he saw them. And as a tear rolled down the man's cheek, a slow, sad smile slid onto his face, for his family was once again.

Then the world went silent.

Mystikos Samaritan.

© Copyright 2023 Kenneth G Brennan

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