He stands in the shadows, staring out the window of his one bedroom suburban house onto the street outside. The late afternoon sunlight skirts the jaded red carpet as if looking for a way out. An old typewriter gathers dust on a desk next to stacks of unwanted, and seemingly unworthy, manuscripts. A breeze blows through an open window, filling the room with a sense of unease. The laughter of children playing outside occasionally drifts in and out, breaking the eerie silence. His gaze is upon these children and lately, his thoughts have been incapable of leaving them.
A bachelor all his life has meant no chance to have children and with his 86th year approaching, the possibilities seem to have fallen away like the blonde hairs that once covered his balding head. Although his chance has long since faded, his wish for children is something that will continue to haunt him for as long as he hears the laughter.
As his life draws to its climax, his spirit itches to move on from this existence and yet his fragile body continues to breath and he remains staring out a window, nurturing distant dreams that are now as futile as the pages on his desk. Manuscripts that he had hoped would fill the void in his life and yet all he could bring himself to write about was that very void. A void that nobody wanted to read about. He is now become a prisoner trapped inside his own body; a body that has changed while his feelings have not. He doesn’t remember growing old and yet his frame has welcomed it. No longer standing with the poise of a young man, his back now slouches forward, his pace has slowed and all movement has become an effort. There is little on his body that is familiar to him any more.
The mundane pattern of daily life tries to convince him that he is settled. He settles daily into his cream cardigan, his brown slippers settle unto his feet from morning until night. His pleasures are all but dead, except for his smoking, though even that brings a chesty cough. Alone in his house, he is noticed by no one because life has passed him by. His aching body no longer fits into the momentum of modern living. He takes one final glance out the window before climbing the stairs with legs no longer capable of climbing. On a single bed, he rests until dinner. The children continue to play outside on the street.
He tries to go for a walk everyday, but who can go far with legs that want to rest. Resisting the temptation not to, he forces his legs to take him past his neighbours who watch over their children with the usual parental intensity. He watches them run when their little ones fall over and hold them tightly as if to smoother their tears. The moment shared by parent and child is filled with so much love that their bond is almost visible, as beauty is to fragility, as love is to loss, while alone he simply clutches a cigarette. They barely notice him anymore. He is the old man who lives in the old house with the old curtains and the musty smell. He wanders on, past the school playground where again children laugh and play and, watching from behind the wire fence, he feels isolated. He lowers his hearing aid. With no sound, the visions are less painful, but for all too short a time. When the scene needs no sound to hammer home the truth, he moves along, continuously smoking and pent up with jealousy.
He passes the graveyard where voices jeer him from deep inside his own head.
“It will be the end with you, my friend. Your grave shall be bare but for you. No one will continue your name and none shall follow yours on the tombstone. When you go, your name will be no more; for you are the last.”
This is the place that hurts the most. This is the place where green eyes drown in bitter tears. He has been here many times lately, dressed in his black suit, bidding a final farewell to others like himself. But there were always children huddled together on these occasions. They may have been adults, but they had always been children to their parents, in the same way that a single lonely old man can only be a single lonely old man. When the inner voices mourn too loudly, he moves on, using each headstone as a morbid crutch. The hardest truth to accept is that which lies directly in front of you. Waiting.
It has been one week since his 86th birthday. A single card rests on the mantle piece; a sympathetic token from the local Meals on Wheels. There is not a sound in the house, all is quiet. No one looks out from the shadows, no one is haunted by the sounds from the children outside. Junk mail collects in the letterbox. The last of the evening sunlight just hovers in the hallway, creating ethereal shadows in the musty air on the stairway. Upstairs, on a single bed, there is a single body surrounded in silence. In his room, there is not even the sound of breathing. His body is lifeless. His name will continue no more.
All Words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly
Photograph taken in the gardens of the Musee Rodin, Paris, France