The old man walked slowly down the sidewalk, feeling the bottoms of his feet, a little numb, against the soles of his old wingtip shoes. He was happy because he still had feet. He could walk, and he was not in a nursing home. The sun was bright and splashed a brilliant white wave down the walk in front of him. He could see it, a little hazier than it would have appeared had he been young, and in love, and walking with Wanda, the one he spent three weeks with down the shore once, in Belmar, arm-in-warm-arm with her laughing down the boardwalk. Sunlight reminded him of Wanda. He never saw her again after that summer. There was something about Kentucky. A few letters exchanged, that’s all. But he could still remember the color of her eyes, blue like sky.
He had a letter to mail today. Not a letter to Kentucky. Just an electric bill. But it was a beautiful electric bill because it reminded him of a love letter, a love letter that in earlier times would have been answered. He stroked it with his bony fingers and tapped its finite edge. Paper. Finite paper. Finite life. The bottoms of his feet tingled and sometimes his balance wavered a little. He was ninety years old.
There was a persimmon tree next to the armory. It was so old that it had a place of honor in a national registry of historic trees. It was very tall and had freckle-colored fruit swaying in the dark branches at the top, high, high above the roof of the armory. Delicate little fruit lay in dozens crushed on the pavement beneath the tree. The old man stopped walking. He laid his cane against the rough skin of the tree and laid his hand upon it too, to balance himself while he bent slowly, slowly, slowly over. He had picked persimmons when he was young. He had had a place in some sort of history. He leaned over and wavered just a bit. His white hair stuck out like a snowstorm nimbus around his wizened face. He leaned over and his fingers, slightly numb, came into contact with a broken persimmon. When he was younger he could have smelled its soft September aroma, but now he could not. It felt beautiful. He mashed it a little between his fingers.
There were a few hard pits inside. He pressed against them with his fingertips. When he did that he could feel them better. He was fading away, a little more every day. The skin of his face was growing translucent and his eyes were losing their color. His reflection had faded in the mirror.
Growing old was a hard, hard pit for the man. It seemed all of life’s hardships had been, and were, hard pits. And there were many in this fruit, and in all the fruit. The old man thought of how many years he’d walked by the persimmon tree on a Saturday morning on the way to the blue mail box at the curb. He thought of the flesh of a persimmon holding many hardships. The flesh of any fruit was hope. And the hope held the hardships together. And the hardships were the anlage of new life. They waited and waited, as hard as they had to be, for as long as they had to wait, for the softening of that without and that within, for the conditions in which they could be conceived and grow into something new and better.