A Cranky Man

Mr Catsoulis had lines on his face. There were lines on his forehead and lines around his mouth. Sometimes there were so many lines that they almost made his lips disappear and his eyebrows meet at the top of his nose. And when he shook his head and grumbled, it was almost as if a dark cloud was hanging over him.

Mr Catsoulis lived in a small grey house in a narrow street and seems to always be wishing that he didn’t.

Each day he stood in his front yard and watched the comings and goings in the street and muttered to himself about this and that. But he never seemed to be happy.

He didn’t like the children playing. He didn’t like the crows squawking. He didn’t like the people mowing their lawns. He didn’t seem to like anything outside his small grey house and its narrow front yard.

At lunchtime, he would sit in his kitchen and eat a ham sandwich and take his pills with a glass of water. And he would shake his head and tut at the sounds of life outside.

Mr Catsoulis had forgotten what it was like to be young. He didn’t remember liking music or shouting to his friends or being busy from sunrise to sunset and then deep into the night. He only remembered that his body had worked better then.

Now his back hurt and his stomach griped and he felt himself creaking whenever he moved. And Mr Catsoulis was angry because he knew he’d never feel properly better again.

And he was sad because he missed his wife. And he missed his children who’d grown up and moved away.

He thought of the days when they’d been all together and they’d had picnics and he’d whirled his little ones around until they were all dizzy and laughing. And he missed that.

He thought of his friends from work who had retired like him. And he wondered where they were and what they were doing. And why he didn’t see them anymore.

And Mr Catsoulis sipped his glass of water and frowned.

Sometimes the children in the street would clatter along the pavement on their skateboards or bounce a ball through the afternoon peace and Mr Catsoulis couldn’t understand how they could make such a noise while he was trying to rest. And he would mutter to himself about the rudeness of young people and he would rub his aching neck and scowl until the lines on his face were as deep as they could go.

Through every day, he sat in the quiet house or stood in the front yard and wished that things were different. He wished that his wife was still with him. He wished that his children and old friends lived nearby. He wished that his body didn’t ache all the time.

After dinner, Mr Catsoulis would wash the dishes and sit in his chair in the living room and wait for his griping belly to settle and the sounds of televisions and music and voices from other homes in the street to fade. And he would sigh. Because he was too tired to frown.

But sometimes, on days when his hands weren’t too stiff and sore, Mr Catsoulis would sit outside his back door and find creatures in pieces of wood. His old carving tools sat gently in his hands as they shaved and smoothed and, as the curls and sawdust gathered at his feet, a sparrow would appear. A deer would look up from the palm of his hand. Or a tiny mouse would be resting there. And Mr Catsoulis would hold the little animal and look at it. And, for a moment, the anger and the sadness were gone. And he finally had the peace he had been looking for. Just for a little while.

Outside the small grey house, no one thought of Mr Catsoulis. Perhaps there was the occasional “I wonder what he’s angry about now?” from neighbours as they saw him on their way to work or school. Once or twice a person might mutter “What a cranky old man” as they saw him standing in his front yard … but only if those people had been heading to their cars or if they’d just looked up from their weekend gardening to see him standing under his dark cloud. So mostly, Mr Catsoulis wasn’t part of anyone’s life but his own.

But each day he stood.

He glowered and grumbled.

He took his pills and drank his water; he listened to the world outside and shook his head.

Each day Mr Catsoulis ate and slept.

And he wished that things were different.

And sometimes, when he heard a child running along the street or saw a teenager listening to their music, he wondered if they would ever be quiet, ever understand how much he wanted peace.

But once in a while, Mr Catsoulis would pick up his carving tools and sit on the back step where he had made a wooden fox cub. A rabbit. A magpie with its head at a cheeky tilt.

And Mr Catsoulis relaxed. The lines faded from his face. And it was quiet all around him.

*  *  *


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