#FridayFlash: Lost

On the corner of 17th and Chestnut, the old man stood rubbing his chin, hoping his rising panic didn't show. People moved purposefully past him, crossing the street when the light turned green, rushing to make it across as the steady white numbers gave way to red, then to blinking red numbers, counting down down down to zero. At zero, you stopped. Your turn was over and all you could do was wait for another chance.

Why did this simple fact of life downtown hit him like a bad metaphor? What was it about being on this corner that made him so afraid? It was ridiculous! He had walked these streets for decades, grown up not far from here. Why was everything suddenly so unfamiliar? This was just 17th and Chestnut, after all, an intersection he'd crossed a thousand times. It wasn't the dark side of the moon.

The old man looked around. He couldn't see the street signs, but that didn't matter, surely. This WAS 17th and Chestnut. Wasn't it? Or had he missed Chestnut and gone up to Pine? No, 17th and Pine is where his cousin's drugstore used to be. Besides, Pine came after Walnut. So if Pine came after Walnut, and Walnut came after Chestnut, then this must be... must be...

Where was he?

Acid bile rose in his mouth, the stab of fear so intense it made him want to vomit. Nothing looked familiar.

But that was ridiculous! It wasn't possible that he was lost. It just was simply not possible. He couldn't be more than ten blocks from home. This was his neighborhood, these were his streets. This was his city, for Christ's sake. He knew practically every inch of it. His cousin's drugstore, the TV repair shop where he'd worked afternoons all through high school, the travel agency where he and Marcie had arranged their honeymoon... these were all gone now, but the buildings and storefronts were still there. Landmarks change, but they don't just disappear.

He took himself firmly in hand and stood up straight. No more shilly-shally! It was like he always used to say before he retired: things don't happen unless you make them happen. This was a problem to be solved and he was the man to solve it. He'd never been afraid of tackling things head-on, and he'd never been afraid of hard work, either. So, quit dawdling and get to work! He just needed to orient himself, get back on familiar ground. Then he'd know where he was. He'd get himself straightened out, then go home and get to bed early tonight. A good night's sleep was the best medicine.

With a plan and with resolve, he tamped down the fear as far as it would go and started walking east on Chestnut, or Walnut or whatever street it was. He'd recognize something sooner or later.

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  1. Oh dear. Sadly, I know JUST how he feels! I forget directions and landmarks all the time!

  2. Sweet and sad ... I've been back to the town I grew up near (I actually lived in a little township) and even in that relatively short time, I'm a little bewildered by how things have changed.

    Well done, Tony.

  3. Oh that's such a horrible feeling, it's happened to me too! You captured perfectly Tony!

  4. Your stories are like small movies - visual and visceral with that pop of mounting tension and emotion - and here you hit the right note of the old man lost. You can feel all his history in his thoughts: the generation he grew up with, hard work, no self-pity, early to bed - those old 'chestnuts' of wisdom that see him through. What I really like is what isn't said: where is this man's home? Did he wander off, or is home so long gone that it doesn't exist anymore?

  5. There's such a sense of rising panic in this one, and disorientation. Masterful.

  6. Great capture. I've had that feeling, losing my car in a mall parking lot.

    Wait… am I at the right story? This is the one about the mall, right.


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