Harold Clarke is Happy.
A short story about a stock photo man I wrote instead of doing math homework.
The door creaked shut, as a young woman briskly left suite #402 of The Mapleshade condo complex. It was about 3:30 pm in Idaho Falls, Idaho, as a man in his late 60s finished bidding a pleasant farewell to his granddaughter, Allison. After several labored hours, she was able to finally show her grandfather how to check his email, which was unsurprisingly bursting messages. He always appreciated her visits, even when the bulk of their time was usually spent by Allison doing tech support. Still, he always tried to sneak in questions about her personal life while she was hard at work. She’s quite the secret keeper, so any news about a possible new boyfriend or an annoying coworker was a win in his book. When she had finished her complimentary coffee and was sure her grandfather could get back onto Gmail on his own, they said their goodbyes and he watched her drive away. That was the highlight of his week.
Harold Clarke is happy. He may live alone, but he doesn’t consider himself alone, especially when he’s lounging with his 16-year-old 100-pound greyhound, Tank. He has been trying to put himself out there, though. He may be happy, but he knows that ideally his remaining years would include someone special by his side who isn’t a big slobbering mess. A failed marriage or two hadn’t left Harold discouraged from love, quite the opposite.
“Every time we fall out of love, it just means that there’s someone new to fall into.”
Not the cleanest of metaphors, but it was a sentiment that he had followed for almost 40 years. He had been finding it harder and harder to swoon the ladies in the same way he could in his thirties, but he certainly still had his moments.
Last week, Harold had found an ad saying The Shoe Shiner (a singles bar located a few blocks from Harold’s condo) was hosting a seniors night where anyone 60 and older could enjoy their first drink free. When he showed Allison the flier, he knew she was not going to take no for an answer. She had been basically begging her grandfather to get a life ever since she started visiting regularly, but little did she know there wasn’t much convincing necessary. He now found himself drinking a mojito with a particularly stunning woman named Johanna. She had long silver hair pulled back tightly into a bun and beautiful teeth, which he later discovered were natural. She wore a tight black pencil skirt with a white blouse, which along with her witty but composed demeanor painted the image of a businesses woman on her off-day. This was in stark contrast to Harold’s casual and very clearly retired look, but he didn’t find this to be a problem at all. As a lifelong romantic, he always seemed to find himself seeking out people who fulfilled his “opposites attract” fantasy. You may be wondering if this was the reason he had ended up with two ex-wives, but it seems as though this was never a question Harold asked himself.
He knew all too well that she was out of his league, but he wouldn’t dare let her know that. As far as he could tell, he was charming her quite well... surprisingly well actually considering his last few romantic attempts. There was the cute cashier at Walmart, who after a few of Harold’s unfortunately tone-deaf attempts at flirting ended up asking security to escort him out. Then there was the girl on the bus who was, in his opinion, waaay too into him considering she was half his age. He may be a self-proclaimed “ladies man” but even he knew that wasn’t okay. But this woman, sitting in the accompanying chair at this dingy bar... she was everything to him. After a couple of no-longer free drinks, and some casual conversation, reality caught up with the two of them.
“Oh gosh, I really should be going. I told Cathy I’d be in at 8 and I really need to get some rest,” she said, nervously glancing at her watch as if Cathy was looking back at her through the glass. “I wish I had more time… Um... How about Thursday? My place?”
Harold could hardly contain his excitement, which he realized was a feeling he hadn’t experienced in a long while. “Let me see if I’m free,” he said pretending to be as casual as possible. He pulled out his pocketbook, already knowing his schedule was pretty much completely empty, and with a grin said “Yeah, I think I can squeeze it in.”
With some exchanging of numbers and kisses on cheeks, they departed in opposite directions. He quickly walked the 6 blocks back to suite #402 of The Mapleshade condo complex, not without stopping to buy a coke and a treat for Tank at the grocery store. Tank only got the expensive treats when Harold had a particularly good day, and tonight he was getting the biggest bag of treats Harold could buy. As the man fell asleep later that night, he heard the sounds of a party going on next door. His new neighbors were college students, and this was probably the 8th or 9th party he’d heard them throwing in the last month. Some nights he got nostalgic for his own college days, but other nights he just wished they’d shut the hell up. Tonight though, he just felt happy. He closed his eyes as the rhythmic thump of the music blended with Tank’s snores and listened to the muffled conversation behind the walls. He knew what they were feeling. Harold Clarke is happy.