Inktober 2019 – Frail

The last block before home stretched out ahead of Katrina. It only felt like it was uphill. She sighed, took a better grip on the canvas shopping bag in her left hand and the cane in her right, and got underway once more.

As she made her way past the car without wheels or windows, Katrina wondered once again whether it wasn’t time to move. The neighbourhood had definitely gone downhill since she had moved in, back in ’95, and it hadn’t been wonderful even then. She had been younger, more certain of herself, and she had considered the future only in terms of what would stretch her pension out as far as it could reach. Now that she was realizing that she might come to the end of her physical reserves before the financial ones, the relative cheapness of her apartment was losing its power to convince her.

Still… she considered the other apartments, on her side of the street and the other. She knew people here, some well. That had been quite a feat, after leaving her job; discovering how to treat people as something other than tools or threats. She was proud of herself for managing it, back when she was more supple in mind and limb. The prospect of having to go through that process again, now, was daunting.

“It’s my rut, and I’ll lie in it,” she muttered, smiling.

In the next building along, a door banged open. A man stepped into the sidewalk in front of Katrina. He was a recent arrival, one she didn’t know, but she had noted him. She might have had to expand the categories she applied to people, but she had kept possible threat on her list. He was loud, frequently abusive to passers-by and neighbours, and was willing to show a switchblade. He was no longer young, but was still young enough to be stupid in his strength. He was an argument for moving.

And he had locked his gaze upon her.

“Hey, Granny,” he said, booming artificial joviality. She knew the look on his face, a moon full of mean joy at the prospect of some bullying. She kept moving, already on a course to pass him by.

He stepped into her path. “What you got in the bag, Granny? Got treats for me?”

Katrina stopped. “No treats.”

He frowned, which did not change his demeanor in the least. He stuck his hand out.

He was more than a head taller than she was, probably less than half her age. She had seen his kind, over and again, and she could almost smell the desire to hurt coming off him. He would push her down, because he was stronger and she was there, and if her hip broke it would just be a better joke.

She held up the bag, offering it to him, distracting from the cane. She turned her right hand hand over, letting the shaft of the cane run through her hand until the rubber foot stopped against her little finger.

When he grabbed for the bag, he tried to get her hand into his fist as well. She pulled back just a little, pleased that she’d got the timing so right, and his hand closed on nothing but bag. She gave the bag a little tug, and when he yanked…

She knew exactly where she was. She was not mentally transported to the dim back alley on the wrong side of the Wall, back when there was a Wall in Berlin. She was not imagining the man in front of her to be anything other than what he was, however much he shared a soul with a some Stasi thug. But when she hooked his foot with her cane, when she yanked him all the way off balance, she remembered exactly the fierce joy that came from knowing she had done it right, that the fight was already won and lost and that she was on the side that survived.

And then she heard the sound his head made, or perhaps it was his neck, as it hit the lamp post behind him. She knew, even before she saw how limp he lay on the ground, that his days of menacing old women were at an end. Suddenly, she was transported back in time, and could only see the sparring room where her training had begun, could only hear the voice of her instructor. When he had lectured them on the essential frailty of the human body, he had wanted to make sure they understood what might happen to them, if they got the lessons wrong.

When she came back to herself, she realized that she was sitting on the front step of her own building. A young woman sat beside her, wearing a dark uniform that almost set off another fugue before Katrina recognized it as police. A blanket had been put over her shoulders, and her cane set across her knees, making her the very picture of a little old lady, confused at the ruckus of witnesses giving statements and emergency medical technicians giving up.

The next day, she began to look at retirement communities. She felt her cover had been blown, and she should get to a safe house, however unfamiliar.

“Inktober 2019 – Frail” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

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Fountain pen fancier and repairer, intermittent intellectual, underfunded anarcho-dandyist, and self-admitted writer of fiction, who's given to frequently wishing everything he wrote of a nonfictional sort was being read aloud by Stephen Fry, and everything else by either Vincent Price or Christopher Lee.

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