Carlton stepped out of the shower, being sure to hold onto the silver grab bar for support. Once securely out, with both feet firmly on the mat, he reached over and pulled the towel free from the drying rack. Two other towels remained on the rack; Carlton alternated through his towel rotation every three days, they kept fresh longer that way. He carefully dried every inch of his body before wiping down the grab bar, to keep it from tarnishing, and then returning the towel to the rack. He adjusted the towel so that the exact amount of fabric hung in the back as well as the front. There wasn’t really a reason for adjusting the towel that way, it just looked nicer.
Carlton squinted at himself in the mirror, but between the steam and his vision, there was little more than a light brown blur to be seen. Before doing anything else, he picked up his brown tortoiseshell glasses, their lenses thick as airplane windows, rubbed them clean and perched them on the bridge of his nose. His reflection was clearer now, but it was probably better before. The years had shrunken and contorted his frame and whittled away his muscles, so much so that he was hardly recognizable as the Marine core sergeant who had made more than one subordinate soil his shorts in terror. He laughed softly at the memory and muttered “Oorah” to himself, a toothless grin on his face.
Carlton picked up a blue plastic bottle from the counter a shook some of the fine white powder into the palm of his hand. He rubbed his hands together and then generously applied it to his genitals. After washing his hands clean, he slid on his jockey shorts, bracing on the counter as he alternated legs. His man gear sorted out, he turned his attention to his stubble. Facial hair had never been too much trouble for him, it thankfully came in slowly so he could skip a day without anybody knowing. Shaving was part of the routine, however, so he lathered up his brush and before long he saw Santa Claus looking back at him. With a disposable razor, he had to give up the straight razor when his hands started shaking too much, Carlton made quick work of the stubble. Once he was done shaving he scrubbed his dentures and the slipped them into his mouth. He sucked on his teeth to make sure they were in place and then flashed a big, toothy smile.
Done in the bathroom, Carlton shuffled out to his bedroom where he had earlier set out his clothes. His suit, black with pinstripes, laid on his bed with a white shirt and solid black tie. He had gotten up before sunrise and shined his shoes, which gleamed on the floor next to the bed. Carlton slipped on an undershirt and the the dress shirt on top. The pants followed next and he snapped his suspenders over his shoulders. He carefully tied the tie into a Windsor knot, his hands working from decades of muscle memory. The bottom of the tie dangled less than an inch from his belt line, so he moved on to the jacket. Last were the shoes and socks and then he was ready to go.
Carlton checked his watch and saw that it was five until eight, right on time. He walked out to the living room, his joints loosening up. Before leaving, he checked himself out in the full length mirror mounted to his front door. A few pieces of lint later, Carlton selected his black fedora from his hat rack and slipped it on his head at a jaunty angle. He slid his cane from an urn behind the door and then he was on his way.
In front of his apartment building a yellow cab was already idling. Carlton ambled up to the cab, his cane click-clacking along. As he was about to reach the car the driver, a young kid named Al, hopped out, jogged around and opened the door for him. Carlton tip his hat to him as he slid gingerly into the back seat. The door closed behind him and, before he could get his seatbelt buckled, Al was back in the front seat. Al was from country whose name Carlton couldn’t remember and Al was short for something he couldn’t pronounce. Still, Carlton liked has accent and he worked harder than most American kids.
“I like your hustle,” Carlton said, his voice raspy. “You’re going to do alright.”
“Thanks, Mr. Johnson,” Al said, his eyes smiling in the rearview mirror. He pulled the car forward.
“Yup, you’re gonna do alright,” Carlton said again, mostly to himself. “Say, when’d you get this car?” Carlton didn’t remember riding in it before, but that didn’t mean too much, he might have been in it a hundred times for as good as his memory was these days.
“You like it? It’s my first time driving it today. It’s an electric car. See the display?” Al pointed to the dash board where a bunch of brightly colored lights flashed on and off.
“Electric, huh?” Carlton asked, laughing softly and leaning forward to get a better look at the dashboard. “I’ll be damned. How’s it it, you know, run?”
“It just plugs in every night and then runs all day without gas.”
“No gas? None at all?” This sounded like magic to Carlton, he thought maybe Al had it wrong. This was his first day with the car, after all. He pictured poor Al sitting on the side of the road with his broke down car, all because he believed he didn’t need to stop at Texaco.
“No, sir, not a drop.” Now it was Al’s turn to laugh.
“Ah, you’re pulling my leg,” Carlton said waving his hand dismissively at Al.
“I wouldn’t pull your leg Mr. Johnson. You and I we’re friends, right?”
“Sure, we’re friends, Al. How’s your wife?” Carlton looked out the window at the passing shops.
“She is very good, Mr. Johnson. Did I tell you that she is pregnant again?” Carlton could hear the pride in his voice. It filled him with a mixture of happiness and jealousy for Al.
“Is that right? That’ll make two now?”
“Yes, two. We are hoping for a girl this time.”
“If you have a girl, better watch out, they’re trouble.”
“That’s what I said to my wife, but she thinks it will be okay.”
“You just keep your eye out, I’ll tell you that,” Carlton said.
“Are you talking from experience?”
“Mmmhmm,” was all Carlton replied.
He kept watching the scenery, he wasn’t much interested in talking anymore. They drove in silence for the last few blocks. Al turned the car up a long driveway with grass along either side.
“Here we are, Mr. Johnson,” Al said, although he didn’t need to say anything. Al came around to the back door and let Carlton out. Carlton pulled two bills from his pocket and handed them to Al. He didn’t need to count them and neither did Al, the right amount was there. “See you in an hour?”
“See you then, Al,” Carlton replied, not looking back.
Leaving Al behind, we walked up a familiar path. His legs had tightened up on the drive, but they loosened up with each step. The sun was up and it was getting warm outside, but his destination was just up ahead. At the top of a hill a bench sat underneath an oak tree and that was where Carlton was headed. Once he reached the bench he collapsed, winded and sweaty. He rested just long enough, he didn’t want to waste any time. Carlton pushed up off the arm of the bench and crossed to the other side of the path. He bent down to a black marble stone that read ‘Althea Johnson April 27th, 1921 - December 16th, 1990’. He brushed dirt from stone.
“Hi baby,” Carlton said, leaning on his cane, “How you doing today?”