There is a little man, stands around 4 foot 10, give or take an inch or so. He walks through the Main Street of the town slowly, staring into the storefront windows, stopping for a coffee or a cool bottle of water, depending, of course, on the weather.
Tonight he is walking slowly with a cane that he doesn’t really need, a derby hat, a light jacket and corduroy pants. He is unshaven for a week or two and has a pair of reading glasses held upon his chest by a chain he found, somewhere.
The temperature is 40 degrees, give or take a degree and there is a slight breeze blowing. The streets are crowded still as it is only 4 O’clock on a weekday; high schoolers, mothers and shop keepers making up the usual suspects along with some local locos from the Church on Pacific.
The little man begins to walk again and crosses the street with no trepidation even though he is crossing against the light. A car stops a foot or so from hitting him; he drops his cane, stares at the driver, turns, picks up his cane and continues across Pacific towards Atlantic.
It’s morning now, the town of Dignity is stirring. Across the lake as you enter the town, there is a sign that hangs across Main Street that reads “Welcome to Dignity.” Directly below the drooping welcome sign, is an older lady sitting on the floor, wearing a wraparound blanket. She is well-known in this town as the former wife of a local politician. Pedestrians walk right past her, carrying a disease which causes avoidance of disturbances. Frankie sees the Mayor of Dignity walk past the lady and sees him throws a quarter or a dime into the upside down hat that sits in front of her. Frankie knows the lady well, they were once dance partners long ago.
The little man is walking past her now and looks at her, nods and says; “Hi Evelyn.”
He continues to walk and finds himself in front of the coffee shop, sees the Mayor, winces and walks in.
In the coffee shop, Tom and Agnes, who were the original owners; are still behind the counter. Straight from East Belfast, their dignity and pride were the main ingredients which made the shop the best cup of coffee for miles, even after all these years.
The little man ambles into the store and greets the usual folk. The mayor greets him with a wince.
“Did your patrolling go well last night Frankie?”
“Yes although I had to arrest your mother for soliciting the others in the cemetery, seems like some things don’t change even after death, huh, Tommy?”
The mayor looks into his coffee and smiles. “Oh Frankie – Irishing up your coffee still? Or are you pricking your skin like your old man?”
“You would know about pricking wouldn’t you, Mr. Mayor?”
“Here you go Frankie.” Two cups and a bag containing a Danish. Frankie as is his humor asks, “How much do I owe you now?”
“Today? We will charge you 60 cents to mark our 60th anniversary.”
“No, Frankie, its $3.00.”
“Thought so. Put it on my tab, will ya?” With a face tinged with a smile and two spoons of sadness. He walks out, the bell on the door slams against the door signaling his exit.
He walks towards Evelyn and sits beside her. “Here’s your Danish Ev. Let’s get out of here Evvie, if we start walking now we can get somewhere else by nightfall.”
“Ya Frankie, several blocks away isn’t far enough.”
“I guess our time to run has come and gone. Time is a thief Ev, it’s a thief of so many of our wants and needs.”
“It’s a thief of Dignity, Frank. Dear old Frankie, we once blamed others for the theft, huh? Then we blame ourselves for wasting too much time blaming and now? The time has stolen it all.”
“Time is the thief of dignity even the richest man in the world cannot avoid.”
“I am gonna find it again, Evvie, going to find that morsel of pride that I once carried with me. After the war, after the children came along and quickly left this place. It was you and I and here we are again, but the clouds are forming, we should head inside.”
“I am fine here – I don’t smell no breadth of a storm and I can handle the drizzle.”
She paused, looked deep into his eyes and a million scenes of their memories came flashing by. “Thank you.”
“Oh you don’t have to thank me -”
“Look at me old man, look into my eyes, thank you.”
Frankie tried to avoid looking into her eyes – her blue eyes which had once caused him to slip and slide were fading now. Frankie tried to remember if they had been intimate in their lives or if they were just platonic companions. Sometimes love is like that; better holding hands than locking lips – lips part while hands hold on tight.
“Right back at you Evelyn, you are and have been a lady in my life, a co-star in my biography, a catalyst for this bag of bones and broken dreams.”
“We all have them, dreams of pride and accomplishments but look at us now, the clock has run out and we find ourselves sitting and walking; waiting and searching for the lost morsels we once held so dear.”
“Don’t lose hope, Lady, don’t ever give up hope. As long as there is that light inside of you, never lose hope.”
“Hope? Frankie hope falls and slides away quicker than the wind blows. Your words ring hollow, but I understand they are well-meant; just don’t waste them on me. I am hopeless and a lost cause, my days are numbered, and I am ready to go home.”
There is something very sad when a death occurs. The person who dies is left without a shred of who they spent their lives trying to become. Evelyn was buried with Frankie standing watching the dirt cover her. When they finally put up a stone for her it said, “Evelyn the Lady of Dignity.”
The little man walks across the grassy, muddy road to drop off a Danish and a cup of coffee, though there is no one there anymore.
“Hey Evvie, hope you found what you were searching for wherever you are now. Say hello to Rose for me, won’t ya? Tell her not a moment goes by when…” He stops himself from breaking down. “All right, she knows, she knows.”
He walks up the path towards the road through the streets of Dignity. He drinks his coffee slowly and can feel the November chill beginning to set in. He sits on a park bench and watches as the town comes alive.
There was a clock in the center of town, it once hung upon the city hall building but had fallen during a winter storm some years back. Instinctively the older folk who were around in those days would look up there when wanting to check the time. He looked up there now and could swear he saw the clock telling him it was five of eight. He stood to walk and lost his bearings. He leaned on the bench and for a moment did not know where he was or which role he was playing these days.
“Frankie, are you alright?” A young man approached him.
“I am confused.”
“Daddy I want to go home.” A voice from inside his head.
“What? I will take you home son.” He responds.
“Frankie? Are you ok?” The young man stands beside him.
“I am fine – have to take him home to his mother now.” Frankie replies.
“Who is that?” The young man is confused.
“Little Frankie, there.” Frankie points to an empty space to the left of him.
“Little Frankie isn’t here, I can call him if you’d like.” The younger man is concerned.
“No, no I am fine. I was dreaming.” Frankie stands up.
“Let me take you home.”
“No Rose will be worried if she sees you driving me.”
“Rose? OK. Sit down here Frank, let me get you something to drink.” The young man ran into the Coffee shop and Frankie stands up and walks away.
There is Rose, hanging the laundry to dry in the backyard, as she did so many times before. Rose, with her auburn hair and her green eyes could sense him coming home from a mile away.
“Oh Frankie – How I’ve missed you.”
“Rosie…” In an embrace they fall to the ground and both feeling clumsy, begin to laugh.
“Frank, Frank? Its Tom, the ambulance is coming to bring you to the hospital. They just want to make sure you are ok. Frankie Jr. and Debra will be there soon.” Shadows appear and slowly fade away, aromas from times long ago; fresh-baked bread, springtime flowers and soft perfume. Colors abound, soft yellows, blues and reds. Musical sounds of birds singing, winds blowing through the bare branches of the trees and the sounds of rain falling against the pavement.
The sun is setting somewhere and rising somewhere as well. Frankie knows it’s time to leave but he is stuck and he cannot move.
During the second world war, somewhere in a small town in Austria, the little man was a prisoner of war. He had been in the Battle of France and had been defeated. He had been tied to a bed and tortured. He was back there again now; tied to a bed and being tortured. Photographs of lost loves, family members and memories once forgotten being shown in scenes around his bed.
“They make it seem so real.” He thought to himself.
Frank woke up to the sound of voices, kept his eyes shut so he could hear what they were saying.
“He is suffering from Alzheimer’s and its more advanced than we originally thought.” A woman with a slight New York accent was speaking.
“You originally thought? Didn’t anyone think to call one of his kids to let us know?” A man with a deep voice sounding so familiar.
“I am not going to go into the laws of patient/doctor confidentiality; I can just say that he told us he had no next of kin.”
“Well he does, as you can see, what now?”
He opened his eyes and he saw his mother and father waving him over to join him.
“Come along Little Frankie – hold my hand. We have a surprise for you. We are meeting your sisters and brothers on a trip to Coney Island!”
“Can I buy cotton candy and hot dog and knishes?”
“You can buy whatever -”
“Frank? Frank? Can you hear me?”
Tonight the little man walks into town and stops to stare into the Pizza store. Inside he spies his children with their mother and decides to surprise them. He pulls the door open but there is a thick darkness. A light towards the back guides him and he is calling out their names. A sensation of falling hits him as if he just walked off a cliff.
There is a small town and its located twenty miles or so outside of New York City. The town is called “Dignity” and Frank Wasser lived there his whole life. It was in the last several months of his life that things became dizzy. Memories disappeared and faces turned to stone.
Suddenly the lights around him flickered and he was back on a crowded beach in Coney Island. He felt a sense of rebirth and as he looked around; he recognized each and every person there. The sun was warm, the sand was white and the waves were clear as the air. He heard a voice and turned to see Rose, his beautiful Rose.
We live our lives in the quest of dignity; to acquire it, to wear it well, to keep it and to never let it go. Frank Wasser lived his life as man of Dignity. Nothing and no one could ever take that away.