Careful

This story emerged from a workshop with the Stockholm Writers Group. It was published in their second anthology, Raft of Leaves.

Leonard Thistlethwaite had carefully dressed in his dark suit, white shirt, dark blue tie, and dark gray wool overcoat for his regular Saturday morning walk. He opened the door of his ground floor apartment and extruded his head and shoulders slowly so as not to shock too much of his skin at once from the cool, early spring air. He swiveled his head right and left a few times to be certain there were no dangers lurking, although he had never yet encountered one in the 32 years he had lived in this quiet suburban neighborhood.

“Can’t be too careful,” he ritually thought to himself.

After this exercise was accomplished to his satisfaction, Leonard allowed the rest of his body to emerge from the doorway, slowly and deliberately. He always felt graceful doing this, as if in a slow ballet. Leonard loved the ballet, but it was getting so expensive to travel to the city, not to speak of the horrendous rise in the price of tickets, that he had long ago contented himself with childhood memories of attending the ballet with his family, and by viewing old video cassettes.

One worry here for Leonard was that VHS cassettes were obsolescent; he foresaw a terrifying decision: whether to buy a DVD player. He almost froze with fear when he considered this. Leonard was an intelligent man and followed the progress of technology in the periodical room of the public library. He was aware of the rapid advances in all technologies. He hesitated to put out a considerable amount of money in a machine that might not last long enough for the investment to pay off which, in Leonard’s mind, certainly approached the length of a human generation. But viewing the ballet was an integral part of his life and there were many performances on DVD he had not yet seen.

“Well,” he said to himself, “it’s a beautiful day and I don’t have to decide for a while, I hope.”

Making this welcome observation, for the weather was not always as predicted by the TV weather reporter, he widened his view of the day to note that the tall trees guarding his street were beginning to renew their leaves. This encouraged him to add, “it is such a beautiful morning, I might even allow myself an extra treat,” although he couldn’t think of what this might be—and it certainly wouldn’t cost any money.

Saturday was Leonard’s sacred day for self-indulgence and he did not want to spoil it with worries about the future. “Today is the first day of the rest of my life,” he remarked to himself as he did every Saturday upon his three-block journey to “Aunt Jerry’s Splendid Home-style Cooking and Café.”

This was the only day he did not cook his own breakfast; it was the only meal in any week he did not prepare for himself.

After locking and bolting his front door, Leonard began walking at a moderate pace and began the usual process of evaluating the state of the neighborhood. He often had nightmares that his neighbors would start neglecting their houses and apartments, or that they would sell out to lower-class people who would let things slide. “A man’s home is his greatest asset,” as he inevitably reminded himself on these weekly walks, “and it would be sinful if my property’s value was to diminish because of the carelessness of my neighbors.”

This thought had come and gone before, but there was nothing he could see today to exacerbate this nagging worry.

As he now approached Aunt Jerry’s, situated on the corner of the next block, he began the final ritual of his weekly jaunt before crossing this last street. He removed a coin purse from his front pocket to count his money. He certainly didn’t want to be embarrassed by inadvertently ordering more food than he had money for, including a modest tip. Leonard had gone through this process many times and had never had any unexpected results. He always knew exactly how much money he had on his person. He saved his coins from change during prior week’s transactions just for this Saturday breakfast, and he never carried an amount of money greater than he intended to spend for that day, or for this occasion.

He stood on the corner opposite the café and slowly counted the coins in his large coin purse, holding it high and close to his chest and eyes. He  counted automatically, without much conscious thought. He could count accurately in his dreams, and often did. But as he got the bottom of the purse, he suddenly became alert. The count was five cents off!

Leonard’s heart began to flutter a bit, but he told himself to calm down and count again with more attention. He did, and there was no mistaking it—there was nickel missing.

Leonard’s mind began to reel. He was becoming overdue to arrive at his regular time, and punctuality was something he prided himself on, but he needed to resolve the problem of the missing nickel before he sat at his regular table in the café.

After making uncoordinated movements both toward the various pockets and spaces in his clothing and toward the street he was about to cross, Leonard made an executive decision to cross the street now, feeling reasonably certain the missing nickel would appear somewhere on his person before he ordered his meal.

Leonard replaced the coin purse into his pants pocket and, with his head slightly askew in contemplation over the possible location of the missing nickel, he stepped off the curb. He was struck immediately dead by a white Honda SUV driven by Wendell “Stubby” Rinderknecht, a red-faced real estate agent who, at the moment of impact, was shouting at a cell phone he held outside the open driver’s window, at arm’s length in his left hand.

The officials at the accident scene were meticulous in collecting evidence for the coroner’s inquest. As he examined the deceased, Vern Reynolds did not see any significance in finding a nickel in the deep left cuff of the victim’s old-fashion suit pants, but he dutifully recorded this fact

“Too bad this old fellow wasn’t more careful,” thought Vern.