OLD MAN SHADOW by Christopher Notarnicola

OLD MAN SHADOW by Christopher Notarnicola

Mac sat his grandfather at a table beneath a massive royal palm while we debated dessert options. Landscape lights shined halfway up the trunk, leaving the fronds as dark as the sky above the strip mall. A cold front had come in, and the wind was making bad weather for ice cream, so Mac suggested fruit smoothies, and I told him smoothies were the same kind of bad, but he said they were different because they would make us feel tropical. His grandfather raised a hand, wondering why we still had no sweets. For the tropical feel, we ordered two small coconut avocados and one large banana from a girl whose t-shirt said smoothie was her middle name. Mac checked on his grandfather through the storefront window, and I asked if the old man was all right, but Mac said he couldn’t tell. Automated blenders broke the quiet, and the girl yelled to a guy in the back about one being short in the banana department. Mac cupped his crotch and said she didn’t have to broadcast it. The guy in the back laughed like a drain and sent a bundle of bananas through a serving hatch. The girl snapped one from the bunch and offered it to me, suggesting maybe that I should remove the peel. I started to explain that I thought those kinds of jokes were low-hanging fruit, then Mac slapped me across the chest, dragging me out the door. We stumbled beneath the royal palm where his grandfather had shimmied more than six feet up the trunk. The landscape lights threw his old-man shadow to the heavens. We prepared ourselves to catch him, our bodies poised to break his fall, begging him to keep hold, pawing gently at his pant legs as he continued to scootch skyward. The girl came out, banana in hand, and the guy from the back followed, loosening his fruit-stained apron, gaping at the climb. Mac tried everything from an impassioned plea for descent to a more logical appeal, asking his grandfather to recall his former desire for dessert and again promising the tropical feel from the smoothies. Inside, the automated blenders went static. The guy from the back held the door and chewed the ends of his apron strings. The girl made wide eyes, nearly wringing the banana from its peel. I snapped at them to call for help, and Mac seemed about to echo the sentiment when his grandfather stopped, his legs locked around the trunk of the royal palm, and shouted from on high that his arms were getting tired so he would climb no higher but would only come down if we understood that his decision to descend had nothing to do with our pleading or the strip-mall smoothies or the hungry guy at the door or the smoothie girl with her ridiculous choice of fruit. She lifted the banana to her ear and asked the operator to connect her to the crazy police. The wind picked up, churning the fronds, and we gave a collective shudder from the cold. Mac’s grandfather slid down the palm one steady frond ring at a time, unfazed by the tree’s swaying, operating all the while as if he had long ago mastered the dangers of the natural world, sending a chef’s kiss to the swirling night. Before we wrenched him from the base of the trunk, it almost looked like the old man had worked that tree like a whisk, whipping stiff peaks from the clouds. Mac again sat his grandfather at the table beneath the royal palm, holding his shoulder this time the way a parent might palm a child’s birthday balloon. The smoothie girl approached with banana in hand, offering it to the old man, holding it like a phone, saying someone wanted to speak with him and that it sounded urgent. Hello, he said, taking the banana like a call. I squinted at Mac, who stared up at the night like nothing could surprise him again. His grandfather shrugged and handed the banana back to the girl who giggled and joined her coworker in the doorway where they stayed until the blenders beeped for attention. I asked what that was about, and Mac repeated the question to his grandfather. The old man shrugged and said there was no one on the line, claiming a bad connection, blaming the weather. 


Christopher Notarnicola's work has appeared in AGNI, American Short Fiction, Bellevue Literary Review, Best American Essays, Chicago Quarterly Review, Image, River Teeth, The Southampton Review and other publications. Find him in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and at christophernotarnicola.com.

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