The Grouch

The grumbly man has come to see the steam train just like everybody else.

Everybody else is chattering, excited to see the old machine, but the grump is keeping to himself. What would they know about steam locomotives?

“Excuse me,” asks a young man with his daughter. “Do you know why everyone’s gathered at the station? What train are they here to see?” “If you don’t know,” grumbles the old grouch, “then you don’t deserve to know.” He defends his vantage point as if it were sacred land.

A woman ventures too close to the holy land and the gruff geezer erupts. “Do you want a kiss?” The lady is shocked. She shakes her head. “Then step away.” The man faces away, camera in hand, as if watching the tracks will make the train come sooner.

The train shows up and the man is taking photographs like crazy. He’s firing the shutter like a machine gun and he’s dancing on his toes with excitement. In her own excitement, a little girl comes up to the rail next to the man. She’s in his personal space.

Without even looking away from the train, which is now pulling away from the station, he roars at the little girl. “Raaaaa!” She is startled and doesn’t respond. The man hops up onto the guard rail to get away from the maddening, unsophisticated, uneducated, unappreciative onlookers. The little girl is still dazed from the grown man’s unexpected outburst.

The little girl comes to her senses and looks up at the man – now towering above her – with rage in her eyes. Conjuring all the strength she can muster, she punches the back of his leg with the force of a hummingbird and darts away. It’s just enough of a tickle to overbalance the old grump.

He stands on one foot. He arches his back. He waves his arms. It’s all in slow motion. He’s just… about to…

…fall.

As the train passes by the best vantage point, the old man tumbles down the embankment. The steam hides him from the view of the onlookers and the train driver. He rolls onto the track and meets his demise.

The steam clears and the spectators are already gone. The locomotive has left. The little girl didn’t see the man fall.

He wasn’t an evil man. He was a sad man. He’d been too kind in the past and the world had let him down. He decided to pay the world back, by letting the world down. He’d spent the last years undoing all the good he’d done in his life, and the last good deed was undone when he roared in the little girl’s face.

He’d left the world as he’d entered it: neither good nor bad. In his last moment, that thought made him feel contented.

T

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