The Small House on B Street

The Small House on B Street

The railroad tracks ran close behind the small house on B Street where the old man lived with his dog, Philos. Every morning at five-thirty, the loud blasts from the diesel locomotive’s horn would wake the old man from a fitful night’s sleep. He would roll over and sit on the edge of the bed to wait for Philos to peek out from underneath the bed. Philos would lay his head in the old man’s lap and the old man would scratch the top of his head.

“Well, my friend, we didn’t get much sleep last night, did we?” the old man said. “It’s just as well. We are old and don’t have time to sleep.”

The old man shuffled to the kitchen and put the teakettle on the stove, staring out the kitchen window at the bare backyard and the empty railroad tracks. The early morning train, headed east to the Hutchinson Salt Mine, was already out of sight.

Philos sat on his haunches behind the old man.

When the teakettle whistled, the old man poured the boiling water over the instant coffee he’d shaken into the cup. He walked to the table and sat down, looking down at Philos.

“I know, boy,” he said. “We’ll go soon. Let me drink my coffee first.”

The old man stared at the floor next to Philos while his coffee cooled. When the tile squares began to blur, he turned his attention to the peg next to the back door where Philos’s collar hung. Philos nudged the old man. “Yes, yes, I won’t forget you.” Absently, the old man rubbed the top of Philos’s head.

“You know, I remember a time before you were here. It was a long time ago, and maybe it wasn’t so good. Why do we always think the past was better? It wasn’t much different. Just filled with different people and different dogs. Before you came along, there was Filip. A stubborn, angry mutt. You are an improvement over Filip. Never could understand Filip. But he taught me a lot. Everyone has something to teach us if we pay attention. But the world seems to have grown colder. People no longer want to pay attention to the things around them. I know, I know, you hear me but you think I’m ignoring you. No, I’m just waiting for my coffee to cool.”

The old man stood up, leaving his coffee sitting on the table, and walked to the back door. Philos didn’t leave his side. The old man bent over, slipped the collar over his head, and took up the leash, opened the back door, and stepped out onto the small porch. The early morning was clear and cold, the moon still up in the west, and the old man took a deep breath.

Philos pulled hard at his collar and the old man struggled to stay up with him.

“Slow down, boy,” the old man said. “I’m not as young as I once was.”

It’s hell getting old, the old man thought. Even at night. Sleep wouldn’t come and he’d slip his feet over the edge of the bed and turn on the small lamp and sit in semi-darkness. Unsteadily, he would make his way to the kitchen and pour a glass of milk and drink it slowly, staring out the kitchen window into the darkness outside. He knew that sleep wouldn’t come tonight and it would be a long night. He was thankful for nights with a heavy moon. At least, he could step out on the back porch into the moonlight, which brought him some comfort. The moon was his friend. The moon, Philos, and the boy. He smiled whenever he thought of the boy.

Knowing that the boy would be coming to see him this afternoon, he quickened his pace. Philos sensed his excitement and pulled harder against his collar until the old man had to stop. Philos turned toward the old man, and the old man bent down to scratch the top of his head.

“I wish I could go faster, but you have to remember, I am an old man, and I’m going as fast as I can. I know, you are an old man, too, but you have four legs, where I have only two. Four legs give you twice the advantage. And my two old legs are beat up. The salt mines weren’t kind on my legs. When I was young, I didn’t care, believing that my legs would always be strong and carry me easily. This is the problem with youth. Strength and agility are abused and soon enough you become an old man with tired legs.”

Straightening up, the old man laughed. “Now, take it easy on my tired old legs,” he told Philos. “We need to stay together on this. We don’t have anyone else to rely on.”

They walked down the dirt road to a small park where the children laughed as they pushed and jumped aboard the small merry go round, trying to go faster and faster, until one of them fell off and they laughed harder. The old man wanted to rush in to make sure the child was okay, but he couldn’t move fast enough and the child was up and pushing the merry go round before he jumped on. And the children laughed as they spun around.

The old man watched from a bench and Philos, crouched next to the bench, looked up at the old man. He knew the old man couldn’t do what he once could do, but he loved the old man and stayed next to him. The sun was moving higher in the sky and the day was getting warmer.

“We should be getting back,” the old man said to Philos. “The boy will be coming soon, we mustn’t miss him.”

The old man stood up slowly and started back to the small house on B Street. He took off Philos’s collar and hung it on the peg next to the back door and filled Philos’s water dish. He put the teakettle on the stove and walked into the living room and opened the front door. The boy always came to the front door and the old man stepped out onto the covered porch and looked down the dirt road. Without thinking, he pulled out his pocket watch and wound it. He took good care of the old watch, which was older than he was.

When he heard the teakettle whistling, he went inside and poured the boiling water over the instant coffee and sat down at the table. The newspaper lay open on the table and he turned to the editorial page, which he always read first. The boy would ask him what was going on in the world and what he thought about these things. He enjoyed the boy’s curiosity. The boy was a good listener and the old man told him to stay curious. Read with hunger and eagerness. Learn as much as he could now and take this knowledge with him wherever he went. Never grow complacent. It was a big world filled with lots of things to be curious about. Even though he was young, he wouldn’t be young forever. Age was a mean adversary.

And travel. Travel with the same ravenous appetite as when you read. Travel with reckless abandon.

The old man looked at his pocket watch, stood up, and took his coffee out onto the front porch to wait for the boy. He would be coming soon.


The boy thought about the old man and hoped he was doing all right. The old man seemed sad last week when he had told him goodbye. The boy had to get back for the start of school, he explained to the old man, but he would be back next summer. He had spent the last three summers with his grandparents, which allowed him to visit the old man. Although his father was beginning to pester him about getting a summer job, the boy thought he would be able to convince his father to let him spend next summer with his grandparents. He was a big help to them, which he pointed out to his father. If his father could, the boy believed, his father would spend more time with his parents, but since his job didn’t give him the time to do this, the time the boy spent with them seemed like a good compromise. There would be plenty of time to get a job later, he told his father. In the meantime, he would try to get a job after school.

As he walked to school, the boy thought about what the old man had told him. Stay curious. He liked that. The old man had done so many things in his life. And had read so much. The boy loved to listen to the old man’s stories. One day, he would try to write them down. They would make a good book, the boy thought. He must write them down.

Before he got to school, the boy felt queasy, looking around for a place to sit down. Unable to find a bench, he slid down next to a large oak tree. He sat there until the dizziness passed. What’s going on? he thought. After several minutes, he was able to stand by bracing himself against the tree. The thought hit him hard: the old man had died. The boy couldn’t explain it, but there couldn’t be any other explanation. It was as if the old man had reached down and touched him on the shoulder, and turning around, the boy felt something pass through him.

He managed to walk the remaining three blocks to school but stood in the parking lot, unable to bring himself to go inside. At that moment, the boy knew that his life had changed. Not in a casual way, but in a way that he was sure no one would understand. No one needed to understand.

He turned around and headed home. His father would be at work, and he hoped his mother would be gone. With her home, he wouldn’t be able to do what he needed to do. If the car was in the driveway, he would wait outside. She would leave sometime during the day, long enough for him to slip in and pack. And to leave a short note. What would he say? It didn’t matter, neither his father nor his mother would understand. The old man could explain better than he ever could. But the old man wasn’t here. The boy was on his own now. On his own.

After walking several blocks, he began to wonder if he had really felt the old man’s death. What if it had been a moment of light-headedness. It didn’t seem likely that the old man had reached out to him at his death. But the feeling was undeniable.

When he turned the corner at Third and Park, he felt a sense of relief at seeing his mother’s car parked in the driveway. There was no way to sneak inside now. Stay curious, the old man had said. Stay curious. Under his breath, he promised the old man that he would. And travel, the old man had said. And he would, he promised. But not yet. No, not yet. There was plenty of time for that – later.



  1. There is such depth to this beautifully and gently written story. So authentic. So real. One cannot tell whether it is fact or fiction. You painted many word pictures that put me right there. There is also a type of influence, and reverence, to your story that “touches me and passes through me,” much like the old man did to the boy. Since I first read it, days ago, your words have stayed with me, causing me not only to ruminate on them, but also on my own stories. Five stars from me, David.

    • Thank you, Mitra. This is such a beautiful review of my story and I deeply appreciate your interpretation. The story was meant to recall the simpler times of our youth, as well as point out the elusive nature of aging. We all grow older and stiffer while yearning for the simplicity and suppleness of youth. Age is a crafty old fox that sneaks up on us while we spin willy-nilly on our merry-go-rounds. Thank you again. I deeply appreciate your comment. So sweet.

  2. Beautiful, touching story and I know so much is based on actual events. What a wonderful writer you are! And my simpleton comment here, I wish I had your words!

  3. Beautiful, touching story and I know so much is based on actual events. What a wonderful writer you are! And my simpleton comment here, I wish I had your words!

    • Thank you, Bob. I truly appreciate this. I appreciate that you took the time to read the story and then took the time to comment on it. I am touched.

  4. Dear David,

    I have once again truly enjoyed reading your short, short story. And, although it made me sad, I read it over and over again, at least 5 times ~ and I still needed to sit with it awhile and absorb it more deeply. Ahhh, the mysteries of Life!
    At first, I thought ~ wait a minute, this is a very short, simple story for David. Where is the usual depth, where are the multiple, mind bending philosophical questions? Where is the hidden symbolism?
    And then, I suddenly realized that the depth of your story’s Presence is clearly visible inside of its simplicity! It is implicit in its simplicity! All wrapped up in the simple, unconditional Love of a man, a boy, and a dog/god named Philos(opher)!
    So much is said between the lines for any man, any boy, any elder, any young person…any Being living a human life….to deeply learn about living and loving in the best ways we can…from within such pure and simple creativity!

    I ended up loving the repetition, the forgetfulness, the mystery, that originally caused impatience and frustration for me.
    I still needed to let it linger and absorb more deeply into my heart, my bones, before I would more profoundly understand its simple beauty.
    So now, from this renewed place, this new knowing you have inspired through your beautiful story of an ordinary life ~ I was able to actually stop….take a long gazing moment…to sit…let go of my overly planned organized life, taste the warm sweetness of the moonlight, hear the gleeful laughter of the children echoing through time…deeply feel the bloody rawness of the stored pain, the regret, the perceived failures, the love, the sorrow and the loneliness in my own heart…and then…I loudly heard~
    You’re too old now to sleep! Wake up! Reach out! Before it’s too late!
    Fully live, truly listen, open your heart,
    before the 5:30 am train whistle’s call is for you!

    I can’t thank you enough, David, for this profoundly simple, and simply profound, truly heart-awakening story. It brought me back to a time, several years ago, when a good friend of mine was in the hospital. I had planned to visit her the following day…but suddenly in the middle of the night I was abruptly awakened by a very deep intake of breath that sat me straight up in bed…and at that moment I realized that my friend had died.
    This deeply sad memory left me contemplating the boy ~ tears flowing, deeply feeling his Presence as I did with my friend…making me lightheaded, dizzy ~ I am left alone with my tears now, wondering…did his life suddenly and deeply change somehow ~ was he on his own now ~ feeling(like all youth do) that his parents would never understand him or his dreams in life…but that’s ok…no one needed to understand….he would keep his conflicted secret plans to pack and leave without questions. He would take his dear old friend’s imparted wisdom with him even to dangerous extremes of curiosity with a consuming hunger and eagerness to travel…to fly…to live on the edge of the unknown with reckless abandon.
    This our true reason for living, isn’t it. Finding ourSelves, who we truly are, and living out of our heart center, even if no one else ever understands? Yes, yes, yes!

    It seems when we’re old…we absent-mindedly wind the hands of time, keeping them manually moving, as if that’s why life continues!
    When we’re young…there’s always plenty of time — later!
    Immortality is our reality!
    Yet…at one and the same time, it is also said, “there is no tomorrow.” The Truth being there is only Now…it is always Today!
    Do it Now! Say it Now! Let’s go!
    And never ever be complacent!
    Never complacent ~ it will eat your dreams alive!

    I truly love and deeply treasure your stories, David!

    Don’t ever stop writing…You have reminded my heart of forgotten moments that have brought me back onto paths of gathered wisdom from “the long and winding roads” in the mystery of Life.

    Blessings, grace, love and peace,

    • Ahhh, Virginia, thank you for your insightful comments. I always get so much from your interpretations of my stories. You are right, of course, time doesn’t slow down for anyone. As much as we’d like to see things slow down a bit, time doesn’t respond to our desires. It keeps ticking away, one click at a time. Until, one day, the clock will stop. We carry on because we don’t know when that day will arrive. Your story about your friend in the hospital is a stark reminder that time does come to an end, at least, on this chapter. We are unaware of what comes next, if anything does. I tend to believe that, as we are composed of energy, our energy goes on and on. What form our energy will take, this is food for philosophical investigation. It is the big question that the great philosophers and writers and artists have struggled with forever. On every level, we feel the hands of time, the steady movement, the ticking clock. And we hold more dearly to our precious memories. These memories hold both joy and heartache. We can still experience the children spinning round and round on the merry-go-round, laughing without care, but it becomes harder and harder to join in with them. But this doesn’t mean that it is time to quit. Not at all. As you suggest, “Do it now! Say it now! Let’s go! And never be complacent! Never complacent – it will eat your dreams alive.”

  5. Greetings David, I was longing for another story from you. As I lay on my bed everday, allowing my fractures to heal, I felt such a connection to the old man and his thoughts. Sadly, I have realized how age has made me reevaluate my life forward. In my mind, as I am sure was in the old man’s mind, we think young, but our bodies tell us we can’t go there anymore. Healing takes longer, we are limited and life takes on a new normal. Like Philos, I am so appreciative of my dog’s faithful companionship, for without it, I might not have as much hope or purpose to get up every morning. What a wonderful influence the old man was for his young friend. Advice that will be with the young boy even into his old age. A great little story, thank you for sharing. Keep doing what you do best…writing life. Sincerely, Rita Horten

    • Thank you so much, Rita. It is always so nice to hear from you, and I appreciate your encouragement. I hope you are well and heal quickly. It is true that as we get older, our bodies respond slower. Maybe we need the extra time to slow our racing minds down a little. Thank you again.

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