Which is better? One? Or two?

My father was an optometrist and his one-man practice was located in our house in Queens, so I grew up behind the shop.  By the time I was four, I could give an eye exam by heart.

My favorite part was when the patient would look through the phoropter and my father would ask,“Which is better? One? Or two?” If there was any hesitation, my father would gently add, “Or are they both about the same?”

So today, dear reader, I’m giving you an examination and asking which is better. Below are two versions of the same story. The differences are minor. The first version is the one I initially posted  months ago on my website. I needed to add a bit to qualify for a contest, so I came up with a second version. I’m asking you to view version number one first. Ponder it for a moment, and then take a look at the second one.  Finally, let me know which version worked best for you and why.

Old Man Walking in Winter (Version I)

Spring 2004, they told him the cancer was back, hiding in places it hadn’t been before. Inoperable but treatable, the doctor said.

“No, thanks,” he replied. “I’m eighty-six. I’m not looking to draw things out.”

Three to six months without chemo, he was told.

Nine months later, winter 2005, despite the prognosis, he had only slowed down, a little. The ache in his leg kept him up some nights though he wasn’t sure if it was the pain itself or the knowledge of what it meant. The waiting was harder than he’d expected. He’d read obituaries of people who died in their sleep and feel a twinge of envy.

One afternoon the sun was bright, and he was restless.

“I’m going for a walk,” he announced.

“A what?” his wife said grappling with the concept. “It’s freezing. There’s ice.”

“I’m going.”

“But we don’t need anything,” she shouted.

He dressed warmly and stepped outside, moving slowly at first. Then realizing the streets were dry, he quickened the pace. His lungs were clear and he’d learned to live with the dull throbbing in his thigh. He said hello to a neighbor who asked after his wife. He passed the playground and wondered when he’d last been inside. Could his oldest really be pushing sixty?

He walked by stores, mostly new in buildings mostly old, not as old as he was, though many had been up when he’d moved to the neighborhood half a century before.

Half a century. He remembered a parade he’d seen as a child, men as old he was now, civil war veterans. How was that possible?

He was not in denial, but it seemed hard to fathom that he could feel so physically well while his body was in the process of shutting down.

He found himself in the industrial area of L.I.C. on a quiet block as yet undiscovered by artists or developers. Facing southwest, before him was the lower Manhattan skyline — that gap between buildings filled by the sun. He stopped for a moment and took a deep breath, suddenly aware of the beating of his heart and the realization of when he had last stood on that spot. Fall, 2001. There had been an acrid smell, and all he could see across the river was smoke.

A voice said, “This too shall pass.”

No one was there. A life-long agnostic, he did not believe it was the voice of God. Still, it was something.

As he walked home he noted everything as though seeing it all for the first and final time.

When he returned, his youngest daughter was waiting. She’d stopped by after work as she often did in those days.

Lately, even she, who dealt with suffering on a professional basis, had developed a catch in her voice when speaking to him.

“How are you, Dad?” she said.

“Great,” he replied, without a touch of irony.

*****

Old Man Walking in Winter (Version II)

Spring 2004, they told him the cancer was back, hiding in places it hadn’t been before. Inoperable but treatable, the doctor said.

“No, thanks,” he replied. “I’m eighty-six. I’m not looking to draw things out.”

Three to six months without chemo, he was told.

Nine months later, winter 2005, despite the prognosis, he had only slowed down, a little. The ache in his leg kept him up some nights though he wasn’t sure if it was the pain itself or the knowledge of what it meant. The waiting was harder than he expected. Sometimes skimming the paper, he would read obituaries of people who died in their sleep and feel a twinge of envy.

One afternoon the sun was bright, and he was restless.

“I’m going for a walk,” he announced.

“A what?” his wife said grappling with the concept. “It’s freezing. There’s ice.”

“I’m going.”

“But we don’t need anything,” she shouted.

He dressed warmly and stepped outside, moving slowly at first.  Then realizing the streets were dry, he quickened his pace.  His lungs were clear, and he’d learned to live with the dull throbbing in his thigh.  He said hello to a neighbor who asked after his wife. He passed the playground and wondered when he’d last been inside. Could his oldest really be pushing sixty?

He walked by stores, mostly new in buildings mostly old, not as old as he was, though many had been up when he moved to the neighborhood half a century before.

Half a century. He remembered a parade he’d seen as a child, men as old he was now, civil war veterans. How was that possible?

He was not in denial, but it seemed hard to fathom that he could feel so physically well while his body was in the process of shutting down.

He found himself in the industrial area a good half-mile away, a quiet block as yet undiscovered by artists or developers. Facing southwest, before him was the lower Manhattan skyline — that gap between buildings filled by the sun.  He stopped for a moment and took a deep breath, suddenly aware of the beating of his heart and the realization of when he had last stood on that spot.  Fall, 2001. He’d gone to see for himself after hearing the news. There had been an acrid smell, and all he could make out across the river was smoke.

Poor bastards didn’t know what hit them,” he nearly said aloud remembering the day.

He thought of the war.  He’d gotten pneumonia on the ship going over, saved him from the infantry.  Maybe it had all been borrowed time.

A voice said, “This too shall pass.”

No one was there. A life-long agnostic, he did not believe it was the voice of God. Still, it was something.

As he walked home he noted everything as though seeing it all for the first and final time.

When he returned, his youngest daughter was waiting. She’d stopped by after work as she often did in those days.

Lately, even she, who dealt with suffering on a professional basis, had developed a catch in her voice when speaking to him.

“How are you, Dad?” she said.

“Great,” he replied, without a touch of irony.

~ by yearzerowriters on August 9, 2010.

9 Responses to “Which is better? One? Or two?”

  1. I vote for #2.

  2. Version #2 becaue of the line “Poor bastards…” I don’t think the reminiscence about the war is necessary but it does flesh out the capriciousness of fate. Though he has accepted his fate on the surface, he acquires a new perspective and that is what makes everything ‘great’.

  3. Not to belabor the obvious, but in either/both 1 and 2 is it clear what it was he was remembering from “fall 2001”? I don’t want to be explicit, but outside of NY, I’m not sure how readers get that part, or even how important it is.

  4. #1, for sure. Everyone knows it.
    Penny

  5. uh oh, I think that makes it two for number 1 and 2 for number 2. Deadlocked.

  6. #2 for me!

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