Written for OLWG# 223
Not far outside Halifax, Nova Scotia, in the town of French Village, on Chebucto Peninsula lived an old man. He lived in a shack that hid in the wooded area near the end of Evelyns Lane, which lay south of Peggys Cove. Everyone knew the man as Tom. No one knew his age or last name, and it seemed that he had just always lived there.
Last year, in the grip of the pandemic, the Halifax Herald sent a reporter to interview Old Tom On the 10th of February. About a week before the third Monday, which is Nova Scotia Heritage Day. In 2020 Heritage Day was the 17th. Someone at the Herald had heard that Old Tom was the oldest living resident of the Province. The reporter that they sent was a young, ambitious journalist named Hanah Cote. Ms Cote was a rising star at the paper, an aspiring writer and photographer.
When Hanah found Old Toms house hidden in the trees, it was almost dusk. She rapped on the front door, where the blue paint was chipping, and waited. The porch light came on, and she could make out a stooped old man through the wavy glass in the window. When the door opened, he peered at her with squinted eyes. She saw a mat of grey hair beneath a blue toque. His face looked like it belonged on a fisherman, creased and weathered. He wore a knit sweater with a high neck, dungarees, and fur-lined slippers.
“Yep?” he queried.
“Are you Old Tom?” she asked, and without waiting for a reply, she went on, “My name is Hanah Cote. I work for the Herald in Halifax. We heard that you are the oldest living resident of Nova Scotia. We are hoping to do a feature story on you for Heritage Day.” She gave him her hundred-watt smile and waited.
They stared at each other for almost an eternity until Tom finally pulled the door wider and gestured her inside. “Really?” he questioned, “On me? Well, come on in. Get out of the cold.” Hanah stepped inside. The house was warm and decorated with a nautical theme. Paintings of ships and boats covered the walls. Old floats and traps, now converted into coffee tables and lamps. Crossed oars hung over the fireplace. “Can I get you a coffee?” he asked. Then he winked, “mebbe something a little stronger?”
“Coffee would be nice,” Hanah said.
Tom gestured for her to follow. He turned and headed towards the back of the house, to the kitchen. Dishes overflowed the sink. An old gas stove had a kettle warming on the back burner. Tom turned up the flame and pulled a stack of books and papers from one of the two chrome chairs at a table against the wall. He set the pile of debris so that it blocked the back door.
“Forgive my housekeeping. I live alone. I seldom get visitors, and I kinda know where everything is,” he said.
Hanah nodded her head and sat in the now empty chair, “I don’t even know your last name,” she said. “When we decided to find the oldest resident of Nova Scotia, everyone told us, ‘that’s gotta be Old Tom in French Village,’ so here I am.” She pulled a small notebook from her handbag and looked at him expectantly.
He poured a measure of Folgers crystals into a cup and then poured hot water over them. “Sugar?” he asked.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Oh, yes, please. About half a spoon.”
Old Tom looked around on the countertop and finally spotted a teaspoon. He pounced on it and wiped it clean with the ball of his thumb. Then picked up a sugar bowl that looked a bit dusty and set it along with the teaspoon on the table. He placed the cup next to the recently cleaned spoon. Then he sat across from her, waiting and watching as she put two heaping spoons of sugar into her instant coffee.
“Well, Tom, back to the interview. What is your last name, anyway?” All business.
“Mine?” he pointed to his chest. She nodded affirmatively, “My last name is Feinberg. I’m Thomas William Feinberg. When are you going to print this story?” He stood, turned and reached into a high cupboard to remove a pint bottle of whisky.
“Heritage Day,” she answered and pushed her coffee cup towards him.
Old Tom Feinberg screwed the top off the bottle and tipped a bit of brown liquor into Hanah’s cup.
This week’s prompts were:
- outside Halifax
- no god worth worrying about
- selling truth