Return for Refund or Deposit

by Orion The Hunter � 2003

The year was 1985. I was a first year college student working part time as Front End Manager at my hometown Piggly Wiggly grocery store. Back in those days of refundable soft drink bottles, we kept a buggy by the front door for the customer’s empty bottles to be placed into when people returned them for deposit. Some days we would get a buggy full, other days three or more. This day was not unlike most others, until the Old Man walked through the automatic door.

Frail body, wild hair, dirty hands, dull eyes, flannel shirt and slacks that probably used to be dress clothes, but had been worn to the pont of distress. The strangest part was that the Old man was wearing a bib. A large cloth bib tied around his neck. The bib was stained nearly all brown in a fan shape with the point of the putrid triangle ending at what was left of the Old Man’s face. His entire bottom lip and chin were gone and only a bizarre cleft was at the spot where his mouth should have been. The horendous split was like a sideways mouth with the sides pointing up and down, rather than to the sides. His wad of tobacco could be seen, being rolled around within his uncovered mouth hole, as it was seeping brown, deathly, ooze down the Old Man’s gash, and onto the bib.

Not being able to talk, the Old Man motioned toward his cola bottles, gesturing that he wanted to get a refund. I walked to the buggy and counted the bottles, 2,4,6,,12, 18.. 18 bottles, most coated black on the inside from use as a spitoon. I paused and considered what the bottle washing plant at the cola company would do with such returned bottles when they received them.

I wrote out the receipt for a refund of $1.80. In 1985, that was enough to buy another two or three cans or plugs of tobacco…another can closer to death…death that oozed from the face of the Old Man.

Each spit of life from his body brought him closer to the end of his personal nightmare. At the time, it was early in my addiction, and being young, I felt the Kriptonite blood pumping in my veins. Imortality ran deep in my family. I refused to see the omen through my youthful lenses.

Now, I see who the Old Man was. I was sent a vision of what I or anyone else could become. Call it a warning, or call it a curse. Call it what you will, but I believe that Old Man, if he were still alive today, could come to and quote our lives to us like a fortune teller. I imagine that he knew us, and we know him. He was very much like we were when we were controlled by hopeless addiction. He is the manifestation of what our ultimate failure would be. He is the Grim Reaper that dwells in the cave.

Used with permission from the Quit Smokeless Organization