Saturday, January 12, 2008

I haven't seen the old man in a couple of months, and I was distracted today, sitting at the bus stop, so I didn't notice his approach until he sat down next to me and put a hand on my knee. "There you are, Red," he said, patting my leg, "I've been worried about you."

I laughed a little at that, the thought that my accidental prophet might sometimes approach the bench with the same sinking feeling that I do when he's not there. I covered his hand with mine and looked at him, his filmy eyes squinting against a sudden sunbreak, his cheek riddled with broken blood vessels. He looked insubstantial, carved from soap, and I was glad that we sat under the shelter. Just in case.

"What were you thinking about, Red? You had your thinking face on when I got here." He mimicked me, furrowing his brow and pursing his lips, and I smiled. I live in a perpetual fog of metaphors, so it's always likely that I'm thinking about something, and I'm pretty sure the old man understands that. As time goes on I find myself ever more convinced that he and I are cut from the same cloth.

"William Tecumseh Sherman," I answered. He raised his eyebrows at me, made an impatient moue. "He didn't burn down Augusta. When he, you know, marched to the sea. And coincidentally, he loved a girl that lived there. Anyway, today I was looking at the map of the town that he carried during his march, and all it had marked on it were streets and cemeteries and powder mills and things. No sign of why he left it alone. So I was thinking about Sherman, and if his unrequited love saved the homes of that whole town." I punctuated this with a feeble wave. These things always sound worthwhile inside my head. He laughed at me, shook his head. "I think I know what you think the answer is." The corners of his eyes crinkled kindly.

On the bus and down the road, a bunch of boys stopped spray painting tags on a dumpster to turn and paint a swath of leaves on a tall shrub silver. The leaves glinted in the sun, apparently confused by their sudden transformation. A number of blocks further down a big rubber shark sat high in the branches of a tree, mouth open. I was unsurprised, therefore, when I stepped off the bus and into a sun shower.

In fact, I would have been surprised not to.

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