Nothing At All

The fellow across the street from us, the one who lives in the brown house with the quiet front and the neat yard, goes walking two or three times a day.  He walks up the street one way to the corner over the little hill, and comes back.  He always walks alone.

I see him often from this window as he walks.  I see him quieting, neatening, the front of his house and his yard.  I see him sitting on a chair in his drive; sitting in the shade, looking at the trees, at the sky.

We greet each other if I am in my yard across the street when he comes out for a walk.  He walks slowly, as if he had all the time in the world; as if, in fact, time did not even exist.  His voice is soft, a whisper almost.  His eyes are large and sad, but he smiles, lifts a hand and waves hello.  I can barely hear what he says as he walks on up and over the hill returning again a few minutes later, his head a little raised and his sad eyes looking where and at what I sometimes wonder.  “What can he see?  What does he find?”  These questions sometimes find there own way into my own head when I see him starting or coming back.

The other day I met him coming down the street while I was returning from a short visit to a neighbor.  We “exchanged pleasantries” as a friend of mine used to say, speaking vaguely of the weather and the day; of nothing, really, at all.  And on I went, and on he went, each to our own homes across the street from each other.

I turned and watched him as he climbed the three steps to his front door, opened it slowly, carefully, and went inside.

His wife and daughter live with him.  The daughter is about the age of my own daughter.  She has moved back home to live with her parents and care for them.  She never married, so, I guess, she will stay behind once both her parents have gone on, as they say.  She comes and goes.  She helps her father, now, keeps up the house and the yard, does the shopping and cleaning and drives her parents here and there.  We wave to each other, exchange pleasantries and speak, vaguely, of nothing at all from time to time.

It is the kind of conversation one may have with the mailman or someone in line at the super market.

Today, just an hour or so ago, I saw my neighbor from across the street approach my wife who was in the yard amongst the flowers and plants.  She was making sure that part of the universe had things in order, and mere chance was being, as well as mere chance can be, kept in check.  She told me later that he had come over to ask her what she had taken out this year and what she had left from the things in our garden.  It seems, my neighbor told her, that we had had a conversation, he and me, earlier in the summer.  I had told him to keep in confidence my plans to remove quite a number of plants, saying that I didn’t want my wife to know what I intended.

Both of us wondered when, where and *if* this conversation has happened.

I cannot remember if it ever took place, but I cannot say it didn’t.  This I find very amusing.  For, when I have had a conversation about something more than nothing at all with him, it is I who have no recollection of it, and he, whose mind is slowly taking leave of him, remembers clearly what happened.  And, he remembers it well enough to play a little joke on me.

I hope it made his sad eyes brighten a bit, even if, as Ican’t help believing, it never really took place.  Even if it was nothing at all.

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