Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Listener



            He looked at me with gentle eyes as the sun invaded the translucent prosciutto news flap from the Forest Park bench. As his face turned and looked downward at the letters, I noticed a feather tattoo on his neck. Some people pull me toward them and I sat down after a moment of hesitation. It must have been my shyness. Other people were walking around the gravel track that circled the fountain wearing scarves and jackets, overcompensating for the changes. I rubbed my hands together and told him, “Man, it sure is getting cold out here.”
            “It is,” the man said.
            “It’s not like Nevada.” 
            "Are you from there?"
            "Yes. I moved here a couple years ago," I said
            This short exchange was all that the man needed to talk about how his mother was from the west and that he craved her pumpkin pie and how his great-uncle on his father’s side was one of the lawyers brought in to speak on behalf of the United States at the Nuremberg trials, and that he canceled his dentist appointment that day because he wanted to experience the first temperature changes of autumn. When he finished, he lifted his coffee tumbler, blew, and sipped. A lady passed and her poodle sniffed my shoes before continuing. I enjoyed listening to his stories.
            As the sun rose toward the zenith, shadows crawled back to their objects. A group of construction workers sat down and took off their boots. I wanted to ask the man the story behind his tattoo, but I thought he might view the question as an intrusion. I did not want to ask him something unexpected. In order to offer my participation, I asked, “Did your mother use any special ingredients?”
            “She used to smoke pot,” he said, “to get her through the rough times.”  
            I nodded.
            “After dad died, she had a hard time going to sleep. Sometimes, I did too – still do.” His eyes lowered and his poignant smile remained.
            “My father loved watching birds; we used to watch them together,” he said. “I took an orthography class in college a couple years after. In the final paper, the professor wanted us to write about the physiology of twenty different species.” He placed his tumbler on the ground and rubbed both of his hands through his hair like a rake. “All I could write about was how he spoke to me through the feathers.”

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