Goddamn I love when woman can handle her bulk. Other day I’m walking into town for food. This lady rides by on a bicycle. One of those old-fashioned ones with the nice curves. The woman on top dwarfs the machine below her. Quite the spectacle. Ever see one of them elephants balancing on a little platform? Yeah. Thing is, though, elephants got no grace, and that’s the whole thing with this kinda girl. She knows her body and knows how to operate it. That’s sexy. You see a young guy trying to ride a big old chopper and you gonna see a hopeless cause. Takes a certain level of experience, confidence, charisma even. Course I’ll never see that girl again, I’m sure. Prolly some tourist out for the quaint life on a rented bicycle.
But today. Today was a day. Feeling a little hipster, a little retro. Threw on my old penny loafers and bell bottoms. Went out for a stroll. Blue sky. Wispy clouds. You know the drill. I’m real keen on the soda fountain at the Village Drug. One of them throwback joints. Tourists love it. Some sort of nostalgia kick. So I get up there and it’s just a pleasure to be outside. Lotsa pretty skinny girls out, but a guy gets tired of that. Lots of awkward Helgas with point-and-shoots too. Nothing more embarrassing than seeing a fat woman who is embarrassed of her bulk. What do you do? Look the other way, make her feel ignored? Look straight ahead, unnatural-like? Look her in the eye and smile? But you can’t hide nothing in your eyes. Fundamental principle.
So I stroll up to the Village Drug. It’s a nice building in its rustic way. Painted block, shutters, fancy cornice, upstairs windows that aren’t all cluttered and cobwebbed like most. I swing the doors open cowboy style and walk in thunking my heels on the hardwood floor. Liz is working. She sees me and tells me to belly up to the counter, partner.
“Thanky kindly miss, don’t mind if I do.”
The crowd’s not thick yet, so I snag a stool right in the middle.
“What’s it gonna be today, Sid?”
I rub my five day stubble, pretend to consider, order the vanilla malt, my usual. She goes and starts mixing it up on the old green milkshake maker and whistles yankee doodle to herself. I laugh at her and she says it’s been stuck in her head for a week. I grab a magazine that’s on the counter. It’s got pictures of celebrities in it so I occupy myself while the people shuffle in and about the little shop. The wall opposite the counter they sell magazines and postcards. There’s always older ladies perusing for reading material to sit in the sun with. No beach out here in this part of , but we got adirondack chairs. Adirondack chairs are real nice.
I slurp the last of my milk shake, smack my lips, sigh.
“That was delicious, Lizzie. Yer at the top of your game.”
“That’s sweet of you,” she replies.
Can always count on Lizzie to keep in character. Plus, she’s got a heavenly dimple and a tight little tail she knows how to swagger. Come to think of it, I can’t remember one girl I’ve ever seen in an ice cream store that wasn’t thin. Maybe I just blocked the rest of them out. The profound mysteries of life. Anyway, out the door, back in the sun. Direct overhead now and my flowerprint overshirt is saving my life.
Sun’s really roasting me though. Just stay focused. Walk. Left foot, right..etc. I sink into my mind, forget to ask my feet where they are going. Pennyloafer soles click clack on the sidewalks until I feel grass and wake up. One of the little parks in town that somebody with some dough saved from being developed. One aspen, one leafy mapley thing, a bush, a bench, and…neon green grass?
I pause and exhale, a pleasant stop. Blink, rub the eyes, and suddenly there’s a Chinese fellow sitting on the bench. I swear I didn’t even see him at first. He’s cross legged on the bench, arms relaxed in his lap, head tilted downward. His black slacks and black shirt are crisp, like they’ve just been ironed. The sun is directly on him. He has to be sweating bullets. Who the hell put the bench out in the open like that? But he isn’t moving. Is he breathing?
Slowly I walk towards him, obeying an instinctual reverence for his silence. Rather unlike me. Quick inspection of the scene. Clearly no bug on the ground to be absorbing his attention. Not one drop of sweat on his shaved head.
A breeze rustles the leafy tree and I’m inexplicably angry at it for its noise. I want to apologize to the Chinese fellow for the tree. But then he looks up and locks onto my eyes. The apology withers on the tip of my tongue. I’m trapped.
We look at each other unmoved for one million years and the park fades away, we’re amongst the stars, just me, him, the bench, one million years, and the stars are racing around us, elliptical migrations.
And then I blink. We are unchanged, I shiver. His lips are chapped and still he says nothing, but looks at my eyes. He is thirsty. He’s thirsty. I’ve got to get him a drink, he’s thirsty.
I spin around and gasp. The town is gone, the land slopes away from the hillcrest where I suddenly stand, the evergreen, the leafy tree, the bush, the bench, the Chinese fellow, the grass…
The grass is still surprisingly green and it does not end at a road but waves down the hill to where the land is flatter. Trees are here and there, old ones, fat roots. In the near distance I spot a water well, fieldstone walls, gabeled roof, wooden bucket on a rope, handcrank, the works. I run towards it through the shadows of the old trees. I let the bucket down, turn the crank violently, feverishly. He is thirsty. His chapped lips. It splashes. Crank the bucket back up, but I have no cup. Punch the ground, apologize to the ground. I cup my hands and scoop the misty water, dash with arms outstretched up the hill to the Chinese fellow. I hold my cupped hands before his face. He does nothing. Stares at me stupidly. My chest is heaving, my lower back wet against my undershirt.
“Take off your shoes,” he says.
I almost argue with him, nearly insist he drink the water, but I stop myself.
Splash. The dirt beneath the grass stains to mud, drinks the water. I yank off my pennyloafers, throw them aside. His eyes sizzle into the top of my head. I look up, eyes meet again, he approves. I run back to the well, scoop more water from the bucket, dash back, cupped hands before his face, he inclines his head, lips extended, slurps the liquid from to my weathered palms. Refreshed, he licks his lips and stands. We tango down the hill, beneath the ancient trees and let ourselves fall into the well. Our splash is the bubbles from soda that tickle your nose.
D. Richard Scannell writes and illustrates For the Hermits. He lives in