SOUVENIRS

by Paul Duncan


The light streams in the back window silhouetting the man sitting there with his head tilted forward, bobbing peacefully with the motion of the bus. In profile he looks like an aged mountain, pushed over by the timeless elements of wind and rain, content to just ebb with the flow rather than struggle against it.

Like a child inching towards the door as the chores are being handed out so the sun drifts purposefully towards the horizon, quickly enough to be gone in time but not so quickly as to call attention.

I tire of reading and glance up from my book, my finger moving automatically to mark my place. My stop is near so the same finger mindlessly moves to the corner and folds it down as I deposit the novel into my well-worn bag. I get up with a wide stance and ring the bell as the bus jerks it's way along. Looking over my shoulder into the glare I see the profiled dozer nodding a good-bye as the driver slows for my stop. The doors swing open and the evening air rushes past as I step out.

The night is filled with bus as it roars away into the evening. My nostrils are inundated with the pungent odor of the exhaust, my eyes try in vain to read the ad on the side of the bus as it streams past, then it is gone until tomorrow when I will need it again.

I cross the busy street which borders on my neighborhood and find its tree-lined seclusion a welcome relief from the mad dash behind me. My feet fall gently along the cherry littered sidewalk, bordered by the well-manicured lawns and tasteful houses. Here it is twilight and everything seems just a little more distant than in the blaze of the setting sun. I am engrossed by my thoughts about what I have just been reading, wondering skeptically if I can ever approach the level of this timeless author. I get carried away into twilight-imaginings of my notoriety and skill and barely see the man standing at the end of his driveway scrutinizing the purple clouds as he smokes a cigarette. He glances around with a start that shows him to have been as deep in thought as myself, and then smiles the cautious smile of one who once lived in a world where this is how strangers treated one another, but has since discovered that this is no longer the norm.

"Looks like a storm's blowing in." He says, with a skeptical look at the horizon.

"Could have used it this afternoon; would have saved me some work." I reply with a nod in response to his.

"What work is that?"

"Lifeguarding for North York."

"Hmm . . . sounds nice," and then adds as I continue to walk, "Well you have yourself a good evening."

"Yeah, see you later."

I pass on and am swallowed again into the leafy isolation and hopeful dreamings.

* * *

The light streams in the kitchen window and silhouettes the spout leaning over the sink. Water cascades out in crystalline surges onto the soapy dishes. I look at my hands as I dry them off and it amuses me to remember how when we were young it seemed so funny to have hands wrinkled from the water. "Like a prune," we would yell with delight, and beg our mother for five more minutes to see just how many wrinkles could be conjured up by the lukewarm bath water. Now I look down and idly wonder if a long bath might not take away a few wrinkles as there is no certainly no room to add.

I sit at the kitchen table on which lies the paper open to where I left off for my afternoon nap. Instead of looking at the print, which I am convinced has become smaller in recent years, I look out the window onto the street and listen. The wind converses quietly with the stoic trees, the cars murmur by on the main street, there is a yelp of laughter from a nearby backyard and somewhere down the street a lawnmower methodically grumbles its way up and down a front lawn.

My hands gently massage each other's knuckles as my thoughts turn inward to days gone by.

* * *

They had never seen anything like me, they said, but I had never seen anyone like her. They said I could sign with anyone, go anywhere, but the only place I wanted to be was within hearing range of her whisper-soft voice her. The one thing I was ever good at came under one name: baseball, and the one thing I ever loved was called Delila.

I was eighteen and full of a latent strength which I poured out on the field. There were few finer sights than that of the bat swinging and the ball come skipping far to my right. I would react in an instant and stretch my stride towards the point where glove and ball were bound to meet. My cleats would sink deep into the freshly cut grass as I planted and dove in what looked like a last ditch effort to corral the ball, but to me there was never any question of whether I would make it or not. Ball in glove I would scramble to my knees in time to fire a strike to the first baseman that made his glove pop, punctuated by the loud, "Ooouuut!" of the umpire.

One of those few finer sights was that of my Delila gracefully strolling towards me. Down the hall of our local high school she would saunter, and though she had seen me waiting as soon as she turned the corner she wouldn't pick up the pace or glance at me, as if reveling in my watching her and knowing if she acknowledged my presence it would make her step seem artificial. Her favorite move was to try and walk right past me as though she had not seen me, forcing me to chase after her. In anticipation of this I would start moving before she was abreast of me and head on an intercept course to where my arm would link with hers. Just as she was beside me and moving past with an ill-suppressed smile, I would reach out and grab her hand in what may have looked like a last ditch effort to stop her from passing me by, but to me there was never any question of her going so far as to continue on.

That was all so long ago. I loved that girl so much that I skipped college and got a job at the hardware store, playing semi-pro ball in the evenings. This was what I was doing one night, about four months after our first child arrived, when I was approached after the game by a scout from a big league team. He said he liked what he saw and asked if I would be interested in a minor league contract. I looked down at my feet, and then out at the lights in centerfield, and then back at my feet. I finally broke the silence with the sound of a shattered dream, saying that I couldn't afford to take a risk with my young family and all.

* * *

My that is an impressive storm front moving in, so purple with the sun's goodnight kiss on its sternly wrinkled brow. It's about time I had a smoke anyways and what a rare view to have it by. I limp quietly down the drive, my sandalled feet dryly brushing against the asphalt.

There is an awful lot of loneliness in a sky, especially when viewed from the ground. Me and Delila, we could sit for hours under nature's grand canopy, whether it gleamed like beaten copper on a summer's noon or slept with silent blackness on a cloudy October night. Delila has been gone a few years but now and again, on the days when it doesn't hurt to feel alone, I still like to look up and tell myself that by God if there is something so immense as a sky and the space beyond it then surely there is a place out there where I will someday soon encounter my Delila.

The young man almost walked right into me, I was so deep in my recollections that I didn't even see him coming. He looks at me with surprised eyes and I smile absently at him, "Looks like a storm blowing in," I say and nod into the wide purple yonder, breaking the awkward pause.

"Could have used it this afternoon; would have saved me some work," he says with a nod of his own in reply.

"What work is that?"

"Lifeguarding for North York"

"Hmm . . . sounds nice," and as he kept walking I add, " Well you have yourself a good evening."

"Yeah, see you later."

With that I resume my surveillance of the evening sky. Gone are Delila, my youth, and my dreams. With me yet are my loneliness, memories, and uncertainty about what lies ahead. From somewhere in the distance comes an ominous rumble of thunder, barely perceptible over the nearby lawnmower. I finish my cigarette and drop the butt onto the driveway. I stamp it out as I slowly turn and start heading back towards the house lying in a deepening darkness.


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Souvenirs, 14 September 1999