His inhale brightens the reddish-orange cigarette glow which quickly smears into the exhale.  A breeze, soft and chill, huddles him into a collar-up shiver.  The glow returns, he turns and trails a faint fume into the neon Pabst blinks overhead.  I smell it now, in the watch, in the creaky branch-bend overhead, between the twigs wanting leaves in a spring not forthcoming.  I leave the concrete bench to its shadows, me the last wanderer as night packs its dark around sunspot circles of streetlights.  I anticipate the automatic doors at the hotel and the gush of heated welcome they will offer.  I glance back, the hatless stranger gone, the bench grey on the edge of florescent glow. Passing the doors, I go a few blocks further north to a patch of park I saw when approaching earlier in the day.  I find a tree, my right shoulder well-accustomed to the bark scratch against windbreaker and the discomfort that fades into a think.  Night-talk always makes good conversation in its silence.

The back of my hand against the shaggy bark. “An aging hickory” and my mind smiles at the familiarity.  “Such trees have always been my favorite lean.”  Huddled into a collar-up shiver I exhale the last of warmth.  It momentarily smears my glasses as the wing squeak of an escaping bird leaves the upper boughs.  “Not an owl for sure” since the raptor knows only stealth.  I scrunch and move to the windbreak side, become part of the packed night in the swaying shadows.  A car brings the pulsing bass thumps of music I don’t know, louder in the pass-bye, then a fading smear across the empty bench and the neon Pabst.  Be easy to find annoy at this moment, but I don’t.   In yesteryears, The Beach Boys boomed from my too loud FM radio, an extra cost option from the standard AM of my Skylark ragtop.  Any hint of spring dropped the top, a blasting heater sunshine encouraging late 60’s shenanigans.  I remember a 3AM run through the long, straight Highway 12 shot through downtown Fort Atkinson.  The flashing yellow signals encouraged a hesitation, buddies on lookout for police, and a dead town, all clear to let the ponies run.  Pipes blared, tires barked through 4 gears as the big block 455 ate dual feed, 4 barrel stuffed high octane into exhilaration.  In nowyears, my senses come to life in memories and the memories give life to moments in silent night.

The stranger, the guy across the street, I let fade without a wave, a word of hello, or a “How ya doin’?” Scenarios – perhaps collecting his thoughts in an alcohol haze after being let go earlier from his job, you know, downsizing.  Maybe a guy building courage to face the get-home-didn’t-go-away-anger of a morning argument.  Maybe just lonely.  Better still, just taking a break from a walk, like me and the hickory and the night.  Moving to the sidewalk and into the light of a streetlamp, I head back as a couple starts my way. Didn’t want to start them in finding a lurking, collar-up, hunch of a man in the shadows.  No, not so good these days, not so good.  I give my best Joey from FRIENDS “How ya doin’?”  They pass and nod as I turn into that welcome whoosh of lobby to “call it a night.”  In days ahead, I’ll patch together the events of this night, small though they be.  A think that I didn’t sit to make lurks somewhere, somewhere in the metaphors and symbols and details of a stop along the way.  I’ll remember I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I wanted to be on time.  You know, fit into a scenario for that couple that nodded past me or for that guy and his cigarette who must have seen me, too.  Or maybe I’ll just let this all sit and enjoy the notice of 45 minutes of God’s peace that, for the most part, I just cannot figure out.

Submitted by Dave Smith for 2018-04-15