As Valentine’s Day came and went this week I found myself recalling some small town vignettes I shared in this column twenty years ago.
Morning. The sun is just coming over the cedars near a pond where Canada geese, mallards and domestic ducks glide serenely back and forth. A woman dressed in a jogging suit approaches and throws bread on the water.
On the other side of town, an old woman slumps in a chair across from a younger one, who is an old friend of the family, and tells her of recent difficulties with her sleeping husband — his moods, his health, his forgetting things. The younger woman, though she needs to get to work, listens patiently. After a few minutes, the older woman thanks her and goes to wake her husband.
Mid-morning. Dust rolls out in a rooster tail plume from a car driven down a country road. Inside are a man and his son. Because of a disability, the son cannot talk — yet the car is aglow with their communication. A lone hawk circles back to fly low over them and listen.
In a classroom back in town, a lonely girl, who lives mostly in her head, spontaneously writes her initials in ballpoint on the arm of the tall boy who sits next to her in home room. He blushes, says, “Hey!!” That night, in bed he stares at the initials with great affection. He will not wash his arm for weeks.
Noon. The sun is resting directly above the cedars near the pond. The Canada geese, mallards and domestic ducks are paddling and gliding around the water and waddling through the grass. The woman is gone.
A man at a 12-Step meeting talks about his relapse; about how it brought back the bad feeling of guilt and being disconnected ... from himself, his family, his friends. How it’s not worth it any more. The others at the meeting offer no advice. Instead, they thank him for coming ... for sharing his story ... for giving them a glimpse of themselves. Then they share their own stories in turn. After an hour, they form a circle, recite the Lord’s Prayer, and go their separate ways.
Somewhere on the west side of town, a construction crew is breaking for lunch. The bachelor laborer, who still lives with his mother, opens his pail and discovers she has made his favorite sandwich — hard salami, tuma cheese and mustard on hard crust bread. As he eats it he feels a jolt of pain — a pang of deep longing for a lover. All afternoon, he wonders about the widow woman at church. About whether, if they were to fall in love and get married, she would make his favorite sandwich from time to time.
Mid-afternoon. The sun and the cedars make long shadows on the pond. The geese are still gone. On a bench near the water, a young man and woman sit together holding hands. From time to time they sigh.
In a school playground not far away, two little girls on recess wander away from the rest. They are holding hands and singing. They see yellow crocuses that have pushed through the ground on the other side of the schoolyard fence. They stop singing, squat down and stare at the flowers. The teacher has to call them twice to come in from recess.
Across the street, a man returns home from work in the middle of the day. His wife meets him at the door, surprised that he is home so early. When she learns that he has been let go from his job, she takes him to the couch, cradles his head in her arms, and whispers softly in his ear.
Dusk. The geese are back on the pond, sometimes gliding, sometimes rising up out of the water to fan their enormous wings. For a brief moment the sun rests it’s orangeness on the pond’s surface and the cedars stand 3-D in the surrounding light, then the sun swiftly falls into the gray vortex of clouds. Magenta, shadowless light fills the whole town.
In a cafe on Broadway, a man and a woman argue. The woman abruptly stands and exits the cafe, then walks fast down the sidewalk with no particular destination in mind. The man gets in his car and follows along with the window down, asking her to get in. After two and a half blocks, she turns (just as abruptly as she stood and departed the cafe) and gets into the car ... then slides over close to him and kisses him passionately. They first smile, then giggle, then lose themselves in laughter. Traffic backs up on behind them on Broadway but they do not notice.
Nighttime. As she readies for bed, a widow sees, reflected in the mirror behind her, the husband she lost long ago patiently waiting for her to finish brushing her hair.
Before they go to their bedroom, a couple in their forties stand in the doorway of their children’s room listening to their rhythmic breathing.
At 11 p.m., a middle-aged man with insomnia gets dressed and goes to the all-night convenient store where he happens to meet a woman friend from high school who came in for cigarettes. They sit in a booth and reminisce, from time to time, breaking into laughter.
Midnight. The geese, mallards and domestic ducks are huddled on the grass and in their shelter, nestling their beaks in their feathers. The pond is empty. The cedars are faintly outlined against the light of the Milky Way. An abundant silence begins to slowly settle over the town.
— J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and celebrant. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Training in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 620-231-0499, firstname.lastname@example.org, or 401 W. Euclid, Pittsburg, KS 66762