our village (69) — Non-Neighbors Part II

our village (69)

chapter 3, story #11

 

NON-NEIGHBORS PART II

 

Did I ever tell you the second part of the story of the two non-neighbors? The neighborly neighbor tried again—because he was neighborly, he thought, “But he is my neighbor, whether either of us likes it or not, he can’t argue with the fact that he is my neighbor,” to which plea the non-neighbor shut the door and turned up the music. And neighborly neighbor still doesn’t know what to do. He is again defeated by the neighbor who doesn’t want a neighbor.

Advertisements

our village (68) — Tracking

our village (68)

chapter 3, story #10

 

TRACKING

 

Did I ever tell you the story of Maxwell following the footprints? The footprints in the snow told the whole story, better than I can tell it. He was following them across the bridge, cat prints, hadn’t noticed where they’d started, just realized he was daydreaming in the snow and following cat prints across the bridge. They sauntered along the bridge planks, caressing the pickets on the more stable side of the bridge, stopping here to sniff and crouch—Maxwell could see four prints nestled together, ready for the pounce—and shuffling forward, but no pounce, just a hop to the other side of the bridge before loping back to the favored, more stable side, and continuing to the end of the bridge. And here’s where Maxwell made a deliberate choice to follow the prints. It was something like a firm commitment in his mind, something I draw attention to because it was unusual for Maxwell. Normally he would go with the flow, but he felt a strong pull tonight to follow these tracks. So he did. That was the flow, I guess, and he wasn’t deviating from it.

 

At the end of the bridge the tracks turned down the embankment toward the water. It wasn’t the most common turn for cats, but it was perfectly reasonable, whether the cat was going for a drink, for hunting, or for the mere pleasure of being on the lake shore in winter, a serene and relaxing place, and cats have a reputation for knowing how to relax, right? So, for whatever reason, the cat had turned, and for whatever reason, Maxwell also turned, to follow the cat prints through the snow.

 

The prints trotted down to the shore, and there, at what Maxwell assumed was the edge of the lake—although everything had a wonderfully consistent blanket of snow over it, and a stranger wouldn’t know lake edge from lake middle except there weren’t any trees where the lake was—there, Maxwell could see the imprint of a seated cat—Maxwell was really good at tracking, y’see?—but, to his astonishment, that was the last track that Maxwell could see anywhere in the vicinity.

 

He knew he wasn’t mis-reading a track (he knew he was a good tracker, Maxwell), but he supposed maybe he might be missing a track. But where? He might have just stood there and been dumbfounded, amazed at the mysteries of the world, and eventually turned around and gone back home. But he had made this commitment to follow the tracks, y’see, so that’s what he had to do.

 

But how? Where did the tracks go? There was no sign of any other creature having been out there—no predator on the wing that would have left wingprints, a scuffle, blood and fur and feathers; no mammalian predator, two-legged or four-legged, had left any print. There was the one set of tracks in—now two, if you included Maxwell’s—and the no sets of tracks out. And they were fresh tracks. And the snow was fresh and had stopped falling and was now showing all tracks perfectly, species and size, direction and mass and speed and behavior, a story in every set of prints. And the stories usually went on to some end he could understand: an animal home; a live encounter; a bored tracker; or a change to untrackability—well, that usually happened for a reason that Maxwell could identify: you can’t track something that walks down an asphalt road, or something that flies off, or dives into the water. But there was no sign here. And no possibility that he could imagine at this frozen lake edge.

 

So he imagined more.

 

He imagined that he heard a bird calling, a Pileated woodpecker with its loud raucous call addressing him, Maxwell, calling him away from the lake and into the woods. He imagined it was twilight, moonlight, and the Pileated is going to roost for the night, but it makes one last call to Maxwell: “Follow me. Look at the prints over here.”

 

So Maxwell steps into the woods where the Pileated calls, and he sees by the light of the moon a beautiful imprint of an owl in the snow—must be a Barred owl at that size in these woods—the wingprints clean in the snow, right in front of him, one set of wingprints and then nothing, again.

 

Maxwell tries to imagine what could have happened here with such a perfectly clean set of wingprints in the snow, one clean set and nothing else visible nearby.

 

Maxwell imagined more.

 

He heard the Barred owl call from deeper in the woods, and he followed the call, which was, in a way, the prints he’d been following along, now transformed into an audible imprint. Through the winter forest and into his ear and brain, or in his brain as a winter forest imagined, with a Barred owl calling to him, it didn’t matter.

 

He followed the prints from animal to animal, the creatures of the lake village speaking to him, telling him stories.

 

Like this one: The Tale of the Missing Cat. It goes like this:

 

Samuel the Cat—

 

it was the name he gave himself, because he’d always liked that human name “Samuel,” with its combination of soft sounds and inuendo of strong character, and “the Cat” because, frankly, he was proud of his feline qualities, and he didn’t want to be confused with, for example, some human; he was Samuel the Cat, and he—

 

was enjoying the freedom that contemporary human culture granted his species: the freedom to be wild and tame; inside and outside; loved while occasionally unloveable. So he was out for a stroll in the snow; he wanted to be back by the people’s fireside as the sun set. It was perfect out here. That’s what Samuel the Cat thought, anyway, as he was sitting by the edge of the lake in the snow, the winter sun on its low slant to the horizon.

 

Samuel the Cat was essentially riffing on how beautiful the world is, when he was silently lifted off his haunches by a pterodactyl.

our village (67) — Who Is Watching Us?

our village (67)

chapter 3, story #9

 

WHO IS WATCHING US?

 

I got to thinkin’ the other day, ’bout my hundreds of stories about Jerry Randy, ’bout how maybe I tell the same ones over and over, ’bout how maybe I should try to tell the stories that I can’t make sense out of, rather than the stories I been tellin’ and re-tellin’. There’s some stories from our village that don’t make much sense. Jerry Randy’s involved in a few of them. Like I said, you ought to know, that’s why I’m tellin’ ya’. I ain’t gettin’ any younger, and I don’t know who else in the village tells these stories, so if I don’t tell …. So listen.

 

Imagine a dark night in the village, a hot and humid summer night, where you might as well be in or out, awake or asleep, standing or walking slowly or lying in a hammock—it don’t matter, ‘cuz it’s a night when the world is slow and nothing matters; the frogs sound slow; old Uncle Us is on a late-night walk-about—I know it’s hard to imagine, hardy-har-har, but it’s not too infrequent to have me out ‘n’ about, so imagine it: I’m walking nice and slow, no one else is outside, least I don’t see or hear a sign of nobody … until I look up and see Ms. Marquetta Mason’s silhouette in her window, and everything’s so still it’s like I know what’s going to happen before it does: Jerry Randy opens the front door of the Lukas shack and steps out into the night, and he don’t see me, but I see him lookin’ up at Ms. Marquetta in the window like I’d been doing, so I see we’ve got a little looking chain going on, with me lookin’ at Jerry Randy lookin’ at Ms. Marquetta, and then I think: there’s got to be someone lookin’ at me, and I look around to try to see, nothing, and when I look back Jerry Randy is gone, Ms. Marquetta’s light’s out, the night is hot and humid, the world is slow; nothing matters; the frogs sound slow ….

our village (66) — Non-Neighbors

our village (66)

chapter 3, story #8

 

NON-NEIGHBORS

 

Did I ever tell you the story of the two non-neighbors? The way your Uncle Us sees it, there’s some people that want to be told what to do: tell me (“Oh Lord,” for example) what is right, what is good, what I can do to know that it’s going to be alright. Tell me, and I will do it. Then there’s some people that don’t want to be told what to do: no government, no landlord, no boss, nobody in my business. What happens when these two types (or these two sides of ourselves) meet each other? The neighbor who doesn’t want any nosy neighbors, he wants people to mind their own business and leave him alone. But he has a neighbor: the neighbor who believes in behaving neighborly, who is often offering an (unwanted) hand of service, who is poking in on (invading) his neighbor to make sure everything’s okay. Everything’s not okay, neighbor, cuz you’re gettin’ in my business and you’re gettin’ on my nerves. And godly neighbor doesn’t know what to do. He is defeated by the neighbor who doesn’t want a neighbor.

our village (65) — The Monk of the Lake

our village (65)

chapter 3, story #7

 

THE MONK OF THE LAKE

 

Did I ever tell you the story of Jerry Randy? I’ve prolly told you a hundred stories about Jerry Randy.   Did I ever tell you the one about Jerry Randy’s … flirtation, shall we say, with being a Buddhist monk? It was a few years back, I guess, he was prolly in junior high, and he started carryin’ on about following the Buddha, sometimes he called it killing the Buddha but from the outside it looked just the same as following Buddha. Here’s what it looked like: he’d walk around the village slowly, at a steady pace, with his hands cupped in front of him; he was fond of wearing the hooded sweatshirts—”hoodies,” they say—with the hood up—looked like a monk that way, I guess, enough that he showed up in the local paper with a photo that was captioned “The Monk of the Lake.” That’s how I think of him ever since, ‘cept that’s actually the last I saw Jerry Randy acting the monk, cuz, y’see, it wasn’t no act for Jerry Randy. That kid’s deadly serious. You know that, right? You know our Jerry Randy, right, son of ol’ man Randy? Heck, there’s another hundred stories for you. But where were we? Young Jerry Randy, captured on film and printed in the paper as “The Monk of the Lake,” and I never saw him on one of his meditative monk walks again. ‘Course I’m sure he still wanders the village, but I think he was disillusioned about being a monk at the same time as being recognized as a monk. That’s not what it was about for Jerry Randy—not about the recognition for Jerry Randy—the closest thing we might have ’round here to a monk, or a priest, or a shaman. Young Jerry Randy, he could be the guru at the top of a mountain if he weren’t such a kid, but … maybe that’s the thing about Jerry Randy being The Monk of the Lake—there’s a certain authenticity about it. He minds his own business, doesn’t hurt no one. I’d give the kid alms if he came to my door, specially as he’s been mistreated by his old man—stories for another day, as I say.

 

I know one day before he was captured and destroyed and liberated all with one photo in the paper, before that, I remember him lecturing—now who was he lecturing to? I’m getting’ confused in my memory of it, but I think he might have had a couple of kids sittin’ in front of him, young kids I mean, and he had them sittin’ cross-legged—’course maybe it was just Jerry Randy I remember sittin’ there cross-legged, on the lake shore, lecturing to no one, maybe that’s why it’s so memorable, somebody lecturing to nobody …. Anyway, that’s all there is to the story of Jerry Randy, The Monk of the Lake, ‘cept maybe, as I say, he still is The Monk of the Lake, and we need to give that boy an offering and glean from his wisdom.   What do you think Jerry Randy would teach us?

our village (64) — Yacob Jacobsen

our village (64)

chapter 3, story #6

 

YACOB JACOBSEN

 

Did I ever tell you story of Yacob Jacobsen?  Scary son of a bitch.  Used to drink himself into oblivion and haunt the village—now this was before he was dead, mind you, and he’s haunting us still, it’s just that he doesn’t drink like he used to.  Well, he does, but it just leaks out, like he’s a sieve.  But when Yacob Jacobsen was alive?  That man could drink.  And he did.  He’d get sloshed and then wander the village doin’ stupid scary shit; I always worried he’d hurt somebody; he ended up hurting himself pretty bad.  First, he took a dive off the bridge too close to shore, broke both legs.  Casts and crutches this guy had, and as soon as he could get his hands on a drink he was drunk again, and he must have said, in casts and on crutches, “Fuck that bridge.  I’m gonna go conquer that crippling bridge.”     And he hobbles out the house, and he’s cursin’ under his breath, just like his ghost does now, and he’s crutchin’ and draggin’ two casted legs around, and he sounds scary as shit, and he gets to the bridge, and he hobbles out to the middle, and who knows what drunken Yacob Jacobsen was thinking but he dropped himself into the lake.  And he drowned.  At least that’s our best guess about what happened.  And he’s still scary, haunting the village.  But you know what?  I met the ghost of Yacob Jacobsen—I ain’t afraid—I met him, out on the bridge, late at night, I shouldn’t’ve been out there by myself, maybe, but I was, ‘cept I wasn’t by myself cuz Yacob shows up, and I’ll tell you what, as scared of old Yacob Jacobsen as you might be, I tell you he’s three times as scared of you.  Of any of us.  That there is the ghost of a frightened man, so don’t be so scared the next time you hear him crutchin’ around the village.  He’s harmless.

our village (63) — Garage-Cleaning Neighbor

our village (63)

chapter 3, story #5

 

GARAGE-CLEANING NEIGHBOR

 

Did I ever tell you the story of my neighbor who cleans his garage all the time? Nothing wrong with cleanin’ your garage … it’s just that this guy’s a little obsessive. I’ve seen him sweep out his garage twice in the same week before, with nothing happenin’ in that garage in between the cleanings. Nothin’ that I know about, anyway. Don’t know what you’d need such a clean garage for ….

 

This guy obviously likes things to be in order. Everything’s got its place, you see. I’ve seen in his garage, sure, many times, cuz when that garage door is open there’s nowhere for him to hide, so if I’m walkin’ by while he’s cleanin’ his garage I’ll poke my head in and say hello, and look around a bit while I’m there, of course. I’m just a nosy neighbor, I know, but y’ never know what you’ll find, and it’s always worth a look, I say. Curiosity never killed my cat.

 

As I said, I’ve seen the garage, and it’s like a window into the fellow’s soul, maybe, or at least a window into his mind … or maybe, my current theory goes, it’s a big picture that he has framed—not for us neighbors; I don’t think he gives a damn about us—he hangs the picture of his orderly garage in front of his own mind as if to proclaim, “This is the way I want my mind to be, so this is the way I’ll display it,” and maybe that’s why he needs to clean the garage so damn much: to reinforce the control he’s trying to impose on his own mind, to paint a picture of control that he wants to have, but doesn’t.

 

Here’s what I mean: the garage, which this gentleman dusts and sweeps, has a back wall that’s all shelves, wall to wall, floor to ceiling, and every shelf has labels, and every box on every shelf has a label, like “Chevy Nova,” “zip ties,” “cork.” It makes you wonder … I mean, it makes me wonder: what happens when this guy can’t control his mind, when something doesn’t fit in its box, on its shelf? What’s he so afraid of in that mind of his?

 

I like to imagine his infractions being small, but his paranoia being large. I like to imagine him in the back of the garage, polishing tools or something, and a young attractive woman drives slowly by, turning her head confidently and casually from the road as she coasts by—who knows why she’s driving through our dead-end village, just imagine it with us—she coasts by, maybe in a convertible if you’re feeling really dreamy, and as she gazes languidly, nonchalantly, confidently, with big bug-eyed dark sunglasses she gazes into the back of the garage, and I like to imagine this garage fanatic glancing up from his work to see this young woman looking back at him, and I like to imagine that he can’t control his mind, and that he fantasizes … and the thing is, he hates himself for fantasizing, but the other thing is that he’s thinking at the same time that he’s fantasizing, “There’s nothing wrong with fantasizing. I’m not doing anything wrong; I’m only thinking,” but he can’t quite convince himself that he’s just thinking—”what’s the difference between thinking and doing,” he thinks, because when he is thinking of doing things, the doing is already in the thinking … that young woman, those big sunglasses reflecting back his own gaze, her lips slightly open—is that a sign that she wants him, or do all young women hold their mouths open like caught fish these days?

 

In my imagination there’s a not-so-suppressed part of this OCD garage-cleaning guy that wants to fantasize, not because he wants to enact the things he’s imagining, but because he wants to be the kind of person to loosen up the confines of his mind enough to fantasize, to be free—to imagine the young woman with long hair that bounces and smells like berries, with taut muscular legs that have no signs of old age, with the sexual appetite of a young woman—and to not have it matter in any negative way that he has let his mind loose from its strictures …. In the meantime, I’ll tell you what: my neighbor’s got one helluva clean garage.

 

That’s how I like to imagine this guy, as he fastidiously replaces the boxes on the shelves after dusting behind them. But what do I know? I’m just Uncle Us, a nosy neighbor.

our village (62) — Widow on Douglas Hill

our village (62)

chapter 3, story #4

 

WIDOW ON DOUGLAS HILL

 

Did I ever tell you the story of the widow on Douglas Hill?  Not much I can tell you, I guess—she’s the one who might have stories to tell.  She lives in a big cottage up there on Douglas Hill, east of and overlooking our village on the lake, and she has the best telescope that she could get for her money.  That’s what they say, anyway.  And she isn’t without money, having no children of her own, and getting an inheritance from her dead husband and both sets of dead parents, so she has time and money to just sit there with her big telescope and watch the goings-on in our village.  That’s what she’s done for 30-odd years, I guess.

 

I wonder what she sees from up there.  Does the sound of our arguments carry across the water and up the hill?  Can she see what we’re reading, watch what we’re watching on TV?  Does she know what’s on my dinner plate, and how much of it I eat?  How much can she know—by watching and listening—from a distance?

our village (61) — Black Dog

our village (61)

chapter 3, story #3

 

BLACK DOG

 

Did I ever tell you the story of the black dog that wouldn’t die? It’s not a story about resilience, as you might think, cuz the story’s not even about that dog, that damn dog that wouldn’t die. No, the story’s about the people, the people in our village—sure, I’m one of ’em—the people that willed that dog not to die, that believed there could be a dog that wouldn’t die … that old black dog, must be out there wanderin’ the woods still. You see, the Ballywicks’ black dog was old already when we moved to the village. Story goes that he’d been in a fight with a mongrel bitch that latched onto his leg and wouldn’t let go, so by the time we met him he was already a lame dog, limping around on three old feet and a lot of old bones. Black as night, that ol’ boy is, Samson is his name, the pet of a kid named Sam that doesn’t live around here anymore—Ballywick parents thought it’d be cute to call their son Sam’s dog Samson, or maybe it was the kid’s idea, who knows—but the dog always went by Sam, even when Sam the boy was still living here, it was always the two Sams then, so I hear, but by the time we got here Sam the boy was long gone, and Sam the dog was, as the saying goes, on his last legs. Or so it seemed, to us, at the time.

 

Sam the old black dog used to lie on a dog bed that was more flea than cushion, but it looked like what he was used to, lying just outside the Ballywicks’ front door, day and night, barking at every damn thing that walked or flew or hopped by, from bunny to grasshopper, that dog would bark.   But I tell you Sam was an old dog, no bite left in his bark, as the saying goes, at least since he’d been mangled by the mongrel, but it didn’t stop him from barking, and I’ll tell you there were plenty of times I’d wished that dog would die. But that was before I knew much about life in the village.

 

The first thing that made me forgive that old barking black dog a little bit was during our first fall in the village. Laur was sick and having trouble staying warm, days were wet, nights were starting to get cold, and we both had that cold ache in the bones. I hadn’t ever considered how Sam the old black dog would fare in the cold weather, until I placed a woolen blanket over a napping Laur, looked out the window, and saw old Sam looking right up at me, standing in the middle of the street and looking up to the second-floor window where I was looking out. Now, have you ever seen a dog do that? Most dogs, they’ve got plenty to keep them busy down there on ground-level, dog height, and you don’t see them looking up to humans unless a human has smuggled them into a lap, or if that dog is sitting obediently and waiting for a treat. Otherwise they’re nose to the ground, not looking up at second-floor windows, at convalescing and care-giving humans in a neighboring house. But Sam was looking at me, sure as shit. I could tell, eye to eye through the window. And then I got to wondering how that dog was doin’ in the cold, and why it wasn’t inside right now with the Ballywicks. Hell, if it was inside, maybe it would bark a little less, too. But just then Sam walks off, limps away through the fallen leaves, and I don’t see him come back all night.

 

I happened to see the Ballywicks the next day, maybe, and I mentioned that it looks like Sam wasn’t sleepin’ outside the door last night, maybe too cold, eh? And they said, no, Sam didn’t come home last night. But the thing is, they didn’t seem worried at all, ‘though they must have seen that I was, so the ol’ man finally explains, he says, “Ol’ Sam is a healer, and he disappears every once in a while to do some healing. Maybe he’s healing himself this time … ” and Mr. Ballywick chuckles and kinda drifts off, and now I guess he probably sees I think he’s a little wacko, cuz I can’t really hide that in my face, and he adds, “He’ll come back when the healing’s done. Just wait.”

 

And you know, my Laur had been sick, as I was saying. That night, I’m fixing dinner, Laur is napping. I finish peeling potatoes or something, and anyway, I go to take the compost out. Who do I see shuffling through the leaves but Sam, I don’t know where he’s coming from, but I see him go right back to his raggedy bed by the Ballywicks’ front door, and he does his little spin, around and around, y’know how dogs do, looking for his sleep spot, and there he finds it, plops his body down, gives a bark for good measure, and I swear to you he looks up at me, just looks like he’s saying hello, so I say hello back, welcome home to the “healing dog.” Clearly hasn’t healed himself, I could see as he limped around on his bed. But I’ll be damned if I don’t go back inside and Laur has emerged from a nap saying, “I feel so much better.”

 

 

 

our village (60) — White Wolf

our village (60)

chapter 3, story #2

 

WHITE WOLF

 

Did I ever tell you the story of the shy white wolf in our neighborhood? The neighborhood is a village, really, but it sounds unrealistically quaint to say that, especially in a story about a shy white wolf, so I said “neighborhood.” It’s a neighborhood, too, but, politically, officially, on the maps and in the state records such as they are, it’s a village, if I’m telling the story truthfully. Shall I call it a “village” then? Very well. Let me start over.

 

Did I ever tell you the story of the shy white wolf in our village? Seventeen years old, so the story goes, and I think that’s old for a wolf. It’s old for a dog anyway, and, well, a wolf is a dog. So this old white wolf in our village is as shy as a crab, and when you see it you can see it just trying to sneak its head back in its shell, but it has no shell because it’s not a crab, it’s a dog, a dog that’s still got the wild in it, bred from a wolf, you can tell: it still moves like a wolf—not skittish like a coyote, even though this old boy is shy, old, and he startles easy, but even when he’s startled he’s smooth, like a wolf, and when you see this old boy, white as a ghost, out in the village at night, it can raise your goose-bumps, because you don’t necessarily want to be part of a man-wolf encounter, not anywhere, really, definitely not at night, doesn’t matter if you’re in a village or a neighborhood at that point, or in the woods or in a damn circus, you’re in a cemetery, that’s where you’d be after a man-wolf encounter.

 

So, the story goes, this old white wolf-dog that Paul Sr. had been raising, it gets out, loose, in the village. And what I’m trying to say is that no one really knows if this thing is a domesticated dog or if it’s a wolf with the wild still in it.

 

And Paul Jr.—he lives across the street from his old man, Paul Sr.—Paul Jr. is sitting in his living room one summer evening, windows open, TV off for once, and his wife has gone to bed and he’s just sitting there sipping on a Bud Light and listening to the cicadas, and he sees his old man across the little street—it’s just a little one-lane car path in our dead-end village—so he sees right across the street that his old man’s causing a bit of a ruckus, lights flashing on and off and furniture being dragged around, and Paul Jr. thinks his old man must be missing something, looks like he’s looking for something. Paul Jr. doesn’t know yet that his old man has lost the wolf, although that’s not what he’s scrummaging around the house for. No, he’s looking for a leash—hasn’t used it in years, you see, the old man’s been convinced his old wolf is just a dog, a tame dog, and a shy one at that, so he walks it around the village without a leash. But tonight the wolf-dog has run off, and the old man is looking for a leash, and Paul Jr.’s just watching, and waiting, and trying to figure out what’s going on. The old man would fetch his son if the old man needed his son’s help, so Paul Jr. needn’t worry himself. But the old man isn’t gonna ask for his son’s help because his son has been telling him for years, “You’d better be careful with that wolf. That wild thing is gonna get you in trouble some day.” That’s what Paul Jr. had been saying, so the old man wasn’t about to ask for his son’s help retrieving the run-away dog-wolf.

 

But here’s what happened. Paul Jr. was curious, and especially when his dad—his old man—left the house with a flashlight and a backpack, and then especially when the old man didn’t stop at his son’s house to ask for help, well that made Paul Jr. too curious to bear.

 

The night was so wonderfully quiet of human noise after the old man stopped futzing around, and the lights were off at both houses. And Paul Jr. figured his old man wouldn’t even know he was there, and he still had his beer in his hand, and he could keep sipping on that to help him avoid talking out loud and breaking the ambiance of the evening, you know, so he slipped silently out of his house to secretly follow his old man who was carrying a flashlight and wearing a backpack. The son following the father like the father is a little schoolboy.

 

Where in the world … ? Paul Jr. asks himself.

 

His old man, for now, walked with the flashlight on but shining down at his feet as he walked, and he was wearing that backpack like a schoolboy, as I said, so Paul Jr. really didn’t know what his old man was up to. Paul Jr. sipped his beer silently and followed a house or two behind the old man, trying to stay in the shadows, hoping no neighbor was watching—but a neighbor was watching; a neighbor is always watching—and wondering what his old man was doing. They were walking toward the bridge. There were plenty of shadows, and the cicadas were loud and his old man was old, so Paul didn’t have trouble secretly following the old man down the path to the bridge.

 

But, as he approached the bridge, he realized that he would have no shadows to hide in on the bridge, and he would be embarrassed if his old man saw that he’d been following him, so he decided to wait in the shadows at the end of the bridge until his old man passed at least halfway and kept walking.

 

Maybe the old man was just going out to the middle of the bridge for some stargazing—it was a family tradition—but with the flashlight and backpack? not part of any tradition Paul Jr. knew about.

 

Paul Jr. thought his old man was up to something, and Paul Jr. didn’t want to be caught spying, so if the old man got to halfway and kept going, past the stargazing middle of the bridge, then Paul Jr.. would try to sneak across the bridge without his old man seeing him in pursuit. (Even if my old man sees me, Paul Jr. thinks, he could just say he’s out for an evening stroll. Totally normal. Family tradition, in fact. Check out those stars.)

 

The old man walks to the middle of the bridge, and he stops. He stands the flashlight down on its head on the railing, so it’s casting a small orangeish glow. Paul Jr. sees his old man putting his hands on the rail—probably for stability, Paul Jr. thinks; his dad is an old man, after all.

 

Paul Jr. stands in the shadows at the edge of the bridge, sipping his beer and watching. The old man eventually picks up the flashlight again, shines it once up the bridge in the direction he’d been walking, then drops the beam of light to his feet again and he continues his progress across the bridge with the light shining down at his feet. And when it looks to Paul Jr. like his old man is not pausing again, Paul Jr. steps out of the shadows and cautiously follows his old man across the bridge.

 

But when the old man reaches the opposite end of the bridge, he pauses. Paul Jr. sees it, and he pauses too, and he realizes that he’s standing right in the middle of the bridge. And both father and son are standing in the dark of the night, listening to the sounds of the village, not looking at the stars. And eventually the old man turns back toward the bridge that he’s just crossed, and he shines his flashlight down the length of it until the light lands on the feet, then the legs, and on up to the face of his son, who is now shielding his eyes from the beam of the flashlight.

 

“I’ll be damned,” says the old man. “That dog followed you across the bridge.” And that old shy white wolf steps smoothly into the flashlight beam at the feet of Paul Jr.