Thick silver needles bobbed, glinted, and clacked together within the deep pool of shade that was cast by the faded Coors patio umbrella on the front lawn. Battered folding tables and one sawhorse-and-planking simulacrum thereof fronted it like hastily erected defensive works, casting rectangles of shadow onto the sun-bleached grass. A small hound dog had colonized one of the shadow squares. Only the occasional flick of a tail revealed that it still inhabited this world.
The walking man stood in front of the rickety tables, eyeing the jumble of junk heaped atop them with no great enthusiasm. He'd stopped more in hopes of conversation than commerce, but the comatose hound was as responsive as the two adults lounging within the puddle of shade.
He'd been prompted to arrest his journey a few moments earlier by two angelic blonde girls, who occupied the lawn's strategic edge-of-sidewalk position. They were in possession of two miniature lawn chairs, the best table on the lot, and a sweating pitcher of indeterminate content. A cardboard sign proclaimed it to be lemonade, 25 cents a glass, but the complete lack of anything resembling a lemon on the scene made the walking man wonder. The girls had called out to him as he loped along, and he'd stopped. The temptation he'd had to succumb to the girls' plaintive wheedling had been stilled by the block-lettered sign on the table which stated boldly "NO CHANGE." But having stopped, he'd decided to venture onto the lawn. The girls, mortally offended, sniffed and went back to playing snap.
He wasn't much for buying things at yard sales, needing to travel light as he did, but you could sometimes have some good conversations with the vendors. Trapped as they were into a long morning of guarding their own trash, they were usually grateful for a bit of conversation. Not at this house, though. Two conversational sallies had dropped into the murky circle of darkness without eliciting much more than a grunt. In mild desperation he'd borrowed from Denis Leary and asked, "How about this heat?" but even that hadn't provoked a reply.
Between his own sunglasses and the shade he couldn't see the people under the umbrella very well. One was a woman of rubenesque proportions. She had defensive lineman's shoulders and a steel-colored hairdo in a helment of tight curls. A worn-looking gray t-shirt encased her ample chest, emblazoned with a red-and-black logo that the walking man assumed was a team logo. What few sport-related experiences he'd had were mostly bad ones, so the logo meant nothing to him. She'd paired the shirt with orange hot pants and lime green crocs. Perhaps it was better that she stayed in the shadows, at that.
Beside her was a man with a shaved head, clad in a black rocker tee, black jeans torn off at the knees, and black boots. A couple of elaborate tattoos were partly visible on his arms, winding into the t-shirt. He was deftly working on a knitting project, source of the clicking sound that punctuated the stillness of the summer morning. Perhaps knitting was this year's statement of rebellion among youth, the walking man mused to himself.
His eyes slowly scanned the usual bric-à-brac, mugs, mismatched plates, and ugly sweaters. A pile of books held more promise. The walking man liked to read when he rested, and he was always looking for something new. He ran an appraising eye down the spines and picked up a thin volume which proclaimed itself to be "Great American Poetry."
"Spoils of my liberal arts education," said the knitter. The walking man started a bit at this unexpected statement. The man set aside his knitting and stood. He pulled a pair of black earphones from his ears, setting them and a small music player onto the lawn chair. He walked into the sunlight. The walking man could see now that the man was older than he'd first thought, the shaved head perhaps a preemptive strike against a developing widow's peak. The man's ready smile put him at ease, though. "I'm Steve." The walking man introduced himself in turn.
"I memorized that whole book, once. Go ahead, try me out," said Steve. The walking man thumbed the book open at random, then flipped forward a bit to avoid the page the cracked spine had favoured. He read aloud.
Among the rain
I saw the figure 5
"The Great Figure
, William Williams," said Steve, and the walking man nodded agreement. "That was too easy."
The walking man set down the book. "I don't have much time for poetry," he said. "I've a more practical bent."
"What is it that you do?" Steve asked.
"I'm a traveling man, out to see the world."
"A traveler, huh?" said Steve. "How about some language books? I've got some real doozies here. How about Teach Yourself Xhosa? The lateral fricative's a good challenge for the western tongue."
The walking man shook his head. "I'm not likely to go back to South Africa" he said. "Not after my last trip there."
Steve raised an eyebrow, but the walking man didn't elaborate. He moved on along the row of tables, instead, Steve pacing him across the way. The final table held golf equipment. To the walking man's unpracticed eye, it looked to be almost antique. The golf bag was small, made of brown leather, and clearly quite well maintained. The bag gleamed in the midmorning light. The metal clubs shone silver, and the improbably small woods had the luster of polish. A pair of spiked golf shoes, at least a size too small for the walking man, sat beside the bag. A shoe box full of balls and tees, and a worn golf glove were on display. The inevitable electric indoor putting device that any golfer got at Christmas rounded out the table. The walking man lightly stroked the leather golf bag with a palm.
"Do you play?" Steve asked.
"Never had the time. I admire the game, though. A good walk in the fresh air, that's what a sport should be. But you always end up where you started. I don't have much time for that. I need to keep moving on. I can see that whoever owned this stuff loved the game, though, and that he was careful of his equipment."
"That was my Dad, and yes, he was," said Steve. "It's sad to put it out here, but I don't play and Mom wants it out of the house."
"Take it, all of it, and good riddance t'it," said the woman, suddenly taking an interest. "Deviltry, taking a man from home and church on a Sunday morning. Hateful game. It killed him, y'know."
Steve's expression grew slightly pained. "Cancer," he mouthed at the walking man, who nodded fractionally. "Sorry, ma'am," he said to the woman, "but I'm on the road and have no room for baggage."
Steve looked at the walking man speculatively. "Here," he said, "take a look at this." From under the table he pulled a cardboard hat box. Inside the box was a handsome panama hat, slightly weathered looking, but obviously top notch. Steve plucked it out and handed it across to the walking man, who glanced inside at the brim. The size was right, and the sweatband inside was clean. The entire hat was as clean and well-cared for as the rest of the man's golfing gear. "A birthday gift to Dad," Steve said. The walking man removed his much-battered Tilley hat and tried it on. It fit him perfectly.
Steve nodded with the firm assurance of a man who'd worked in retail clothing at some point in his life. "Niiiice." he said. "Definitely a good match."
"Five bucks" said the woman. Steve winced. "Five bucks for the hat, and glad t'see it go." Steve locked eyes with the walking man. "Will you take care of it?" Steve asked quietly.
"It'll get worn a lot, and maybe hard, but I'll treat it well." said the walking man. Steve nodded. "Sold." he said. The walking man rolled the Tilley and stowed it in his pack, and handed Steve the five dollar bill. They shook hands, and the walking man felt the folded fiver slip into the palm of his hand. Steve grinned. The walking man smiled back and then turned to go.
He stopped again by the lemonade stand and eyed the young pirates at the table. The girls' faces had a bit of Steve's look about them, he could now see. The elder girl gave him what was presumably meant to be an endearing smile. "How about this heat?" she asked him.
Steve snorted laughter from his lawn chair. The walking man pulled out a twenty dollar bill and laid it on the tabletop. The girl grabbed it swiftly while her partner poured a glass of the mystery liquid into a polystyrene cup. The walking man flicked a suspicious eye at the sleeping dog, but he was committed now. "No change!" said the elder girl with a firm expression.
"I know," said the walking man.
The girls whispered together excitedly as he started away down the sidewalk. Behind him the knitting needles took up their steady pace.
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