What a silent, legless kick in the chest! A dead man afoot.
Here came a man I thought long dead, half smiling, book-laden, walking out of the library, not casually, not the least, but the way certain men leave libraries, loaded with surprise, excitement, a hope for new intelligence. Short of handsome he was, but rugged-looking for an older guy, a sense of confidence moving afoot. I thought, a man knowing what he wants and has his hands on it. In each arm nestled a clutch of books; rugged wrists and hands gripping the books tightly, his poplin jacket sleeves taut as ropes.
Harlan counted again: 67 years!
The numbers were bright as they flashed in his head. In all those years he had made every trip to Wiscasset, Maine but one, the time he was in the hospital in McKees Rocks, PA for his coronary by-pass. 67 years to celebrate a death, a heroic death, but a death forever cold, no matter how hard they tried to warm it up.
This conversation is with old red wine that brings you, brother, out of surging daylight to fill the doorway like a mailman with a bad letter or telegram. Specters leap out of this old mixture, the blood of grape, the fine chalk it paints teeth with, a whole day of sunlight collared in a tumbler, a red sunset too far away to tell where. You went off to that sunset once, around the corner of the barn tipping toward its knees and Sam Parker’s garden paving the ripe earth all way to the Lovett house sitting white as a pepper-mint down the lane.
Small-eyed, small-eared, a mole perched like an ace of spades on one eyelid, a mastoid-depressed void behind one of those ears, pale of complexion, shoulders it seemed worn down by weights almost too ponderous for life, Jimmy Griffith was the essence of obscurity as he leaned on the bar of the Vets Club. All members knew Jimmy by name and by sight, but few had ever heard him say much more than a good morning or a goodnight, or “I’ll have my second beer now, Al,” or “Brownie,” if Brownie Latefox was on duty. This was the two-a-day ritual at the end of walking his route about town, measuring water consumption, reading the meters down in fieldstone cellars or the utility rooms of newer bungalows. Read the meters, jot the numbers, cheat a bit for a friendly face, or go a step further, like disconnecting a meter for six months at a time, not a soul at the water department or in the confines of Town Hall ever the wiser. Nobody knew how happy Jimmy was to have the job, nobody in God’s creation. Or why.