Carrie walked down to Fell street through the park. He leaned upon his faithful cane which was split, splintered, and water logged from being left out on the back porch in the rain where he sat every night before bed. His free arm swung by his side, his hand spread wide open, letting the sun warm his palm. His other arm was constricted with his muscles tight as his hand gripped the polished wooden ball handle. Carrie's skin seemed to envelop the ball there was so much of it. The cane and Carrie were one whenever they walked together.
He passed the Japanese Tea Gardens. He had been there many times. He remembered the strong taste of the green tea he had been served and how energized he felt after his third cup. He remembered the sturdy wooden table and chair he sat on while over looking the crystal clear koi ponds, the seaweed underneath the water reaching up to the sun for nutrients like the hands of the long dead. He remembered how the children had gathered near the water as mothers watched them feed the fish food they were not to be fed, anxiety cramping their smooth skin as they watched to make sure they didn't slip in. The waitresses were all so gentle, so quiet, caring for whatever Carrie had wanted. In that solitary moment, he had felt like a newly appointed king, the 5 acres of garden his domain.
The gates were closed for the day, with many frowning tourists sitting on the steps that lead inside. Carrie figured they had been confused by the times but yearned to tell them if they stood on the street, they could still see the ancient replicas the blood red pagodas, stone lanterns, bamboo stalks, and cherry blossom trees which were just beginning to bloom. There was so much one could see from the street. But, Carrie trudged past them, figuring they would not understand an old man trying to show them beauty from afar.
A long line of benches stood before Carrie after he passed the garden. He sat down next to a young, Chinese couple. They both held a map and were looking at it upside down and sideways. Carried smiled. They were speaking rapidly, laughing sporadically, turning the map around and around in a circle as if they were both at the helm of a sinking ship. He wondered what they were so confused about - had they never read a map before? But then, he realized, they were probably on vacation and in love, maybe even on their honeymoon. He laughed, thinking, They're confused about everything.
A few minutes passed and soon the young couple was gone. Carrie sat with the cane between his legs, both of his hands drooped over the handle. In front of him, like a painting, were London plane and Scotch elm trees lined up in symmetrical rows and the Rideout Fountain. Carrie could see the water was still except for when a light breeze brushed over the water or a child threw a hand full of coins in to make a wish. Their hair reflected the bright rays of the sun. The sky was empty, save a few scattered flying birds going to where Carrie knew not where.
He closed his eyes and listened only to the sounds around him: tires rolling along the smooth concrete road; people chattering behind and in front of him; a door closing; the rustling of leaves from a sharp gust of wind; a car horn; a sneeze; two lovers embracing, their kisses sounding like the steps of kitten paws in the sand. Carrie opened his eyes and cast his gaze aside to the left. There was another old man. His back was bent, his cane was worn, and his legs wobbled with every step, much like Carrie's. The man was alone and dressed in a heavy grey sweater, a pair of beige trousers, and simple brown shoes. Carrie wondered where this man was going and at such slow pace. Why was he alone? Who had he been with before? Where was he coming from?
Carrie then realized he was leaning so far forward from the bench, he almost fell off. He ****** his cane out, catching himself, and pushed himself back. He looked around to see if anyone had noticed his mistake. Twenty or so asian people were crowded like sardines inside of the bus stop terminal. They all looked to be avoiding the sun, uninterested in whatever Carrie looked to be doing. The 44 roared by, stopped in front of the crowd, where they all laughed, giggled, and preceded to jumble in. Carrie looked over his shoulder, sure someone was right there keen to make a comment, but there was no one. He sighed, relieved. Being old and falling down with no way to get yourself back up was one of Carrie's biggest fears. The other, of course, was spiders.
Once Carrie reorientated himself, he looked up to see where the other old man was. He was gone. Carrie stood up, his knees shaking slightly. He jammed his cane down to steady himself and took a step forward. His eyes strained from the sun, which was beating down on him now, hotter than it was before. He took a slow step forward, then another, and then another. Once he got in the rhythm, his mind didn't have to focus on it as much. He could let it wander to wherever it wanted to. Sometimes, he let it wander to death, sometimes to past lovers, and sometimes to his late wife, Patty, but never very long on her.
He stopped to catch his breath and wipe his brown. Next to him stood a dark lime green statue of a lion. It was miniature and sun stained. The teeth were dull and the eyes were blank. It was very beautiful and Henry realized he had never seen a lion in the wild, only at the zoo. He wondered if they were any different out in Africa or wherever they were the most and if they roared the same. The one's he had seen at the zoo were sluggish and lazy; almost depressed. He could see why, being cooped in there all day long with only your wife to talk to.
"That wouldn't be so bad," thought Carrie, "To be trapped in a cage with the one you love. That's marriage, isn't it? Isn't that love?"
A cough startled him out of his meandering, love provoked thought. Sitting on a bench across the street where the apple cider press statue stood, was the old man Carrie had seen before. He was hunched over, fishing something out of his bag. Carrie wavered back and forth, watching the old man. A noise rustled behind him and Carrie slowly turned his head to see what it was. Two children were running around the fountain, splashing water at one another.
"Nothing to speak of," grumbled Carrie, "Wasting water all the same."
Carrie turned back around and saw that the man had pulled out a shiny, red and green apple. The man bit into it slowly, taking his time as he broke the outer skin of the apple so the juices spurt into his mouth. Carrie's stomach rumbled when a hard gust of wind hit his back, forcing him to step forward. He put out his cane and felt the peg slide and grind over the rough concrete. A man behind him reached out to help, but Carrie waved him away, mumbling that he was fine and that he didn't need any help. The man on the bench hadn't paid him any notice. The apple in front of him was all he needed. Carrie walked to the other side of apple cider statue opposite the man and sat down roughly, for the man looked up from his apple a little wide eyed and a little annoyed. Carrie smiled awkwardly at him, but it came out more like a frown. The man relaxed his face, slowly letting it become blank while a line of apple juice rolled down over his lip. He licked it up, coughed, and went back to studying the intricacies of the half-eaten apple.
The mans face, Carrie saw, was *** marked and dented, like a car that had just been through the worst of accidents. His eyes were barely visible behind what seemed like hundreds and hundreds of creases, wrinkles, chicken's feet. The man's bulbous nose was an obvious sign that he was or had been a serious drinker. It was swollen and red, drooping from the mans face like a glob of honey that just wouldn't fall. The lips were creases of an old pair of jeans that had been left out in the sun. Though Carrie couldn't see his hair because the man wore a large, dapper styled hat on his head, he wouldn't doubt there wasn't much of anything under there. The old man was anything but beautiful, but Carrie, who had been staring at the man out of the corners of his eyes while pretending to look at the apple cider statue, could not look away. He was utterly fascinated with how the man held himself. Why was he so ****** interested that apple? Had he never seen one before? Carrie then thought the man was homeless, so he must be crazy, but when he had walked over before, Carrie hadn't smelled the usual musty musk that homeless people give off. He had smelled like nothing, usually meaning he slept in a bed and showered regularly. Then, in the midst of Carrie staring at the man's unbelievably shiny brown loafer, he said something.
"What you looking at there?" asked the man. He was hiding his ragged face behind the apple. A few pieces fell to the ground below. Carrie could see the bite marks were mere nibbles, like a rabbit had been eating it.
"Hm...I...uh," stammered Carrie. He looked up into the sky, trying to spot a bird to hide where his gaze truly had been, then looked down at the ground. There was a tiny pebble that resembled a hermit crab. He focused on that until the man asked the same question again.
"Were you staring at me, my friend?"
My friend, Carrie thought, He thinks I'm his friend? How on Earth did we get to there? I barely know him. I'll say something. He paused. Well, say something!
"I was staring at your apple there," Carrie mumbled, "It's a very nice looking apple."
"It's very tasty," he nodded, looking back it, admiring the colors of the skin that had yet to be bitten in. "Would you like some?" He stretched the half-eaten apple out to Carrie.
"Oh," Carrie laughed, startled, "I'm fine. Quite full." He patted his stomach.
"Are you sure? It's almost dinner time."
Carrie looked the man up and down, then smiled, "I'm fine. I ate just earlier."
"Oh really, where did you eat?" The man inched forward on the bench and rested his eyes on Carrie, waiting for an answer. Carrie's lip quivered with the thought of having to come up with a quick lie. The man had placed the apple back in his bag and was completely focused on Carrie's lie.
"Well, you see, there's a great place up past Lincoln Way toward the beach. I go there all..."
"Lincoln Way!" exclaimed the man, "You can make it all the way up there!"
Carrie was flattered. He could walk far past Lincoln way and up any of the side streets, if he had the energy, but had never been congratulated for the fact. Carrie shifted back and forth in his seat, blushing for being thought of so highly.
"With this cane," Carrie said, tapping the ground with the end, "I can go almost anywhere."
"Wow. Where'd you get it?"
"My son gave it to me when I first started showing signs of getting old," said Carrie, "It was kind of like a joke at first, but then, I really needed to start using it, and I've been attached to it ever since."
"That's nice," the man nodded, "I bought mine for 50 cents down at Salvation Army. You know the one on 3rd?"
Carrie said that he did.
"Spent 50 cents on this thing four years ago and it has taken quite a beating, but still, it works and looks fine as you can see."
"Doesn't look so bad."
"Well thank you, I appreciate that."
The two of them paused, looked each other up and down, then found something other than themselves to look at. Carrie noticed the soft lines of the man in the statue twisting the cider press and how his muscles were as detailed as a real man's. He had never seen so much physicality in a statue before. It really looked like this man was pressing apples in front of his eyes. Carrie was at a loss at how one captured that feeling of true action in stillness. He looked up to where the statues face was and saw that the eyes were cast down to where the press was tightening. He thought maybe the man was thinking if he stared to where he was working, he would twist harder. The statues hair was soft and smooth in the sun. Carrie followed the statues legs down, past the flat stomach and taught ab muscles, to the feet which were pressed into a large stone so to get more leverage. The veins on the feet were almost pulsating with blood and strength. They seemed to rise and fall with what Carrie imagined would be the mans heartbeat, if he had one. He didn't quiet understand why the man was had to be naked, but figured it was for the sake of art. Carrie was not an artist, but with the free time that was allowed to him by growing old, he was starting to appreciate what he saw, feel it a little more often, then when he had no time at all when he was young and busy. He wasn't sure which he enjoyed better: being old and feeling more or being young and always with something to do.
The man had let his eyes wander from Carrie, to the small statue of a boy. His mouth was pressed up to the spicket where the apple juice was being pressed from above. He imagined the statue of the man above the boy was his father or at least he wished that it was. The boys skin was very smooth and reflected the sun softly up back into the mans face. He looked closer at the face of the boy and saw that it was a silent kind of contentment. The man took out the apple from his bag, took a bite, and offered it again to Carrie.
"Take a bite," he persisted, "Sitting in front of this statue, looking at this little boy drink up that apple juice has to be getting you thirsty."
"I'm really fine," said Carrie, smiling uneasily.
"Come on. You don't gotta' worry about me."
Carrie paused, really thought what he was so scared about, and then admitted that was only uncomfortable because of this stranger's hospitality. He hadn't obliged a kind gesture in a long time.
"Alright," he said, "I'll have a bite."
"There you go!" The man handed the apple over to Carrie.
He took a bite and let the cool juices jump into his mouth. A small dribble ran down his cheek, where he quickly wiped it away with his sleeve. He didn't want to look like a slob, much like the man had looked when he first began eating it. Carrie looked down at the apple, nodded, and handed it back to the man.
"It's," he started, still chewing, "Very good. Thank you...I'm sorry, I don't know your name."
"Symon," he said, taking a bite of the apple, which was almost gone, "Symon with a Y."
"Thank you Symon."
"You're welcome..." he paused, "I never did get yours."
"Oh," he laughed, "I'm sorry. I'm Carrie."
They both reached forward and shook hands. Carrie hadn't sat with another man and talked with them since he'd buried Patty. After that, it had grown hard to shake hands with anybody he knew. Maybe it's easier with him because he's a stranger? Carrie thought, Maybe I should meet more strangers? Probably go and get yourself killed. That's a funny thought. I never thought I'd go by getting murdered. I always figured I'd let time take me, rather than the hands of another. He doesn't look like a killer anyway. He's got to be older than me. He's definitely slower. Look at his hand shaking. Your hand doesn't shake. Does it? Carrie looked down at his right hand which was resting on the handle of his cane. Solid as a rock, Carrie mumbled to himself, As a rock.
"What was that?" Symon blurted, eyeing Carrie, "Where'd you go?"
"Whether my hand was shaking or not."
"My hands shakes all the ****** time. It's like one of those kitchen timers or chattering teeth you twist, it goes for a while, and then eventually goes off, but me, never. No, never this hand never stops shaking. Got a ******* mind of its own."
Symon raised his right hand so Carrie could see. Sure enough, it was shaking like a leaf in a tree ready to fall off. The shake wasn't violent, but definitely noticeable next to a hand that was still. It was more a buzz than anything else. Carrie couldn't imagine Symon writing his name down and coming out eligible.
"How do you write your name? Does it get all messed up?" Symon looked at him, then looked away. Carrie froze, realizing he may have just asked a very touchy subject.
"Huh?" Symon asked, looking back. "I got something in my eye real quick. I didn't even hear what you said."
"Oh," Carrie stammered, "What I said was..." Symon cut him off.
"I'm just joshing yah!" Symon shouted, "Course I can write my name! Whenever I put pen or pencil to paper, the shake usually calms down. Don't know why, but it does. I never ask que