Tuesday, August 25, 2009
1568 Part I
It was the kind of spring day you imagine when you think of spring days. The morning had been bright and clear without the layer of fog that usually took until mid-morning to fully burn off. There were humming birds darting in and out of the creeping flowers that no one had planted but still grew along the south side of the house. The house stood there as it had since 1908. Set back from the street and on a bit of a hill so that you had to climb two set of stairs to reach the porch. The bees buzzed in the north east corner of the yard but she was content to leave them alone since trying to eradicate them in past summers hadn’t worked and the kids didn’t seem interested in playing in that corner of the yard anyway. The erratic motion of the humming birds and the bees highlighted the fact that it was an otherwise still day.
Jayne sat with her second cup of coffee. It was almost eleven-o-clock but she wasn’t rushing into chores today. Instead she was reading, sipping that indulgent second cup and skimming the gossip blogs. She liked having this time to herself though she rarely took the time to really enjoy it. As she clicked through photos of ugly things celebrities had worn it only half occurred to her that she’d seen someone outside along the side of the house. A stooped but well appointed figure somewhat aimlessly walking along the side yard between her and the Grunwalds. The man had such a casual air about him he almost seemed as though he belonged there, as if he were looking at a house he had just noticed had come on the market.
The house was not on the market. Jayne had lived at 1568 Milvia St for about five years and was happy there. It was nice neighborhood, quiet with good schools and walking distance to the more chi-chi Walnut Square part of downtown. Jayne went out the back door to the side yard to see who the man might be. They’d had a couple homeless people wander into the yard over the years. Never with any ill intent, just looking for a quiet spot to sleep or sit. They never gave her any trouble when she approached them, and went on their way without being asked. Once Joe had even found a woman sleeping in his car when he was off to work. “Rise and shine” he’d said to her as she nervously gathered herself and exited through the rear door. But this man did not seem homeless. Though she’d only seen him for a second she did not get the impression that the man was down and out. Maybe he was lost.
When Jayne reached the gate at the side of the house, the gate they’d put in to keep people from getting all the way to the backyard, she could see that the man wasn’t there. She went back in intent on finishing her coffee and figuring out if she hadn’t imagined the whole thing when the doorbell rang, which to her surprise, gave her a bit of a start. As she walked down the hall she could see through the three crystal cut panes of glass, a man’s hat. It was the type of hat she’d seen in the Country Gentleman ad in her grandmother’s old Life magazines. The hat put her at ease as she thought that only very old men wear that type of hat. Despite her new confidence she opened the door they way one does for a Jehovah’s Witness, or someone holding a clipboard. A way that says “You’ve got about six words to convince me not to close the door again.” Sure enough, there beneath the hat, stooped in a way that suggested both age and a lifetime of poor posture, stood an old man.
“I’m sorry to bother you ma’am” he said. He was dressed the way old people used to dress. Rather than the elastic waistbands and jogging tops worn by on-the-go seniors of today he wore a tan shirt with a button down collar topped by a green tweed vest and a brown blazer. Below that his tan slacks, when viewed in the right light form the right angle revealed a hint of very thin corduroy.
“You were at the side of the house.”
“Yes ma’am. I’m sorry about that. It was so quiet I wasn’t sure there was anyone home. My name is Walter Pelican and I am ninety years old just recently.
Jayne briefly pondered the figure standing before her. He didn’t look like a beggar, at least not a modern beggar. If he was about launch into a sob story and request money she knew she’d have a hard time not at least listening so she started to plan her escape. She silently prayed for the phone to ring. “How can I help you Mr. Pelican?”
“Well this may sound a bit,” he paused searching for the right word, “peculiar” he finally managed. “But you see I used to live in this house when I was a young boy. I think it was the only time in my childhood I was truly happy.
I’ve passed by here now and again over the years on my way here and there and I’ve often wondered about the people living there now. I’ve longed to see the place but I never had the confidence to approach it. I’ve always wanted to knock on the door and see who was here. What they’ve done with the place. Mostly I guess I just wanted to take a few moments to be this space and reminisce about those years. I wondered about it in my twenties when I couldn’t knock the door without seeming suspicious. I wondered in my thirties and forties when I was busy with my children and unwilling to revisit my own childhood. I wondered in my fifties and sixties when the desire seemed foolish and immature for man with grandchildren. Now I’m much older and I’ve finally found courage to knock on this old door.
So I’m wondering ma’am, if some time, when it’s not too much trouble, if you’d be wiling to give me a tour of the place. I understand it’s an odd request but it would mean a great deal to me.”
He reached inside his pocket and produced a business card, which he handed to her. “Well that’s what I’ve come to say.” And with that Walter Pelican turned to leave. Jayne stood in the doorway unsure of what to say. She looked down at the card in her hand. It read, “Walter Abraham Pelican, Retired” with a phone number. “Mr. Pelican.” Walter Pelican did not turn back but cocked an ear towards her. “I’m not doing anything right now. I’d be happy to show you around.”
“I don’t want to intrude on your morning.” he replied already moving back from the top step to the porch.
“Oh it’s no bother Mr. Pelican.” Jayne answered. “I’m Jayne.”
Mr. Pelican stuck out his hand and stood as straight as he could, “Walter. It’s good to meet you Jayne.”
“It’s good to meet you Walter.”