11,041 vagabonds plus:
"Don't feed the hand that bites you".
"That makes no sense, but the endearment is noted".
"That's all I'm saying". He looked away. His mouth was dry.
"Beware of tempting shiny apples". His heart raced in confusion. She appeared calm, heartsick inside, and when he looked back at her standing on the train platform, a chilled breeze from one end to the other caught her up, hair falling in her eyes. But she was smiling.
She remembered the first time she saw him. Her car conked out on a lonely stretch of highway. And he was out standing in a field, perfectly still like a scarecrow holding a pole, an ax for clearing brush near is feet. During college break he worked as a surveyors helper. It was his job not to move much. It was the story of his life up to then. He was out there in the field wearing a long coat, and it reminded her of a shepherd meditating and tending to sheep.
She walked towards him calling, "I'm stranded. Can you help me"? Turning his head under the hoodie, being careful not to shift the pole to turn the future road into a concave pond, he saw the girl in those same black jeans and converse shoes walking towards him. She was close now, and she repeated the question breathlessly. He let the pole keel over and walked away with her forever. The bulldozer drivers will just have to wing it. That was love.
"You dropped your pole", she reminisced on the platform.
"I lost my job", he laughed quietly. They were quiet afterwards, until a booming voice out of tinny speakers above may or may not have called the end.
They both looked at those speakers as they were still fizzing static, then silent.
She was close to him now. "What was that about shiny apples"?
He pulled her close like only a shy man can do and kissed her.
There was this swing, a kind of gigantic rocking horse, down at the bloody-knee cement playground. Toby was twelve, and the new kid. He was fine, a sweet boy, but to the kids he even smelled different. Had to keep his distance, especially from the cruel girls. They called him snotty. Only because he was gentlemanly enough to have his very own handkerchief with the letter T in silver. They say there's a photo somewhere of the boy, off to one side at the school playground's infamous swing, by himself. It breaks your heart.
He got shoved a lot in the first weeks of the school year. The tears from the shoving were worse than any shin scrapes. He told no one. If you were passing through by the fence surrounding the crumbling cement school you heard the children's laughter, a mix of screams of daring terror, a rise of the two rear legs of the rocking horse swing leaving the ground, and ultimate choking laughter. Toby could see their heaving breaths on cold days. He stood alone, blew a soft stream of breath, following its swirling ghost-white mist.
Someone must've got word to his parents, for next Christmas he received his very own rocking horse. At twelve he was too big. He stood back from the torn wrapping paper. The paper had floating Santa heads looking right at him, no matter what angle he peered, Santa was giving him the raspberry with that little orange tongue. Bargain basement color off-centered Christmas paper. Toby said nothing, but his mother saw the streaking silent tears as he ran up to his room. She stood at the foot of the stairs, detecting the quietly latching lock-free bedroom door above.
He tried it once next morning when nobody was around. It was out at the curb waiting for the garbage cattle train. Sitting right next to a open box with some of those creased decapitated Santa heads. The horse was made of hard plastic, mounted on a wooden stand, one huge silver spring for support. The bottom of his hard shoes, knees slightly flexed, walked the horse as he was saddle bound. The tightly wound spring creaked. The horse went blubba blubba blubba. He rode out the dusty trail down his street and over some roof tops for a reward, six-shooters afire and smoking hot, seeking the asthmatic bank robbers.
photo by Tess
Time stops in a crowd where I feel alone. People become bumper poles. Bells in the distance halt in mid chorus. The first notion is to pick pockets of bulging wallets from the frozen statues, uncork tight wedding bands, even fill my pocket with inexpensive satsumas from the tilted basket in front of the Magpie market. But I stand still watching my breath, imagining being back home in front of the fire with you instead. Sure, I could pawn the loot and buy that ticket. Returning to the simple little gift of being alone with you. The smell of your hair. Your pale blue eyes. Slow sleigh rides and your smile on Sunday. I miss you. The proprietor is moving again and is yelling for the constable. Ah, the satsumas were too small to juggle anyway. Dear old England has clearly started once more.
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