Story-listening

Helicopter pods and walnuts. Stones stacked like sigils in front of houses and seashells tossed around the bases of trees. One glove left in the middle of the road. A pizza crust, and a bottle half filled with dirty water.

More stones. Ever more stones. Glass bottles suspended and lazily filled with dried grass. A house that made me write lines before, but now I can’t see what I meant. A golden fan bending away from me, with accents of sunny salmon. Walking to the other side of the park, even if it kills you.

It doesn’t. A siren starts up, but it doesn’t kill you. A birdhouse on a tall pole you never noticed before. It’s green and no one’s hurting you.

I wish I could go to all the churches. I wish I could hear all the songs that the people sing. Wish I could hear their prayers and join in them, too, wish I could appreciate —

The little blur of a Pomeranian is barking at me, and she tells him to be nice. “Hey, I just wanted to say since I saw you texting there to watch out around here.”

I look around. The pavement of the sidewalk looks old and uneven, and I say so. “Yeah, and also, there have been a lot of needles, especially, you know, over by the school?” I nod. I say uh-huh any number of times. She has been waiting to tell this story.

“If you see ‘em, you know, just” and she instructs me on how to neutralize and dispose of them. “Or you know, just kick them to the side if you don’t want to touch them.

“I even been to see the school officials about it you know. I didn’t want to make a whole big, you know, media event out of it.” She says this two or three times more. “I’m a mom. I mean, my sons are 17 and 21, but you never stop being a mom.”

She sniffles deeply, uncomfortably deeply. I’m sniffly, too. Probably something dead in the air.

“Some of them looked like, you know, somebody’s diabetes medication. I know, because my father was a diabetic, and you have to, you know, learn to give them their medication. But some of them”

“Uh-huh.”

“You know, you could tell they weren’t that.”

In the moment I am thinking to myself, she had stopped you as another concerned adult to talk to you about an issue. But later I wonder if she might not have read me as a son. She could maybe have been my mother in a very teen mom situation. Ten or so years is always a strange gap for adults.

“I just, you know, I saw you had the thin canvas shoes like me. And I worry, you know, about the joggers these days, with the shoes that are, you know, basically paper.”

“Uh-huh.”

“And you know, except for the murder we had over here-” she gestures behind us, and I stifle a nervous laugh, “except for that it’s always been a real nice neighborhood.

“You know, some people like to complain about the people at the skate park, but it’s like, why? The regular guys there are very nice, respectful, they clean up after themselves. These bottles and needles, you know, it wasn’t them.

“Fact, those boys were real good to my youngest, he has a heart condition. I told them if he was going to be over there, he needs to be careful. Well, one day, one of ’em, real sweet, bigger even than you [I feel like by volume I am probably twice her size], he comes up to the door with my boy in his arms, he says, I’m so sorry, I know you said he needed to be careful, and maybe I shouldn’t even have moved him, and I said, no it’s ok, you did the right thing, he has gotten knocked in the chest doing some trick. Anyway real nice boys, don’t know why people try and act like there’s a problem with ’em.”

She tells me another story about how a boy came to the door, the wrong door, the – oh, the landlady’s door, and he asked about a bike in a truck, it looked old and disused, and he wondered if maybe he couldn’t have it, and the landlady went off, sending the boy away and demanding to know more about this bike, why was there a bike, why was there a little bit asking about the bike. I gather that this is a story about those people who don’t like the boys at the skate park. I gather that this is a story about being un-neighborly.

“Anyway, I just saw you texting there, and I just wanted to, you know, say watch out for the needles and all.”

I stick out my hand. “Thanks for looking out. It was really nice to meet you.”

She takes my hand and shakes it. “It was nice to meet you, too.”

We walk away from each other going opposite directions on an otherwise deserted small street, shimmering with a bright haze and possibly thousands of needles just east of a park at just after seven. Thank you, God, for storytelling, I think.

And thank you for story-listening.

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