Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Friday, March 03, 2006

School Day

On the corner, beside the mailbox, stood Lowell, his hair a bowl inverted over his head and cocked rakishly to the rear. His cheeks, orotund and kissed rouge by November, resembled those of the squirrels frantically scratching at the base of a tree in the yard behind him, gathering a winter's rations. Like them, he lifted his nose slightly to the wind before noticing my approach, his hair blown momentarily back from his fair brow.

Between bangs and cheeks his eyes safely demurred -- indians, not chiefs. His parka was fisherman green and lined with tawny fur matted and spiked like a stray dog's. Clouds scudded by on their way to sea, and Lowell's eyes danced with the mailbox's bureacratic blue.

My workboots, buckskin with faux leather furls of padding at the achilles, crunched a passel of leaves underfoot, and Lowell of the Squirrels met my wary gaze, a line of evenly clipped hair bracketing his brow like a fitted paintbrush.

I don't remember how we greeted each other then. Certainly, we didn't embrace as is my custom now. At that tender age we did not lower ourselves to share an adult handshake, a complex taste we'd yet to acquire. Maybe we slapped hands; just as likely we stood awkwardly around for a moment, proximity our language, toeing tufts of yellowing grass at the edges of the treacherous flagstone sidewalk, tilted by implied tree roots into angles that might impart flight to a bicycle well aimed.

Too long a shared glance would have pitched us in each others' grappling arms to the foot of the hedges beside, every intimacy an invitation to idle contest, and I would have ended beneath Lowell's much larger frame, braced in babyfat, looming above me with a leering smile, seeking my surrender too long in coming.

I picked a red berry from the yew and pinched it between my bare fingers, rubbing to reveal the tiny pit within, the red pulp one shade too pale to suggest edibility. In the corner of my eye, Lowell's backpack was thinner than my own, I knew, and fit him, while mine, packed and cantilevered out from my lumbar made me feel small, unbalanced, vulnerable.

The wind sent a squall of leaves tumbling dryly across the road, where "Lennon Lives" was scrawled across the wall of the bowling alley, then an incomprehensible legend, a graffito like any other graffito, and I shivered inside my own coat. A hat hid in my hip pocket where it would stay even were a gale to come down from the arctic to embarrass my smarting ears.

Finally, Brent appeared in front of his house up the road and shambled with his charismatic dullard's enthusiasm toward us, a slim Trapper Keeper under his unjacketed arm, a beaming Cheshire smile haunting his fine blonde hair. The tacit ritual repeated itself, expanded by one exponent, and after a time we turned into the wind toward school.


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