REPORTING LIVE FROM OUR TOWN:
Nothing of any grand significance has happened so far today. This is, of course, the best kind of news, the type of news we like to print in Our Town’s newspaper. A human being should always be able to relax with the notion of accomplishing nothing for a day or more.
We heard that Anthony V. Toscano woke up early this morning, blinked his eyes in the direction of the cat sleeping on his rocking chair, and then lay back to enjoy a few more minutes of the pleasant dream that a sunbeam had invaded. A lighthearted nightmare about a tender love affair with no one in particular.
Once the love affair was consummated, and so anticipation lost forever, Anthony lost interest in the self-ignited fire of youthful uncertainty and settled instead for rising from his bed.
A cup of tea, a load of laundry, a memory of Galway’s flute.
“How good to be losing this bad dye job,” he muttered to his image in the mirror. “I prefer the grey and white that returns each time I brush the waves backward. So silly to have spent so many years’ worth of effort and expense just to play the part of an old man with a painted head. Yes, there are advantages to retirement, truth being the most important one.”
The cat stirred, climbed down from the rocking chair and pooped in the foyer.
“That’s okay, baby. I’ll clean you up before I shave. Not to worry. Never again to worry over my impatience with reality. Too bad, though, that you’re not built to use a litter box or a toilet.
“Anonymity, be damned. I do not miss the job. Babysitting was a bore. Tension suffered over the incurable was a waste of time. You cannot make a person smart by administering more tests. You cannot create a sense of responsibility where and when a parent lacks the same. Spreadsheets filled with scores and bloated lies regarding so-called progress are made of paper, not of flesh and blood.
“Language is a precious gift, given and accepted, not a set of syllables and words that you can teach to someone born without desire.”
The cat purred her thanks and went back to sleep beside the wall heater.
Anthony walked into the bathroom, shaved and then forgot his face.
“For so many years I owned no face. I can live without one now.”
Anthony climbed up and into his dark-blue pickup truck. He drove her to the next town over, there to visit one of his closest friends.
The two old men bent their bodies over a paint-stained card table and stared at the tiny model train car that lay clenched between a vice’s grasp and grip. Through the window shined a dull light made of fog and sunshine, grey and cool and lacking texture.
“You see that coupler?” his friend asked.
“I see it,” said Anthony.
The insignificance of the train car mixed its message with the rare nature of friendship, and the delicious blend left Anthony to smile to himself.
A few more comments about the coupler’s reflection inside a magnifying glass, and then the two men turned a corner toward the living room and set themselves in easy chairs. Stared through a wide picture window. Talked about the good old days, when bread was cheap and cancer was an unforgiving killer.
“My dad died inside that same bedroom. Took him two years to go. I helped Mom through it all, but I was only seventeen, so what the hell did I know?”
“You knew enough to love your mother.”
“I took a job beside the railroad station soon after that day. Made the last two payments on this house. married young and went into the service. Korea.”
“That day I was riding my black bicycle up Main Street. Stopped by Joe DeMarco’s butcher shop to watch him cut our week’s worth of pork chops and chicken legs.”
“I like to cook my pork chops crispy brown. Excuse me, but my mouth’s watering just thinking about the crackle inside that cast-iron frying pan.”
“I put the meat inside the front basket on my bike, then pulled the small brown bag from the back basket.”
“The brown bag? What was in it?”
“My dad’s false teeth. He had them made when he was in the army. Bad set of teeth. Back then the Vets’ hospital wasn’t so picky about their product, and my dad liked to crack walnuts with his teeth. Dr. Bardsley, our dentist, was just a few doors down from Joe DeMarco’s place.”
And on and on they went, reaching for the stars.
“I’ll pick you up at 9:45 am tomorrow morning.”
“That means ten o’clock,” said his friend.
“Just be ready. And don’t eat too many potatoes for breakfast. I’m taking you to the Chinese restaurant for lunch, after we stop at the cheap department store.”
“The department store again? What for this time?”
“More fancy underwear. Now that I’m retired, I enjoy new underwear. Quit your complaining.”
Anthony stopped by the Chinese restaurant on his way back home, and there made sure that the next day the chef would be serving hot and sour soup.
The cat lay waiting in the foyer as Anthony opened the front door.
“Hello, baby. How’s your bicycle basket?”
Elsewhere in Our Town something might have happened, but nothing of great significance.