March 9, 1981
The old man stops midway across the
coming from the Clifton side towards Garfield.
And there, he leans on the still-ice-covered rail. The winter wind gusts across him stirring up his gray hair. His breath huffs and puffs like tiny clouds out of some children’s book.
A morning mist still lingers in the air, waiting for sunlight to disperse it.
I don’t know why he has stopped. The weather is wrong and the place he stands gets the worst of the wind. Perhaps he is ill or has pushed himself farther than he is capable, having though he could make it across when it turns out, he can’t.
He is not a hobo. His clothing is clearly whole and his stance – though staggered – is filled with the price accomplishment life brings. He has been places and seen things, and done much, but has halted there where he can overlook the still mostly frozen landscape of reeds and now-cracking ice.
Commuters and truck traffic rumble behind him, rocking the bridge beneath him as he stares north. I cannot see from my post tucked among the bare trees what he sees, but I imagine I can. This is a narrow point in the river, the place where the shores close in and the water easing from the lazy wide shores between the Parkway and Route 46 bridges grows faster, picking up speed before tumbling off the short falls near Service Diner, fast water by the time it reaches here.
On warmer days, I have stood where he stands now, watching not the frigid landscape he sees, but one adorned with green and gold, fireweed bursting red out of the golden green arms of reed. I am not brave enough to stand as he does now, exposed, though I can watch him from the safety of my alcove and wonder at his wonder, and ache to see the world as he sees it, perhaps his head filled with similar visions from times he’s stood there before.
I imagine him saying good bye to all those things he has seen here, even if he can’t see them now, to the carp and catfish that swam here in warmer water, to the ravens cawing from their roosts on the mill walls, to the curve-winged shallows swooping down at and around his head to vanish beneath the eves of the bridge.
Maybe, he came this time, walked so far, to catch a glimpse of the bits of budding green I can see here, both of us believing in our hearts that life started up again after winter has brought the world to death.
Then with a significant expelling of breath, he straightens and moves on, slowly, step by painful step, to the other side.