fiction by Jonathan Corcoran
I sat like that any day there wasn’t rain, from September until the cold part of fall descended. It was the first week of October when the old man came over. I was rolling one of the nuts in my hand, and he came marching over with the help of his cane, his click, click, click, moving just a little too fast. The cane appeared to be leading him, like an overly excited dog dragging its owner by the leash. By the time I’d registered that he was heading in my direction, that he was darting along that little used path to my quiet corner, he’d already sat down beside me.
I was young and I didn’t know how to act around old people. I had some vague notion that all elders were authorities, that when they spoke, I should listen; that when they asked a question, I should respond. I unzipped my backpack and reached into my bag, and I was about to offer him one, until I saw my hands.
“William,” he said.
We sat there for a moment, listening to a flock of geese honking towards the south.
He was still holding onto the nut I’d given him, and now he was rolling it around in his palm, just as I’d been doing when he’d startled me out of my musing.
We sat there, and he chattered away as the sun began to go low against the horizon. What I could see were the trees in the park, the brick buildings of Main Street, the top floor of my old apartment building, and the autumn-toned mountains that surrounded the town. He told me everything, and I listened. He’d been a history professor at the college, and he told me about the classes he’d taught, how he’d spent his summers in Paris, in Tokyo, in Athens–how they’d gone to the museums and the temples and ruins. Each fall they became new people, he said. Now they were drinking sake; now they were eating baguettes with every meal. He was off to Florida next week, to go live with his sister. He was scared, yes, but change was inevitable. He hadn’t shared a space with someone in ten years. Would the house be sold? He couldn’t think about it yet. He was a talker, and in that way, he reminded me of her. After my father had left without warning–I was only six–she’d never shied away from telling anyone the truth of it.
He was slower this time, and as the sun hit from that golden angle, I could finally see his age–the spots all over his skin, the bruised skin on his arm, the tufts of hair in his ears.
We walked in silence the five minutes to his front porch. As he climbed up the stairs towards his door, I realized I would never see this man again. I parked my bike on the sidewalk, followed him up the stairs, and held out my backpack. I said,
He had seen me peeking in. He said, “You know, we keep them with us however we can. We put our little figurines on the shelves and the posters on the walls. Everywhere I look, even now, I see us together.”
Jonathan Corcoran is the author of the story collection, The Rope Swing, which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards and long-listed for The Story Prize. His essays and stories have been published and anthologized widely, including in Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods: Fiction and Poetry from West Virginia, and Best Gay Stories. He received a BA in Literary Arts from Brown University and an MFA in Fiction Writing from Rutgers University-Newark. Jonathan teaches writing at New York University. He was born and raised in a small town in West Virginia and currently resides in Brooklyn.