Man and  a Stick

The neighbor never acknowledged with much more than a wave or a nod or an occasional tip of his deerstalker. He’d walk by while Adam, who was getting accustomed to the spring morning ritual on his porch, had his coffee. It was nice. The routine, the process, the act. It made Adam feel somewhat normal, for once. Maybe this was it. Normalcy. Was this it? The simple act of making coffee, sitting alone on the porch of a cottage nestled among firs, and responding with a curt nod to the neighbor who walked by every day, like clockwork.

The neighbor. An older gentleman with a walking stick, a doubled-vented tweed jacket and cap that looked like it was made specifically for him. The man oozed “English.” He could have been plucked from the pages of a Thomas Hardy novel. A squire in the Cotswalds. The nod again. This time Adam raised his mug in solidarity. “Yes, walk on, old man, get it while you can,” he thought. Adam studied him as he walked by. “How is it that the English just seem perfectly dressed for every occasion?” The man strolled on, his business was his own, and far be it for Adam to leave the confines of his porch (and his coffee) to pry. Adam sipped and thought about the day ahead. Lots to do and “that fence ain’t gonna whitewash itself,” as his father had been fond of saying. It didn’t.

The man came by again that afternoon. Adam was elbow deep in his garden, trying to distinguish weeds from his seedlings. He heard the now familiar “step-thok-step-thok-step” cadence of the walking stick and saw the tail of the tweed jacket before it disappeared, along with the sound, down the slope and around the slight bend. Retired well-to-do widower? A man escaping a certain past into an uncertain future? “James Bond, The Twilight Years?” Adam was intrigued. He had been at the cottage for a few years. He could afford it now, and it provided a welcome escape from the city. The enveloping woodsy smell, the isolation, the mountain view. All of it seemed suspended in time, and every face was familiar by now, including the old man with the walking stick and tweed.

Adam realized that his neighbors knew as little about him as he did about them. He recognized many and always offered a salutation, but he wasn’t into making friends, and he kept most at arm’s length. Perhaps it was time to change that. Tomorrow. He would walk down to the gate, introduce himself to the gentleman, and invite him up to his porch for coffee. Or tea. A good breakfast tea. Earl Grey, with milk. That’s how they do it, right?

Adam set up shop on his porch. He waited, expecting to hear the familiar calling card of the walking stick. The day was overcast and mild, a fine day for a walk. It wouldn’t matter, really. He’d seen him out in all conditions. He had the predictability of the Postal Service. But that morning, the sportive gentleman didn’t show. Or the next. The day after that, Adam thought he heard familiar “thok” of a walking stick but it was only a tentative woodpecker. He was still prepared to invite the tweedy chap to his porch if he saw him again, so for a while he added the possibility to his morning routine.

Another opportunity lost, Adam mused days later. Then he noticed, as if for the first time, his own stick propped near the front door. It had rested there unnoticed since the last time he walked the Appalachian Trail. In effect, retired. Ah, a fine day for a stroll, he said to himself, and he picked it up, dusted off a spider web, tapped the crown gently on the flagstone, and walked gamely down the front walk, stick in hand, to the front gate and strode down the slope and around the slight bend.

James Douglas is a farmer, bartender, and hospitality industry professional, adventurer, and contributing writer for Triad City Beat.

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