All that is now left are hints and clues. Hints. They were neighbors for more than ten years, one can come to know a neighbor in that amount of time... or not. He seemed crotchety and she seemed sad - angry sad.
Hints and clues... someone said they drank a lot; that he had been a vet (determining which type never came to mind); that their son had died, questionably, alone. Curiously, they had a pool, well maintained, oasis-like, surrounded by a patio. They seemed somehow haunted by happiness.
Yes, that's it, haunted by happiness. Because you can imagine the house full of happiness and hope. A young son, a beautiful, modern home, a pool, solidity. Church, school, athletics. It's good to imagine their holiday meals and family arguments. Is it good to imagine, or is is good to remember? As we imagine, we remember. We remember our own childhood happiness, seeing it around us, dreamlike as though we were imagining it. We like to imagine an other's, as we remember our own now.
One sees a lot when one is looking. They story tells itself when you let it in.
The old man, who rarely ever went out, is talking to the landscaper who mows his yard. He is bent, the older man, down farther than he seemed just yesterday. The conversation is lost in the wind. The landscaper nods yes and the man seems to straighten a bit, stronger somehow, and reaches out a withered, shaking hand. That landscaper takes it and pats the old man's shoulder with his free hand and turns to his truck.
Only then does the old woman step out of the garage and into the late summer twilight. She is in a housecoat and holds a tired looking dust towel in her hands, wringing it imperceptibly. She steps a few feet into the driveway, the man, with a new confidence in his step, walks towards her and turns to stand next to her.
Their collective, almost intense gaze is set upon a basketball pole and backboard and hoop, weathered and broken and rusted. A chainsaw starts and you know. You know that that whole thing is coming down onto the asphalt court below, and, along with it all the hopes and dreams, love and energy a once-young-couple once had.
The chainsaw revs, the landscaper walks forward, looks to the man, seeming younger by the minute, nods and begins his cut. The wood is dry and the old grain gives way suddenly with a snap and the pole falls, a final bow, and shatters, splinters, rings, smashes. The woman brings the dishrag to her mouth. The old man watches intently, head high, proud somehow. The landscaper works quickly cutting the pole into a few sections, loads them on a trailer. He uses a coal shovel to get the most of it, then sweeps it clean with a push broom.
He says a last goodbye to the couple, and walks toward the truck, clearly determined but a sad shake of his head and a tug at his hat says something else. The old man, turns, confidently and walks in to the garage and out of sight. The woman is left, stooped and holding the towel so tenderly, and watches as the truck and trailer pull away. Just as the trailer's last wheels bump up onto the road, she takes a step toward it and raises her hands a little. It is gone and she puts the rag against her face and begins to sob.
Finally, she turns to go into the garage, and the story ends...
But it doesn't because she comes back quickly with a broom. She leans a dustbin against the stub of the pole and determinedly, hauntingly, sacredly, ritually, she begins to sweep the whole of the basketball court, edge to edge, crack after crack, hope to dream. And she imagines what was not, or is it that she remembered what is?
She finishes, and stands, quietly for a moment, alone as sure as she ever was. Then she walks to the garage, but she stops, suddenly, leaning the broom against the house she goes through the gate, walks straight to a blooming, healthy rose bush and takes a single pink bloom and walks inside.
Here's the thing... I have no right to tell that story, and yet, it was a story that was told to me, as I watched it unfold, filtered through my grimy, spider-webbed garage window, next door, a few years back.
There is more I can imagine, somehow hear, inside this story. Perhaps, when the son had wanted the net a dad had labored hard and rightly on a birthday while the boy was at school to surprise him when he bicycled home and onto the expanded driveway. Perhaps they did it together, hands on shovels, pouring the cement together, perhaps initialing the wet slurry. I would hope that is why the man seemed so proud, because he had done it, he had loved a son, truly and wholly.