Wednesday, November 6, 2013

An Untold Story

The story may not always be happy or luminous or grace-laden, but, every story is a beautiful story. Some just want to be told, maybe for the first time, perhaps the last, not knowing that it is already a part of one bigger, unending story. One story looping, maddeningly around itself to where a piece seems isolated, nearly ready to fall away, but closer inspection reveals its place in the one story we are all telling.

The house next door will soon be for sale. An older couple lived there. They bought the house new in the fifties and lived in it until they both passed away in hospital last year in less than the span of a year. One year they moved in, one year they passed on, what of the years in between?

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.

Perhaps the rag was a piece of a Led Zeppelin t-shirt she always used to dust the trophies on her sons shelf - his last outgrown shirt.  She had it in her hand as the man suggested the old pole come down.  Perhaps it still held some small piece of a boy who shot free-throws in the late summer sun.

I can imagine her going out, years ago, of an afternoon and sweeping the acorns and oak leaves off the court so he could practice.  Doing that as gift to him.

I wonder if, and, in the wondering understand it to be true, the landscaper had been the son's childhood friend.  His tip of the hat one to the memory of late night pool parties and endless hoops in the November wind.

And the old rose bush to which a single perfect rose clings as I write these words?  What if the proud father had planted it the day the boy was born, everyone had said it was to be a girl, and she had tended it some forty or more years now?

Or perhaps...

You may wonder why I include this here, what has this to do with my sons, my now, their then?  I could easily point to a lesson here, somewhere.  The simple truth is everything doesn't always work out.  But, that is a plain and irredemptive place to end.

I could speak on the importance of paying attention, listening, watching...

I could start again, deleting this, afraid it will seem too sorrowful.

Or, I could tell you the truth.

The story used to be mine.  It is yours now.  It is back where it belongs, back in the one true story which is ours.

Things you don't expect to hear down the hallway:

"...and no enchanting the ball!"

Damn rules...

Thank you for listening, there are a few more untold stories I need to return back to the main one.  Stop by again.


  1. The visuals here are striking, as is the stark loneliness, right down to the inaccessible conversation between landscaper and old man. I feel so far away from the story, yet immersed in it. And it strikes me how easy it would have been to miss this incident or to discount it. You have done it justice well deserved.

  2. You have come into your own as a writer, or rather an observer and a storyteller, aided by your writing hand, Bill. What an amazing untold story. I often think I'm imagining my own childhood, so I can imagine this with just as much authenticity which really does put it where it belongs. You made us feel something for them, that makes it less sad and sorrowful and allows us all to rejoice in each chapter of our own that concludes with happiness or anything short of such sorrow. Nice writing!

  3. Bill, you have brought us into that moment so beautifully. I almost felt like I was witnessing it along with you. What an amazing tale you have told about something that may seem ordinary to some but is truly extraordinary. If this is what a hiatus from the group means, maybe I should take some time for myself.

  4. Such a wonderfully imagenetive story. I could find out more but I like not knowing. And I'm sorry I can't spell.