COMMENTARY BY WILLIAM CARTER: A late night walk with Dad
By William Carter, Columnist
I ease out of bed and get dressed, leaving Love-Weasel sleeping with Jack-Jack, king of the cats, purring on her hip and Bear-Dog paws-up on the floor beside her dreaming dog-dreams. Pearl, Jack-Jack’s nobody-knows-why nemesis, squints at me sleepy-eyed at the bottom of the stairs then chastises me with a soft mewl before slipping away into the darkness of the den. I pull my shoes on then put my keys in my pocket and step out on the back steps and lock the door behind me and then I start walking.
Intermittent wind brings to mind the sound of surf as it bullies its way through what leaves are left clinging to their red and gold glory at the tops of the trees in my neighborhood at 1 a.m. – one hour after October ended. It’s cool out, but not too much, and the moon is near full as I begin what has become a three or four – sometimes five – nights a week ritual when I cannot sleep.
I go left out of my driveway then left at the stop sign and walk parallel to the hay field across the street from my house and imagine the rolled bales out there are actually a gathering of giant, quiet beasts – moon-shadowed and sleeping – paused in their never-ending migration until daylight comes and then I imagine one day my imagination will run away with me. A few hundred steps further, just before the street takes a 90-degree turn east and the mist from the Harpeth River thickens, a white tail doe bounds from the tree line along the bank then through the tall grass of the hay field and then onto the blacktop and she stops only 20 or 30 feet in front of me and I stop walking – and breathing – too, and I look at her and she looks at me and then she ambles her way unafraid across the road then through a line of pine to be swallowed whole by a dark backyard and I breathe again and wonder if she was ever really there at all.
Jack-o-lanterns grin dark grins at me from doorsteps and porches until I reach the top of what I call Heart Attack Hill and find one triangle-eyed face still flickering with light from a forgotten flame and for a brief time I am not middle-aged and gray anymore but decades younger and gifted with that delicious fear only Halloween brings to a 10-year-old and at that very moment I can think of nothing more glorious than a candle-lit grin and the skitter and scrape of dried leaves wind-blown across the pavement and darkness only a few steps away in either direction.
Puddled on the side of the road halfway through my first of four laps around my neighborhood there is a small, hooded, pink and white jacket made of fleece, zippered in front and embroidered on back with “God Loves Me” and a smiling sun and I pick it up and hang it on the nearest mailbox with hopes it will find its way back to whomever it belongs to or, if not, given to someone God loves just as much.
An hour later the near-full moon has moved to where it’s supposed to be at the end of three laps and there is a bead of sweat inching its way down the middle of my back because I walk hard and I walk fast on these sleepless nights as if there’s somewhere I’m supposed to get to even though there’s not and then I smell cigarette smoke and hear the soft “chock…chock…chock” of well-worn boot heels synced up with my own steps.
I know who’s there.
Out of the corner of my right eye I catch a glimpse of the peach-colored sports jacket my dad was buried in 24 years ago.
“Hey, Old Man,” I say, even though I’m older now than he was when he left us, but he doesn’t answer back because he doesn’t have to and instead we walk that last half-mile together in silence with the stars above us and listening to the surf-sound of November winds knowing that everything that needed to be said had already been said a long, long time ago and that a whole hell of a lot of it never really mattered that much anyway.
We reach my driveway and I hear one last, long draw on that cigarette and then from the corner of my eye I see him flick that cigarette away in a slow-motion, tiny light-show, shower of sparks and then I turn to look at him full-on – to see his face – but he’s gone now.
Upstairs, Love-Weasel breathes easy and deep with Jack-Jack, king of the cats, purring on her hip and Bear-Dog paws-up on the floor is beside her dreaming dog-dreams.
I undress and ease in beside her.
And then I sleep.
William Carter is a longtime Franklin city employee and published author. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on: 11/6/2012