Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Park Keeper

 The Park Keeper
(A Neighborhood Tragedy)

Just at that moment I came out of the café, a man emerged from the corner of the park pavilion, at Como Park, that stood alongside the edge of the building’s corner. An odd sense of familiarity made me do a double take on him. But the man had done an about-turn, and was walking rapidly the other way, away from me, as if about to walk around Lake Come, a half mile walk. There was something about the slope of his shoulders, and outlying of his short curly hair between his neck collar and slump hat that aroused vague memories for me. I quickened my pace, trying to think those thoughts that formed hidden in my brain about this person.  Who could it be in those long and baggy and faded overalls and jacket-shirt that said “Como Park Custodian?” A thin beard and mustache, and sun glasses, it all didn’t fit somehow, his physiognomy was a disguise.
       I paused,  as he turned about, looked straight into my face, and I chuckled at myself,  for I had almost abandon the chase, had it not been for that haunting familiarity of those shoulders, and hair, and lumpy looking body. I now shot a keen look at his face; then I stepped a foot closer abruptly, and confronted—:
       (but before I confronted, my mind swiveled backwards to 1965, when Barb and I, the girl from Johnson High School I was dating, when I had my 1959-Black Plymouth all supped-up, the one I raced around Washington High School with, and was told to slow it down. And I had been at this party at this fellows house, and Ace was there, and Larry L., and John L., and Rick, and just about everybody from the neighborhood, this fellow had lived at the end of Jackson Street, perhaps the farthest away from any of the gang members’ homes, per near at the end of the Cemetery, by the Do-Drop-Inn Bar, —Barb, whom I would marry several months later, and to which the marriage would only last 15-months, we were drinking and making out, and now it all came back to me…it was, who I thought it was:)
       He stepped back a foot, halted with equal abruptness, and inhaled. A black plastic bag full of leaves from his left hand dropped onto the sidewalk, it burst open, and the leaves fell out all about his feet, and mine, like a flood of potatoes. He looked at me with astonishment and unease, then he appeared to wane away; his heavy round belly, drooped with glumness, which he expressed in a deep moan, had I discovered his secret? Who he was? Again I contemplated taking off his beard, cutting his long straggly hair, and although still somewhat bulky, yet not as fat as he used to be, he was nearly as fat as Reno at one time, now he must had lost thirty or more pounds, which helped to some degree in changing his looks, of course nearly two decades had passed also.
       I held out my hand and he shook it, but his hand was all sweaty. He cleared his esophagus in humiliation, and I could see the perspiration starting to pop out of his forehead, thinking no doubt: ‘…does he really know who I am?’ Thinking more rapidly than the NASA probe approaching the dwarf planet called Pluto, his face grayer than its moon Charon.
       “Yes, it’s me, he said,” and then I knew without a doubt, who it was, Danny Knight, as I had expected: “but please don’t let anyone know I’m working here,” he begged, “I must be going,” he said looking apprehensively about him as though dreading his discovery, and seemingly wanting to make an attempt to walk on, but out of fear stood his ground. Plus, he knew I was determined, and that it was my intention to stick to him like glue, for the moment, yes he was found.
       It was a misshapen event to have bumped into him, the scamp of Donkeyland, he leaned on one leg like a heron by the side of a marsh.
       “No,” I answered him firmly, “I have no intentions of telling anyone I saw you.” For a moment, he looked like a war-horse hearing the discharge of a trumpet! Then, he looked at the bag of leaves he had dropped.
       “Really,” he said gradually moving his head upward to catch my appearance, his expression indiscernible gave a notion of restless sagacity “Forgive me of my rudeness, but it has been a hell of a life these past fifteen years. If you only knew, I think I’ve turned into a somnambulist.” I presumed he felt for a moment I was sent as a look-out?
       “Make yourself easy,” I commented, looking at his cap, and curly hair, stretching out and below that cap he wore, it must be a wig on top of that head, I diligently deduced; concluding it was simply another part of his disguise, remembering he had nearly lost all his hair at a very young age, and to boot, his withered neck, seemed as if it was older than his face.
       I knew he had killed David E., in a heat of emotion and drunkenness, that night over at Mary Aldrich’s party when David had gotten into his way trying to stop a fight between him and Big Bopper, whom he wanted to shoot with his shotgun, it was over a jealous feud concerning Mary; everyone being drunk at Mary’s apartment, and Danny running home like a crazy man and getting his shotgun to threaten Big Bopper with, and shooting David by accident, whose intentions were to shoot Big Bopper (and the Big Bopper would live on to be 76-years old, die in June of 2015, of a heart attack, some 40-plus years later: the incident taking place in the late sixties or early seventies, thereabouts?)
       Dan looked as if he was going to breakdown, but he pulled himself together and took control.
       “Well,” he said, “you’re about the only one not after me. I spent four-years in prison, of course you’d know that.”
       I knew it was a sad case. It was terrible. David was so young a man, fifteen years ago, he was but nineteen, I told myself. And I could see he was suffering from the depth of it.
       “I must go at once. You understand,” said Dan, as if it was a question-statement, and not wanting any feedback.
       I was convinced he was sorry for what he had done, there was no sneer on his face, perhaps an ulcer in his stomach. And now that it’s been twenty-years since I saw him at that park, I figured I can write about it, he’s most likely dead, or in his early seventies, and I as said, Bopper now is dead too. Sorry to say, David E., he never got the chance to grow honorably old, but no need to belabor that.
      Convinced of this, I told him goodbye, and in his own exhausted way he appeared to have alleviate some of the social ills that continuously arose in him for the injustice he had done.

No: 1027/Short Story (11-26-2014)
Reedited and revised, as a “Neighborhood Tragedy” 7-2015
David Eye, a fine fellow, who I only got to know, lightly, a Rice Street lad, not part of the Donkeyland Neighborhood, also he went to Washington High School, if this could be a tribute, so be it…