A Short Story by
THE MOST NOTICABLE THING about him was that he was never there. He left traces of himself behind; a tin can from lunch, maybe a dropped rag, a sparse trail of cigarette butts. One time it even happened that way with his boots. He just walked out of them along a twisting highway. By the time anyone noticed any of these bits of debris, he was long gone.
He was a drifter. A loner. He'd been drifting so long, he could no
longer recall when or why it started. There were vague memories of a
family, or something like a family. But really the memories were
constructed out of a sense for a need of logic in his life. People come
from other people. Every person is born of a mother, so logic dictated
he must have one somewhere. But who this woman was, or what she looked
like, he could no longer recall.
You wouldn't think it to look at him, but he was very formal in his
mind. He'd never phrase his though "don't remember," but rather "could
no longer recall." While he was walking he had very formal
conversations with the company he kept in his mind.
He walked every where, drifting aimlessly up and down rivers, along
mountain highways, from town to town. He mostly visited towns at night,
when he could. His eyes were very good in the dark. He would walk
along the quiet streets, picking things up and putting them down. It
was a good time to catch up on yesterday's newspaper by street lamp. He
picked up ideas and left them behind as easily as he did cigarette butts
and food wrappers. He liked the still company of town streets at night,
knowing that families were companionably sleeping in near by houses. He
liked people, but found he somehow made them nervous. So he'd visit,
and leave a little something behind. Some of the housewives knew his
kind were around, especially those who lived near railroad tracks. The
kind hearted ones would leave a little food on the back steps. A loaf
of bread, or some cans of tuna fish. He'd leave some lines of poetry,
or a quote from the newspaper, chalked into the paint of the back door.
By the time they were up in the morning, and read what he wrote, he'd be
As the years went by there was less and less that he could recall of
his early life; who he was, or where he'd come from. His education, for
example. Logic told him that he must have gone to school somewhere. He
knew how to read and write. He knew about poetry, and would sometimes
recite to himself; Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Robert Frost. But where
he had learned the works of these poets, and others, he could no longer
recall. He assumed that he'd either been formally educated, or he'd
picked up the words of these poets somewhere on the road. The poetry
was a comfort to him during long stretches when he didn't see another
face. The books, which contained those words, well after he'd committed
them to memory he must have left behind, for someone else to enjoy. He
was always picking things up and leaving them behind. Maybe he'd left
the pages behind with some housewife who'd put out particularly good
food. Just now, he couldn't recall.
He knew he was different from the other men of his kind whom he
sometimes met along the road. Their minds didn't seem so logical, or so
formally trained, and he found it hard to talk with them. So he mostly
avoided the settlements of drifters which seemed to spring up near
railroad stock yards. And he avoided cities, unless the weather was
particularly bad, for the same reason. Although they were good places
to pick things up.
He was going to have to pick up another pair of boots. He sometimes
thought about how odd it was that he'd walked out of that old pair.
They seemed to fit well, whether with two pair of socks, or no socks at
all. Worn in enough, and in the right places, they hadn't made blisters
on his feet the way some old boots did. The soles had been worn enough
that he could feel the texture of the ground beneath him, and yet hadn't
worked through to holes yet. He'd made something of a study of found
foot wear. It would be hard to find another pair of boots that suited
him so well. It was a good thing he'd picked up a pair of sneakers
As he walked he set his mind to unraveling where and when those
boots might have left his feet. Maybe... Maybe it was on that bit of
winding road which looked out over the Hudson River. He'd walked that road before. It was a highly busy road during the day, with sudden,
unexpected spectacularly views of the river valley. But at night, late,
late at night, it could be quiet and sublime. The recent night when he
had drifted up that road, the moon was full and the stars were
multitudinous. He just stood there, leaning up against the rock face on
the inside edge of the road, and stared up at the stars and out at the
dark expanse of the Hudson River. He couldn't recall how long he stood that way. But he had a vague recollection of his feet feeling hot in
those old boots. So he stepped out of them, and took his socks off.
The soles of his bare feet enjoyed the sensation of the warm sand and
rocks cooling in the late summer night air. It felt so fine. He didn't
always take the time to appreciate such things. Thinking back, he could
now well recall how, for a time that night, the logical chatter in his
mind became still. He was lost in the wonder of the feeling of his feet
in the sand, the river before him, and the multitudinous stars
stretching on above. The clear light of the full moon reflected
brilliantly off the stone wall across the road, and, farther away, off
the river's rippling water.
Then, with startling speed, the stark beams of car headlights came
seeking him out around the edge of the road. He was brought back to
himself and to his need to move on. He must have left his boots behind
in the warm curve of that rock face. He really could not recall. The
rest of the night was lost in the pure beauty of that short moment. He
was not really concerned. He would surely find another pair.
Pamela Goddard is a many talented artist, writer, and musician who lives in Ithaca, NY. You can find her web site at www.pamgoddard.com.
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