Harold’s Day Out
by Meg Whitefeather
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
With an exaggerated breath, he lifted his cane into position and pushed himself up. Leaning, favoring his good leg like always, he clomped to the front door, toc toc toc, the sound reverberating through the tiny rooms. He ran a hand through his hair, smoothing the sides and hoping to somewhat force the top to fall into place. He hadn’t yet found a mirror.
When he opened the door, a brunette with a beautifully contoured face stood before him in a beige overcoat. He guessed her age at about sixty. For a few seconds they stared at each other. Her sad, dark eyes made Harold feel sad too.
“Can I help you?” It sounded strange. It was the first time he’d heard his own voice in as long as he could recall. It had a pleasing, masculine tone to it.
“May I ask you the same question?” Her voice was like a librarian’s, very matter of fact, yet full of depth. It lay easy on Harold’s ears.
He wasn’t sure what to do next. Extending an arm, the left one of course, he said, “I’m Harold. Harold Day.”
“I know.” She took his hand, but not before having to shift the package in her hands rather clumsily and with some effort. “You can call me Woolf.”
“Sorry.” He tipped his head toward the package. “Woolf?”
She nodded. “I’ve brought you something, a gift.”
“What is it?”
“Open it and see.”
Harold took the package she proffered, and the lady left. He waited while she drifted down the street to the grass, then over the ridge toward the shore.
He left the door open, clomped to the table with his package, and set it down. With his left hand, he rustled open the paper bag and took out a lidded brown container. Holding it up at his stomach, he yanked on the lid but it wouldn’t budge. He set it back down, leaned his cane against the table — God, his leg hurt — and using both hands, twisted off the lid. He gawked at the blond contents: sand. Something about the sand, something from ages past, but he couldn’t recall.
Leaning against the table, he took a finger and lightly touched the top few grains, pulled his finger back, and did it again. Yes, it was sand, honest to goodness sand.
Harold then did something very unusual — he took hold of his cane with one hand, and with the other he poured the sand on his head! — let it run down over his shoulders, on his bare arms, over the back of his hands.
After that, he set his cane aside again, sat in the chair next to the table, took off his shoes and socks, and stood in the sand — stood cane-less and shoeless — and swirled his feet around in it, just like... just like... once... long long ago... somewhere... But he continued to lean on the chair back.
He did this for a good while before it dawned on him how foolish he must look, playing in sand, though no one was there to watch him; but that didn’t matter. It was important that he didn’t look foolish.
The breeze at the waterfront now carried a fine mist, one that settled around the trio of gatekeepers to this strange world in which Harold found himself. It was a chill-less mist, a sort of pinkish-grey film that divided near from far. The water stayed cold as ever. Again the conversation turned to Harold. The conversation always turned to Harold these days.
“Shall I try?” It was Sylvia.
“Why not? We haven’t much time left, and you’ve yet to work your wiles on him. He’s more your age anyway,” Woolf said, the bottom of her coat flapping in the breeze: but not the pockets, the pockets stayed stationary, weighted.
Back at the love-seat, Harold was safe. A second knock at the door brought him out of his oft escaped-to reverie and slowly to his feet again. It was getting to be absolutely bothersome.
The young lady before him had the same sad eyes as the first, the same beauty, yet not the years. He liked her looks. Her smile did something, made him feel something.
“Can... can I help you?”
“Umm. I’m a neighbor.”
Harold knew better, but he didn’t want to admit the impossibility of having a neighbor like the one standing in front of him.
“Well, I’m... I’m glad of that. That you’re a neighbor. That is, that you live nearby. Well... I’m Harold.”
“Nice name, Sylvia. Very... nice-sounding.”
Harold and Sylvia laughed. It was the first time Harold remembered laughing. And Sylvia’s laughter rang with all the sweetness of a million harmonious tinkles, pealing out a lover’s tune on a moonlit night. Yet her eyes were still sad. Harold longed to be able to brighten those eyes, give them happiness and... and meaning. Somehow.
“Would you like to come in?”
“I really shouldn’t. I’m working on a book, you see. I find my best inspiration at the seashore, just down the road. I’d love to have you join me.”
Harold froze. Of course he couldn’t join her. The pain would be overwhelming. And she’d see him walk with that... thing. No, he couldn’t go to the shore. Ever. But how could he tell her, she who stood there with her sad, needy eyes, eyes that stroked parts of his being he had completely forgotten existed? No, he couldn’t tell her.
“I... uh... I’m starving. I’m about to make something to eat.” It was a whopper, but Harold didn’t flinch.
“I’m a wonderful cook. Can I possibly help?”
Harold grimaced. “Umm. How very thoughtful of you, but I really couldn’t let you do that.”
“I don’t mind at all.”
“I... just remembered — I have... someone else coming over... an appointment.” Lame. He had no neighbors; how could he have “an appointment”?
Sylvia’s shoulders slumped. Harold was a tough case. “I can see you’ve got other things to do, Harold. Maybe another time.” Sylvia turned to leave, taking those pools of irrepressible despondency with her.
“Aw, nothing. I just thought...” Harold slowly clomped backwards, farther into the house, closing the door as he went.
Sylvia stood at the end of the sidewalk and heard the clomping, toc toc toc, her grey eyes filled with all the sadness implicit in a bottle of sleeping pills about to be put to wrong use. She turned waterward and began her own long, painful journey. Harold had no idea.
He watched from the window, watched a light slowly disappear down the short road leading from his house.
Suddenly Harold was a thirsty fool, craving water he still had no need of. In a flurry of movement, he clomped to the sink, almost dropping his cane in the process. Damn cane, after all.
Grabbing the glass with one hand, he turned the faucet handle with the other but nothing came out. Well, he didn’t see it anyway, despite his imagined thirst; he was thinking of Sylvia.
The water flowed, wetted his hand, overflowed the glass. He let it. Sylvia. Water and Sylvia. Sylvia and water. The ridiculous sensation overwhelmed him, and Harold shook. He still had his cane. He would have his cane if the rest of the world washed out to sea.
The waves exhaled softly, and a henna-hued seaweed dotted the warm shifting sand. The bluest of waters washed high up the shoreline, a berylline blue, all transparent and gemlike, and would have removed the foot traffic, if there were any. But the Gatekeepers left no prints, only the dissipating echo of their cries of regret. They had failed. Their stay here would continue. Another Entity would be introduced at some indeterminate point in the future, be given the narrow house on the narrow street in the narrow town — here in the chink between time and meaning. The Three would have yet another chance to influence and intercede.
The Four Smaller Entities had grounded Harold to this place: the house, the cane, the water, the fly — only the Trio remained, and they were doubtful. The Circle of Entities was fast disappearing. Harold had to make a choice.
One last try... just one last try.
Harold sat again at the love-seat, and for the very first time since arriving, in the throes of complete aloneness with not even an insect for company. His head throbbed from the knowing disjunction of everything surrounding him: the fly no longer buzzed around his head; sand on his floor; the toc toc toc of his ever-present cane; the absence of water and an irrational desire for water when he knew no thirst. Add to that a woman who appeared from nowhere and returned to nowhere as quickly as she came, and the blasted memories — memories somehow selective, and eerily void of substance. Yes, his head hurt.
The big-room chair would be a change; he needed change. He sidled up the stairs, one painful step at a time. It was only the second time he had managed these stairs, and still he hated them.
At the top he misstepped but didn’t fall, though his cane slip-jostled from his hand and awkwardly over-ended, one bounce followed by a slide. It lay there at the bottom of the steps while Harold clung to the upper railing. No, clung is too weak: he melded with the upper rail in an effort to stay erect.
He hobbled to the door of the large room, cursing as he went. Each step was a chore. He gripped his leg with the hand that usually held the cane. With the other, turned the knob. There sat the chair, the cane-backed chair. But he wouldn’t risk more pain simply to get to that chair; it was across the room.
The few steps back to the stairs would be easier. He could hold the rail and hobble down easily enough. His cane would be waiting. As luck would have it though, about halfway down he lost concentration, dropped to his backside, and slid down the rest of the way. It was definitely the faster route.
Harold’s mood improved momentarily, but his cane was gone. It had dropped, bounced, landed. It had to be here somewhere. But no cane, only a trail of sand leading from where the cane had lain to the front door. Dang.
Harold pushed and strained, and finally managed to stand up. Then he hobbled, right hand pressing on his right thigh, to relieve the pain, that ever-throbbing pain. It was slow going.
He made it to the door. To the north, a fast-moving figure disappeared over the ridge just beyond the end of the road. It wasn’t that far, but to Harold it was miles. Without putting his shoes back on, he limped outside and down the sidewalk, onto the very short stretch of pavement in front of the house. He glanced back at the dwelling. It was small and not very pretty. He couldn’t remember ever being outside.
He moved toward the ridge, one step at a time, until he finally reached it, then the sand. The pavement had been surprisingly cool. The sand was surprisingly hot. He walked a little faster, and for the first time saw the trees flanking him on both sides.
Running now, he approached the water’s edge and let the waves wash up over his bare ankles and feet. His body flooded with release and a sort of joy; he had finally found what he’d been looking for. It was the water.
“No, it is the freedom.”
It was Sylvia, lovely as ever, holding his cane. “How... where... who are you?”
“I’m Sylvia. I already told you that.” She smiled.
“Well then, what are you?”
Sylvia laughed, a light, chimey, pretty laugh. “I’m a person, like you. Would you like this back?” She held out his cane.
“Why would I want that? You saw me run, didn’t you? I don’t need a cane.”
“Are you sure?”
Harold grabbed the cane, ran into the water, and threw it as far as he could. It sank beneath the blue-green swells. He walked back to the woman standing there, now with her back toward him. “I’ll never need a cane again, ever.”
She laughed again, but this time it was a different laugh, carried a hint of a question. Harold stepped around in front of her. It was Woolf.
Woolf placed a frigid hand on Harold’s arm, smiled, and said, “Remember that, Harold, about the cane. And don’t follow me.” Then she walked into the ocean, where Harold had walked, but she kept on walking until the waters covered her completely.
Harold stood gaping for a few seconds, confused. He turned back toward the hill, to the ridge. If only he could make it back to the house, he could think things through. Despair and a deep confusion washed over him.
Two choices faced him down: return to the safety of the narrow house on the narrow street in the narrow town, or follow Woolf to inevitable perdition, end it now, and hope for some sort of eternal rest. Then a third choice came to him.
Without further hesitation, he ran to the water’s edge, and on into the cold water. “Woolf!” he called. “Where are you?” Crazy woman. What was she thinking? But he’d save her. He’d had lifeguard training once, as a teen, and was glad for it. He was happy at another memory.
But it was not to be. The undertow took Harold and washed him out to sea, far, far away. He was never seen in that town again, didn’t wash up on a distant shore. No one mourned for him, not a soul cried.
A new inhabitant occupied the house along with a single centipede, a toupee, and piped-in music. Three paced the shoreline, strategizing, laughing, crying, but it was a different trio. The wind caressed their hair and their feet left no prints.
* * *
“Julia, can you keep an eye on Harry? I’ve got to make that phone call.”
“Sure, darling. I’ll watch him.”
“I am an entity,” the little tyke said.
“Hmm?” Julia asked.
“Sounds like he said, ‘I am an entity.’” It was Leah, a neighbor.
“Of course you are, dear.”
Copyright © 2013 by Meg Whitefeather