His hands were not spotted with the rigors of age, but drawn upon with the sinking of skin and the ink of veins carrying old blood; green tributaries of life that spread through his forearm and into the back of his hand as would a highway across a map connecting major cities. His eyes, bright cerulean against yellowing sclera, have seen change so significant that were it not for the time afforded, could have left him in a stunned state of paralytic awe.
He boasted of knowing authors lost to the march of progress, men and women whose thoughtfulness built the skeleton upon which famous scribes now surround with flesh. Holding no interest for the new, he dismissed anything later in arrival than when he’d assigned consideration, an acceptable prejudice for his smile was never forced and his eyes, when not trained on my own, would drift in consideration toward the high ceiling, a crooked finger resting over his lips.
He spoke in ragged tones measured with an air of careful deployment, shaken words sent as precious cargo. He wanted to share, to impart what he’d concluded over the span of decades, and my ear bent toward him seemed a gift rarely offered in these latter days. And yet I attempted to share my own learning, for though a teacher may know his lesson plan, there is so much more outside any practiced curriculum.
“You’re a cultured guy,” he chided me with a grin carrying sincerity in greater measure than sarcasm.
In response, I drew an oval with my index fingers in the air, the center of a crude Venn diagram. I said, “We overlap here,” and then moved my hands to the left to show him his earlier depth of knowledge. “You know all of this, sure,” I showcased with open arms.
Then I moved my hands to the right and smiled. “But I know so much here.” My arms spreading again, this time to signify my collected study.
The oval where we met at center was the egg of our friendship, never hatched, but warmed over many nights under dim illumination and cozied by the low murmur of background voices; a soundtrack providing our lengthy discussions with enough need for volume that others would drop in like cars passing on a long drive between remote exits.
We did not laugh much, but there were many smiles, and I would regard his teeth with curiosity. Were they real? Did they sit on a nightstand in a lonely room as he let go of the waking world and edged closer to final rest? Was his smile practiced over them? Or did it simply stretch as it had in youth; that time spent in darkened cinemas memorizing names, faces, facts and wishes that those days would never end; that those heroes would always be exalted.
I try to tell him yes, yes they still live, and I hope my enthusiasm plays at a convincing resurrection. His smile says yes.