Dave Isn’t Here

by September 9, 2010 0 comments

“I used to own my own boat,
planned to sail it around the world
until I busted my legs,”
said the hooded storyteller
as I wheeled him
up, over or around
sidewalk barriers
even able bodied people couldn’t clear
just outside my apartment complex
that one night after a vicious argument
with my wife and mother of our only child.

“I used to have a young daughter, too,
a lot older than your 18 month old,
he said in softer tones
as we moved up and across the flood channel
where other men and women of the night
made home in the shadows
with pets as protectors
from cops, others
more desperate.
“She’s her own woman now
a professor in Women’s Studies.”

“Talk too her recently?”

“Yeah, a couple of years ago
but any call from the states
across the Canadian border
just too damn expensive.”

“Bet she’d like to hear from you
– even collect,” I said, wondering if mine
would grace Ivy Halls one day.

“Nah, I’ll call her from Hawaii –
the government owes me
a freebie as a busted-up veteran.
I’ll make ’em pay.”

An hour later,
over the bridge and through the woods
not to grandmother’s house
we parted ways
on the shore
next to the amusement park,
the 75 year old wooden roller coaster
and a place he’d known
comfortably
as bartender
a dozen or so years ago,
not as refuge
but as a human
with wife, daughter, job,
home.

“Thanks man,”
he said for the dozenth time
as he reached out his hand
. . . and I hesitated
before grasping it firmly.

I faced him
for the first time
and although he sounded
more like a man of forty before
he looked the part of a sixty year old
in the boardwalk lights.

Not to wash away the man
but my hands
of the grime his calluses collected
like a bicycle chain in need of lubrication,
I walked into the public washroom
for vacationers with money
for ice cream, hot dogs, sunglasses
but not for men like Dave.

Still, three of five sinks had feces
proudly mounted
as three scoops on a waffle cone
a practical joke
from a fraternity down the street
but one that gave
my friend, those that needed it most,
no sense of dignity.

A minute later
with hands no cleaner than before
I looked for the refugee
of the night
but he was out of sight.

I bike there almost every afternoon this summer
but I’ve never seen him again,
doubt I ever will
though I hope
a post card from Hawaii
or Toronto
might fall out of my mailbox
one day
when I least expect it…

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