Ryan sits on the bench by the flower display, watching a collage of feet pass by; silver and green skirts low on thighs; his faded jeans matching the Mall's floor pattern, his shirt competing with several colorful retail walls; customers rushing from one outlet to another, seeking bargains they may not be able to afford.
Not long ago, he too raced along this same corridor, caught up in a wind of commercialism, his wallet bulging, sandals slapping, armed with a blond, a smart one at that. Later, laughter and steaks at Stanfield House, and after that
But any memory in life can easily be pushed away by the reality of this moment, a "Geezer" as some smarty pants call him, sometimes lonely in his vigil, eyes squinting, hemorrhoids acting up again. Finally, Fred, his lifelong friend comes shuffling along, armed with a cane, one pudgy hand energized with a snappy wave.
Their muscle grip cements an old friendship, beginning when they were kids in grade school. "Cool" is what the younger crowd would have expressed this moment. But Ryan really wasn't. Sweat poured from him, an excess of tire fat decorating his waist.
--'lo, says Fred.
--Hi back, answers Ryan. They're comfortable in their usual meeting spot, front of the Dollar Store, inside the warmth of a mall. There remains firmness in his white-haired friend's voice; a clarity of definition and purpose.
--Seen Gummy? Fred asks.
--Nah. Brought the chess game, though. My turn to win is followed by a belch and a hearty chuckle from Fred. Not that Ryan is a good hand with his Queen, but uses the piece quite effectively, only once in a while. Give him two Bishops though, and he could rip any opponent's army apart.
Ryan and Fred sat quietly, immersed in their arthritis and personal thoughts, around their feet an avalanche of Christmas shoppers, and they enjoyed watching them hip-hop from store to store seeking bargains. And the thought of turkey and trimmings as welcome guests on the menu carried these close friends into another world.
Even though the Mall wouldn't close until the late hours, two men, of well-aged memories began to think it was time to mosey over towards Fred's house for their game of chess and just maybe a little TV. But first, a little chit-chat would finish things off here.
Didja hear about Marlene's kid? Got caught lifting a pack of smokes, imagine.
--I remember the time you snatched a chocolate bar. I was the one who finched. Couldn't expect my parents to think I did it.
--Yah, a bummer. Almost lost our friendship over it. You were right though. It was a sneaky thing to do. That grocer fellow was always nice to us. Gave us a job once in a while carrying empty beer cases to the back shed.
--Then you left it unlocked and someone hoofed all the empties.
--Yah. Yah. Blame it on me.
--Well, you did too. And Ryan's blood pressure began to rise in the excitement of their conversation.
--Got to get up and exercise my arthritis, can't sit still too long. Leg acts up, kinda. And he got up, scratched his tummy, and farted quietly, if there is such a thing, then yawned and belched.
--Fred? Remember the time we went dipping you know, skinny?
--Yah. We must have been all of ten at the time. I remember the moon shining in my eyes, and slipping on the rock. Sure took a chunk out of me. There was more blood on my arm, than a vampire's kiss.
--I remember, then all us kids had to hightail it back home from the lake. Took a while since no one had a parent nearby. Had to hitch a ride, then you had to go and puke all over the back seat. Boy that fellow was some upset.
--We been friends a long time, Fred.
--Yep. You're okay, too.
The mall customers were growing in number, and a few businesses were jam-packed, some even counting their cash, hardly believing business was that good.
--Quick. Grab a Loto ticket before we scoot. Who knows, could be our turn. You know, our trip around the world.
--Dream on, tutti-fruity, said Fred.
--Come on. Best we could do in our shape is belly up to the counter at the food court. Hungry?
--There's still time. You get the ticket and I'll pick up a mess of fries and a burger apiece. My treat.
--Meet you at the front door in ten. And Fred began to fumble with his shirttail, fingers tripping all over each other.
--Let's stop rattling and get going, admonished Ryan anxious to be off.
Then these two older gentlemen, one in faded jeans, the other sporting the latest fashion from Harry's Clothing Depot shuffled off to their agreed destination.
There was still time to get to Ryan's place, gulp a couple of coffees and play one good game of chess. Before long the Mall was behind them and in the evening light another pair of legs scampered towards the heavy doors, Fred and Ryan just left.
Tomorrow another of life's scenes could repeat itself. It may be these same older gentlementhen maybe not.
* * *
Richard L. Provencher
My wife, Esther and I really enjoy writing. It is an excellent salve, in addition to prayers, a great wife and family during my continuing recovery from a stroke/aneurysm. You can contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org re comments on our work. We live in Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada. Pray for others.