Travelling Men

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When we were seven or eight my neighbor would sometimes
run around behind his house with no pants, laughing his child’s

laugh. Sometimes we’d see him with a glass and we’d ask him
what he was drinking and he’d say sharply “whiskey” not with

pride or to surprise but just because that’s the way it was. He
never went to jail like his brothers and we were never scared

to have them living next to us, even when his brothers were
stealing or robbing people with guns. I was not a pervert like

him when I was young, I didn’t drink like him when I was young,
and my brothers never went to jail like his when I was young

but he was my neighbor which meant that he was one of us
and I was one of his, and the door to his house opened and closed

as ours opened and closed. He grew up and worked cleaning
the floors at bars I sometimes went to for fun, doing the hard work

I didn’t have to do and couldn’t have done. Clarity for me were
those moments of revelation, clarity for him were those moments

of stillness when there was nothing left that someone needed him
to get done, when the noise had stopped and the lights went on

and the air was like whiskey and wine and time was like a coin
that had dropped through a hole in outer space. We were different.

When I see him for the first time in ten years with my wife and
daughter he’s sitting on a bench staring into space. He’s still mopping

floors, he says, and he talks and he talks, about how he’s getting married
as soon as his girlfriend gets out of jail, and he lives in another part of town

now because he can’t afford to live where we grew up together and when
he tells my daughter that he’s like a brother to me I can’t say that it isn’t

true, because although we didn’t hang out together and you could only
measure our closeness with units of measure or measure how perfectly

we fit into our separate spaces, we somehow are destined to journey back
to these same places. I could say that it easily could have been me mopping

floors but it wouldn’t have been easy—the odds were against him even more
than they were against me and anyone with a brain can see that and anyone

with a heart would know that, but sometimes there’s no heart, no organ
pumping blood and wisdom, just machines of great efficiency pumping

noise through our veins until there’s nothing left to do but talk and listen
and do nothing, and I walk with my wife and my daughter to our car while

he waits on his bench on this beautiful spring morning for his wedding day.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua. First published in Gargoyle #58.

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