Cajun Mutt Press Featured Writer 11/22/19

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The Old Man and the Camper

He’s been parked there
across from our apartment
for four days, one day past
the legal limit for street
parking, and we watch
from our living room
in the morning and
in the evening and
wonder how long before
he’s ticketed or leaves
on his own.

He has a black rusting
pickup truck with a camper
secured in the bed and he stays
in there for hours and
we wonder if he has any
facilities or just a bucket
and he gets out every so often
to run the engine so maybe there’s
power of some sort
back there but we never
see any light.

Other times when he emerges
he will lock the camper
door and walk off down
the street in the direction
of coffee shops and fast
food and bars but he never
comes back carrying anything
so maybe he just walks
to pass the time,
to escape the boredom
of his camper and
his life. And we don’t
know if he’s hungry in there,
if maybe we should
invite him over for dinner.

He has a bushy
gray beard that might well act
as a bib for its length, also as
a neck warmer.
He wears glasses, is balding, overweight.
His jeans are stained in patches
of black and brown and gray
but he walks with an easy
stride as if he’s on vacation
and exploring an unknown
neighborhood in an unknown
city in an unknown
fantasy life.

He’s been here three times
before for three days
each before moving on
to come back a day or two
later, and we wonder
from our living room if he
avoids the places where
the homeless cluster
in their tents and cars
and campers, where they
scatter trash and syringes
and empty bottles
and bowels,
because of his
age, if he isn’t safe in those
places, if the younger
homeless would take
advantage because
that’s what humans do.

He never looks our way
when sitting in the cab
to run the engine. He looks
straight ahead, always, left arm
against the window, glasses
on and we wonder if he
talks to himself or maybe
has imaginary conversations
with the people walking
their dogs up and down
the street and those people
don’t look at him either
and we all pretend
everything is okay,
everything is as it
should be and sometimes
the sun shines.

On one sunny but snowy
and bitterly cold
afternoon a little girl
set up a hot chocolate stand on the corner
where he was parked and braved
the wind to help others
keep warm. The man got out
of his camper and walked up
to her. There were pleasantries
exchanged and she gifted him a cup
and he smiled, nodded his head,
went back to his camper. The little
girl waved goodbye and said something
we could not hear. I went out then
to support her endeavors and paid
the going rate of $2.00 for a cup
that was already getting cold.

Now, on his fifth morning
out there a parking
enforcement officer
pulls up behind his truck.
The old man steps out
and they exchange a few
words and the officer hands
him a pink piece of paper
and the man takes it
and walks off and turns
down a side street
but his movement is no longer
assured. He seems lost now,
wandering, and I can’t tell if he
drops the paper but I think
he does. The officer starts his
car and follows the man slowly
down the side street, stalking,
investigating,
making sure.

When we get home from work
in the afternoon his truck is gone
but we keep looking out
from our living room
for him over the next few days
thinking that we’ll invite him
over for dinner this time, but he
doesn’t come back and the spaces
in the street fill with homeowners
and renters and visitors and party
goers and delivery people and
real estate agents and landscapers and
landlords and carpet cleaners
and plumbers and relatives and
mailmen and women and utility
workers. And the parking enforcement
vehicles and the police
cruisers make frequent drive-bys
and we all feel safe.

But we don’t know if the old
man and his camper are,
and it means everything
and everyone,
except for that little girl,
has failed.

©Dave O’Leary all rights reserved

DO'leary

Dave O’Leary is a writer and musician living in Seattle. He’s had two novels published (The Music Book, Booktrope, 2014 and Horse Bite, Infinitum, 2011) and has had prose and poetry featured in Slate.com, the Portland Book Review, Vamp Cat Magazine, Turnpike Magazine, Line Rider Press, and Cajun Mutt Press. Both of his novels featured poetry mixed in with the prose, and now he is at work on his first full-length collection of poetry.

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