I noticed him that first morning.
I awoke at dawn, navigating through the pillars of unopened cardboard boxes, to the shutters.
I saw his white hair behind the dark glass.
An early riser, like me.
Most days, I’m eager to beat him to it.
But, he usually wakes before me.
When it’s nice out, he opens the screen door; I open mine, too.
For the past 10 months, we’ve shared our mornings together, 20 yards and two screen doors away.
I sit on my couch, writing and sipping my coffee, while he putters around, finally settling in, to read the paper.
We’ve never spoken a word to each other.
We’ve never even crossed paths on the sidewalk or at the pool.
I’ve felt comforted and accompanied, especially on the mornings I’m in the mood for someone’s presence.
There was a week over the summer his blinds stayed shut.
I worried something may have happened, but my gut told me he escaped the heat, probably to visit his children and grandchildren, somewhere cooler and more humid than here.
He returned. I knew he would.
We both like hummingbirds. He has three feeders on his veranda.
It’s part of why I fell in love with my new environment: the hummingbird population.
Hummingbirds, the messengers of whoever is running this place we live.
If you talk to them or pray in their presence, they’ll listen. They’ll carry your prayers and return with answers, when you least expect it.
There’s this one, she has a bright pink throat, and whenever I’m in my garage, she sits on the handlebars of my pink cruiser.
I think she mistook it for a fountain spout one day and decided she liked it even though it didn’t produce what she wanted.
I talk, she listens, then she flies out and I shut the garage.
I think he has those conversations with them, too.
On summer mornings, he unfurls his umbrella and sits beneath it shirtless; his slender java brown leathered chest, a compliment to his virgin white mustache.
He moves with purpose and care, like there are eggshells, or bombshells scattered about.
I make up stories about his life: I imagine he’s widowed and retired.
He seems hollow, like most veterans; a part of their soul, obliterated, yet the broken pieces remain as their foundation; the fractured pavement beneath their feet, shrapnel turned gravel, a nightmare unleashed with every step.
Maybe that’s why he walks so slowly; he’s trying to avoid them, the memories.
I’ve never seen his eyes up close, but I recognize their shadow; they look taken, distracted with sadness, he misses her.
I walked by his place one day; he’d left the blinds open by the dining room.
It looked like her in there, not what I’d pictured the décor of a 70-year-old bachelor to be.
Figurines decorated the shiny mahogany buffet. An ironed doily centered on the antique dining room table.
He didn’t choose his aloneness like I did.
I’ve prayed for him each morning; that his solitude would disappear.
I wonder what he thinks of me: does he see my eggshells?
No shells over there, I bet he says.
If he only knew…
We both yearn for the same thing.
He’s tougher than me, though. Sometimes, my feet bleed, so does my heart.
There are still a couple days here and there, I can hardly bear the pain, so I lift my feet off the floor, curl inward and tread my fingertips on the keys; the keys don’t hurt me.
The other morning, I opened my blinds first.
He opened them, finally, but something was different this time: there was someone by his side.
Yesterday, I saw them walking to the pool.
He led, probably to protect her, to kick the shells out of the way; the man I imagined him to be.
“I hope she knows how lucky she is,” I said.
She flew away; I shut the garage.