by Rhienna Renee Guedry
If you’re going to end up just standing around, I might as well tell you something about myself. The other boys like you who come to my door never asked me, but if they did, I woulda told them, too: I’ve had a great life. So, what’s this petition all about? You’ll have to humor me, I’m a little hard of hearing. Climate change? I can understand that. This neighborhood here sure has changed. Thirty years on this same here porch, knowing the time of day by where the shadows fall on the ground. That corner lot over there used to be an old service station. I remember once, some bright Saturday afternoon, the manager got a bunch of girls with long legs and sashes, like you see on Miss America, to come out here and dance with us, and sell car parts and service. They held hand-painted signs that said, “Miss Brake Special” and “Miss Body and Fender.” I was a young man back then, and I ain’t never seen so many pretty girls in one place, eager to dance on asphalt — with old men, rich men, young men, like we were all the same. They didn’t keep hanging around the service station afterwards, if that’s what you’re wondering.
My wife used to talk about the leaf-peepers who’d drive past her house, when she was growin’ up — in slow motion, like they were pushin’ a stalled car into a gas station. They were looking out their dirty windows at the fall foliage that popped up overnight like mushrooms, in gold and crimson. I guess any number of towns had ‘em, not just towns in New England where she was raised — but, me being a Southern boy, I didn’t know no better: we sure didn’t see anyone gawking out their car windows at our front lawns. No, here, we just have palms and ferns. And great big old oaks with hanging moss, the color of couches, sinking down to the grass. Trees have leaves until they don’t, and the leaves just go from green to the color of mud, like you get with new plants after a late frost. You probably know all about that, though. Kids these days understand nature more than I ever did, or ever cared to.
What was it you’re selling again? I can’t read all that tiny print — never could, it’s not just on account of being old, my eyes have never been too good — but I’ll sign whatever it is you’ve got there. I suppose, what’s one more shaky signature? At my age, I ask a lot less questions. I’d rather skip all that and get right into telling you something you ain’t heard before, maybe some of it will stick. It’s my chance at immortality that way — wouldn’t you say? — and Peg and I never had no kids, so living in your memory five years from now is the best hope I got of leaving something behind.
Sure, I’ve got more roots than that. It takes all kinds. But you move a few times and bury your wife in the ground in a state she ain’t ever seen, and watch your old bowling buddies welcome grandkids into the world, and, well, it’s just easy to slide into the background. I’m the sunset in a painting that isn’t at all the point of the painting, you follow me? They might notice me if I were gone, but in the painting, they’re having a goddamn picnic in a field bathed in golden light, and there’s a river, and it’s easy to not notice what’s right behind you. I suppose I don’t blame them.
Listen, you seem like a nice kid. But what’s with all the holes in your face? I knew kids your age — sailors — who got a tattoo or two back in the day, I never judged. Now, of course, they’re old like me, with ink blots the shape of countries all over them. But you’re smart, and I guess you can take them metal pieces out when you feel like it, so maybe you’re smarter than those sailors were, after all.
Well, I hope you reach your quota for signatures. Or selling whatever it was you’re selling. I’m on a fixed income, otherwise, well, you know how it goes, I suppose you could stick around long enough to talk me out of my money, but I hope the signature’s enough. I’m sure you hear excuses all day from people who are afraid to be straight with you. That’s why I came out here, why I answered the door. You and I both know I won’t even live to see your plan at work. But I don’t see why I shouldn’t believe in you. So I do. Tell your mom I said hello.