And so there I was out for an evening walk, music plugged into my ears—a sonic buffer between me and the world. Like a camera’s soft filter, the right music can smooth the lines, soften harsh angles, tell the kind of lie we want to believe. The late summer sun blew around and between the clouds on an almost-crisp breeze. Tall roadside grasses going to seed looked like clusters of furry, golden caterpillars bobbing on delicate spindles.
And so she was sitting there minding her own business a little too much. Her leg extended from her body at an angle, propped on a metal folding chair—the kind you’d bring out when company came over and you ran out of places for them to sit. A worn-out couch cushion supported the weight of her swollen leg and signs nailed to the house in the distance said “NO SMOKING! OXYGEN IN USE!” in the neon orange color that means business. I could see that her knee-length housecoat was thin and covered with couplets of cartoon cherries ghostly with age. I smelled the sweetness of the freshly lit tobacco before I saw the smoke rise up from her head. She watched me pass by, lifted her hand and gave a slight nod. She didn’t look interested but she didn’t really look bored either.
Just before I reached the place where the old lady sat, I watched a loosely-spaced group of ravens soaring across the sky’s blue. Only after I’d stumbled awkwardly several times while trying to walk and gawk did I stop to watch them drift silently, expertly away—higher, farther. The music in my ears was new to me, experimental—found sounds, spoken word mixed with looped guitars and odd bits of lyrics sometimes spoken, sometimes sung. I barely noticed the distance I covered; I could have walked for hours lost in my private soundscape.
And so I walked past the old lady with her propped-up leg and raised my hand in response to hers. I wondered if she felt lonely. Or maybe she just needed a smoke.
I never listened to music quite like this before. Secrets whispered into my ears, just for me, paradoxes revealed nonchalantly, matter-of-fact statements and strange non-sequiturs unfolding within a space roomy enough to absorb it all. It felt like solitary beach-combing, pocketing secret treasures to keep in a quiet place for all time. It felt like wondering past warmly lit houses on a fall evening, peering in the windows as you drive by too fast to know what’s really going on. Somehow it felt like longing.
I turned around at the end of our road. Up the hill and around the bend I returned. She sat in the same position, still smoking. I walked up the driveway toward her. She looked interested but not surprised. A man in a bathrobe, with an oxygen tank next to him stood at the door far in the distance. He looked gray and slack — draining down into the slippers I imagined on his cold feet. He turned away before I could catch his eye.
She stubbed out her roll-yer-own in a sandy five-gallon bucket next to her chair.
I waved to her from down near my hip. I pressed pause in the right spot. I asked her.
-Will you listen?
I put the buds into her ears, stepped back and tapped play. A young man’s voice speaking over a pulsing but gentle and low guitar loop shared his secrets into her ears. She looked up at me and smiled when the last line happened.
“Expectation leads to disappointment. If you don’t expect something big, huge & exciting usually, uh........I dunno.........I’m jus’ not a…yeah.“
And that was it.
The shadow-shape of me shaded her right eye. I shifted a little farther to the right and both her eyes lit up for a moment and glowed like whiskey. She shielded her eyes from the sun that hovered over my shoulder and asked me if I might stay for a bit.