The backyard stretches out before him on the other side of a window that is fogging up from the hot air he breathes into lifeless words, and the professor feels the weight of the past on his shoulders. He feels it most in the grooves his knapsack has cut into his flesh of his shoulders over the many years between the days when he roamed the yard telling his stories out loud and this moment right here, where he can’t imagine uttering a sound without committing it to paper first. But he can feel it too just above his waistline, in the small of his back, where the sweat pools along his spine on the walks he takes to avoid the subway, to avoid being trapped underground with people who might touch him. With a word, or a smile, or an elbow in the wrong place at the wrong time.
He can feel the weight, but it’s different now; it’s slipping away, like it did in the fourth grade, when two of his classmates took a pair of scissors to the frayed bottom of his hand-me-down backpack and watched as it split open on the walk to the bus. The pencil case went first, the history book toppling down on top of it and shattering the flimsy plastic thing into a half dozen pieces. And that’s how it feels now, how it felt last night when he and those boys drank together as men with the first (and second) wisps of age in their beards, laughing about the whole thing. All those years of stuffing one hurt after another into his bag, of imagining malice where there was only mischief, all of those years have spilled out behind him now, and he’s too relieved to look back and admire the mess.
Instead, he looks forward, out the window, into the yard where they once played, where, yes, they once teased him for pretending he was a robot that was more than met the eye (but only because they were afraid he might uncover their own secret shames, too). He looks out there, his back still sore from the things he’s carried, but his soul lighter than it’s been since the days when the yard stretched out before him and he was not afraid to fill it his voice.
Perhaps one day, the professor thinks, he will fill it again.
In the words of Maria Popova, donating = loving. If you enjoy what you read here at Clarkwoods, please become a patron.