By Wayne Ude
Every morning the neighbors watch Tom Wallace carefully as he strolls out to his car. Tom moves differently than most people, who walk with heads down, shoulders hunched, on the way to something they’d rather avoid: work, maybe, or an errand down to the new shopping center. Tom holds his head up, shoulders back, looking around with a wide, sweeping glance: at the other cars, at any people who might be up and about, at the houses (each story, not the whole house at once), the trees, the sky. He looks as though he expects there to be something worth seeing.
Tom’s look never changes, but the neighbors think it does. They believe there’s a moment when Tom’s found whatever he seeks. After Tom gets into his car and drives away–always with one last glance around, as though there might be something else to see–his neighbors, who’ve been peeking through their curtains, or pretending to water the yard, or walking slowly toward their own cars but watching Tom’s every glance, search for what so satisfied the old fellow. Not that they admit that’s the reason: they’ve got chores or errands of their own, that’s what they’ll tell anyone who asks.
The neighbors keep their heads up, looking around just as Tom does, and they see everything he did: cars, people, houses layer-by-layer, leafy trees, the sky overhead. They see the two-story brick fourplex on the corner where the Warners’ house once was, and the duplex set endways in what used to be a small vacant lot in the middle of the block. They’ve seen those things for years; each is part of the neighborhood. The neighbors are after something more. Sooner or later each nods, looks satisfied, almost as though he’s gotten something away from Tom.
Sometimes they talk to each other: “Did you see that bluebird Tom spotted in the linden tree there by the corner?” “No, I didn’t see that; but did you see the shape of that cloud Tom was looking at?” “What about the shadow pattern across that duplex across from Tom’s?”
The neighbors never agree, but they’re always certain they’ve found Tom’s discovery. They get into their cars or go back into their houses, smiling for the first time that day–for some, the day’s only smile –while Tom goes on his way, looking the same as always.
Oddly, Tom’s look never alters. But then, Tom’s not hoping for anything new. After forty years in this neighborhood, Tom’s watching for alterations against which he’ll want to armor himself. Usually he doesn’t find any, but there’s no satisfaction in that, either, because Tom’s old enough to know that what hasn’t changed yet will change later.
Copyright Ude 2020