Author’s Note: This piece was done as a writing exercise. It’s a small segment of a bigger story that may be developed further in the future. –KF
“I should say something to him.”
The thought crept through Ed’s mind. Ed was running through the misty morning air down the dirt trail by his house. He knew he had about thirty seconds until he would reach the edge of the woods, emerge out of the trees, and follow the bend left that ran along the creek side.
Ed had been jogging more lately, and this secluded forest path had become his favorite. But a strange reoccurring sight was starting to nag at him.
Every day when he passed an opening in the tall grass alongside the creek, Ed caught a view of a man standing by the creek. Some days he was standing, his hands in his pockets, staring at the water. Sometimes he sat against the elm tree looming nearby. But something about the way the man stood, his shape, his aura; even from yards away demanded Ed’s attention. “He could be homeless.” Thought Ed.
Ed ran out of the forest and came to the creek. He did not look in the direction of the tree, the creek, or the Man. In fact, Ed has closed his eyes, now running blind. He snapped himself out of it. He gave in to his curiosity and turned his head back just as he was almost past the clearing.
The Man was standing today, but he wasn’t looking at the creek, he was staring straight at Ed. The Man’s chin was turned up, his eyes squinting to see further, like he was expecting Ed’s glance.
Ed’s stomach sank. Ed was startled by the Man’s gaze, but he immediately insisted there was no need for such a reaction. “There’s nothing creepy about a guy standing by a creek.” Ed thought to himself. The annoying outlook of younger generations was surely clouding his judgment. “He could be homeless, or just old and lonely. Maybe all of the above.” Ed thought. He stopped on the path. He caught his breath, and without knowing exactly why, he walked back to where the Man dwelled.
Ed, getting nervous now in his grey sweatpants and red hoodie, walked back the way he came to the clearing. “Quit fooling yourself. You feel bad for him.” It struck Ed that this Man had been young once too. Ed was 26, and he felt compelled to show respect to someone who’s reached seniority.
“Quit feeling so awkward and just do what feels right.”
Ed’s pushy inner monologue urged him to go forth and be all friendly-like.
It was time to quit being so nervous, so antisocial, and so passive.
He reached the clearing and stepped toward the creek.
The Man still stood there, old jeans, a dark flannel shirt, and the bald top of his head shining in the sun while greying hair crowded around the crown of his skull. But now, he was looking out at the slow drifting water and the thick morning mist hovering over it. The sun was getting brighter; the cool morning would soon become a warm day.
“Beautiful day.” Said Leonard. He must’ve heard Ed’s footsteps. “Y-Yes.” Ed replied as he stepped toward Leonard a little clumsily. Ed stepped to the edge of the creek just a few feet to Leonard’s left. He looked at the man, not quite as old as he had looked from far away. He probably hadn’t reached sixty. He wouldn’t look over at Ed, so Ed turned and admired the creek as well.
“I’m Leonard”, the Man said. “Nice to finally meet you eh-…” Leonard uttered a weird syllable at the end, followed by him clearing his throat.
“You’ve seen me running down here.”
“Sure have.” Leonard replied.
“You live nearby?”
“Oh, no. I don’t have a true home. I…” Leonard trailed off. Ed’s suspicions of this poor homeless man hanging out in the woods seemed more likely. It was now becoming Ed’s goal to help the Man in some way without being too intrusive. Torn between being charitable and not having anything to do with this stranger, Ed pried.
“Look, I can get you some blankets. And some food, surely you want some?”
Leonard raised an eyebrow and smiled. The look of amusement.
“I’m good bucko. I do just fine. But thanks.” Leonard almost chuckled his words out.
A sudden and soft gust of wind blew by them, and Leonard seemed to snap to attention. Ed thought it looked like a sudden realization.
Leonard looked at Ed, whose mouth was now sagging open a little. Leonard gave a tight smile and took a deep breath, one that seemed to urge necessity.
Ed felt that he had nothing of importance to say to this stranger. He clapped his hands together, awkwardly easing in his passing from the encounter.
“Well then, have a good day Leo… Leonard. I suppose I’ll se you around.” Ed stepped backward and moved back to the trail. He turned to go on his way and swore he heard a name escape Leonard’s lips.
“What?” Ed blurted.
Leonard said nothing. Ed went on.
The day passed. Ed ran home, had a mundane Sunday, and carried on as normal.
At 6:09 am the next morning, Ed woke up to a phone call. It was his Mom with news that was making her voice shake. Silvia, her sister, had passed away in the early hours. Ed arranged to drive out to his Mom’s house, and to witness the burial of his own Aunt, whom he hadn’t seen in about seven months.
He knew it was an “S” sound. He heard Leonard say “Silvia”. Upon realizing this, Ed recalled a sound. Leonard had uttered and “E-H” sound upon their meeting. Ed was convinced he almost said Ed. He knew his name. He knew Silvia’s name, and he knew Silvia’s fate.
Ed packed a bag for a trip to his Mother’s house, to the wake, to the cemetery, etc. And all the while, Ed couldn’t get the balding smirking man buy the creek out of his mind.
This wouldn’t be the last time Ed and Leonard met.