He’s about my age. His white hair is long and full, but not so much that he looks like he never found his way home from a Grateful Dead concert. I see him walking through the neighborhood all the time.
Today he’s on the other side of the street, and my grandson and I are playing in the front yard. He hasn’t looked in our direction all summer, but now he says something I can’t quite hear.
“Excuse me?” I say.
He bounds across the road so he can repeat his first message, which may or may not have been purposely mumbled just so he could bound across the road.
He begins in mid-sentence. We figure out we both graduated from high school in 1968 and ask the usual questions about where we grew up, where we went to school. He asks about my grandson. “What’s his name? How old is he?”
Even though he didn’t plan this conversation (maybe) he has a lot to say. At some points he’s just lost in his own narrative. At others, his gaze lingers on me, and I wonder if he’s flirting. It’s so hard to know when hormones aren’t flying through the air like they used to.
But yes, I think the neighbor likes me.
“What’s your favorite band of all time?” he asks.
“Rolling Stones,” I say.
He approves of my answer and starts telling me about a movie starring Mick, something I never heard of because — truthfully — I stopped caring deeply about Mick a while ago. In the middle of his story, my grandson decides it’s time for lunch. The neighbor and I say our goodbyes.
Me: “I guess I’ll see you around.”
He: “I guess you’ll have no choice.”
I’m a little uneasy the rest of the afternoon, worrying he might be at his house now, thinking Damn. What an attractive woman. What if the next time I see him he pulls out a Rolling Stones boxed set from behind his back, or invites me to dinner?
A week later, I spot him in the supermarket, on the other side of the produce aisle. My grandson is in the shopping cart seat, facing me, and I pretend to be telling him something interesting about cucumbers because I don’t want to get the neighbor’s hopes up if he sees me. I don’t want to look available, if that’s the right word for the way you can look in a supermarket when you’re this old and getting your grandson in the cart seat is the most physical thing you’ve done all day.
I’m thinking to myself, Ugh, I have to let him know that I’m just not interested. But before I know it, he has seen me, crossed over, and is standing in front of us, grinning.
“Oh, hi there,” I say.
He smiles big. He motions to my grandson and asks, “How old is he?” I’m a little confused. “What’s his name?” he asks. Again, old news, but I tell him.
I realize it’s not that he’s a bad listener and has forgotten the details of our talk on the sidewalk. He has no idea who I am.
On the way home, with my grandson chirping happily in the back seat about the cookie the bakery lady gave him, I feel the need to reach deep into my memory box.
I was 23, at a wedding, seated next to a man from Greece. He was dark and tall and brilliant. We danced. I’d had a lot of wine and had suddenly remembered what a fabulous dancer I was. At the table, as we talked, he looked deeply into my eyes, and we took almost-drunk turns being fascinating.
Hours later — home alone and in bed — I heard little pebbles glancing off my second-story window. He was standing in my front yard, bathed in moonlight.
“We’re not finished,” he said, “I want to know more.”
I go over the story a few more times — savoring a detail here and adding a new one there — until finally I’m ready to take it into old age with me.
“How’s that cookie?” I ask my grandson. I’m happy the rest of the way home.