I suppose we’ve all wondered about the great river of Time on which we float. Where does it go and what will it be like when we get there? Well, I don’t want to spoil it for you or anything, but as far as I can tell, it just floods into a big reservoir and sits there. Then all of the accumulated flotsam and jetsam sort of bumps together and surrounds you. I haven’t gotten any further than that, but I assume that some of it sinks to the bottom.
And this lake is big; before your eyes adjust, the horizon is empty and it’s hard to know where to head. What to aim for. Time is not at all what we were led to believe. It’s supposed to be ever-flowing, but once it hits this basin, it almost stops. In our youth we were always guided by the current, but at the end, in Time’s delta, it slows and divides itself in every which way offering fragments, not options. Eddies, not progress. And any motion is just the faint rise and fall of the looming tide. I’m not sure why there’s a delta; maybe it’s just a way of slowing us down before the sea -a chance to look around. But I have to say, after all the rush to get here, it’s rather disappointing when you first arrive…
And yet I don’t want to suggest that Retirement is just a vast pool of stagnant Time. I’m sure it has its shores and I’m beginning to suspect that if there really are instructions, they are likely are written on its banks. You just have to get there, wouldn’t you know.
Six o’clock arrives late this morning –I’ve been waiting for it since about 4 AM according to the big red numbers on the clock that watches me all night. I think it’s because I go to bed too early, but hey, I spent a career getting up at 4 so it’s hard to kick.
Anyway, when the radio news turns on, I immediately silence it with a well-trained poke and drop my feet on the cold wooden floor in the preternatural darkness. Normally, I hate darkness –it usually means I should go to bed. I also hate mixed signals. The shower wakes me up, though, and after turning on the bedroom light, the hall light and then the kitchen light I feel more prepared for the day’s mission.
My early, tread-water thoughts, remember, were to engineer purpose, force it to surface, and then grab whatever comes up while it’s trying to take a breath. No need to search the internet for ideas today, however –I come prepared: I wrote my plan down last night before the bed seduced me into its warm and comfortable bosom. Today, I am going to volunteer to serve.
I had to check the writing again; I had obviously written it in some haste lest I fall asleep mid-word. I am usually less inclined to rash behaviour when I awaken, and that which seemed like a good idea after a glass of wine and a full stomach is less persuasive in the morning’s cold, predawn hours.
But on rereading the note, I am willing to risk it. I will volunteer to help in the little restaurant. Or at least I will investigate what it might entail from the safety of that table by the window. But, until it becomes available, I will watch from the crowd and practice my conversation skills. I will learn from them, but I will not commit. Yes, that makes me feel better. I decide to leave a bit early.
I’m surprised; there is parking everywhere and I find that the restaurant is not as crowded as usual this morning. In fact, my seat by the window is empty. So are all the others. There’s only one other person sitting in the room and he is buried in a computer and muttering silently to himself as he shakes his head. Good, I think, I’ve beaten the inevitable rush today -arriving early is a great idea.
I walk over to the counter to order a bagel with peanut butter, keeping an eye on my table in case of trespass. It’s not the owner who takes my order, however, it’s a pretty young woman wearing a bandana over her hair and flaunting an obviously stained cotton blouse. I look more closely, but the stain turns out to be a pattern cleverly disguised as a stain. My god, there’s a lot of stuff available out there nowadays.
“I’d like a whole wheat bagel, toasted, with some peanut butter on the side, please.” It seems like a reasonable request when I say it, but she blinks and all expression drops from her face.
“It comes with cream cheese and salmon, Gary…” Damn, even she knows my name. I have no idea who she is, so she has me at a disadvantage. I mean, I could pretend I know her name and carry on blithely, or I could use it to my advantage and say “Well then, you should know I just want it with peanut butter, eh?” I opt for the former.
I can see the disappointment written on her lips, although it is not clear whether it is the me she knows who has failed, or just my choice. But she swallows her disillusionment like a good waitress and the smile returns. “You go sit down and I’ll bring it to the table.”
It is the owner who brings it to the table, however. I can sense his embarrassment at carrying an unadorned and lonely bagel on a plain white plate in front of his only other customer because he has embellished it with a sprig of parsley for show.
I purposely hone in on the parsley and, after offering some of it to him, down it with one bite. He smiles and crosses his arms as he sits across from me.
“Certainly not as busy as usual, eh?” I say to break the silence. “Maybe it’s the weather…” But this feeble attempt at humour merely nudges one of his eyebrows. I try again. “And I see you have enough staff around today.” I figure this is a way to ease into a discussion of personnel.
He smiles, nods benevolently, and looks around. “I didn’t expect you to be around this early again today, Gary,” he finally says, for some reason emphasizing the word ‘today’, and then staring at me for a moment. “Don’t you ever sleep in?”
I shrug -he’s just trying to make conversation. “Habit, I guess.” He nods thoughtfully and sits back in his chair and a larger, more understanding expression slowly captures his eyes. It catches me by surprise, I guess, so I venture a question. “Why do you ask?”
It’s his turn to shrug. “Thought you might have made a mistake, that’s all.” All the while, I can see his eyes trying to probe mine for answers. Truthful ones.
“It’s Sunday, Gary…”