Tall Trails

I’ve always felt a rather parental responsibility for trails. When you look down them at the start, they always seem so lonely, meandering off as if they hadn’t the slightest idea where they’ll end up. Like old men wandering from the Home, they seem to amble maplessly from hill to cliff, bush to tree, blind to direction, deaf to weather. You have to admire their courage as they head off day after day into that wild; but you also have to wonder why they do it…

In their enthusiasm for adventure, I suppose they’re more like children scampering off to explore the forest with reckless abandon as if it were their first day at summer camp. No particular agenda, no destination in mind – just a need to be in the moment. Perhaps trails are the child in all of us; they whisper about the mystery out there –the land behind the tree, beyond the mist… the sound of one hand clapping.

But a question came to me in a blinding flash one day as I stumbled through some bushes looking for a path I had somehow misplaced: what is a trail? I felt like Paul looking for Damascus. Is it really a trail if no one has ever been along it? Experienced it? Would it be a noun without a verb? Are we its Anthropic Principle -necessities for its existence? Its meaning? More than mere trail followers, the passive beneficiaries of Shinrin-yoku, are we, rather, obligate components: ingredients in the recipe –Gaians, charged with the maintenance of the machinery?

And so it is with the pride of an essential cog in that machine that I have become a Disciple, an Acolyte of the Way. I have assumed a responsibility hidden from most. Well, from James at any rate.

You remember James –that ex-military man still reliving his posting in Africa from who knows what war: https://musingsonretirementblog.com/2016/06/26/forest-tales/ “You take this stuff too seriously,” he said when I told him of my epiphany. “There is no meaning to a path. It’s just a way of getting somewhere.” We were sitting at a little table in the window of a suburban McDonald’s having a McCafe and he stomped his cane on the floor -for emphasis, I imagine. But he was in the habit of frequently banging the business end of it onto crumbs, bits of meat, or little insects in the general vicinity of the table to test his aim, so any new significance of the action was unclear.

Suddenly he screwed up one eye, and laid the cane across the table narrowly missing the coffees. “You’re not one of those environmental pantheists, are you?”

Pantheist? That caught me by surprise.  I wondered if he meant ‘pansy’. “What made you think that, James?”

The eye stayed screwed. “Saw you feeling that tree, remember…? Normal people don’t do that.” He made it sound almost dirty –like unwanted touching, or something.

I have to admit that sometimes I am so overcome by the sheer living bulk of a tree that I have an urge to stroke the rough texture of its bark. I’ve never thought of it as a molestation, though. Just an acknowledgement; ships signalling quietly in the night.

“Can’t you just hike somewhere?” he said, eyeing me suspiciously.

“I think it’s the ‘somewhere’ part I have trouble with.”

“You have to go somewhere,” he offered helpfully.

“That’s just it. Do you?”

He looked genuinely puzzled –like I had opened an unmarked door.  “Do you have to hike, you mean?”

I shrugged. This wasn’t going to be easy. “No, I mean ‘go somewhere’… The real purpose of a trail in a forest may not be to get you anywhere. It’s more the going. The process…” I sighed when I saw the blank look on his face.

“Ahh,” he said, nodding his head, “You mean the exercise.” I have to admit, he was trying.

“That’s part of it,” I said. I thought I’d better concede something.

“Come on!” he said rather testily and rattled the cane across the table. “You’re not gonna go all flaky on me, are you?” Then he thought about it for a moment.  “Or religious?” he added with a little hiss and rolled his eyes.

Maybe he had meant pantheist. I shook my head carefully, just in case. “No…” I searched for a different way to explain. “It’s just that there are many ways to look at something.”

He cocked his head and looked at me. “Your point?”

I thought about it for a moment. “Well, a trail can be a way to get somewhere, like you said…” He smiled at his own succinct description and nodded cheekily. “But it can also be a way to experience the forest; a way to escape from the city for a while; a time to listen to the birds and the wind rustling through the leaves…”

The smile faded and his eyes narrowed as if I was about to trick him. He removed his cane from the table and tapped it several times on the floor beside him. “You mean like a side effect?” he asked suspiciously, but obviously relieved that I hadn’t quoted scripture, or something.

I tried to twinkle my eyes, but I’ve never been very good at that, so I settled for a slow, satisfied blink. “What is the side effect of a poem?”

The eyes narrowed again, and then he rolled them before his cane thumped. “Poem??” I could actually feel the two question marks. “What on earth do you mean?” he said, a little too loudly.

I shrugged. “Why do you read a poem, James? Is it to gather information, like in a textbook? Or is it for the description, the emotion, the feeling…? Pretend a trail is like that. A poem is not just an ordinary string of words, after all. So, the trail is the noun; travelling along it is the verb; and the rest are adjectives -pictures…” I kind of liked that description, but I might as well have been talking to a stump.

“What’s a poem got to do with trails?” James can be so concrete.

“Humour me, James. Meaning isn’t always apparent right away…”

He shrugged grumpily and rolled his eyes again –it must be a military thing. “Okay, I wouldn’t decide to read a poem, but if I did, it would probably be for all –no, most– of the things you mentioned…” He didn’t want to get trapped and he lengthened the last word; he was wary now.

“But could you read it just as you would a textbook…?”

He shook his head, certain he had me. “Then it wouldn’t be a poem, would it?”

“Or a trail…” I reached for my coffee.

But his puzzled look returned. “But a trail’s not a textbook either…”

After I smiled, I think I actually twinkled when I heard the cane thump.

The Body Politic

I’ve been hearing things lately –but not in the bushes, or coming from dark alleys. These are not threatening noises. Not really. They are more like old friends whispering to me. Roommates who know me inside out –literally. I do not always welcome their company –quite the opposite, in fact. I wish they would go away. Find someone else to bother.

But that’s the problem with bodies, I find: they stick together by and large. They’re more faithful than partners and even more likely to cheek you back. Play on your weaknesses. And yet the awkward thing is that they cannot be gainsaid –at least not without consequences.

My knees, for example. They constantly talk to me in quiet dismissive tones, hopefully inaudible to passersby. They mumble and grumble quietly as I go about my day, seldom dissolving into sympathetic commiserations each evening as friends might with the retelling of some breach of Elder protocol, or the decision to hike all the way into town in sandals. They operate more like evangelical religious syndicates that would think nothing of inflicting crippling parental guilt to extract obeisance.

But I am by no means unicellular; I am homogenate -there are many voices in the choir. And in the spirit of polyphony, on any given day I am want to celebrate the chatter of almost any region. I am a personal parliament, a country masquerading as a body.

And yet, even as a body politic, I seek to understand my boundaries. Remember the Aesop fable of the ‘Belly and the Members’, in which the feet complain that the stomach gets all the food and forget that they both have to work together? My brain says ‘walk’, my stomach says ‘eat’, and my tired knees say ‘rest’. I figured maybe it was time to seek consensus before the Horsemen of the Apocalypse arrive.

I decided to ask Brien what his parts were telling him. I found him, of course, sitting on his porch settling into his second bag of pretzels of the morning. Brien always looks so… rooted. I suspect he has no quarrels to mediate, no disputatious factions demanding disparate actions. He is already a large man who has obviously learned to curb some urges for the benefit of others: a benevolent autocracy. I had to learn his secret.

Of course, every country is loath to divulge too much; its sovereignty depends on its cloak; its strength on the power to convince its constituents they are acting in their own best interests. Brien was good at that.

I waved at him from the sidewalk, but I think he must have been asleep because his head was deep in conversation with his chest. I could hear them talking in that personal dialect bodies seem to evolve for themselves when they think they are alone. But as soon as it heard me on the steps, his head shot bolt upright and a momentary look of confusion –an unmediated legislative fracas- ran briefly across his face and disappeared somewhere in his admittedly thinning hairline.

“Why do you always stop by when I’m deep in thought?” he eventually muttered once he managed to pull his tongue back into his mouth.

“I’m sorry, Brien, but I need your advice.”

That immediately brightened him up. Brien feels he has a lot of ungiven advice stored away, and he once told me that whenever he is offered a chance to clear a shelf or two, he feels lighter, or something.

He straightened a bit in the recliner. “We can do it on the porch though, eh?”

I stared at him quizzically for a second, and then relented. Brien has rules.

“Last time you wanted to discuss something while we walked…” he said, deciding he should probably clarify. “I don’t multitask.”

I had a feeling that he wasn’t going to be very helpful, somehow, but I tried to segue into the topic anyway. “Do you ever wonder about functional demands, Brien?”

One of his eyes half-closed itself, as if it was girding itself for a trick. “Huh?”

“I mean how do you deal with conflicts of interests between your parts?”

“Excuse me?” he said as if I were inquiring about bathroom issues.

I thought that perhaps it might be better to frame it with reference to myself. “You know…” I replied, trying desperately to think of something. “If were really tired after a long walk but knew I still had to cook my dinner because it was late and all the stores were closed…”  I didn’t feel totally comfortable with that example.

He smiled at the naïveté of my non-question and then shrugged as if the resolution was almost too obvious for words. Suddenly a grin appeared from nowhere. “Did you just use a subjunctive on me?”

I nodded. “I suppose so. Why?”

“You don’t usually talk like that…”

My turn to shrug. “I was merely indicating that it was a hypothetical…”

He stopped me with a rapid stun-and-retreat foray with his eyes. “So you weren’t sure about using my kitchen…?”

I sighed, but evidently not loudly enough.

He shook his head and withered me with an akimbo glare. “Is that the conflict of interest you were talking about?”

Actually, with all the Socratic-like repartees, I’d forgotten what I’d been talking about. When I looked confused, he decided to help me out. “Parts problems –you were talking about some organs arguing with you… About what? About music?” He sniggered at his wit. And then he turned suddenly serious. My parts obey. “I eat lots of fibre and avoid cabbage.” Then, obviously remembering something: “Corn can be a problem, too.” He raised his hands as if in prayer. “So I don’t eat them if somebody’s coming over…” He stared at me for a second and then, satisfied that he’d given nothing away, sat back in his recliner again, certain he’d been of some help.

But his eyes never strayed from the second now-empty package lying at his feet so I got up off the step and went into the kitchen to get another bag. You know, it really is amazing –after visiting with Brien, all my concerns seem to recede into the background. He’s always good to talk to about stuff that really matters.

 

 

 

The Garden of Age

I have to be careful here –I don’t want to sound cerebrally damaged, or as if I’ve just escaped from a special-care Home- but I love Age. The leisure to perambulate at will through the overgrown garden of my life; the time to wander along unsuspected paths unencumbered by youthful boundaries; to sit where I will, and sample what I choose –these are the autumn fruits that Age lays before those who choose to walk the meadow.

And although I realize my life has been no more special than the rest, it has always seemed special to me. Unique. Memorable. And given the chance, I would not change it –although I wouldn’t mind being a little taller. A bit more talented… Oh yes, and the glasses… I would not choose to be chained to them from childhood again, thank you. But those peccadillos aside, I am content.

Swept up in this epiphany of Age, and consumed with a secular sort of Agape, I happened upon Brien sitting morosely on his porch. How long he had been staring at the tree in his front yard I couldn’t tell from the sidewalk, but the plate of cookies on the table beside him was largely empty, and so were a few bottles of beer that lay conspicuously on their sides. It was a warm autumn afternoon so he was in no danger of hypothermia; ennui seemed a greater risk, so I waved and invited myself up his steps.

“What trouble are you going to try to cause for me today?” He said before I even sat down.

“Only a wander through the garden,” I said, filled with my vision. It was a mistake.

“I don’t have a garden,” he grunted, and pointed at the tree. “Just old Sheda here.”

“Sheda?” My god he was starting to name stuff. Next thing it’d be his porch and then maybe the garbage… Caught off guard, I must have hit him with my eyes.

He felt the blow. “Yeah, I decided the way to get to know things better was to name them. By the way, you’re sitting on Florence,” he added. Fortunately, he pointed at the deck of the porch so I was safe on the chair. “Made a world of difference, too,” he added, after giving it some thought.

I have to admit that I did scrunch my face up a little when he said that. You never know whether he’s serious or letting slip a little unguarded cognitive dissonance. I decided to take the middle ground. “Stuff to talk to, you mean?” It’s always easier to talk to something with a name.

A big, surprised smile suddenly surfaced on his face and he nodded his head quite vigorously. “You do that too?”

I ventured a tentative nod in reply, trying to let him know I understood, but at the same time not wishing to fertilize any ungerminated seeds of dementia. “Uhmm, I name some things I guess… sometimes… I mean if they’re alive and moving around… sort of.”

“I shouldn’t have named the porch, you mean?” He sounded hurt.

I shrugged to buy some time to think of something. “Well, I suppose it –she– serves a purpose, and it’s probably a useful thing to differentiate one purpose from another…” As soon as I said it, I realized it was weak, but Brien seemed to perk up at the idea.

“Never thought of it like that. I mean I could name the table, and maybe the cookies…”

We sat in silence for a while. “I’ve been thinking about Retirement, Brien,” I said, to change the subject as his hand inched carefully and slowly across the table towards an as-yet unnamed cookie.

“Again? What is it this time? Pensions? Rest Homes…?” He was about to name a few other topics when I held up my hand.

“Something new,” I said, but slowly, to build up the suspense. I have to say I was a little discomfited by his evident disparagement of past topics, though.

The smile on his face said it all: there was nothing new about Retirement.

“I have come to look upon my life so far as an overgrown garden!” I said, proudly.

I’m sure he could feel, if not actually see the exclamation mark, because he immediately sent his barn-swallow-eyes out to flit around my head. “Why a garden?” Epiphanies were wasted on him. So were metaphors, for that matter.

I shook my head to ward off the embarrassing reception my insight was being accorded.

“Think of it, Brien,” I managed to stammer. “Those things you tended and planted throughout the years, finally bearing fruit. Finally maturing for the autumn harvest…” I stared up at the sky as if I could see it manifest in the clouds. “Fruit that you can share with the world… Seeds that will grow, and spread throughout the…”

“You should name it, then.” he interrupted before I could expand even further on my vision.

I had to blink in surprise. “Pardon me?”

“Name the garden!” He rolled his now-captive eyes at my obtuseness, as if I hadn’t been listening. “The fruit probably already has a name,” he added for clarity.

I felt embarrassed for a moment. “It’s just an idea, Brien…”

“You figure it’s going to escape, though.” His expression suddenly turned serious, but of course he could have been trying to distract me from the cookie. “I think we really need to know what to call it -before the seeds spread everywhere, I mean.”

Sometimes it’s hard to tell when he’s just playing with me; I decided to join in. “Okay then…” I stalled for time. “How about I don’t know… Demeter, the Greek goddess of Harvest?”

He shook his head and grinned. “Where do you find this stuff?”

His stare made me uncomfortable. “Maybe I’ll try another name…”

He chuckled at the thought. “You’ll just make up another one I’ve never heard of.”

Now I knew he was toying with me. “Got a better name?”

“Matter of fact, I do.” He grabbed the cookie in a fit of pique and took a large bite out of it. “I was going to use it on the trash can, but it’s yours if you want.”

I tried not to look like a teacher who had lobbed a question at a kid sitting in the back row of the class. I pretended to look eager and thankful for the help. “And that would be…?”

“I was going to call it Pandora.” He sat back, and munched contentedly on the cookie.

Sometimes, I think Brien sits nearer to the front…

Dog Days

The dog is probably one of the most important inventions in the history of civilization. More than just another thing, it has been a protector, a hunter and -when push came to grunt- a way of getting us out of the cave for exercise while our partner tore strips of meat off the mammoth for dinner. And unlike cats –which, in those days, probably wouldn’t have waited for you to open the bag of kibble- the dog was quite happy to lie quietly at your feet until you fed it scraps. Also, they have never messed around with purring; if the dog purrs, it inevitably does so with bared fangs, so you know where you stand.

Over the millennia, however, dogs have evolved. Some of them don’t even look like dogs anymore –they’ve been specialized -some for scratching, some for licking, and some, I blush to say, merely for vanity –ours.

My dog, Rugal –don’t ask for the etymology (I was a gynaecologist before I retired)- has managed to avoid all of the breeding pitfalls by being the scion of my border collie, and a ship passing in the night that jumped over the fence and seduced him. Penniless, and gravid, said inamorata sought shelter in the neighbourhood kennel and in a burst of filial loyalty and tainted with a soupçon of guilt, I rescued one of the cuddlier results. And, cleverly anticipating the ascendancy of non-binary dogs, I opted to have her sterilized before another passing ship could persuade her otherwise.

Despite our salad days, she’s now rather long in the tooth so our runs have become limps, or at least dawdles. She gets confused at forks in the trail, and like some aged senior wandering away in confusion from the Home, she needs supervision. And time –lots of it. So I thought it might do Brien some good to accompany me on our slow perambulations from time to time. He doesn’t live in a Home, or anything, but he seldom strays from the porch of his house unless I arrange to meet him at a coffee shop, or offer to buy him lunch. He’s stubborn like that –and abnegative, a word that could have been coined in his honour…

Brien has a lot in common with Rugal, I think –they’re both obese and both walk slowly, and probably would be even slower unless enticed. I sometimes put a few dog biscuits in my pocket for Rugal, but I quickly discarded the idea of bringing beer for Brien, because I’d have to carry it. And although Brien walks too slowly in malls, and tends to wander off like the dog, I figured I could keep an eye on them both. Besides, Brien likes to argue, so I would always know where he was. He also has bad breath, so that helps, too.

With that in mind, I wandered over to his porch one fine and sunny spring morning after 11 AM, ever mindful of his circadian rhythm, and there he was, dosing on a recliner as clothed as an Inuit on a December day.

“Brien,” I yelled from the sidewalk, not wanting to alarm him by sneaking up beside him on the porch unannounced. I had to shout several times and then bang on the bottom step because his ears were hidden inside a hoodie.

I could see a pair of eyes glaring at me like watchful falcons from within the shadows of the oversized hood. And then, once I had been ID’d and vetted, a head emerged from the cavern and the body sat up. “’Bout time,” it said in a gruff voice. “I wondered when you were going to come by.” He extracted a meaty arm from under a blanket and checked his watch. “What’s this great idea you were going to discuss with me?”

No ‘How are you anyway?’, or even a ‘Hello’. Brien never bothered himself much with preliminary conversational niceties, he merely ploughed straight into the meal. And he didn’t consider it at all rude to resume whatever he had been doing once he had obtained the relevant information. Words were tools and the fewer used, the more skilled the craft. Metaphor was wasted on Brien.

“I thought you might need some exercise.” I felt I should explain –no, justify– it further, but before I could even begin my carefully engineered argument, his eyes hurried over to stop my tongue, mid-wag.

“And why did you think that?”

“I was just about to ex-…”

“You know I hate hiking,” he interrupted irritably.

“Rugal walks slowly, Brien. Really slowly.”

“What are you trying to tell me?”

I stared back at him, but kindly –like a parent. “I’m trying to tell you that you need more exercise, and walking with Rugal is a good way to start.”

I could feel his eyes walking back and forth across my face.

“You were a gynaecologist, not a trainer.”

He says that all the time and it usually quells my enthusiasm, but this time I had prepared a coup de grace and practiced my disdain in front of the mirror while I cleaned my teeth -it’s all in the forehead. “I was also an obstetrician, Brien -lest you forget!” That was the disdain part.

“So, you’re wasting your time on me.”

I had anticipated that. “Ahh, but I’ve coached women on the need to be in top physical form for delivery.” Actually, that was the midwives and the antepartum instructors; I just caught the baby, but I figured he wouldn’t know that.

“I’ve seen it on TV,” he said, somehow managing to sneer verbally. “All you guys do is sit there and make sure the baby doesn’t fall on the floor.”

He was good, I have to hand it to him. “That’s what it looks like on TV, I suppose, but just like a finely tuned athlete makes what they do look easy, it requires a lot of preparation and training beforehand.”

“You want to teach me Kegel exercises, or something, then?”

Damn! He’d been reading again. I hesitated, unsure how to proceed. In the end, I decided to call a spade a spade and skip the rest of my now-thwarted argument. “No, I just want to invite you to walk with Rugal and me.”

He promptly threw off the blanket and I saw he was dressed in a sweatshirt, track pants, and a sturdy pair of walking shoes with woolen socks. “Thought you’d never ask,” he said, all smiles. “Where’s the dog, by the way?”

I just knew I’d forget something.

 

Agape for Seniors

There are many things that Age does to you, but the only one I can remember at the moment, is the awareness of the fact you’re still here and being done to. It engenders a great need to reciprocate. Repay the debt. And whatever you’ve used the most, is probably the best place to start. That raises a few problems, however.

I figure the local MacDonald’s is unlikely to notice if I clean my place before leaving –and anyway, there’s always gum stuck under the table that I refuse to touch. And as for Starbucks, I think the best thing I could do for them would be to drink up quickly and get out to free up a seat for the people always waiting in the queue –but then my sausage and egg sandwich would never get a chance to cool.

I was sitting with bared egg and meat, and just toying with my coffee to fill the time the other day, when I saw James at the counter, just starting to argue with the barista about how he wanted his cheese bagel treated -we’re both well known in Starbucks for our peccadillos.

I stared in embarrassment at my coffee and was suddenly taken by the thought that perhaps our best gift to them might be to go to Tim Horton’s, when James suddenly appeared at my table.

“Always somebody new behind the counter,” he grumbled, without even saying hello and leaning his cane perilously close to my naked, cooling sandwich.

We sat in silence for a few minutes while he adjusted the position of the little cheese particles on the bagel for some reason. I asked him about this once, but he’d only stared at me and said that in Africa you always had to sort out the cheese from whatever else had wandered onto the bun. The fact that he hadn’t been stationed there for fifty years or so never seemed to mitigate the need, so I always let it pass.

But that day, I was in a contemplative mood. “Do you ever feel thankful that you’re here, James?” I said it with an obvious italic, but his brow furrowed and a portion of his lip let a segment of tooth escape captivity. “I mean, that you’re still alive and with friends after all these years?”

“Didn’t succumb to parasites, you mean?” His thoughts were still on some troublesome lumps  that might be disguising themselves as cheese.

“Well… Yes, I suppose. But also that the community helps us, and…”

“That’s not cheese!” he hissed to no one in particular, and swiped the offending particle off the bagel with a contemptuous thumb. I sensed he wasn’t really listening.

“I think we all have a duty to repay the community,” I added –addressing my breakfast sandwich. “It’s just the right thing to do.”

James was already stuffing bits of the bagel into his mouth. I saw another suspicious bit of something just disappearing over the rim of teeth, but I decided not to tell him.

“Any ideas, James?”

It was admittedly a poor time to ask, but he responded nonetheless with a glare that would have easily reheated my sandwich had I not just replaced the bun over it. He shrugged noncommittally and continued to obliterate what shreds of cheese and lint may have chosen to hide in the previously untouched crevices of his mouth. “Already paid for the bagel…”

I rolled my eyes. “I didn’t mean Starbuck’s, James.”

He slurped some coffee and swished it around in his mouth to flush out the hiding cheese bits. “You’re obviously thinking about it the wrong way.”

I stared at him for a second. “How do you mean?” The uncaring lout.

He grunted and then attacked the other half of the bagel. “Repayment,” he said, as a particularly large chunk of it disappeared like a lump of coal into a furnace.

I tilted my head in what I hoped conveyed a sense of puzzled annoyance, and sampled my sandwich in frustration. It was now too cold, and the egg had borrowed the consistency of his cheese bits.

He continued chewing until he had cleared enough space in there so his words could escape. “You’re talking just like them.” He accepted my glare with a magnanimity that surprised me. Then he poured another mouthful of coffee between his teeth, and clacked them together a few times before swallowing. “Look, if you want to give a friend a present for being nice to you, do you call it a repayment?”

I shook my head warily; I could almost hear the door of a trap creaking open.

“No. You call it a gift.” He smiled, but there was a large piece of cheese peeking out between his teeth. I hate that, but I didn’t want to be rude and interrupt him. “And what kind of a gift would you give a friend?”

I suppose he thought he was leading me towards the answer, but I must have misunderstood his directions because I was still lost. I smiled anyway and sighed. “You always seem to have some good ideas, James…” I said slowly, and pretending to catch his drift, but hoping he would then explain what he meant.

He seemed surprised that I had caught on so quickly though, and swished another mouthful of coffee through his teeth with obvious satisfaction. That, however, finished off his coffee, and since he had already devoured his bagel and deposited the cheese detritus remaining on his plate onto his waiting tongue with a moist finger, he scraped his chair back to leave. Starbucks was just a utility stop in his day and he accorded the experience no more thought than a visit to a washroom.

He grabbed his cane and knocked it on the floor a few times to get it ready for the journey and levered himself to his feet.

“Gift?” I asked hopefully as he prepared to leave.

He nodded sagely. “Gift,” he reaffirmed, pleased that I had truly understood.

Now I was really confused. “But…” I started to say as he turned to leave.

He turned and looked at me for a moment, then shrugged, obviously annoyed that he had misjudged me. “I’m fond of beer,” he said softly and walked away shaking his head.