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Encounter on the Asphalt

by William Metcalfe

I swear this happened. Two days ago! I had not finished my afternoon tea—just the beverage— but I knew it was time to return to work. There were 13 photographs waiting for my hands to slide them into picture frames. I rose from our kitchen table, walked to the back door and stepped out into a cool, fall day. The warm cup comforted my working hand. My left, neglected and lacking a similar comfort, dangled useless at my side

                I paused at the bottom of the back steps to gaze at the maple’s quivering leaves, streaked in reds and yellows, which foretold the tree’s disrobing at the approach of winter. This was an occasion, were I a literate man, to mouth a fitting quotation from the classics on the passage of time. But I am not. When working, I am only a goon with a hammer. I turned toward the shop and work. As the old sidewalk is severely cracked, I moved carefully to avoid a misstep and the ensuing lost cup of tea. 

                It was a quiet day. Even the neighbor’s dog, Old Bark Alot, was quiet. This sentry usually barks menacingly at any living creature that dares to walk, crawl or fly within 100 yards of the home he protects. The brave guardian has ferociously attacked intrepid plastic bags that sailed across his yard driven by the wind.

                My shop, a converted garage, is at the end of an asphalt driveway, which somewhat muffles the noise of delivery trucks. The back sidewalk ends at the asphalt. Until I step beyond the corner where they met, I cannot fully see the driveway. Several times I have been surprised by low flying birds that swerve upward to avoid the collision with me.

                I was one step on the asphalt when he appeared.  By his short stature, it was obvious that he was an adolescent, that period of growth that supplies the world with daring, troublemakers. I couldn't tell if he planned to take me on or not. He was a cocky little bastard but his position was awkward. To turn and flee would mean losing face, a badge of cowardice. Besides I was too close. I might be able to collar him.  But there was no other direction. My larger body blocked the narrow sidewalk. In perturbation, his head and upper body bobbed in all directions. Obviously, he felt thwarted in seeking an escape. I could tell he even considered a direct run at me. He would think that, if I was thrown off balance by this daring act, he could elude any threatened attack from me.  Fear will often set off an aggressive action.

                He would have been armed with his species’ favorite weapon, but size was to my advantage. But, because of my age, youth’s speed would be his advantage, but he would lack precision. It was possible that he might sense of my calm and panic. I will swear that I saw his short brown hair stiffen with fear.

                Fortunately, he was alone for once. His brothers were elsewhere. Terrifying other neighbors? These three were almost identical in appearance. If another one, or two, also confronted me, I would question my sanity.

                Normally I am not a brave man. Skinny and tall, tells you all. I am the first to flee a potential, personal conflict. At Seventy-one, I am much too old to fight an alert and active adversary, much less three of them. I might try to fake a Samurai stance, but after my bluff, the business would switch to the brazen one.

                His spasmodic movements ceased. Like a statue of a soldier, he stood erect, but swayed slightly with the effort it took. When his fear cleared, he leapt to his left without hesitation. At full speed, he ran under my right arm, though my wife's flowers and, bypassing the fishpond, streaked across the yard. By the time he reached the maple tree, he knew what he had to do. He flung himself onto the tree’s bark and clawed his way upward. At the first large fork, he turned and belabored me with squirrelly insults, the meanings of which I could only guess at, although the intent was obvious. If he had had acorns, I would  have been pelted with them.

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