This is a specific type of sunlight, a hue of waning radiance, of a summer evening receding through tree branches smudged with the autumnal brown of crackling leaves and orange Thanksgiving pumpkins. It evokes the bittersweetness of childhood memories, those fleeting vignettes tingled with regret, reminding us of our encroaching mortality, of a life unfulfilled.
Sometimes, this peculiar blend of light casts a shiver of deja vu, a glimpse into the jumbled mind of the universe and its intersecting timelines.
The future smells like grandpa’s pipe tobacco…
But almost immediately, that pulse of recognition evaporates, your mind focusing, responding to the present trivialities of reality.
During the winter, when the sun has been concealed with a sky of opaque plaster, that oppressive, frosted whiteness, this otherworldly light rarely appears, packaged away in the attic like some seasonal decoration.
The puppy sniffs, her nostrils pulsating with intensity as they inhale the inscrutable scents of the morning breeze.
Above us, the squirrels frantically clamor about the tree limbs, disturbing the birds, whose fluttering wings and riled chirps gain the attention of the puppy’s ears.
‘What do you see?’ I ask the puppy, hoping for some sort of psychic communique.
Instead, a mushy tongue slaps my cheek.
We’ve done this before, the puppy whispers as she bounds down the steps, the tree leaves quivering from the breeze; sunlight rippling…
My grandfather was an absurdist storyteller, his narratives were an anachronistic whirl of subplots involving Daniel Boone, dinosaurs and futuristic technologies that could only be imagined within the pages of 1960s science fiction paperbacks. All of these stories, he professed, in his staunch Catholicism, were autobiographical. He was present when Daniel Boone rescued Jimmy Carter from the Official Presidential Stagecoach during an attempted Russian assassination plot.
‘The Oliver Incident, it has since been called… Highly classified. You will never read about it in any encyclopedia.’ My Grandfather nodded, stubbing his pipe against the metal tubing of his lawn chair.
As children, my cousins and I would interrupt, inquiring, sometimes defying his purported authority.
‘That’s not true!’ We would shout, sitting crosslegged on the grass, our eyes absorbed by the palpitating flames of our Grandfather’s wood fire.
‘Sure, it is… Now, if you keep looking into the sparks of light from the flames, you can see the entire universe.’
In that blackened, bubble font of 1980s Bronx subway graffiti, the brick wall of the backyard was sprayed with this abstruse sentiment,
Somewhere there is a ghost of yourself…
I’m jarred from deciphering the words as the puppy becomes rambunctious, straining at the limits of the leash as it attempts to pursue a butterfly.
‘Ok-Ok-Ok…’ I relent, my hand loosening pressure on the leash to allow the puppy a few extra inches to pounce on the flittering butterfly. ‘You’re never gonna catch it, dog.’
A few feet away, on the public, gravel foot trail that stretched beyond the property line of my backyard, a man stood, staring up into the sky.
There was a professorial aura about him: bespectacled, squinting eyes of scientific scrutiny and olive corduroy pants that matched his faded, brown layers of dress shirt and crewneck sweater. He resembled one of the many, newly detached fall leaves scattered along the trail.
Immersed in his thoughts, he scratched his grey beard until recognizing my presence. ‘Ah, so sorry…’
‘No, not at all…’ The puppy sniffed at the man’s scuffed and worn brown loafers.
‘Yes, I’ve never recognized this tree before…’ Almost instantly, the man seemingly lapsed into the solitude of his previous musings.
I stared up into the near skeletal limbs of the tree, a lone crimson leaf fluttering in the gusting air. ‘Yes, it’s impressive… It must be very old.’
The man nodded, ‘Look at the squirrels… They must have been Russian acrobats in a previous incarnation.’
The man turns to me, ‘You can feel the winter arriving. Soon, it will be time to get out those Christmas decorations…’ He smiles with a departing nod. ‘Good rest of your day, son.’
Above me, the gloom of the autumn sky cracks, sunlight seeping into the world.
The man, still only a few feet away from me, is haloed in light.
That’s him, whispers the puppy, yanking me in the opposite direction of the man as she chases a butterfly.