“Harrummf.” The old man sat on the rock bench by the river, alone. He looked aged and tired. His whiskers grew out white and uneven. He’d obviously given up on shaving, instead hacking back his facial hair only occasionally and it gave him an unkempt look. His hair, perhaps three inches at the longest, looked as though it was caught by the wind and flying every which way. Except that the day was calm and still. His eye were blue, but turned rheumy, milky and dull. His clothes looked as if they were pulled from baled rags, purloined as they went to be recycled. He wore pale yellow socks over leather things on his feet. So skinny, he was a scarecrow, his broomstick limbs barely holding up his attire. Liver spotted and translucent, his pale skin looked as if it was in jeopardy of the sun, paper-like and dry he was the image of frailty and vulnerability.
The river moved slowly by where he sat, reflecting him perfectly so that one had to look hard to tell which was real and which the reflection. No matter, his entirety was merely a reflection –of what he once was, back when life was his and strength surged within him. He shifted his weight and made the noise again. Was he clearing his throat or offering a comment; it was hard to tell. A dog lay in the sun just beside him. It too had an ancient appearance, they were a matched set. One knew the dog was brown, but it too was graying. Its legs twitched, the dog caught in a dream, most likely of youthful days when it would run free with tongue flying as he pursued a quarry. There was a dimness to the dog; the way the light struck him and permeated and reflected off his hair gave him a translucence not unlike the old man’s skin.
I went about my way, the image of the old man and his dog in my mind. I inspected it by turning the image over and over in my head, wondering why the image had the power to fascinate me so. I crawled over rocks and stepped on grassy hummocks by the waters edge, occasionally noting my own reflection. But my image seemed somehow blurred and filled with kinesis, not like the crystal image of the old man. But wait. Did the dog have a reflection too? I wondered about that, thinking of it more and more until I had to go back and look. Why it was important to me I didn’t know. I just knew that I had to see. I had to look and see if the dog was as faithfully reproduced as the man was.
He was just there in front of me, some yards ahead. He hadn’t moved that I could tell. I watched him as I made my way closer and closer, finally coming to within just a few feet of him. There was his reflection in the water, as clear and sharp as I’d seen it earlier. But no, the dog was not reflected. In fact, I realized that the dog wasn’t there at all. Apparently it had trundled its self off to investigate a butterfly or follow the scent of some creature, perhaps of its own kind.
“Where did your dog go?” I asked him.
“Your dog. Where is your dog?”
I looked around, scanning to see where it had gotten to. “I see that.” I said.
“Eh?” he said again, looking at me.
“Your dog has gone off.”
He looked at me, irritation flirting with his features. “What about it?” he snapped.
“Well, the pair of you made a pleasant image.” I said, smiling. I wasn’t sure why I seemed to irk him, and felt badly that I might have intruded on his thoughts. The old man looked at me a moment and then shook his head.
“Dog’s gone nearly a year now. He was a good one, he was.”
“I meant the one that was here a little while ago.”
“I was just sitting here thinking about him. Missing him I guess. But it gives me pleasure to think of him. You see, he was all I had. Just me and the dog.”
“I’m sorry for your loss. ButI meant the dog that was just here. He was laying right there.” I pointed to the spot where I’d seen the dog.
“I was remembering him. We used to come here, you know. Used to come and sit here and watch the water. He would come along with. Would lay right there.” He pointed at the same spot I had. “We came here most every day it was warm enough. Pretty much every day in summer.”
“I was talking about a dog today. A dog right there by you.” I described the dog to him.
“That’s right. So you knew my dog? You’d see him when we came here, eh?”
“No. I mean today. I saw him today.” I protested.
“No, you couldn’t have seen him today, son. My dog passed a year ago. Must have been someone else’s dog you saw.”
“Could be, I guess. But he was laying right there. Right by you. You had to have seen him.”
“No. No dog today. No dog for a year.” He sounded so forlorn the way he said it. “I wish he was here. Such a good boy. He was such a good boy.”
“You didn’t see the dog that was here today?” I asked. “Sitting right there?”
“I’m old, son, but I’m not daft. My dog passed.”
“I understand. But I saw a dog laying here by you when I first passed by. The way he lay here, I thought he was with you. I must have been wrong. Anyway, he seems to have gone off now.”
The old man turned to look at me directly. “There’s been no dog here. I came here alone, I’ve been sitting alone. The dog you saw sounds like mine, but there’s been no dog here today. My dog’s gone a year now. To the very day.” He made a grunting noise and got to his feet. He stood for a moment, giving me a reproachful look, and then turned and walked away. He had the slow and painful appearing gait of the elderly. He shook his head as he moved.
I stood there and watched him go for a moment then looked back to where he’d been sitting. The grass in front of the rock was bent and pressed where his feet had rested. I looked to where the dog was and the grass stood, unaffected. There was no evidence that the animal had been there.
“Odd.” I mumbled aloud. It made me wonder if I had somehow intruded on and seen his reflections on the dog the way I’d seen his reflection in the water. A memory mirage? No, that’s just nuts. I looked at the spot where I saw the dog again, inspecting the erect blades of grass, undisturbed and stilled in the breeze-less air. “Odd.” I said again.