Porch Light, Part 1

As the street lights came on and a wind swept up some newly fallen leaves, Larry lifted his eyes and gazed into the gathering darkness. The screen door creaked as if on cue, and Barry ambled slowly out on to the patio. They were two old men, variations on gray, bald, and roundish, both residents of the Swansong.

“Hello porch light! I see you’ve been waiting for me,” said Barry in a wheezy voice.

Larry looked around as if waking up and said, “Ah hell, you made it. I thought I was gonna get some peace and quiet so I could have me a nap before bedtime.”

“Well porch light, I can’t let that happen. I gotta give you some juice to stew in,” Barry muttered as he came around behind Larry’s wheelchair and collapsed into the old rocking chair next to him.

“That sounds wrong pal,” Larry growled. “I’ll pretend you didn’t say that, tho’ I’ve been a-wondering about young whippersnappers the likes of you.”

“I think we’ve established you’re not my type.” Barry adjusted himself in the rocking chair which seemed to be in tune with the screen door.

The two old men, with their baggy pants, raggedy shirts, and old soft shoes, looked like they shopped at the same thrift store. Likely, they had the same stains on the front of their droopy sweaters. But the street lights and porch lights left their rough edges in the shadows of another fresh nightfall.

Larry set about lighting an old stoagy, short and not too big around, that had been setting in a dish on a pile of newspapers on the card table between them. Ashes on dust.

Barry started in, “My grandson told me the other day that one of his buddy’s had a grandmother who died. So the kid’s family was cleaning out the old lady’s apartment, they found granny’s diary, and the kid’s Mom let the kid have it. So the kid’s reading it, apparently to my grandson, and they come across a page where the old lady wrote: “No justice, no peace,” over and over in big letters. And then apparently, there’s all this stuff about race and racism and equality, or the lack thereof.”

“Yeah,” said Larry with a wheeze.

“So the kid asks me, he says, ‘Gramps, what’s that all about? You should know, you’re old like the granny was!’ And I say, ‘well, she musta been some kind of radical. Then I told him, ‘E Pluribus Unum,’ explained that and said that we’re about equality and freedom and the United States is a big melting pot. Aren’t you proud of me?” Barry turned with a shrug and upturned hands. He seemed to be waiting for a hug.

Larry looked out into the night and asked, “Was the kid or his grandmother black?”

“Heck, how should I know? Kevin didn’t say,” said Barry, continuing with the shrug.

“Well did you ask? Wouldn’t that explain a few things to you?”

“I didn’t think about it.”

“Figures. You probably think your kid is just buddies with other white kids. White kids with, God forbid, hippy grandparents. But maybe his friend is black. What about that?”

“What about that. I don’t care. It’s been a long time since the civil rights movement, even longer since the Civil War. They’ve had a black president. There’s still affirmative action. Maybe the granny was just some old socialist freak and she was writing about all her protest slogans, or after she got thrown in the slammer for some sit-in. I don’t know, who cares?” And Barry made a noise his grandson would have found amusing.

“I care about what you don’t know. Otherwise we’d have nothing to talk about,” said Larry. “I’ll bet you your ice cream that your grandson’s friend is black and that his grandmother, or more likely her Dad, husband, or son, was the victim of police brutality. Or maybe they were just from the south. And don’t say anything about chocolate ice cream or I’ll have to use your face for an ashtray.”

“Schwid. I thought you’d like me saying something positive, you know liberal, Kumbaya kind of stuff. I didn’t think you’d get all bent out of shape about this mumbo jumbo,” Barry muttered.

“It’s gumbo dumbo, and as the twig is bent so grows the tree. Just don’t you be the one bending Kevin,” said Larry.

“Now who’s sounding wrong? said Barry.

“You know what I mean. And I’m not wrong, I’m left. And there ain’t no Unum, it’s all about the Pluribus. So get on the bus. Or, get up and push me into the dining room. I don’t wanna get so cold that I don’t want to eat the ice cream you owe me – even if it is oh so vanilla.” Larry pushed his cigar stub into the dish and said, “Let’s go.”

“Alright, I mean all left, you crazy commie.” With that, Barry pushed himself out of his rocker, leaned heavily on the handles of Larry’s wheelchair, backed him up, then off the porch, through the squeaky screen door and down the hall to the dining room.

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