A solitary gentleman lives three doors down and across the street. The story goes that his wife died a few years ago, though I never knew her. In my five years on Linwood Place, he is among the few in the immediate vicinity to whom I’ve not spoken.
I’ve seen him often. I’ve waved and nodded hello from my porch, from my bicycle, and while walking Luke The Dog (who joined our family after my wife’s father met an untimely end). The solitary man shows his kind side, evinced in a slight left limp. There’s a story I long to hear. I look up from a book as he pulls in at 6:30, the last on the block to get home. My vision is somewhat bleary from the last fifty pages and it adjusts as I follow his path.
He always walks slowly from the car, evaluating the flowers and the grass — do they need water tonight? — coyly looking toward the neighbors’ yard, where the kids play in the last minutes of daylight. He wants to wave; he wants to engage. He is dressed business casually, but carries a briefcase that he sets down on the steps as he doubles back to the hedge, checking whether it has started to flower for Autumn. Not yet.
The kids notice him. He raises his hand far over his head and waves gently. The parents, whose third was born two weeks ago, knock on the front window and return his gesture. They spill out on to the porch and exchange daily pleasantries.
He walks back to the stoop, picks up his briefcase, and looks around his porch. The loveseat-swing hangs motionless, his almost-finished repairs to the columns and railings should be done any season now, but fading daylight will steal tonight’s progress. With a languid pace, he unlocks the door – hundred-year-old solid oak, strong as the day it was hung. He and his briefcase disappear inside.
The house is dark for a few minutes. I’m unable to return to reading as visions of his nightly routine command my attention. No doubt he’s changing his shoes, his shirt, checking what’s in the refrigerator, and reconsidering whether the lawn could use a few minutes of watering. What voyeuristic urge keeps my attention rapt? Jealousy? Frustration that I can’t get my head around my own thoughts? Or why I haven’t ever spoken to the solitary man?
Looking at him is looking into me.
Three hundred pages into a biography of a self-exiled, self-anguished philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and preparing to complete my decade-long reflections on similar topics, I look up at my neighbor walking from his car to his house and think, “I know this man.”