Friday, April 18, 2014

Prompt: Seeing the heart

“Everyone in Central Park knows Old Sam,” he scoffed. “You can find him yourself, I guess.”

I held up a fistful of fives, which I’d learned got me much further than a single twenty. He arched his eyebrows and leaned, forward, snatching one. I watched it disappear into his big coat pocket without comment.

“Sure,” he sniffed. “Follow this path down to the split. Turn right and go under the bridge. You’ll find Old Sam at the top of the hill. Or his tent, anyways. Don’t touch none of his stuff. He don’t like that.” He reached out with lightning speed and snatched another five.

I lowered my hand a little and considered the remaining bills. He jumped up and shouldered his backpack. “Time for me to head over to the library. I’ll walk you that way. Make sure you don’t let lost.”

I nodded, but didn’t hand over the other bills quite yet. We started walking.

“Why you want to see Old Sam?”

“Why do you think, if everyone’s heard of him?”

“Jeez, no need to be touchy.” He led me down the path he had described.

“I want to see if it’s true, what people say.”

He gave me a sidelong glance, then looked ahead. His mouth worked, like he was thinking of things to say and deciding not to before he opened it. Finally, he said, “Oh, it's true.”

I hoped.

As we cleared the low bridge – he had to duck to keep the cobwebs out of his shaggy hair – he pointed to the left. There was a low rise to a thick stand of trees. I could see the red nylon of a tent in there, and in front dozed an old man in a fold-out chair. He had piles of junk around his feet, and three people in front of him. My guide stopped, and I did too, watching.

A woman was sitting in front of the old man. Kneeling on the ground, actually. She wore a nice coat, and her hair had that salon look. She was no Central Park resident. She held something in each hand, looking down at them. Without a word, she stood up and walked down the hill. She passed us without a glance, a dazed smile on her face.

Next in line was an older man. Tall, distinguished, gray hair. Nice clothes, but not a suit. Not expensive. Parka against the bite in the New York fall air. He didn’t kneel. He bent at the waist and leaned close to the old man, like they might be talking. I swear it looked like the old man was sleeping. His visitor stood up, reached into his left parka pocket, pulling out what looked like a card. He looked down at it, then reached into his right pocket. He pulled out another card. He looked like he didn’t want to see this one. He held it for a moment before he looked down. His shoulders sagged, and he turned and walked away.

The last visitor was a college kid, wearing a Columbia hoodie, awkward and unsure. He watched the other guy walk away, grief weighing him down more with every step. He looked back and forth from that guy to Old Sam, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet, as if he couldn’t decide whether to approach or run. He ran, ducking off around the rise ahead of us.

“Yup,” my guide said softly. “Old Sam has the Gift. No doubt about that. He sees what’s truly in your heart. And he sees if you’ll get it.”

“But I heard he was blind,” I said softly, thinking about what we’d watched.

He looked at me with surprise. “Lady, it doesn’t take eyes to see the heart.” He reached down toward my hand, and tugged the remaining bills. My fingers tightened.

“Have you ever…” I nodded toward Old Sam.

His face closed. “I already had what I wanted. I was too careless with it. Don’t need him to tell me that.” He tugged the bills again, and my fingers slackened. He tugged the bills free and pocketed them away. Waving a careless salute, he turned to leave. A couple of steps later, he hesitated and turned back.

“Lady, you seem nice. Be sure,” he said, and turned away, hands in his pockets whistling as he ducked back under the bridge.

I turned back to Old Sam, who sat motionless in his chair. I wanted to walk up to him, but I couldn’t make my feet move. I wanted to know. More than anything.

I don’t know how long I stood there. No one else came by. Maybe I tranced out a little. I was staring at Old Sam, and then he was gone. All his stuff was still there. I thought about walking up and taking a look at his things. Seeing what I could see. I remembered what my guide had said. “Don’t touch none of his stuff. He don’t like that.”

I shook my head and continued walking down the path. I didn’t know this part of the Park, and the light was fading. I could always come back.

Dogs in House
Houdini, Brindle, Eggs

Time writing
~45 minutes

April word count

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