Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Vicar of Another Man's Life: I

Vincent was seen as a wise man by those around him, he was easy to talk to, quick to listen, slow to judge, he cared, was witty and loved a good play on words. He could easily carry on a conversation with folks in the check out lane at the grocery store or he might try to engage another while waiting for the spin cycle at the laundry. There was really only one word that would describe Vincent, if a person was called upon to offer a one word description, Vincent was shy.

Vincent felt uncomfortable in crowds, often he found himself being pulled toward the walls of the room as if he were in one of those amusement park rides that spun at high speeds and held the thrill seeker tight against its walls. Vincent was never sure exactly why he felt the way he did. He did know that while he believed he understood people, he was confident that they didn't understand him.

The third floor apartment that he lived in was lined with bookshelves and they were packed to overflowing with all kinds of books. Cookbooks, though he rarely used them, history, classics, mysteries, fiction and even children's books. It was not uncommon for Vincent to climb the six flights to his apartment, slip into the simple room, draw the curtains closed, sit on the sofa and read for hours on end. He often forgot to cook dinner, he would wash his face, brush his teeth and climb into bed with his book, promising himself he would eat a bigger and better breakfast in the morning.

Imagination was not a shortfall for Vincent. He had an abundance of it, he could read and through the words paint vivid pictures in his mind; the location the story was set in, what the characters wore, how they sounded when they spoke, the dialog that was printed and lying in his lap was what made the people in the story real to him, his imagination made them alive. Through words on a page Vincent could easily smell the stench of boiling cabbage in the New York tenement house. He could see the green valley in Steinbeck's East of Eden, he could laugh as Quentin Crisp spoke of life in England. Vincent could see himself in the background, in the crowd, near by as an innocent observer overhearing the conversations or he might find himself as one of the characters if he thought they were a lot like him.

On a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon Vincent changed from his church clothes to a pair of khaki shorts and a grey polo shirt. (He wore these colors often hoping they would help him to be less obvious in his environment.) He ate his lunch of dark brown bread with strong Stilton cheese and a smear of brown spicy mustard, while sitting at his kitchen table he looked down on the people in the neighborhood going about their lives, a woman walking a dog, a young couple lifting grocery bags from the trunk of a car, the prostitute standing on the corner tired of the world, there was the jogger who seemed to circle the block for hours. Vincent wondered how the jogger kept from being a statistic since he couldn't hear the traffic with the wires of his iPod stuffed into his ears, but then it dawned on him, he ran in circles, he never crossed streets. Vincent took the last bite of his lunch and decided that it was time to go outside and enjoy what his neighbors were enjoying, even the drug dealer that walked tirelessly up and down the street seemed to be enjoying the sunshine and the spring day.

Vincent put on his walking shoes, took his keys and headed for the park where he could walk or he could sit on one of the benches along the promenade in the shade. Being such a beautiful day the park seemed to be filled to bursting with people. Families with children in strollers, one upwardly mobile couple in appropriate costume pushed a vintage pram with a newborn inside. The promenade felt like it was wall to wall people and suddenly Vincent began to feel panicked. There were no walls to gravitate to, only more, “great outdoors.” He knew that to quell this feeling he would need a wall behind him so that he felt less exposed, his breath came in pants while he looked about to find a place where he wouldn't feel so obvious. Finally, he sat on a grassy spot and laid back so that it looked like he was cloud counting. He took deep breaths and worked to calm himself, it was working, each deep breath a reminder to himself that he was fine that there was nothing to be concerned about.

After a few moments he began to feel more peaceful, more at ease with the surroundings and he had convinced himself that there was nothing to be concerned about, nothing to worry about. He sat up and looked around and became more comfortable with what was going on around him, he began to breath more evenly and was finally at ease. He saw a pair of park benches back to back, one of them empty he picked himself up from the grass and went to the empty bench. When he did he noticed that there were many children who had been lying around him actually counting clouds and identifying their myriad shapes. He sat on the bench alone, the one that backed up to him had a young couple seated there, stealing kisses and holding hands .immediately Vincent felt embarrassed by their public display of affection. He wondered why he felt that way, it was spring after all, and wasn't it the time that a young man's heart was supposed to turn to fancy? Vincent fidgeted with the elastic cord that ran through a channel around the bottom of his lightweight jacket.

“I really enjoyed last night,” said the young man, “it was wonderful to eat outside and the music was awesome. I'm so glad that we found that place, we'll have to go again.”

Vincent closed his eyes and saw a bistro along a quiet street in one of the smaller neighborhoods in the city. On one side of the cafe there was an area covered by a black canopy that held small copper lamps hanging from it in measured distances apart from the next. On each table there were low copper bowls filled with black smooth river rocks, water in each bowl supported large vibrant dahlias, most of them some shade of red.

Vincent reached across the table and took her hand. Soft and delicate yet warm and rich, everything about her skin made him want to touch her. Her dress was the perfect compliment to her, it made the highlights in her black glistening hair shimmer all the more even in the subdued light of the cafe patio. The dress made her eyes sparkle, probably because she tended to move about gracefully in the glow of the lanterns their light danced on her eyes. Vincent didn't know the name of he perfume, but it was perfect with just a whisper of tuberose and it made him want her close to him.

His gazing upon her was interrupted by the waiter wanting their drink order, they both ordered glasses of white wine just as they heard guitar music. The flavor of the music was Spanish and yet it didn't have the spice that led to complicated dancing, Vincent wanted to move with her on the dance floor.

He stood and smoothed his ivory linen shirt over his black trousers. He pulled her chair away from the table and they walked to the small wooden dance floor. Vincent took her hand in his and placed his other on the small of her back as she placed her hand on his shoulder, then she rested her cheek on his chest where she could smell his cologne, rich with sandalwood and tobacco and maybe a touch of rum.

Alone on the dance floor they moved to the music, the guitar player appreciated their dancing and played music that made them move in well choreographed circles around the small dance floor where they were so entranced by one another they never realized that they continued to be the only ones there, they didn't know they were the envy of those around them. Vincent broke their embrace and led them back to the table where the wine glasses sat in puddles of condensation that had run down their chilled sides while the two of them danced.

After dinner they shared desert, a meringue cloud toasted to a perfect rose tone that floated on a mixture of sliced peaches, blue berries and there were small delicate glasses that held just a splash of almond liquor.

Vincent's eyes popped open when the young woman at his back said, “The crust on that pizza was to die for, was that fresh basil on there? And jazz, that cat knew how to wail on that sax, it screamed baby!”

Vincent stood, tied the cord at the hem of his jacket and ambled out of the park, it seemed that he lived in an imaginary world much more graceful than the one the young lovers lived in.


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