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A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud.
by [?]

“What was her name?” the boy asked.

“Oh,” he said.”I called her Dodo. But that is immaterial.”

“Did you try to make her come back?”

The man did not seem to hear.”Under the circumstances you can imagine how I felt when she left me.”

Leo took the bacon from the grill and folded two strips of it between a bun. He had a gray face, with slitted eyes, and a pinched nose saddled by faint blue shadows. One of the mill workers signaled f
or more coffee and Leo poured it. He did not give refills on coffee free. The spinner ate breakfast there every morning, but the better Leo knew his customers the stingier he treated them. He nibbled his own bun as though he grudged it to himself.

“And you never got hold of her again?”

The boy did not know what to think of the man, and his child’s face was uncertain with mingled curiosity and doubt. He was new on the paper route; it was still strange to him to be out in the town in the black, queer early morning.

“Yes,” the man said.”I took a number of steps to get her back. I went around trying to locate her. I went to Tulsa where she had folks. And to Mobile. I went to every town she had ever mentioned to me, and I hunted down every man she had formerly been connected with. Tulsa, Atlanta, Chicago, Cheehaw, Memphis…. For the better part of two years I chased around the country trying to lay hold of her.”

“But the pair of them had vanished from the face of the earth!” said Leo.

“Don’t listen to him,” the man said confidentially.”And also just forget those two years. They are not important. What matters is that around the third year a curious thing begun to happen to me.”

“What?” the boy asked.

The man leaned down and tilted his mug to take a sip of beer. But as he hovered over the mug his nostrils fluttered slightly; he sniffed the staleness of the beer and did not drink.”Love is a curious thing to begin with. At first I thought only of getting her back. It was a kind of mania. But then as time went on I tried to remember her. But do you know what happened?”

“No,” the boy said.

“When I laid myself down on a bed and tried to think about her my mind became a blank. I couldn’t see her. I would take out her pictures and look. No good. Nothing doing. A blank. Can you imagine it?”

“Say Mac!” Leo called down the counter.”Can you imagine this bozo’s mind a blank!”

Slowly, as though fanning away flies, the man waved his hand. His green eyes were concentrated and fixed on the shallow little face of the paper boy.

“But a sudden piece of glass on a sidewalk. Or a nickel tune in a music box. A shadow on a wall at night. And I would remember. It might happen in a street and I would cry or bang my head against a lamppost. You follow me?”

“A piece of glass …” the boy said.

“Anything. I would walk around and I had no power of how and when to remember her. You think you can put up a kind of shield. But remembering don’t come to a man face forward—it corners around sideways. I was at the mercy of everything I saw and heard. Suddenly instead of me combing the countryside to find her, she begun to chase me around in my very soul. Shechasing memind you! And in my soul.”

The boy asked finally: “What part of the country were you in then?”

“Ooh,” the man groaned.”I was a sick mortal. It was like smallpox. I confess, Son, that I boozed. I fornicated. I committed any sin that suddenly appealed to me. I am loath to confess it but I will do so. When I recall that period it is all curdled in my mind, it was so terrible.”