05: April 2015 #09 - Welcome Home

Authored by Michael Way

Welcome Home

by Michael Way

            I think they use those sodium streetlights around here—I don’t know if those are standard or what, but they’re the ones that give off that soft, yellow-orange light. They must be efficient or something. They’re different than all the other lights—different than the lamps in the houses, those motion sensor floodlights in backyards and driveways, and those are all the same kind of lights. It’s hard to tell some colors apart under the sodium streetlights—brown dogs, gray dogs, blonde hair, white hair. It’s hard to tell.
            I saw another man recently with what I think was a toupee and a gray Pit bull. I think it was a gray Pit bull anyway, and I think they’re called bluenoses—the gray ones. I was walking up the footbridge over the parkway and this possibly toupee’d man was coming up from the other side. It was a windy November night and leaves from the trees along the parkway and along its median were kicked about on the footbridge, hitting its fence and eventually squeezing through, northbound.
            I saw his “hair” first and then a hand scratching or readjusting it. His hair disappeared out of sight and I stopped. I could have sworn this man was walking toward me. His hair reappeared again and I saw eyes that never stopped sinking into his face.
            I think it was around two in the morning. He would stop abruptly every few feet, retreat out of sight, move a few feet forward and then back again.
            I stood where I was, not moving closer toward the peak of the bridge, so I could watch this man. I usually came to the footbridge for this old, torn bedsheet that hung over the side of it facing the southbound cars. It said, “WELCOME HOME PVT. …”—I can’t remember the last name for some reason. There was an American flag painted underneath its “welcome.” At the very bottom it said, “THANK YOU.”
            Cars and trucks sped by underneath us, never slowing.
            Forward, back, forward, forward, back. Toupee, nothing, toupee, sinking eyes, zipped up coat. Then he sprinted toward me and I saw him being pulled by his Pit bull. They stopped over the median. A branch from a tree in the median lurched and swayed over them in the wind. The tree looked like it could go down that night. A lot of them did.
            I didn’t know if he could see me just standing there, so I stuck my hands in my pockets and looked at the torn bed sheet. It was blowing out like a sail and a pair of headlights lit up “WELCOME HOME PVT” for a second.
            I looked to the man again. He was on one knee, rubbing the dog behind both ears. She jerked her head every couple of seconds as a car passed or someone honked or both.
My nose was running and I didn’t have a tissue or a napkin, so I wiped it on my sleeve. I smelled like a stale cigarette and B.O. I tried lighting a cigarette up, but I couldn’t get it going in the wind. I could see the yellow stains on the tips of my fingers in the sodium lights lining the parkway. I put my hands back into my pockets and walked toward the probably toupee’d man and his bluenose.
            I felt like I had to say something to the man with the “hair,” so I did. “Nervous Nelly, huh?”
            “Hm?” said the man. He was still rubbing the dog’s ears and the dog was sort of wiggling her butt instead of her tail. He looked at me and stood up. I took a step back. I made sure I wasn’t under that swaying tree branch.
            “Oh, no. She’s not nervous about the cars, we were just practicing our dressage for the big horse and dog competition.”
            “Sorry. I couldn’t help noticing you is all.” I looked southbound and saw a car driving with its blinker on, not changing lanes, keeping straight, not slowing.
            He touched his hair again.
            The dog jerked her head in the direction of the car with the blinker and followed it with her eyes. She was shaking and I wanted to pet her or maybe wrap her in that torn bed sheet hanging over the side and carry her over the bridge all the way home, wherever that was, with or without that man with his hair, but under those lights, looking into each backyard until I found the right one.