He wakes to a child’s voice saying, “What an old blanket.” He sits up on the concrete, pulls his blanket aside, and runs his fingers through his hair. It’s true: he and his blanket have grown old together here in the corner of the Episcopal church parking lot.
Another child approaches and looks at him steadily, then punches his bony shoulder. “You’re too sloppy to be a real gangster,” he says, and continues on his walk to school. He tries to see himself through the eyes of the child: a frail old man in a tattered sharkskin suit lying on pavement, his teeth all gone, speechlessly struggling to swallow the thick mucus he’s just coughed into his mouth. No wonder the child was disappointed: after decades here, doing nothing but watching the trees, he can no longer call himself a gangster.
But as he pulls the collar of his suit-coat up to warm himself and he thinks back on his life, how quickly it has passed, he also thinks about the trees, the beeches, spruces, poplars, oaks, wild cherries, pines, the cedars and the dogwoods, apples, peaches, sycamores—so many more: their barks, both rough and tender; their changes with the seasons, from the dropping of their leaves in fall to the bursting-out of buds in spring; the songs they sing; the creaking of their boughs bedecked with ice; the purple shadows that they cast on snow; the ways their leaves and needles glisten in the rain; their stately bows and minuets or wild, arm-flinging dances in the storms of early May and late November; the crashing down of mighty limbs; the death and dismemberment of some by men with saws; the fall and rot of others; the hopeful sprout of saplings; the nests of squirrels and crows and jays among their branches. And thinking of these things, he knows his life among them, watching, was not wasted.
He hears the cars and buses going by and knows that children’s curious faces are plastered up against their windows, but he won’t return their gaze. He’s already busy watching the maple, its canopy ablaze with autumn’s reds and yellows, framed by the streaming rays of morning.