“I’d agree with anything you say, Ms. Cortland,” I answered truthfully. For at the moment that, at least, was the truth. I added the ‘Ms. Cortland’ part to amuse myself, but after I said it, I really began to think she ought to be shown some respect and that Sweet Beat ought to show it. Here she, the newest kid on the block, had invited all of us to her house. We barely fit in there and, even with two fans going, it was one warm party. Then, in addition to the three lemonades being spilled, the uninvited pervert she’d had to ask to leave, her little vase she had rescued just before it walked out the door, and an odd variety of other little incidents, she had Sweet Beat pulling a knife.
I decided I’d had enough then, so I got up to leave.
“Thank you kindly, Ms. Cortland, for the lovely party,” I said, looking at Sweet Beat out of the corner of my eye, so he could hear how it should be done.
I heard someone say that on television once, and it stuck with me, I guess.
“Thank you kindly,” I repeated.
“I’m glad you came, Mr. Bingham,” Sally said brightly. Her smile was tired.
I didn’t leave, though. I thought I’d check out the kitchen. Sure enough, Sniff was in there.
“Eating the leftovers?” I asked.
There was a brownie crumb on the corner of her mouth, which was full. She glared at me.
I stuck some Chex mix into my pockets and peeked into the living room.
Sally was still talking to Sweet Beat – something about the lunar cycle and meteor showers.
I leaned against the archway until he left. I was the last one out.
There are times in the years that count a man’s life that he regards as markers on his journey: incidents of great proportion that all around him notice and which, by virtue of their enormity, stand like a totem pole of meaning. There are other times, however, that are quite inconspicuous to all, and nearly unnoticeable to the man, himself: yet by the insight they spark, inscribe upon his life that indefinable mark of understanding that his Creator gives as pavers along the path of wisdom.
Standing there in the archway, waiting for everyone to leave Sally’s party was such a time for me. Sally could take care of herself. That was obvious to anyone who met her. It seemed to me, though, as I watched her visit with the leader of a neighborhood gang that life hands us duties to each other: obligations like protection and, if we are unequal to that, duty to “keep company”. At the time, I couldn’t have put into words the feelings that began to force such thoughts into my hard head and harder heart. All I knew was that I needed to be the last man out. I remain amazed to this day that I was.
to be continued . . .