Retaining Wall

By Ann Lightcap Bruno

The last time I saw you it was seven AM, cold sun, distant jackhammer’s growl.  Alexandria Street. Twenty years. One of us knew it was the last time, and the other one didn’t, and one of us said I don’t have time for coffee, and the other one said my bus will be here any minute. See you, one of us said. Take care, said the other.

And now here we are.

You look good. Like you, in a way.

I like the photo of you and your boy and the fish you caught, though the caption’s wrong.  Small mouth bass, not largemouth.  I like the photo of your pretty wife holding the baby dressed like a chili pepper. Is Parker a boy or a girl?

I like the post about how you scared off a raccoon with a frying pan in the moonlight. But I don’t like that it hissed at your wife when she was hauling the recycling to the curb.

I like that today is your brother’s birthday, but I don’t like that you haven’t talked to him in six years.

Actually, I don’t like your TV shows or your music. What happened to Springsteen?

I don’t like the movie Rango.

And, truth told, I don’t at all like that you say you earned a Ph.D. at the College of Hard Knocks. I don’t like that you are a member of a group called That’s What She Said and another called Crocs Make You Look Like a Dumbass. I don’t like fried dough, not any more. I don’t like the This Guy Can Party shirt you’re wearing in the fishing picture. I don’t like your favorite quotation, or Farmville or Fish World or Price is Right Slots or Bubble Witch Saga. Please don’t think of inviting me.

But I do like the last morning. The cold sun in our lungs, the truck backing up somewhere unseen, the smell of bus stop trash and backyard magnolia, the promise of coffee we never drank. And I like that I was the one who knew, even though you were the one who didn’t have time. I like the boy you were there in the street, beautiful and dim and hometown and fleeting.  I like the hollow grumble of the jackhammer echoing in my gut when you turned and left, not looking. I like that I sat on the bench imagining that I was perfectly invisible. I like that the ghost smear of my face kept me company in the bus window, and that the world I was leaving for good was green and rolling for some time.  I like the stories I wove about running into you in twenty years in a loud distant city.

But here you are instead.

Thank you for friending me, though I do not like typing that word. 

And one last thing, like it or not?  The last time, with you in it, is finally gone.

Ann Lightcap Bruno teaches English at the Wheeler School in Providence and lives in nearby Cranston, Rhode Island, with her husband and children. Her essays and stories have appeared or are forthcoming in such publications as Painted Bride Quarterly, Talking Writing, Memoir (and), elimae, Alimentum, and Sweet.