It was a cold grey morning, and I looked out the window and saw a blue car parked in our driveway. It was my daughter’s car. She had come for a visit, and I could see her out there with my wife, already packing the car to go and tying some of her luggage to the rack on the roof. I slipped on my shoes and ran out to tell her something, but she had already pulled out of the driveway, and she was halfway down the road. As she drove off, several loose pieces of paper fell from one of her bags and scattered in the air and dropped in the road behind her. I picked up my pace, and I yelled and waved my arms, trying to get her attention, but she was already turning the corner, and then she was gone.
I stopped to pick up the papers that she had lost in the road. They all had lyrics written on them for songs that she had written. The pavement was a little wet, and I was trying to gather up the papers before they got soaked through and ruined, before the ink ran and the words were lost. The papers had fallen in front of this orange house down the road from mine, and the old man who lived there had seen what had happened, and he came out the door still slipping on his coat and he labored down his steps and he met me out on the road and started to help me pick up the papers.
I was grateful for the man’s help, but he kept stopping from time to time to read the lyrics off of random pages as he picked them up. He read in a slow drawl, squinting sourly at the words, and he always began by saying, “Well, it says here.” It was starting to get on my nerves. As he read, I would reach out and snatch one of the papers he was holding, so that I could add it to the stack that I had gathered in my hand. But the old man would just snatch it right back, still reading all the while, still keeping his eyes on the paper, still taking all the time in the world.
This snatching back and forth of the papers went on until suddenly I looked down and realized that my hands were empty. The old man was holding all the papers in a meaty stack in his hands. He had all of my daughter’s songs. He started away towards his house, still reading the lyrics, mostly mumbling them to himself now. He went along the side of the house and around towards the back, and I followed after him calling for him to wait up. But as I came around the back corner of the house, he had suddenly vanished. There was just an empty little yard there, bordered by thistles and the tangled branches of bushes that were leafless and barren in the cold.
I couldn’t find the old man anywhere. I peered in at the little window of the garage out back. I circled the house a few times, calling out for him. I knocked at the front door. I knocked at the side door. He was gone, and he had all of my daughter’s song lyrics. I stood there staring at this quiet orange house. I felt eyes on me, and I looked back and saw the woman next door watching me from her window. She just rolled her eyes and shrugged, as if to say, “What are you going to do?” And then she dropped her blinds back over her window and then she was gone too.