Solly’s on his stoop when I pull up. The heart gone out of him just as much as the years. I park the truck at the edge of his weeds and dirt. Come up the broken path, feeling the grime of new sweat mixing with old behind my knees, the back of my neck, my eyelids, from packing up my place all morning. Beneath a blue tarp, my truck’s loaded tight with what I own: two dressers, a mattress, recliner, and TV.
“Hey now,” Solly says, one silver tooth glimmering next to two empty holes.
“How you been?” I say.
We were 50 tops, last I saw him. Now he looks late-70s but can’t be much past my 61. He squints up into the morning sun enough that it looks like a smile. “Oh you know, you know,” he says. He takes his Flick Bait n’ Tackle cap off and works the brim in his hands. Solly’s head is covered in tufts of gray and white hair and scaly patches of bare, pink scalp. He puts the hat back on and I’m glad.
“Eustice been up to see you in a while?”
Solly shoots his eyes at me fast then looks off, a car coming up the street. “No,” he says. Then a moment later, “That boy busy,” he says, still watching it.
“Huh.” I pick a dandelion that’s gone to seed, wrap my hand around its fluff and remove it to prevent any more weeds taking up.
He turns back to me now, says, “I thought you was gonna blow it.”
I laugh. “No, just trying to help out with your weed situation.”
“A flower’s a flower,” he says. He reaches for one gone to seed and gives a blow. The little fluffy bits let go their stem and join the slow air moving.
Looking after them into the sun, I realize they are long gone but I’m still seeing them. I rub my eyes, open my hand and let my seeds go, too, disappointed with the ones stuck to my sweaty palm. I wipe them onto my jeans leg.
“We gonna do this?” I say. I look back to Solly, just wanting to hug the man and say goodbye, I guess.
“Orelia’s not specting you til two, she won’t have you in til two.” He taps his wrist like there’s a watch there.
I put my boot up onto the step next to his wingtip. It’s got to be the same one he was wearing all that time ago. Barely any more pattern visible. The dots and flourishes on the toes scuffed, worn thin, and reshined over the years so the shoes practically mirror back like patent leather.
I blot the sweat snaking my temples. “You could offer me a drink, we got so much time to kill,” I say. “This heat.”
He swats a fly. “No ice.”
“I’ll take it cool from the ice box.”
“Will you now?” says Solly. He grabs the stair-rail and hoists himself up with a heave, opens the screen door, and lets it slap the frame behind him.
I sit down. There was a time I would have followed him in. But we’re not close like that anymore. Not since he gave me a choice and I chose wrong.
Solly taps open the screen, holding two sweet teas in his knobby hands. I scoot over on the step to make room for him to sit beside but he stands, leaning against the stair-rail. I sip my tea.
“You thank Orelia for me, if I don’t get to,” I say, holding up the .
Solly sits now. “Oh you will do. She stubborn but she not that stubborn.”
A breeze picks up the corner of the tarp wrapped around the back of my truck. It flaps. The dog across the street stands still watching it. Farther off, dogs bark, children sing and play, mothers call to them.
I say, “You could sit out here for days just listening to the world turning, couldn’t you?”
“And I do,” says Solly. “And I do.” He swigs his tea and looks up the street. “I seen them all grow up and leave and come back. All but my own.”
“I’m sorry, Solly. I know.” I touch the man’s back for a moment.
“They fall in love, they marry in the church, they have babies, then they bring them home to show everyone how good they done.”
I look at the dog. He’s shitting now. I watch him strain until he’s done and he kicks up grass overtop his own back and wanders away.
“That’s how it’s done,” says Solly, poking a pointy finger into his kneecap and then that same pointy finger into my knee.
“Hold on just a minute. You wouldn’t have stood for Eustice bringing his man into—”
“Hush your mouth!”
“You see? You can’t even hear it in private conversation without losing your mind.”
“I can,” says Solly. He sets down his tea, which is nearly empty, and takes off his cap. He rubs his head.
“Maybe we should just say our goodbyes.” I down my glass and stand up.
“Shit,” says Solly. “We can talk. I won’t lose my mind. Sit back down.” He sets his hand to the step next to him.
I stay standing. “It’s just love, man. Eustice just wants love like anyone else—like you and Orelia.”
“Mmm,” says Solly but he looks away, his eyebrows tight together. “You still got that girl from Shreveport?”
“The real fat one.”
“Well, yeah. That’s the one,” I say, shaking my head. “You sure have a knack.”
“She going with you to the city?”
“She’ll come visit,” I say and I look right into his rheumy eyes now. “Solly, is there something you want to be sure you say to me? I should be getting going otherwise.”
“We were friends, weren’t we?”
“Good friends,” I say.
“I wanted only the best for you and Orelia. And Eustice, of course.”
“You judged us,” he says.
“You sat up in your house all high and mighty, knowing nothing of the horrors and hardships of raising a boy yourself and you judged us for how we knew to do it.” Solly’s nostrils flare wide.
“I took him in because he had no more home to go to.” I lean down so I’m face to face with Solly. “Aren’t you grateful for that? Don’t you thank the baby Jesus every day I took him in and not the street?”
Solly puts his face in his gnarled hands.
“Can you really hate me for that?” I say.
He heaves a few breaths then takes his hands away. “He could have changed back.”
“He used to sleep in that recliner out there,” I say. “You know that?”
Solly looks at the blue tarp flapping, the corner of the chair sticking up.
“I’d hear him crying in his sleep and the first few times I went to him. I woke your boy and held him in my arms because you wouldn’t. He was 15, for God’s sake. A child. But it was every night, Solly. Every night that boy cried in his sleep for a month straight.”
“He left on his own two feet.”
“I had to shut my bedroom door eventually just to get any shuteye.”
“You didn’t have to take him in.”
“I’ve been knowing you since before Eustice was even born,” I say. “You think I’m gonna watch that boy live under a bridge?”
“To bad acts go bad consequences.”
I stop and look at Solly. I guess all these years I’d believed maybe he hadn’t thought through what could have happened, what could have been Eustice’s life. Or death.
I was wrong. Though there came to be a light in that boy that shines on brightly nowaday. He got through it, is what I’m saying.
I stand up all the way. Take one last look at my small, old friend and turn around. There’s just no saving this. But I walk out that broken path and let my boots stray into the dirt and weeds, kicking the fluffballs as I go. No matter the shitstink they come up in, a flower is a flower is a flower.
Noley Reid is author of the recent novel Pretend We Are Lovely (Tin House Books), which O, The Oprah Magazine called “scrumptious.” Her previous books are the short story collection So There! and the novel In the Breeze of Passing Things. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Rumpus, The Lily, Bustle, Los Angeles Review of Books, the Southern Review, Meridian, The McNeese Review, and Other Voices. She is also the Nonfiction Editor of Capable Magazine, a literary journal of illness and disability. www.NoleyReid.com