Monday, December 31, 2012

Asylum Walk (4)

(circa 1966)
Boys from an adjacent subdivision wriggled under a wire fence to play baseball on the asylum grounds. The diamond was well maintained, its grass cut, the base paths raked, but never, except by them, used. Patients sometimes wandered by, singly, during the games. They hung back by the chestnut trees, watching, occasionally stepping unsteadily through the outfield. The boys were not afraid or very interested; after the first time they seldom pointed or joked. One day one of the boys hit a hard grounder past the shortstop. The pale figure in the outfield watched it sizzle through the grass, like a man watching a comet in green air, his head moving in short stiff arcs. Never did it occur to the boy rounding the bases that one day he would live in such a place. How could it?

(September, 1972)
They first kissed, each the other’s first, after Canada beat the Russians in the seventh game of the 1972 series. Jubilance in a basement. And after their friends left, they returned to the couch downstairs, the TV warmly off. After the astonishment of the kiss, embracing seemed the deeper and more secret pleasure: holding another humid body close after the years away from childhood hugs. So solid, pressing.

He walked her home for dinnertime through the asylum grounds, and after that it became their habit. He lived adjacent on the south-west side, she nearly adjacent on the north-east. Shunning the right-angled and public sidewalk, they strolled a rambling hypoteneuse through lawns and groves, pausing to kiss against a rough chestnut trunk, lounging in autumn sunlight on the grass. Seldom did they see anyone else, only, in the distance, doctors and nurses leaving in their cars from the small parking lots beside the newer buildings. Dim clanks and muted bursts of speech, muffled imperatives, floated out from the mesh-covered windows. Very occasionally they heard a sharp scream, and saw an all-white—sheeted or gowned—figure in a distant doorway, but they could never make sense of the sound, if it had any, and hands, two or four, always pulled the figure back inside within moments.

Imagination one of the things she said she loved in him, yet it never occurred to him that he would one day live there. How could it? Though he liked the silence and space, the patterns of sunlight and shade around the trees and buildings, and often lingered there on the way home, dreaming and remembering.

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