I don’t remember the exact year, but I won’t forget the summer, itself. It was the early 2000s, and sweltering and unrelenting heat had driven most people into their air conditioned homes. I was living in an old historic house at the time that still had knob and tube wiring. The antiquated electrical wouldn’t allow for air conditioning, so I’d become more accustomed to the heat than the average person.
The mounting weeds that had taken over the gardens were not about to allow me to waste a valuable Saturday just because the temperatures were tickling 100 degrees. As a single mom with a fulltime job and very limited time, I needed to make the best of every minute I had, heat or not.
I threw on my ugly, blue gardening Crocks, a short-sleeved shirt–foregoing a stifling bra, cut-off jean shorts and gardening gloves and headed out. My goal was to finish the big garden out front even if it meant passing out on the front lawn for all my neighbors to witness.
Our house was on a very busy street. It cut from one end of the northern suburbs that ran along the lake all the way to the downtown area. Living on a thoroughfare meant that I had limited privacy, friends honking as they passed, gawkers taking in our historic home, sometimes stopping to take pictures. I couldn’t deny that its unique architecture was what drew me to it when I purchased it a couple years prior, but I hadn’t been prepared to feel so exposed.
As I yanked tangled weeds from the massive garden, hauling them in brown yard bags down to the edge of the street, I spotted a man staggering down the sidewalk. My first inclination was that he must be drunk, though it was still before noon. Maybe I was just conditioned to jump to that conclusion, growing up with an alcoholic mother.
I fidgeted with the yard bag, rolling the top over as I attempted to get a better look out of my peripheral vision. I’ve always had lousy eyesight, but I sensed that he was in his 50s, maybe 60s. He was dressed in jeans and a plaid long sleeve shirt, way too heavy for a hot summer day.
I nestled the yard bag against the curb and waited for him to get closer, trying hard to look preoccupied. As he got to my neighbor’s house, just a couple yards away, it was immediately evident that he was not drunk. He was overheated.
His face glistened with sweat and was alarmingly red. He was panting as he walked, fighting to catch his breath. Each step he took was unsteady, as if he might collapse at any moment. But what stood out more than his struggle to make headway as he walked, was how he held the small white bakery box he had in his hands. He coveted it like he was protecting an injured bird.
“Are you okay,” I asked as he got a closer.
“I’m lost,” he replied.
I quickly sensed that he was challenged, his speech stilted his demeanor shy but cautious like he’d been warned not to talk to strangers.
“Where are you coming from?” I asked.
“Gloriosos,” he answered, stopping and swaying as if he was about to pass out.
“Please sit down,” I said, directing him to a large oak tree in my yard. He didn’t sit, but he looked relieved to have something to lean against.
Gloriosos is an Italian market on the eastside of town, a good five miles from my house, and he was heading back in that direction. None of it made sense.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
He hesitated, looking at me as if he wanted to trust me but wasn’t sure he could. “Larry,” he finally answered. “My name is Larry.” He tried to pull out his wallet while holding onto the box, though I wasn’t sure why.
“Would you like me to hold the box for you?” I asked.
“Sure,” he said, handing it to me. “I got cannoli,” he said excitedly, “but got turned around. Not sure where I am.”
“We’ll figure it out,” I assured him. “Don’t worry.”
“I got cannoli’s,” he said again, showing more excitement. “They have the best.”
“They do,” I agreed. “I shop there often. Good Italian cookies, too,” I said, trying to gain his trust.
“Yeah,” he said, smiling, as if he was happy with the connection we were making.
“While you find what you’re looking for in your wallet, let me run inside and get you a bottle of water,” I said, scooting away.
I ran as fast as I could, afraid that he’d be gone by the time I got back outside…or worse. Or maybe I’d discover that it was all a mirage, that there was no man named Larry standing in my yard with a box of cannoli.
But when I hustled back out, Larry was still there, leaning against the tree, holding out his wallet. I gave him the water and took his open wallet. There, stuck right in the middle of it, was a note.
Story to be continued in March issue.
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