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Silent friends, on a steamy New Orleans afternoon

By Ned Cheever

When there is time to kill, it is sometimes best to savor the moment alone. Other times, it is best with friends. Today, a utopian compromise is in place by joining me with friends who do not speak, though they do otherwise impose thought and will upon me.

Hendrick is black. Oscar is both black and white. I am white according to the social definition. Having both extremes and the centroid of the spectrum represented, matters of color are thereby neutralized. We may co-mingle our preferences and prejudices without regard for the weight of social oversight. Almost.

“Hendrick, you blackguard!” I shout. Hendrick remains dutifully silent.

“Oscar, you base-born, blue-eyed wretch!” I growl. Oscar offers little response, save for the meeting of our eyes.

They know I am their superior, as well they should. My very wish is for their compliance.

It is hot here, and the sun beats down relentlessly with only the hovering shade of a tree limb swaying in the waft of steamy air as my relief. My mind drifts to the cruel heat of Jackson Square in the unshielded midday sun, burning down from above while reflecting from the paving stones. New Orleans evokes more charm in its stifling state than does my Texas home. Jackson Square is hot, but charming. Texas is simply hot.

Oscar gravitates with me to the shade of our gazebo. There is shade here and sometimes a blessed breeze. Uncomfortable, but tolerable, it is, much like the sharecropper sitting on his front porch. If conditions are surrendered to misery, then misery prevails. But, to make the best of what is at best, bad, the condition is deemed tolerable. Then misery shrinks away. All in all, it’s just a warm day, and that’s better than a cold day.

With quiet voice, I give my thoughts to Oscar, and he returns a supportive murmur. If only this passive bastard would once take a position! To his credit, he is at least one who exempts argument from his demeanor.

Hendrick goes where taken without complaint or comment. Once settled in, we conjoin in our element to ponder all that has been pondered, hoping that we can add to the knowledge and solve the puzzlements of mankind as we know it.

My penchant is one for sitting and dreaming with no bounds. I am rich. I am woebegone. I am Everyman. Only the moment defines me.

Repeatedly I walk past the Slough of Despond. Sometimes I extend my hand to the helpless. Other times I walk past without a glance, perhaps for fear of seeing my own face shining from the mire of the faceless. Often I just view the scene in my mind, and I draw Hendrick closer to my side.

A steamboat’s whistle makes its loud report. Did you hear it? I did. Where go those people? Can we join them? Perhaps so.

Hendrick’s unchanging facade offers no evidence of help or understanding. The help that I seek must emanate from within, and with the inspiration a vision of another place and time drifts through my head.

“You do good work, Hendrick, and, Oscar, you seem to ever be in agreement. But for the two of you, I would be alone in this garden,” I concede.

The day wanes, and our visit is ending. I dismiss my colleagues saying, “Today’s journey has ended. Oscar, you’re a damned good cat, and you, Hendrick, are the best gin to ever bless my palate. I wish you both to join me here again tomorrow.”


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