The dumpster in the driveway was the first sign the old man had died.
I used to see him walking his dog on the side of the road. He’d scowl when people drove by too fast. Even when they crept by on battery mode, he’d scowl. He’d scowl whenever I waved to him. Me, a jaunty flatlander who wanted so badly to fall easily into rural road etiquette; him, a longtime resident whose great grandfather was probably the guy who built that rural road.
Then I never saw him walking his dog. But still, sometimes, he’d drive by in his truck. I’d be waiting at the end of the road for the boys to be dispelled from the school bus and there he’d go, slowly, slowly. Not waving. Maybe he didn’t notice me or maybe he didn’t want to notice anything outside his own window. Some afternoons I thought I saw evidence of a nod, but it could easily have been the slant of the sun.
Then I never saw him driving his truck. It sat in his driveway. I drive by his house almost every time I leave my own house. His house is small and dark brown. There’s not much grass. Through the big picture window – minus plants that would do well there – you could see his large-screen TV. If you drove by at night you might’ve seen brighter-than-life football players huddling, breaking, throwing, running; you’d have seen him in his Archie Bunker chair intent on the game on his wall.
He never drove his truck but he did tool around on a motorized scooter. Not far. He’d pass me at the bus stop and then a few minutes later he’d pass me again on return. An outing, maybe, for the sake of sunshine and fresh air. I felt badly that his dog had died. Old men need their old dogs.
And then, I never saw him at all. And I can’t tell you what month or what year it was when I last tried to instigate a friendly nonverbal exchange. I didn’t even notice the absence until a dumpster appeared in his driveway. And now when I peek in his window while driving by at night the TV is never on. The walls have been painted whited. A Christmas star still glows, even in daylight, by his front door. The muttering retreat of someone I never really knew does not have much effect on my daily life, but it has some. He has left some kind of vacant mark.