As part of their Sunday ritual, the Maroners were out for a walk with their boy. Little James had just reached the age at which the world opens up as a singular adventure, full of places and things begging to be explored. Too young to have internalized the social walls so carefully constructed later in life, James approached other people with the same openness that he extended to snoozing ducks in hidden creeks.
The Maroners decided on a cozy café to rest their legs and drink hot chocolate. The autumn air was mild, so they sat outside on wooden chairs. The chocolate arrived too hot to drink, so that James alternated between impatiently blowing at the cup and looking around him with youthful restlessness. His inquisitive eyes fell on something. He turned to his mother. “Mom, that man looks lonely. Can I go talk to him?” He pointed towards an old man sitting on the middle of a bridge that stretched out into the park across the café. Mrs. Maroner glanced at her husband. She was a liberal woman who took pride in giving James considerable room for self-direction and self-expression, albeit always under her gentle vigilance. Mr. Maroner nodded. “Sure, honey. As long as you stay where I can see you, and if the man seems bothered, you come straight back to us.”
So James went up to the old man, who was writing in a notebook and sitting on an old bag next to an easel. “Hello,” said James. The old man looked up, startled at first but quickly recovering. “Hey there, buddy.” Eyeing the notebook, James asked, “What are you doing?” “I’m writing a story,” the old man replied. “What’s it about?” James asked, twisting his right foot around on the ground. “It’s about a lady.” “Why do you write about a lady?” James went on. “Because I lost her long ago,” was the old man’s answer. After considering for a moment, James asked, “Why do you write about her if it was long ago?” The old man smiled. “That’s a good question. You know, I don’t just write about her – I also draw her. Look here.” He pointed at the half-finished drawing that sat against the easel. “That’s her standing in front of a lake, looking over the still waters. I’ve been working on it for three days.” James stared at the drawing, impressed by its detail and seeing the scene clearly in his dynamic imagination. “I miss her, buddy. She was the best thing I ever found in the world. I write about her and draw her to keep her strong in my memory. To keep her close. Do you understand?” James shook his head up and down, still engrossed in the drawing. “I think so.” “Good,” the old man spoke softly. He was about to say something else, when Mrs. Maroner’s voice rang out. “Jaaaaames, your chocolate is getting cooold.” James looked up. “I have to go now,” he said. “All right, buddy. Take care now.” “Bye bye,” James replied, already running back to his parents and leaving the old man behind him on the bridge.