The Black Gate
It has been years since I strolled down this pathway. All around and above me the muscular arms of live oaks are frozen in ballet poses no dancer could achieve. Their gnarled and bony roots, perhaps curious about life above ground, have broken through the pavement - I tread carefully over rolling waves of concrete. From the secret gardens of storybook homes the trees call out to be noticed, waving dusty hankies of moss as I pass.
But I will not be distracted today.
Just as I put out my hand to hold back a gregarious palm frond, I see it. The black gate. But what’s this? It’s open? And where is the handwritten sign that usually swings from from the burnt rusted lock ?
Curious, I allow my eye to trespass beyond the gate and into the overgrown garden, curving and winding till it reaches the rickety porch. No one there. The house, long past its once glorious prime, sits forlorn in this sweltering heat of July - no hand to slap open its rusty screen door, no breeze to dance with the porch swing. And no sign of the lady who once serenely presided over this shaded Southern veranda.
Well really, what did I expect? She must have been nearly ninety the last time I saw her, when we’d smiled to each other as I passed under the oaks. The colour of the richest chocolate, she was clad in a white linen dress, and the sign that swung on her painted black gate read,
“Porch Conversations. $1.00”.
I always planned to push that gate open one hot afternoon, put down my dollar and settle in for a chat. We would eschew the usual topics of weather and politics, and talk only of butterflies, cloud castles and pie. I might discover she’d descended from kings. She might find out all my secrets.
But it always happened that each time I passed by, I seemed to be wandering off elsewhere - to lunch, to the beach, to the antique shop on the corner. So we simply smiled and nodded as I made my way past, never knowing my path would lead to the day of no second chances, to the morning of the vacant porch.
I rather think we would have liked each other.
So perhaps as a tribute to the friend I might have known, I’ll hang a similar sign on my front gate when I’m old:
“Porch Conversations. $1.00.
Come talk to me now.
I won’t be here for long.