Along the banks of the barge canal in the village park, a man older, his hair white, almost a mane, sits on the breakwall feeding Wonder bread to the small flotilla of ducks. Tearing shreds of crust from a slice, he casts it onto the water and smiles as they bob for the crumbs. He tells them the story of his life as though they were his oldest friends. My Anna, he says, was a special woman, I met her one night in the cramped vestibule of an Indian take away in London during a blackout. We heard the sirens and then a blast, not far off. She grabbed my arm in fear. She was from Marlow-on-Thames, she lived in a small flat in the Bottom, she worked days in a millinery, and at night tended bar at the Local, until the war. She’s been gone two years now and I miss her terribly especially late at night. A goose slowly swims over awaiting her meal, she looks deeply into his eyes. How are you, dearest Anna, it is not the same without you late at night when the silence is broken again by the sirens.
First Published in Friends & Friendship Vol. 1, The Poet, 2021
The meaning is simple, a data point here, another there, an image, an algorithm words written in jest, in anger, regret, withdrawal, cancellation, account closed, remaining shadows, way back, pixels always moving, real friends once touched, I am an avatar to you, I have erased you from memory.
We will always be friends, we said, probably half meaning it at the time. How many times have we said that or somthing akin to it, knowing that the promise to call, to stay in close touch, was at best half meant and almost certain not to come to any reality.
I have a catalog of friends, who I told I would never give up, distance notwithstanding, we all do, and mine is replete with both good and bad intentions, each and every one a failure.
I did not say this to my ex-wife when we divorced, and I must say that while I failed at the marriage, or so she said, I did not ever fail at not being friends after its end.
We live in a zoom world, one we never imagined, and one for which we will never be prepared. But it is our life now, friends and family reduced to pixels, voices disembodied. They tell us this is the new normal, although what is normal about it is beyond logic and comprehension. We believe deeply that we are interconnected, curse when that connection is dropped by our technology. We cannot survive without our electrons and pixels, for that is where people exist. Every man is an island now, isolation is a perpetual state. And, hey, we should get together soon. I’ll send a meeting number and password.
It would be an anathema to him if he were a Pope or held deeply felt opinions about anything, but he does not. He denies being vacillating, rather, he says, he is just open to a multitude of views, never mind, she replies, that he can never make any important decision except by mere chance or luck. He says he prefers life this way, for he is disinclined to alienate anyone. She says his unwillingness to take and hold a position has alienated her, and she points out that he has no friends and few who would call him a true acquaintance. He debates arguing with her, but he knows she is possibly right and arguing would do nothing, and so she walks away and he can only imagine what might have been.