THE STRANGENESS OF THINGS
By Robert K. Johnson
Part of a five-male clique
begun in high school, Danny and I
joined in the usual barroom talk,
but never confided in each other.
Then late one night
after the others headed home,
Danny, who’d done a hitch in the navy,
and I, a college dropout, were still
too restless to go to bed,
and he, to my surprise,
said, “Come for a ride.”
He drove from Long Island to Manhattan,
roamed up and down the avenues
quieted by the late hour.
Until, at last, he parked outside
Grand Central Station. Where in one minute
everything changed between us.
Inside the station, only a few people,
almost ghostlike, drifted through the main room
where we walked. And that was why I heard
the loud echo made by his right shoe
each time—a little out of sync—
it slapped the floor.
I’d detected the slight limp
he had disguised for months. When I looked
at him, his face flushed with anguish.
And a locked door inside him opened wide.
His long-suppressed anger still so intense
he could barely whisper, he described
how he and a shipmate secretly
landed on a Communist China beach
to deliver a shortwave radio
to a dissident; but how—discovered,
fleeing—he’d been shot in the leg.
He and his partner made it back to the ship,
but his leg, throbbing with pain, kept telling him,
“You failed failed failed.”
Then a door inside me opened.
I told him what I had never admitted:
I’d thrown away my year
of college courses as if they were junk mail,
and my current job was no more
than a river flowing nowhere.
By now, we were sitting in a diner
back in our home town
and were startled when our waitress asked
if we wanted to order breakfast.
Copyright © 2016 by Robert K. Johnson.