An old man in worn clothes kneels before the gods of Propriety and Duty.
There is no prayer in this al fresco moment, just an efficient, precise motion and a soft slapping sound scarcely audible over the Chryslers and Ramblers and milk trucks rolling past on Hope Street.
The task cannot be delayed. The kneeling man can feel it in his bones — a foreboding sense that, over some barren tundra far to the north, winter is already massing its forces for an invasion that seems to get earlier every year.
In a month there will be no time to do this.
Slap. Slap. Slap.
Could he skip it? Sure, maybe. There would be no immediate price to pay. But let one detail go, and soon others will follow. And after a while the center falls out.
(Rust never sleeps.)
The old man has something to prove to himself, perhaps, too. He’s not been entirely well over the past year-and-a-half. He’s made changes to accommodate that; but he’s damned if he surrenders to it.
He will not sit on a shelf, nursing himself, while Duty and Propriety are shortchanged. Obligations still hover unseen in the air, and there is no one else he cares to ask to assume them.
And so, he bows his head to the task.
Slap. Slap. Slap.
He is not kneeling long. Even with his exacting methods and careful pace, his obligation is quickly fulfilled.
Duty and Propriety get what is theirs; and no visitor walking past 1107 Hope Street would ever worry that the center had fallen out.
In the years to come, scuffing feet and pine pitch and grime from a busy street will undo the old man’s handiwork and force him to his knees again.
But for now, he is triumphant over the forces of age and illness and winter and slackness and resignation and decline. He is not going gently.
Perhaps, for a moment, he convinces himself he is not going anywhere at all — a thought as intoxicating as the crisp fall air.