Maybe it was the gentle rain that made him seem so war-torn and reserved. Maybe it was the stress. Or maybe it was me.
But we were quiet during lunch, struggling to find topics to fill the silences, eating our food gingerly and slowly.
The hour was over too soon.
He simply followed next to me, doing the
gentlemanly thing, I suppose. Returning the lady to her door, and all
that. Peter is always such a gentleman.
I carried my blue umbrella over my head, as he walked next to me.
I noticed that his hair was getting
wet. I worried about his leather jacket. But I wasn't going to say
anything, because even though we weren't saying a word, it seemed as
though we were actually communicating a great deal with our silence, as
though we were experiencing a simple commisery, a shared immersion into
mood, a feeling far more bonding than simple laughter.
I crossed the street to where the river flowed by a park. The benches
were too wet for sitting, but it was nice to stand hearing the rain tap
on my umbrella, looking at the water swirled up, watching the ducks
"I asked my friend what all that gunk is," I said, pointing at the white foam that coated the surface of the water, "and he said that when we do laundry, and it rinses all the clothes, the soapy water is drained away and put into the river! To which I replied, 'Do we really do that much laundry?'"
I looked at Peter as I spoke and smiled gently, and raised my eyebrows. I
wanted to make him laugh, but one has to be careful with clever men.
They are so easily bruised.
He replied, "It's actually caused by manufacturing, usually textiles.
They pump and dump millions of gallons in and out of the river every
day. That," he nudged the stained soil with his shoe, "is run off."
Suddenly, his eyes animated.
"Do you know what heat pollution is?"
"It's when a factory pumps water in from a river and then pumps
it back out, only the water is room temperature now, ten or twenty
degrees warmer," he said. "It kills all the fish. You need a license to do it these days. It's so wonderful because, you see, it's just water. Pump it in,
pump it out. What damage could that do? But it changes everything.
Things seem so simple from a distance, but they always reveal themselves as complex and complicated once you get closer to them.
It is never a single solution, but a sequence of actions that are required to accomplish any goal.
Sure, you push a button, but there are invisible mechanics performing what you intended to do with that click, all interrelated, all dependant on the exact timing and motion of the others.
It is no surprise at all that we live our lives reacting to a series of chain-reactions set off by either ourselves or by the world. And when one element is changed in the slightest bit, it can often have an effect on everything else, even those things that seem quite far away.
Sometimes the changes are for the better, but sometimes the changes effect you like a leaking dam.
Peter was quiet.
You pump in water, you pump it out. You didn't seem to change a thing. And yet, all the fish are dead.
But here he was, staring at the river, educating me on the chemistry of ecology, filling my head with scientific fact, and letting those facts communicate for him, just as he always does.
It felt as if it hadn't been so long since we'd met for lunch, after all. But it had been a long time. And many things had happened to both of us.
"You know, Peter." I said without looking at him. "When you get down to
it, the laundry soap, the heat pollution ... they're all just stories."
Shortly after, we parted ways, just as we always do.
He said, "Nice lunch. I'd like to do it again."
I smiled and waved before losing the sight of him behind my umbrella. Only once, when I was several yards away, did I turn to peek behind me.