It was a clear hot summer day, just before sunrise.
Walking from Winthrop to the Blue Line train at Orient Point, I jogged along through tall blond reeds under the flight path to Logan. Plane after plane loomed sounds and shadow, ignored by bridge fishermen and teetering white egrets. In the last half mile to the station the path was paved, passing along tall chain link fences. The houses were old wood triple-deckers with stacked porches. They had laundry lines and statues of saints and scalloped pink brick garden borders and plastic ducks and spinning pinwheels and lobster pot floats and cement kittens clinging to the shingles.
One yard was cradled safe from prying eyes with a tall hedge shaped in geometric planes, groomed for maximum privacy. At a gap over the narrow gate I duly lowered my eyes but not the corner of them, and so in passing was side-hooked by a peripheral afterimage of light.
In the deep shade of the groomed and geometric yard, where even the dirt looked swept, the light was the first degree of sun. It left the whole plot in shadow to shoot through one white object, a peony the size of a dinner plate on the very verge of fullest bloom. Its pure ivory color, backlit ablaze in every vein with gossamer sparks of rose and gold, stopped me with some sharp breathed cry.
In the shadows a man turned to face me. He looked… my guess was Japanese, though I wasn’t discerning enough to be sure. He had black hair turning to iron gray, a square bronzed face, strong build, resolute shoulders. He was crouching to cut some superfluous leaf from the peony bush, where all flower stalks had been pruned away except the one tall prize. Straightening up with the shears he gave me a sober appraising look.
Gripping my hands to my face in amazement, on first reflex I put my palms together and bowed.
He bowed back before walking away into the shadows again. But first he held my gaze a long moment, clipped the stalk base of his treasure, and passed it in both hands over the gate to me.
The Blue Line charged past the shrine to Our Lady Queen of the Universe, past the race track, and down under the Aquarium. In a corner away from the door I sat shielding the white peony and its long stem, rapt in its color and structure and scent, blocking out the racket of wheels and stop announcements and crisscross talking of the Saturday riders. But a different tone sifted in to my hearing and raised my head. It was a tone of confidential sympathy between two people resting in the full assurance that their every murmur, and even the whole notes of rest between the words, would be instantly understood and savored.
I caught a quick glance at the companions across the aisle. They were two good looking young men. One was in a reclining wheelchair; he enunciated each syllable with intention and determination. I didn’t wish to listen in; but once the pattern of his consonants clicked into meaning, it was clear that their conversation sparkled with intelligence and good humor. His friend leaned in closer with an arm on the wheelchair to catch the end of a sentence, and slapped his friend’s knee with an appreciative laugh.
As we pulled into Government Center they noticed the flower in my arms and nodded their appreciation at me. Stepping off the train I passed it in both hands over the wheelchair arm to them. Through the closing glass door they beamed surprise and delight at one another.
Where did the white peony travel next?