eye of the beholder

There’s a man across the green who looks exceedingly glum.  He emerges from his house, morning and evening, and walks across the lawn in an unfailing path of grumpiness.  Head down, collar up.  A look that says ‘I am not here.  Do not speak to me, please.’

But beside him, there is a dog:  small and stout and white, with one brown ear and a ringed eye.  The dog looks as happy as the man looks sour.

Once, just once, I saw the dog out without his human.  Doggie looked sore and tired, not his usual happy self at all. But then, the man came into view.  Doggie leapt up, scurried across the lawn and waggled his tail to the point of exhaustion.

I suspect the truth is this: The dog sees better than I do.
There is a fine and beautiful man who lives across the way, and the arrangement of his face and collar have nothing to do with it at all.

lion cub

‘There it is,’ he thought, as he grabbed the rail and leant out towards the water.  A dandelion seed drifted past, tempting, perfect and out of reach.  He watched as it settled on the reeds below, sharp swords against the silky water.  It was beautiful.  He liked it here, by the river.  And he didn’t often get to play this long, or this close to the water below.

‘These railing are good.’  Shiny and black.  Just the right height too.  He glanced around to see who was watching, and then hooked a knee over the bottom rail.  His other leg began to swing.  ‘I wonder what if feels like to fly, to drift on the wind and get caught in the reeds’ He leant as far over the water as he could and reached towards the light.

A slip, a swing, and he’d have learnt what it meant to fly. Briefly.  Before crashing horribly into the river, eight feet below.

I got out of the car, and stayed by the curb.  ‘Hello.  It’s beautiful here, isn’t it?  Are you all alone?’

A lion turned to face me, beautifully striped, except where he’d rubbed the paint off his nose.

He wasn’t sure what to do.  ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ fought nobly with his natural curiosity.  Curiosity won, and he took a step towards me as I let go of my breath in relief. I spoke so my voice would carry, so that someone somewhere might think, ‘where is my child?’.  And finally, I saw her.  A young grandmother dressed in red, struggling with  Little Brother at the far end of the path.

We both walked towards her.  She looked at me, and then at him and said, ‘have you been a naughty boy?’

‘No, not at all.’  I said.  ‘He was just looking at the river.  But it wasn’t safe and there was no one watching him.’

The words were neutral, but the tone was not.  She must have heard what I was thinking:  ‘It was you, madam, who misbehaved.  You, who might have lost him forever.  He is just a cub wanting to play, spying the tall grass.’

He froze and tucked his head; and in that moment a degree of innocence was lost.  He learned well and fast.   To chase a dancing seed and to dangle over the river makes you a naughty boy.  To dream or to fly might make people angry.  Best not. The confusion stung more than the rebuke.

Why was it wrong to follow beauty?  Why shouldn’t he float between heaven and earth?  There was no telling.  But for now, he will learn not to ask.  He will gradually conform, and walk further and further from the edge until he learns to close his eyes to the world around.  But one day, one day, he might be lucky again.  Sunlight will catch on the water and a silken seed slip by.  And he will remember:  I was a lion once.  I thought I could fly.