I watched him from across a crowded party. He was sitting in an upright chair slumped over rubbing his pale hands together and staring straight ahead. He was a gentle looking man with kind eyes and a bushy beard.
Someone offered him a drink but he declined. Others tried to include him in their conversation but he seemed distant, perhaps only half listening to the people around him swapping stories.
A person next to me whispered that he was dying of cancer and then I recognized his emotion. It was the unfocused gaze of a battle-weary soldier who's facing death. I experienced it fifteen years ago in Korea. Things that once seemed important became trivial while the ant crawling on the edge of a blade of grass prevailed.
I watched him from where I sat on the sofa with a twenty year old pseudo intellectual, who was using slang like dig and freak out. Since she brought me, I pretended to listen to her self-indulgent philosophies but my mind was on him.
He stood up and headed for the door. Through the window, I saw him having a smoke.
"Where are you going Henry?" she asked.
"Does it matter?" I said standing.
I walked outside and said hello to him and pulled out my own pack lighting one and inhaling deeply.
"This is probably foolish" he said waving the cigarette in the air.
"No, it's not," I said.
I wish I could remember what we talked about and tell you it was monumentally prophetic but life isn't like that. Yet these accidental moments can turn the tide in one's existence.
We looked into the house through the haze of smoke to see one woman dancing nude as a hippie was drumming away on some imaginary bongo. My date was sharing a joint with a young man her age.
Dusk was giving way to night. I dropped the cigarette to the ground and extinguished the remainder with my heel.
"The best of luck to you," I said shaking his hand.
"And you," he said smiling.
I began walking down the dusty road that led back to the main highway. I looked over my shoulder once to see him walking through a small garden adjacent the house. He was watching a cat swipe its paw at the fireflies as they lit the darkening sky and disappeared.
Originally posted on the Axiom Report as "Henry's Life: Renewed" on 3/15/2008.