He sat hunched over in an old rusted lawn chair whittling a foot length cut of deep cedar heart. The wood was the color of near raw meat and a pile of fine pink shavings lay gathering between two boots as weathered and cracked as the old man's face. I sat across from him. The evening was quiet save for the steely hiss of the blade in its easy passings, its tempo as slow and steady as time itself, sock-slides walking with the quiet footsteps of our own hours inevitable reduction.
Neither of us had spoke for some time. A dog barked somewhere beyond the treeline.
"There a point to that" I asked.
"Point to what?" He replied, still leaned in at his work.
"That there" and I nodded at the knife as though he'd bothered looking up.
He continued silently at his work and i sat studying the two fresh wounds on the top of his bare scalp. He'd aquired a habit, in his later years, of misjudging the heights of the most unforgiving of doorframes.
"You tell me" he said finally "There a point to anything?"
"Well I dont know" I replied, watching him there a minute, "but I can generally see the sense of a thing when its got some."
I could see a grin spread through his yellowed whiskers.
"Kindly a smart-ass ain't cha ole top"
He looked up then with the blade keeping at its rhythm as though the knife itself were the mover of old fleshly instruments.
"Suppose you can tame a stick of wood to curl up like'at?"
He gestured down at the pile at his feet. The shavings were so fine they wound themselves up in tight pink coils that sat shivering in the afternoons longshadows; the only evidence of a breeze too gentle for the crudeness of mans senses.
"No" I said, "but i caint say i recall when I'da needed to."
He shook his head and chuckled, and continued his work.
"What 'chu gonna do when you curl up that whole stick reckon?" I asked.
"Git another'un" he said, and spat dead center to the pile of shavings hard enough to scatter a few at the toe of my boots. "Or i might could make ya a pilla outta this here."
He stopped his whittling then and sat leaning with his forearms across his legs. Two scared and work thickened hands hung limp and clawlike over his knees. The old Barlow that dangled from his fingertips had endured enough sharpenings over the years that it was little more than a dark pitted sliver of itself.
"Who's the one sittin there aint doin nothin?" He said, and stared at me for a long while beneath a tangle of wirey grey eyebrows, and eyes as pale and faded as the milky winter sky that framed them.
I know, i know" he said "You think it matters what it is that a man does with his time. And you think thataway cause you caint see a thing as no more than the beginning and end of itself". He went back to his whittling then and I suddenly recalled those same eyes as a boy, so bright, so fierce in their blue they could have been carved and pressed from the ice of an ancient glacier.
I didnt say a word till we sat down for super. I just sat watching him. I watched and i searched my mind -
and nowhere in those imaginings could i find a single world where the old man did not exist.