Pat Riordan stared at the ceiling fan. The soft hum of the blades twirling had coaxed him to sleep the night before. He pulled his knees up to his chest and held the position tightly for ten seconds, then eased out to the edge of the Murphy bed.
He sat for a moment and collected his thoughts about the day to come—meeting at a middle school with a new kid and his mother. He checked his cell. Only innocuous advertisements about fitness and travel. From the wicker rocker, his roommate, Pig, a feline tabby, bounced down and began meowing for his morning chow.
The cat serpentined around him as he let the blind fly up and cranked open the bay window, just enough for a whiff of the fragrance from the shortleaf pine in the courtyard below. Two doves, one a white-wing, took off to a telephone line. Above the tree line the nightlight still beamed off the dome of the Old Administration Hall.
In the kitchen nook he opened a can of Frisky Doodle and dumped the ingredients into a bowl. The cat buried himself in the dish. “Now go slow,” he said. “This will have to last all day.”
He shook out the Irish Cream grounds into the coffee filter. He set out the ceramic mug, with its picture of Churchill in a homburg hat waving the V sign. The brew would be ready by the time he returned.
In the corner mirror of the small cubicle next to the bed, he examined himself; not exactly rugged stalwartness, but a long way from middle-aged slovenly.
Draped over a cherrywood valet were running shorts and a frayed gray sweatshirt. He stepped into the shorts, pulled on the top, and again looked in the mirror. Two-day stubble. He took out a blue elastic band from the pocket of his shorts and tied his hair back. He locked up and walked down one flight, through the apartment foyer, and outside.
On the stoop he again inhaled the smell of the nearby pine. He checked the university staff lot across the street, where his forest-green Jeep was illegally parked. No ticket. How many past dues did he owe? Down the cobblestone street was the Red Campus. In a few short hours it would be full of comings and goings. He bounded down the three steps and headed away from the college, remembering he forgot his cell. No mind.
He was a solitary figure at this time of the day. The mornings were good. The autumn crispness invigorated his soul. The quilt-patch scarlets and Indian golds of the sugar maples glistened. Each home he passed needed a fix of some sort. He stopped and dug out a small pebble lodged in the right heel of his Adidas, then resumed, the trot moving to a purposeful jog.
The chaos-on-chaos of the school day flooded in. The three-ring-bound, wannabe textbook, Bessinger’s Basics for Boys, A Primer for the Oppositional Student, mailed to him by a teacher in Vermont, might have some useful thoughts. He’d remember to take it to work today.
He huffed on. Living near a college campus energized him, even though it had been over two decades since he’d called this special place home.
In the early days, a century ago, the faculty elite lived in the Tudor and Victorian houses with vaulted ceilings and big front porches. Now those houses were makeshift residences for students. Cars were parked in the weed-infested yards. Ivy, once the mark of prestige, was overgrown and dying, despite an effort by preservationists to re-establish the neighborhood as a viable part of the city.
Most mornings a jog sent the dream demons running, but this day an impending doom hung over him like a sword of Damocles. The school’s principal, Doug Donovan, had said he felt there was something astir at the district office, suggesting that the powers-that-be were less than supportive of the teaching that was being done at the school.
He turned down Bath Drive. The cobblestone continued into a winding, village-like street, with hedges lining each side of well-kept cottage homes, sequestered away from the once-stately homes of yesteryear. Tucked back in a leaf-covered yard was a neatly manicured, red-brick building. An unobtrusive white sign read “San’s Dojo.” To the side of the building was a Dodge pickup, 1970s vintage. Riordan smiled as he huffed by.
Serendipity had played its role the day he met the man who owned the gym. His name was Tom San, and he came from the Japanese island of Shikoku. San had immigrated at a late age to the states and still struggled with English. Riordan had read that the complex differences in syllable elocution between Japanese and English made the man's occasional mispronunciations and word omissions understandable. Riordan had slowed his jog, that day over two years ago, when he heard the crack of a tree and saw a diminutive figure in sweats jumping on the trunk of a fallen elm.
“She a stubborn thing,” the man shouted out that morning. “It come down last night in storm.” Riordan had jogged for a moment in place, then opened the makeshift gate and did what came naturally—jumped atop the trunk. Both men balanced themselves as the tree cracked to the ground. “Berry kind,” Tom San said. “I just move in and try fix up place. Can make you tea?”
Riordan had declined, but said he would take a rain check.
Tom San had pointed to the sky, chuckling. “Uh, rain check.”
In two short years the small building had become a fixture in the area. And although only a few nearby residents were enrolled in the aikido program, many of the town’s women signed up for yoga, tai chi, and jazzercise.
Riordan felt the kick of his endorphins. He smiled about that first encounter. He put himself in high gear back to his apartment for a shower and the eight thirty meeting at Benway Middle School.