Every day, Darryl stands.
I don’t mean that, every day, Darryl stands up out of bed and starts his day. (We all do that.) I don’t mean that he stands in any particular line waiting for any particular thing. (We all do that.) I don’t mean that Darryl stands up once each hour on the hour as a metronomic, unrelenting reminder to Care for yourself, man, stay active. (We all consider doing that. Then we all don’t.) I mean that every day, Darryl stands, all day, dawn to dusk, at the end of the driveway that leads, in its steady quarter-mile-long decline, to his mother’s house.
The first time I ever saw Darryl, before I knew what Darryl stood for, I was driving. He was new here. From where, I’ve never known. My mother was in the passenger seat beside me, humming some song that I’m pretty sure was never a song at all, just some noises she tossed into the staticky silence between us to cover up what she’d said. “What good have you ever done?” she said. She said, “What have you accomplished, really?” And I said nothing and she started humming and I looked out the window and saw Darryl there, at the place where the driveway briefly becomes dirt before it becomes the blacktop of the road. He didn’t have a phone or a book or a chair on him (he never does, but of course I didn’t know it then); he just stood (like he always does, but I didn’t know it then). He didn’t look one way or the other, didn’t watch my car go by, showed no sign of needing to cross the street, no sign of much at all. My mother saw him too, said, “I wonder if that man is hunting for mushrooms. You could stand to eat some more vegetables, you know.”
I looked back at Darryl, growing smaller in my sideview mirror, watched his face turn up toward the sky, blink.
Now I pass by Darryl every day on my way to work, or on my way to drop my mother by the pharmacy or at her girlfriend Susan’s house or to get her one of those smoothies she likes so much, especially on the days when she’s not feeling quite herself. I really should pay my mother more mind, you know—it’s just hard when she is the way she is. Sometimes I pass Darryl and I am walking and I am alone, and sometimes I stop to talk. I sometimes ask him things. Like, “Darryl, why do you stand here every day, all day, dawn to dusk, at the end of your mother’s driveway?” Darryl isn’t a big talker. He says, “This is what I do.” And he goes on standing.
On the afternoon my mother dies, a storm rolls in. It comes from the south, roiling and bubbling from the valley just below town. It comes in from Darryl’s six-o’clock, directly behind him, migrates from immediately over his head, and I imagine he doesn’t realize it’s arrived at all until the ground vibrates his shoes with thunder and the rain falls into his eyes. I am driving and the passenger seat beside me is empty, the only sound the wipers scurrying to scrape the rain away. No. No. No, they squeal. The sky above is a heavy sea, full of everything, and I consider rolling down my window, calling out to Darryl, who’s standing there, inside of it all.
Darryl, go inside.
Darryl, do you get tired?
Darryl, what are your dreams?
Darryl, I hope you love the storm.
Darryl, do you mind?
But I don’t call out to him. The rain continues into the night, softening the ground, preparing the hard earth to accept my mother’s body. I don’t know how Darryl knows when to turn back, to go inside, to rest his legs, without a sunset. He’ll be back in the morning, standing. It’s what he does.