“Hey. Whatchu doing back here?” The familiar, gruff voice called to Theo.
“Came to see that factory again,” Theo called back, jogging to where the rough man sat. “I got some nice shots there before.” Theo squinted down the road, swinging his bag to his feet before unzipping it.
“Huh. Okay.” The rumpled man shifted on the curb, folding and unfolding his arms. “Most people don’t come back.”
Theo held his camera out. “Wanna see?”
The man shrugged and Theo dropped beside him. Wordlessly, Theo scrolled through the pictures. Trees, abandoned cars, basketball players- the man roughly tapped the screen, stopping him.
“That. Where is that?”
Theo squinted at the screen. “Uh, I think back over on ninth. I was following this uh cat. Trying to get a shot, and ended up here.” The man pulled the screen back toward himself, staring at it. Slowly, Theo released the camera, watching the man stare at the low-lit screen. Silence passed between them for seconds, moments, hours. Finally, the man sighed, as though all his life was in that one breath.
“I’m from California,” he stated. “Walked straight from Sacramento to Lexington.”
“Wait, what? You what?”
“Yeah.” The older man laughed, his laugh husky, rough. “California to Kentucky.”
Theo laughed in disbelief. “How long did that take?”
The man shook his head. “I don’t know. Didn’t keep track.”
“Didn’t keep track? How did you not keep track?”
“That’s easy, boy. Keeping track only matters when time does. California cared too much for time. Too much, and not enough.” He laughed gruffly, eyes focused down the street. “Buses couldn’t ever be on time, but you’re late to work once? Phth!” He swiftly drew his thumb across his neck, his eyes dark and sharp with remembrance. When the man looked back down at the screen, Theo breathed out, unaware that he had been holding his breath. More gently now, the man rubbed his thumb across the still picture, the trees, the road. “Where was this you said?” He asked distantly, as though trying to remember something.
“Ninth. Huh.” He cleared his throat. “Those, uh, lemon trees?”
“I don’t know.”
“California had lemon trees ev’ywhere. There was this house: two stories, four bedrooms, blue shudders.” Tapping the screen, said, “Lemon trees in the front yard. Michelle, that was my wife, we would walk together every night. We were poor, didn’t have much else to do, but every night, we would walk by that house and she would smile. Just smile. Nothing else. She never even said she wanted that house. She’d just smile.” The man handed the camera to Theo, crossing his arms back in front of himself.
“So?” Theo asked, unable to look away from the man.
“So what?” he asked, rubbing his nose roughly.
“So what happened? What happened to that house?”
“Nothing- I- I bought it. Put the key on a chain, like a necklace. I was gonna give it to her for our anniversary. Twelve years. Twelve years.”
“Did she not want the house?”
“She didn’t want me. Note left on the kitchen table said that anyway. Twelve years.” The man sniffed, leaning into the sharp wind. “Time doesn’t matter, not in California anyway. That’s a good picture though. Good picture.”