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Walking The circle. By Martin Green.



The morning, a Saturday in April, started off by being overcast but by 11 the sun had burnt through and it gave promise of being a beautiful day. Paul Lerner, who'd been unpacking books, went into the kitchen, where his wife Sally was putting dishes away. "Want to go for a walk?" he asked.

"No, not now. I want to get all this stuff put away."

The Lerners had moved into their new condo two days before and Paul knew that Sally wouldn't rest until everything was in its proper place. "Okay," he said. "I feel like getting some fresh air. I think I'll just walk around the Circle." The condo was in a court off a broad street called Parkwood Circle, which they'd been told was two miles around.

As Paul stepped outside, he wondered what the move would bring. They'd bought the condo with the lump sum he'd received when he'd retired early, very early, from his company, an alternative to almost certainly being let go in the downsizing ahead. The plan now was to do consulting work.

In any case, it felt good to get outside, away from all the mess and unpacked boxes and, if the truth be told, from Sally, who in the last week, with her need to make sure everything went along just right, had been driving him crazy. The bright sun glistened off the trees that lined the Circle. Quite a few other people were also walking, many with dogs, some striding briskly while pumping their arms in the properly prescribed healthy manner. A dark-haired young woman in a halter and shorts came jogging along and Paul gave her an appreciative look as she went by.

After he'd walked about a mile, Paul came to a path that seemed to lead to a little park. He turned down the path, which led to a grassy area with a few benches. Beyond was a small playground and a couple of tennis courts. To his surprise, he saw three or four small rabbits hopping around the grassy area. One had stopped and was up on his hind legs to accept a carrot being offered by a tall, slender blonde woman.

Paul walked over to watch. "Where did the rabbits come from?" he asked.

"A few years ago someone dropped off half a dozen and they've been here ever since. At least, that's what they tell me." The woman had a decided English accent.

"Do you live around here?"

The woman laughed. "No, I'm visiting friends."

"You didn't sound as if you were from these parts. England?"

"London, actually."

"Ah, yes, I was over there when I was in the service, maybe 50 or 100 years ago."

She laughed again, a very musical laugh. "You don't look quite that old."

"Sometimes I feel it." He'd been sent to Europe during the Korean War and had been to London three or four times, primarily because he'd met a girl there. He'd always been a sucker for an English accent. "Do you want to sit down for a little while?"

"Yes, I've run out of carrots."

They sat side by side on a bench. Paul was very conscious of her being close to him. "I wonder what they do at night, the rabbits, that is. Do they go down into burrows and tell rabbit stories, like in Watership Down. What's the name of that mythical rabbit?"

"It's long and unpronounceable," she said. "But I remember the stories. They were marvelous."

"I'll have to read it again. Where do you live in London?"

"The Kensington area."

"Very nice. I remember walking in Holland Park. It seemed that every Englishman had a dog to walk. Usually, the Englishman and the dog looked alike."

"Yes, we do have that tendency. Do you live in this area?"

"Just moved here."

"What do you do?"

"Well, I've just retired, or been retired. You see, I am pretty old. But I have a few projects I want get started on." Somehow he didn't want to tell her anything as hackneyed as that he was going into consulting. "What about you?"

"I'm a department store buyer. That's the reason I'm visiting here. I was in San Francisco for a week."

He decided he wouldn't ask her if she was married or had a family. He didn't see a ring on her left hand and he'd leave it at that. He guessed that she was about 40 years old.

"Did you like San Francisco?"

"Oh, yes, it was lovely."

"It is but of all the cities I've been in I'd rather live in London. Maybe it's all the English novels and mysteries I've read. I feel I'd be at home there. Of course, I'd always carry my umbrella."

"Yes, that would be wise."

The rabbits had all disappeared into the shrubbery and a dark cloud passed over the sun. She stood up. "I'd better be going. My friends will be wondering where I went to."

Paul also stood up. "Yes. Are you going to be staying here for long?"

"Actually, I'm off to San Francisco tomorrow, then it's back to London."

"Oh. Then I guess I won't be seeing you here again."

"I'm afraid not."

"Well, it's been nice talking to you." He abruptly put out his hand. "My name's Paul Lerner."

"I'm Mary Brown." It was funny, his girl in London from all those years ago also had a prosaic name, Joan White or something like that. They stood for a moment, holding hands. He considered asking for her address and phone number in London, then thought, No, that would be ridiculous.

"Well, good-bye," he said. "Safe trip home."

"Thank you. And good luck in your new projects."

When he got home, Sally was rearranging the furniture in the living room. "Have a nice walk?" she asked.

"Yes."

"You were gone quite a long time. See anything special?"

"No, not really. Oh, yes, I stopped in a little park. There are some tame rabbits there. People feed them carrots."

"Oh, how cute. I'll get some carrots next time I go shopping, then we'll go there. Can you help me move the coffee table?"

Paul started to reply that it looked fine where it was, then he said, "Okay, where to?"


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