By Bear Kosik
For the first time in many years, someone stopped at the small statue of St. Francis in the little nook of a garden off of 31st Street to actually look at the carving. Why this happened remains in some dispute. The statue had done nothing to draw attention to its self. It was there as it had been for decades. The seasons changed four times each year. The plants in the garden took their turns sprouting, flowering, and withering. The dark leaves did little to add color to the space molded from the nondescript granite. The flowers, as long as they lasted, provided some.
Not that anyone in particular was keeping track of how often someone stopped at the small statue of St. Francis in the little nook of a garden off of 31st Street, whether to look at the carving or to notice the statue and space in a more general sense, like "Oh, I didn't know this was here!" No cameras were set to record how often anyone paused or passed. There was a camera directed at the door to the church at the back end of the little nook of a garden. Most certainly those who managed the church were concerned that a perpetrator of misdoing might use the rear door to enter the church. Good, Christian people always use the front doors of churches, unless they are brides of British royalty, in which case they use the west porch of Westminster Abbey and the like.
Speaking of rear doors, as China has become more prominent in the world, more and more people are learning that "rear door" (hou men) is Chinese slang for the exit of one's gastrointestinal system. That's a rather quaint euphemism until it's used in the sense of "entering the rear door", in which case one begins down the forbidden track of discussing proctology, which ought not to be forbidden given it hinders discourse on one’s health. Any matter relating to the human body can become a discussion best left for the examining room, but that doesn’t render it an unthinkable subject of conversation during tea. Regardless, proctology is not something that is really apropos to a story involving a statue of St. Francis, but if one expects polite digressions, it is best not to place a statue in front of the rear door.
"Oh, I didn't know that was here!" is a polite expression. It presumes the innocent form of ignorance on the part of the speaker, unlike "Oh, I didn't know that you had left!" which is downright rude. Not that the latter remark is made that often. Who waits around long enough for someone to leave unnoticed and return? Come to think of it, isn't the leaving noticed once the person returns and is discovered to have left? There's the far more common leaving unnoticed and returning unnoticed, which is used most often by teenagers, burglars, and alcoholic employees who time their morning coffee break to when the liquor stores open.
On the other hand, whether the former remark even came with an exclamation mark might be challenged if one was pressed to say how often someone stopped at the small statue of St. Francis in the little nook of a garden off of 31st Street. After all, one can't claim one didn't know something was someplace unless one has visited that someplace frequently enough that one might be expected to know what somethings are in that someplace.
Orca Rye was confronted with this problem the minute she began to study the small statue of St. Francis in the little nook of a garden off of 31st Street. The fact of the matter was Miss Rye wasn't even sure she had ever noticed the little nook of a garden, let alone a small statue within it. That gave her pause.
Orca prided herself on her vigilant attention to her surroundings. She knew when the light was about to change because she could see the hint of color in the traffic lights directed at the crossing traffic. She knew when she needed to move aside when walking down Seventh Avenue and when that wasn't necessary because she looked out forward to make eye contact with oncoming pedestrians. She admired the ones who did the same and desired to elbow the ones who didn't. At least the ones who did were making the effort not to impose on their fellow human beings. Why she did not elbow the ones who didn't is only mysterious if one thinks gentle ladies can be actively aggressive if they so choose.
The difficult part of the situation was that Orca Rye did not have a fondness for the drab regularity of the outer walls of buildings in midtown Manhattan. Yes, vendors, banks, and cafes made some effort to distinguish their facades sufficiently to attract passers-by. Except they all did so in more or less the same way. Block after block was much the same as the last in any direction. For all the flash, Times Square and the Broadway theaters were simply a collection of miserably similar electronic billboards and signage. Nothing stood out because everything stood out. There were too many voices speaking at the same time for anything to be heard properly. Why had she not noticed the garden?
The little nook of a garden off of 31st Street is of a size that some might say is large enough to be noticed and others might say no one knows exactly how large a garden needs to be to be noticed. No one could say it is too small to be noticed, since people have been known to notice it. People like Orca Rye who had never done anything as noticeable as Semolina Pilchard climbing up the Eiffel Tower, stood at the place where a gate would have been if it had been a gated garden and noticed the little nook of a garden at some point in their comings and goings down 31st Street. They just didn't notice it enough to have a conscious record of noticing it until one day when they stop at the place a gate ought to be if it were a gated garden and look in. By that measure, the little nook of a garden must be large enough to be noticed, but no one is willing to say by what margin because that would imply one knows just how large a garden must be to be noticed.
One might suppose there would be more people who stopped at the place where a gate ought to be, but that would mean the little nook of a garden is more noticeable than it is. Frankly, there just aren't enough people walking on the south sidewalk of 31st Street on that particular block for anyone to need to stop, say, for example, to register that someone has nearly walked into a person who has been performing her civic duty of watching where she is going. While that someone might deserve to be elbowed, gentle ladies like Orca Rye merely pause, turn their heads, find themselves looking at a statue of St. Francis in a little nook of a garden without a gate, and mutter "I didn't know that was here!" with genuine delight.
Bear Kosik's short fiction, essays, photos, and poetry have appeared in many well-curated reviews and anthologies such as this. Four novels (some as Hugh Dudley) and a nonfiction book on democracy have been published and six plays have been staged Off-Off-Broadway.
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