By John Clise
The old man sat on the park bench watching the leaves dance in the wind as the sun shined brightly down on the summer day. It warmed his face while he ate slices of cold pizza, he’d gotten out of a plastic bag he carried in an oversized brown leather shoulder bag. Sick people, he learned, had to carry all sorts of things with them “just in case.”
He looked down to see a huge pair of black of eyes looking up at him shaking a front foot at him. It was a squirrel looking for some lunch. The squirrel looked older or at least more beat up than than other squirrels he’d seen. There was a scar over his nose and on his hip.
The old man broke off a piece of the crust and handed it down to the squirrel. “That’s okay little man. I got scars, too.”
So, these lunch meetings went on for a week or so before the old man brought some walnuts, radishes and apples in a bag. The squirrel gobbled the meal. The old man gave him some more.
Over the next few days, the old man decided to give the squirrel a name. He started calling him different names. None of which the squirrel responded to until one name came up. Frank. He called out the name Frank and the squirrel looked up at him directly.
“Frank it is,” the old man said with a smile. The lunch meetings continued all summer and into the fall.
Frank knew what the lunch bag looked like. And he knew where it came from. He often would sit next to the big brown bag to let the old man know he was still hungry.
One day Frank jumped into the leather bag and just sat there for a bit. Then he jumped out and went across the sidewalk.
“It’s getting cold Frank, he said. “What are you going to do over the winter. I probably won’t be able to get here every day to give you snacks. Plus, you’re going to need to find a warm place to stay. I’ll be worried about you.”
The old man was throwing crackers across the sidewalk to Frank when suddenly out of nowhere some woman started yelling at him not to feed the squirrels.
“You mean Frank,” the old man asked. Frank’s my squirrel or I’m his human.” As he spoke, he slid his bag around in front of him. Frank darted across the sidewalk into the bag.
“See,” he said. “We’re friends.” Just then Frank popped his head out of the bag with a mouth full of walnuts.
The woman stormed off in a huff. “Boy, that was a close one.” Frank jumped out with a radish in his mouth and ran behind a tree. The old man figured he lived at the base of the tree though he’d never ventured across to check it out.
Another few weeks passed, and it was getting much colder. The old man sat on the bench with the sun on his face after he shared the lunch snacks with Frank. He dozed off with his bag sitting next to him. Rain drops woke him up. He grabbed his bag, yelled by to Frank though he didn’t see him and went walking as quickly as he could to be sure he didn’t miss the last bus.
He made it. Suddenly, he felt his bag starting to move around. Taking a peek inside there was Frank eating a piece of apple looking up at the old man.
The old man looked around and folded the flap down on the bag butting it with the single clasp.
They hopped off the bus taking the short walk to the old man’s apartment.
He opened the door and shut it behind him. He put the bag on the floor unsnapping it. Frank darted out across the living room floor and climbed to the top of the corn tree. He sat there looking around.
The old man poured what was left of the treats in a bowl and filled another bowl with water sitting them just inside the living room by the door to the kitchen.
The old man scratched his head and sat down on the couch.
“Well Frank, I can take you back home tomorrow,” he said. “Unless of course you like it here.”
The old man laid down on the couch to take his late afternoon as he did every day. Being sick really took it out of him. Rushing to the bus stop took all of his extra gas for the day.
He drifted off to sleep watching Frank sit atop the corn tree. When he woke up, he found Frank curled up on his chest completely asleep.
Frank spent the winter with the old man. The watched TV together. They watched the weather out the window. They ate meals together. They listened to music together. Frank would curl up with the old man when they slept.
Frank got a collar with the old man’s phone number on it in case he got out. The old man didn’t even know if having Frank in his apartment was legal or not. He hedged towards probably not.
When spring hit and the days warmed up, which was something he’d been dreading, the old man took Frank’s collar off and put him in his bag to return him to his home in the park.
He opened the bag and out came Frank who looked around, looked up, and went flat on his stomach. He darted back into the bag looking out with just enough of his body out to see his eyes moving swiftly back and forth and his nose twitching.
The old man made an effort to coax Frank out of the bag, but he refused by trying to burrow deeper into the bag.
“Okay then, let’s go home pal,” the old man said pulling the flap back over the bag.
Once back home Frank darted to the top of the corn tree before jumping to the lemon tree that had been added over the winter.
The old man was relieved and happy to have his friend return home with him. He filled Frank’s dish with nuts and laid down for his nap watching Frank play in the trees.