Sunset leaves dance along the empty highway.
First they move in one direction, and then another; each time spinning in one spot for a moment before moving on. The old man watches from a dilapidated park bench. He gives the tiniest trace of a smile as the leaves break off into pairs and begin waltzing with one another. When his smile fades, the leaves drop straight to the ground, motionless.
He removes his gloves to rub a hand over his bald spot.
As he does, thousands of tiny flowers bloom in unison along the nature strip, their petals pure white. Like snow. The flowers grow taller and taller until they sit proudly at knee-height. He looks about, adjusts his tie, and as he does the flowers neatly curl back down into the soil they had burst from.
The grass is a fresh, crisp green again
The old man rises slowly, his body weary with age, and crosses the four-lane highway, leaving his gloves behind on the bench.
A car screeches to a halt.
The tyres give off a pungent smoke.
Petrified with shock, the driver sits frozen in horror by what had nearly come to pass. He had appeared out of nowhere, barely a foot from her car. By the time she recovers and springs from her vehicle, the careless old man has vanished into thin air. She swears under her breath.
Stupid old man. He’s going to get himself fucking killed.
She begins searching for him, anxious to assist the old-timer as she thinks of her own grandfather doddering around in the nursing home. Maybe this was someone’s Pop, too.
She looks down the road.
Aside from a scattering of dead leaves, it’s completely empty. She thinks she sees him in the park, but when she rushes over across the highway, she instantly knows that it’s not him. Sitting down on a nearby bench, she attempts to calm her shaking hands.
That’s when she notices the gloves.
At first they appear to be a pair of simple black gloves, but upon closer inspection she notices how elegant they are and how intricate the stitching along the hem is.
They could be his, but then again, maybe not.
Unable to leave them in the park, she returns to her car with the gloves and begins to pull back out onto the road. Something catches her eye. Beyond the low seawall on the side of the highway, she spots a hunched frame wandering away into the distance. She leaves her car where it is, jumps over the seawall and clambers down the dunes after the old man.
She has nearly reached him when she freezes in her tracks.
Sunlight has spilled a path upon the sea. And the old man, he looks up at the sky as though surprised to find the sun in it, looks down at the water again, and then steps onto its surface.
She calls out.
She can’t even remember what it was she just said.
He doesn’t look back or even acknowledge whether he has heard her; he just stands upon the water, his black dress shoes perfectly dry as he walks towards the horizon, with the trace of a smile on his creased face.
She doesn’t understand why she feels a sudden sense of loss. Or why she feels it so keenly. And it is a loss, because she is now certain that this strange old man will never turn back, but will keep going until he is swallowed by the curvature of the Earth.
Then she remembers.
She remembers how he had looked many, many years ago in his black satin cape and top hat, brandishing a plastic wand in one of his black-gloved hands. She remembers how the other children had watched the simple tricks in awe, stunned by his performance.
She remembers how real it all seemed.
How he had performed each act with an enchanting smile on his handsome face and a thrum of excitement in his voice. How hard he had worked to make it look like a skilled illusion. How hard he had tried to convince them that while it looked real, it actually wasn’t.
Now she knew.
Now she felt just how real it all was.
She sits down in the warm sand and watches him depart, still clutching his discarded gloves in her hands.