Graybeard and I were walking down a cobbled street in Prague, late at night. We had just come from seeing a movie, I expect, and were heading to a place for a late snack. “If time is just another dimension of space,” he asked, “where is yesterday?” I wasn’t ready for the question, but I did my best to answer, fumbling around the issue of relativity, saying that one second ago is now 186,000 miles away and receding fast. He liked that.
I have a better answer now.
I’ve written about Graybeard before, but not for a while. He was an institution in the expat community in Prague, a thinker, a poet, a lecher, a teacher, and most of all a storyteller. Now he’s gone.
He was a North Carolina boy, letting the drawl sneak into his voice when it suited him, but he claimed he couldn’t go back to the United States. Taxes, or something like that. It was difficult to detect the line where truth ended and other truth began with Graybeard. Whatever the story, I’m sure that when he told it he believed it. That’s all the veracity I need.
He spent a few years in prison, Graybeard did, for killing his best friend with a knife when he found the dude having sex with his girlfriend. “If it wasn’t for the acid,” Graybeard told me once, “I might not have done it. I loved both of them.” He escaped from prison at least once, got some help across the state line from an old black woman. He ran down to Florida where he hid with his sister until his brother ratted on him. Or maybe it was the other way around. Or maybe it never happened.
He told me once how during a power blackout in Boston he was in the wrong part of town and things got ugly and he killed two people with a single bullet. Self-defense. There was another incident in Golden Gate Park that I found easier to believe, given what I know about the man.
Graybeard was chivalrous. He would not ever stand idly by when a woman was being threatened or even intimidated. Hard-wired into his mind was the ideal that there are lines you do not cross and when someone crosses that line then no less than civilization as we know it is at stake, and it is the duty of every free man to rise to the defense of all we believe in. Greybeard was prepared to prosecute that battle wherever it arose. He carried two Tasers (in case the first failed), two knives, two phones, two of everything. He was not allowed in dance clubs.
It was a lot of work to be around him; conversations were challenging. He didn’t really listen that well. His mind was leaping, jumping, connecting odd dots, and if something you said triggered a new relationship in his head then forget about the previous conversation, we were moving on. I avoided him often.
Once he asked me where yesterday was. It was only later that I realized that if time is just another dimension, then yesterday is just another place. As I write this, yesterday is a place where small man with a long white beard lay unthinking, sustained by machines. Not Graybeard, but some fiction greater than any story he ever told. Today, in this place called now, there is not even that.
Yesterday is a place called Road Trip Day, and on that day Graybeard left home for the last time. Somebody better warn the angels.