Elizabeth COOPER Summer 2019
Of Moss and Man
Moss is able to grow in remote, unexpected places, like on a beetle’s back or a piece of slate. I uncovered this information and more while reading in my car in the uncrowded, small parking lot of a local library. I had parked in my usual spot along the curve, scooted in to retrieve the book I had
placed on hold, and returned to my car. I noticed another car parked nearby, a stale, dated four-door sedan, one I had seen several times before always in the same spot. Its two-toned blue hues were faded from top to bottom presenting a near monochrome, almost in sync with the asphalt on which it was parked. Although in the past I’d only given it a cursory glance, I had wondered if the old car had been abandoned or belonged to someone who worked at the library or perhaps to a vagabond. With a shrug, I had dismissed the car leaving it to its mystery.
As I thumbed through my newly checked-out book and delayed turning the key in the ignition, a thin, scruffy man walked past and headed toward the rusty car parked not far from me. Without looking around, he unlocked the front door and retrieved a small, brown bag. The day was mild allowing a navy-blue, well-worn vest as a sufficient wrap for the man. He wore a tattered baseball cap, beyond-trendy distressed, baggy jeans, and a pale, flannel plaid shirt. He took the bag to the hood and removed something from within and ate whatever he had gotten. I tried to observe without staring. From a few yards away, he could have looked my way to see my intrusion or presence at least, but he focused on his task. After about five minutes, he closed the small bag, went back to the driver’s side of the car and placed the bag back inside. He carefully locked the door and went to each of the other three doors to ensure they were locked. Then, without apparently noticing me sitting directly behind him in my small, black car, he walked past again and slowly ambled toward the library where he entered the front door. I wasn’t quite ready to exit the rare opportunity of stillness and observation.
For the next few minutes, I forgot about the man and fell into my book, Gathering Moss. The air remained crisp as fall lapsed into the next season, but trees held some last droplets of color that bobbled in the breeze that day. I felt comfort in the cocoon of my car as I began to discover the
mystery, the majesty of mosses. I had been immersed in my book for twenty minutes or so when the man passed me again. This time, he opened the driver’s door of his car, removed his vest, and relocked the door once he’d shed a layer. In a noticeable pattern, he went to each door, checking the handles, rattling each, to see if locks remained in force securing his belongings. Then, he turned to go in another direction. Instead of going
back to the library, he headed toward an abutting sidewalk leading to a nearby small, upscale village. He disappeared through a hedge. I wanted to stay, to observe this man, his life, but feeling like a voyeur, and having my own life to consider, I cranked my car and left. I knew I’d never be able to park in my usual spot again without being conscious of this man, the car and their shared survival.
A week passed and I kept thinking about the man and his car. Was the car in the parking lot his unlikely place of existence? The weather had taken a dive to below freezing the night before and the morning air was heavy and damp. I drove back to the library with one intention having nothing to do with the library itself. The old Oldsmobile (I had researched the model—a 1978 Delta 88) remained unmoved. The mid-morning chill hovered and shimmied with a breeze. I drove by his car and parked farther away than usual. Was he inside? If so, he wasn’t obvious. I got out and walked tentatively toward his car almost afraid of what I’d find. I purposed not to observe his space too closely as I approached a setting that had acquired an eerie uneasiness for me. I hastened to place a sealed envelope on the windshield, slightly tucking it behind a resistant wiper long retired. I attempted looking solely where I was placing the envelope but couldn’t avoid seeing through the glass. A row of spark plugs and eye-glasses were on the dash. Beyond there, the interior brimmed with quilts, pillows, books. If he were a part of what I saw, he was camouflaged in the milieu, still and wrapped. I had to leave fast.
Mission accomplished, I hurried toward my car, looking back once, twice, three times not so much to see if he appeared but because I was worried the envelope might blow off and he’d never get it. There were no identifying marks on the envelope. No “To.” No “From.” Some random person might pick it up and think the day was a lucky one for them. Should I go back and secure it better? I decided to leave the envelope in fate’s hand. Without looking again, I got in my car and left.
I’ll return my Gathering Moss book soon and get my next book, probably not about mosses, and I may leave another envelope if the car remains. I’m unsure if I want it to be there or not. I may linger once again in the parking lot, reading, watching. Eventually and in unlikely places, I’ll discover
surprise patches of moss to observe without being an intruder, but more an admirer. Can I do the same in the library’s parking lot, observe without intrusion? Admire? New revelations about moss and the man fascinate, even haunt me, but I may have learned all I need to know. Mosses die if transplanted. A few drops of morning dew are what they require in order to exist in their liminal, lower boundaries where they flourish between the cracks. I find some small satisfaction in that.
Elizabeth Cooper lives in Birmingham, AL but is rooted through ancestry to Montgomery, AL where she was born. She has taught elementary school in the inner-city and probably learned way more in those classrooms. Cooper has self-published a couple of books, mostly for family knowledge and history. She has three children and eight grandchildren who inspire and give her hope for the future. Cooper's writing is an ongoing practice which comes from observing and recording people, things, places that occur in liminal spaces -those in-between spots. The poem "Ithaca" also inspires her life and journey. She is a photographer and practitioner of yoga.