Ferguson's life was a mystery. All anyone knew of him was:
1. His name was Ferguson.
2. He was crazy.
3. He made good shepherd’s pie.
He arrived in town with nothing. It was a wonder where he got the tacks or the ingredients for shepherd's pie. He was a wonder.
But, they talked of him constantly. At the diner, at children's baseball games, at church. Father Mitchum said Ferguson was a gift sent from God. The bitter old ladies outside the church said he was a gift sent from Satan. But, either way you cut it, he was still, apparently, a gift. And he was still crazy.
He would set up on the corner of the street and launch into song, accompanied by a band made completely of air. People tossed change to him and he would remove a piece of clothing for each coin. So, everyone stopped doing that.
Allister did not know how Ferguson survived. What he ate, what he drank, when he slept. It seemed to Allister that he never did any of those things. Never did anything normal. Ferguson's bony body even looked more abnormal than other abnormally bony bodies. His elbows and knees came together in almost perfect points, like four oddly-placed daggers. Sharp to the touch. So, no one ever touched Ferguson in the elbows or knees. No one really touched Ferguson at all, really. There was not an official rule. Just an unspoken understanding that Ferguson probably would not want that.
But, the understanding was born from never asking.
Oh, some people had tried to help him. Kindly Old Mrs. Saunders had tried. After all, she had experience in that sort of thing. With her help, Drunken Daniel O'Dood became just Mr. Daniel O'Dood and Damn-Near-Demented Dorothy Dunn even entered the Convent of The Saved and became simply Sister Dorothy. But, though she tried her hardest, kindly Old Mrs. Saunders could not convert Allister like she had Drunken Daniel O'Dood and Damn-Near-Demented Dorothy Dunn. And maybe it was the alliterate lacking of Fergson's name that kept kindly Old Mrs. Saunders from completing a triumvarate of sanity.
But, she confided in Allister that, "when you look into the eyes of those that are most lost, you can't see into them. There's a cloudy shallowness where their gaze should be as deep and clear as a well." And she had seen that clowdiness in Ferguson's eyes. So, even kindly Old Mrs. Saunders could not get through the shell that protected Ferguson (and his shepherd's pie recipe) from the world.
And what did Ferguson see? Allister wondered. Was it all darkness? Was it all shadows? Was he always like that? And, if not, how did he get to the point where he left clarity? And, in any event, how was he still able to find other people?
Everyone watched Ferguson from afar. He was their giraffe. Don't touch the Ferguson. Don't feed the Ferguson. Ferguson, Ferguson, Ferguson, Ferguson. Fer-Guson. Fer. Gus. On. Fe......RGUSON!
They talked of him so much that it was like he was always there, shuffling to inadvertently block your path at the exact moment when you needed to pass. And there'd be a shrug and a sigh of annoyance and, later, there'd be the explanation, "Sorry I'm late. Ferguson." He was an annoyance. But, he was expected and even depended upon to be there.
He became a word. He became a thing. Ferguson was something they were annoyed by, were disgusted by, but that they loved to talk about, that they loved to laugh at. Ferguson was just that. There was no "with" when it came to him. There was only "at."
And Allister knew that everyone knew Ferguson was being laughed at. But, it was hard to stop. There was a feeling that he was doing this. That Ferguson was fergusoning on purpose.
And, although Ferguson was not the most socially open of characters, you could not say that he had brought that upon himself. He did, after all, try. Remember all the shepherd's pies? Remember the silent music? He had tried to reach out. Something in him just did not know how. Or did not know our way how.
And, when the day finally came when Ferguson was no longer there, the absence of Ferguson was more awkward than his presence could ever have been. He had gone the same way that he came-without a trace.
And, from that day onward, Allister made a point to make eye contact with everyone he passed, even the ones who seemed clowdy-eyed and unable to communicate. He made a point to look deep into their eyes and smile-even for a moment. And he would see them breathe even if they did not speak.
And Allister would say, "Good morning," "good afternoon," or "good night." And he would nod to them in acknowledgement. And maybe they would nod back or maybe they would remove a piece of clothing or maybe they would do nothing.
But, Allister would look at them fully and think "this is the piece of clay they were given and this is the way the wind sounds when it moves through it."