September 5, 1970
The sudden pressure on his bare feet from the policeman’s baton awoke the old vagrant with a start. The officer saw Diego as the old man slumped over, sleeping between two gas pumps.
“Get up, ol’ timer; you can’t stay here. That is unless you’re Jerry’s new full-service guy.” the middle-aged cop said with an amused grin.
Diego looked around, weary-eyed in the new light of dawn, gathering his bearings and remembering the torrential rain and how the canopy over the gas pumps had become his shelter from the storm.
“I’ll be on my way, officer. I had nowhere to go in that storm last night,” Diego explained.
“It brought down some big trees on the north end of town. The power is out in a lot of places around here.”
The disheveled man stood up, brushed himself off, and ran his fingers through his thinning, salted hair. Looking down the street at the foot of the bridge as he spoke, “Is there a parade today, sir?”
This question from the shabby vagrant surprised the cop, “So you’re going to march in the Founder’s Day Parade, are you? Let me guess; you’re Ponce freakin’ de Leon. Drank from the Fountain did you? Funny, you don’t look very youthful.”
“Not exactly, Sonny,” the old man smiled at the police officer’s attempt at humor at his expense. “What time does the parade begin?”
“11:30. If they can get the last of the tree limbs removed from San Marco Avenue.”
Jacob looked at his watch, seeing that it was 7:50.
The cop grinned again, “Do you have a parade float to catch?”
The old man stepped towards the sidewalk; the concrete still damp from the earlier rain on what was now a clear and cloudless morning. “Something like that, I guess. Unless you are going to detain me,” he calmly spoke.
“Just keep moving, Ponce; maybe you can go out and discover some shoes.”
Diego stayed on the sidewalk heading towards the bridge and into downtown. Only a few cars dashed along the stretch of the highway known as A1A near the foot of the bridge. The disheveled old man with the low sun on his back cast a long shadow as he walked up the lengthy arch on the drawbridge. Below, the Intracostal Waterway was smooth as glass. Stained with the fading gradients of ambers and oranges, reflecting down from the sky after sunrise.
Diego stopped in the middle of the iron-grated span and surveyed the mainland before him. He was gazing north towards another drawbridge in the distance at Vilano Beach. Then, over to the direct path before him to the west with the picturesque St, Augustine skyline. It was filled with grey bastions and turrets, terracotta tiled roofs, cupolas, smokestacks, steeples, and domes, all aglow from the morning sun. Finally, looking south, past the Marina, Diego could see another bridge reaching the island he had just left.
Sirianna had spoken to him in circles as he recalled things not yet deciphered: “Three bridges, Diego. Three bridges. At the center one. The middle bridge… Closer to Faithful.”
Diego wondered aloud as he walked, “Closer to Faithful… Faithful?”
Descending the span towards town, Jacob noticed a massive white marble sculpture near the water’s bank at the foot of the bridge. Then noticed another identical sculpture on the other side of A1A; as he ventured closer, he realized that they were pair of lions. It was a tail and the backside of the statue of a lion that greeted him downtown. As he approached the monumental life-sized marble sculpture, he circled it taking in the detail of the muscles and ribs carved into marble, the creation of a beast so solid and majestic.
As the pavement and concrete remained cool on his bare feet, Diego took up space in the long shade, directly underneath the head of the lion, leaning up against its five-foot-tall granite pedestal. He watched the city come alive to a brand new day as the traffic increased over the bridge and around the nearby plaza. The bayfront warmth and the shade of the lion brought too much comfort for Diego. He fought to keep his eyes open as he watched the splendid scene unfold before him until his head nodded one last time and fell into slumber.
The sounds and odors of exhaust belching from the more numerous engines of autos did not disturb the old transient in his sleep. Instead, the distant sound of hooves clapping on the pavement awakened him at what seemed a few hours later. Upon opening his eyes, Diego could see that the quiet city was transforming into quite an eventful scene, with families gathering along the curbs and sidewalks in anticipation of the Founders Day Parade.
The older man slowly came to his feet as a brown horse with his driver, pulling an empty open carriage decorated in red and yellow flowers, went rolling by. In the distance, across the highway, stood a tall stone pedestal with a statue of a conquistador, his sword extended towards the cloudless sky of blue.
Many families are making their way down the sidewalk along the parade route. But Diego is drawn to a family of four walking by, nearly crossing paths with them as if to greet them. A typical American family with the father, mother, a four-year-old boy, and an older blonde sister with eyes as blue as his own, who was no more than eight.
Diego felt himself being pulled to the curb near the family, closer to the little girl. Something deep inside his chest pulled at him. The mother, an attractive woman in her navy blue and white dotted Sunday dress, unfurled a red and black checkered blanket over the damp grass near the curb. The picnic blanket seemed to hover weightlessly in the calm air as the little girl headed onto the street to greet the decorated horse and buggy approaching.
At that exact moment, Carl, in his tow truck, merged onto A1A after crossing the Bridge of Lions. Diego could feel the girl being pushed into the truck’s path and felt himself being pulled closer and closer to the child until he gripped her waist and forcibly shoved her back towards the curb.
The last sound Diego ever heard, besides the squeal of the truck’s tires, was the frantic scream of the little girl’s name by her mother,
It took a few seconds for everything to go completely dark for Diego, but his rapid visions were familiar. Being aboard a lifeboat at sea, seeing the fierce eyes of a pedestrian, a future Fuhrer, grazed by a speeding automobile, the sight and scent of wild jasmine along a fence in the new city of Oak Ridge Tennesee, the gaze and smile of a long-ago lover, all of it flashed before him as his skull fractured, his body struck the pavement, and the blood began to flow. The flash-by scenes of a well-lived life would make sense to the old man as his mission ended. There was a feeling of pressure on his left leg from the prism laying deep inside his pocket, trapped between the weight of his body and the pavement, along with a graceful final sense of curiosity for what lies ahead.