That feeling you have but can never explain

Just a couple of nameless men, sitting together in a booth.

The restaurant is dimly lit, but there isn’t much to see anyway. If you squinted through the stale cigarette smoke, you would see faded posters of New York on the walls, and beneath that a grimy wallpaper displaying what was once red stripes.

The booth has red seats, with the stuffing coming out at the edges. The table is a little wobbly, and has a sheen to it, left behind from a waitress’ greasy rag. On top of the table sits an ashtray, half full with cigarette butts. Beside that are two cups of hot coffee, refilled for the fourth or fifth time. Moving farther down the tabletop we see the cream, the sugar, then a detective’s badge, the salt and pepper.

The two men sit across from each other and say nothing for a moment.

It is raining outside. It is always raining here. The rain has a warm greasy feel to it. It leaves a foul grey streak to everything it touches. It leaves the helpless pedestrian feeling hopeless. It is city rain.

The older man, the man with a dead wife and two kids who never call, lights another cigarette. Outside the diner is his old beat up car, which will drive him to his small shabby apartment that smells faintly of sweat.

On the one side lives a single mother with too many children. She wears her hair in a bun, and works as a prostitute during the night. She’s a nice girl, no older than 34 or 35, and makes cookies on the second Saturday of every month for the next-door neighbour. She only has the one neighbor because she lives in the corner apartment. She is glad to have him though. He is always polite, and helps her with her groceries, and scares away the more violent customers.

On the other side lives an elderly lady who reminds the man of his mother. She knit him the blanket he uses when he sits in his brown recliner and reads the paper and drinks his coffee. He makes repairs in her apartment while she cooks him pasta just the way his mother used to. She calls him her other son, and thanks God for him every day after the rosary and prays to St. Jude for his safety when he goes to work.

He has a small mutt of a puppy that sleeps in a box beside his bed. The puppy is a runt, and was rescued from the gutter where he was left to die. He licked the man’s face, and the man adopted him. The puppy is mostly brown, with a black patch over both of his eyes. The puppy never told the man his name, so the man calls him Puppy. When the puppy thinks the man is asleep, he jumps on the bed, and sleeps at his feet. The man knows that this happens, and cannot himself fall asleep until the puppy is with him. It is a good arrangement for both of them.

The man prefers to wear grey suits, with an old fedora. He carries a gold pocket watch that belonged to his grandfather. In it is a picture of his great grandmother, long departed from this world, and an inscription that has rubbed away until only the word, “goodbye,” can be seen, faintly embossed in gold.

This man writes short stories on his aging typewriter, and longs one day to be published. Beside the black iron typewriter is a large stack of rejection slips that he has collected. He has never cared to count them, but they range back over 45 years. He still sends his stories away though.

He sometimes cries when he remembers old friends from his childhood that he knows he will not see anymore. The warm tears just slip from his eyes and slide down his cheeks until he is finished remembering.

His whole life he had believed that he had wanted to be a hero more than anything else. When he became one, he realized that he had wanted nothing more than to be a writer.

Beside him sits a young man.

He is twirling a blue pen between the fingers of his right hand. The pen slips from between his fingers and clatters to the floor, but he does not bother to pick it up. It lies there in the grit and dust of a week’s worth of wet shoes. Beside the pen lies some small change that has slid from pockets onto the floor, and beside the small change lies a small toy, abandoned but not forgotten by small hands. The young man shifts his feet and further mauls the already crushed face. He does not notice.

He is daydreaming of his young wife. He left her that morning, still lying in bed. He loves her for curling into the warm space his body has left. He remembers the way her hand feels across his face. She is always soft.

This man is not good with words, and wishes every day that he could find the right way to describe the hot pressure that presses against the inside of his chest every time that he sees her. He never comes close though. He tries his best, kissing her cheek before leaving her, and telling her how pretty she looks in that white cotton dress. She spends time with makeup and fashion trying to look pretty for him, but he likes her best when she is fresh and clean, just out of the shower, or in from the cold.

Especially the cold. With chill fingertips, and rosy red cheeks, she presses tight against him to get warm. She slips her fingers inside the faded button up blue jean shirts he likes to wear. She wraps her hands around his waist and presses her head to his chest and holds him tight. He likes to kiss her then, first on the nose, and then on the lips. He can taste the cold on her tongue, and she always makes him think of the first frost on a cherry orchard. Bright colours dusted lightly with snow.

They live in a small house, in an old but nice part of the city. In the spring it smells like the flowers that grow just below their window, of jasmine and rosemary, and in the fall, the scent of apples and leaves fills the rooms.

Four or five tired cement steps lead up to a faded red door, with a round brass doorknob. Just inside the door, to the right is an office, with an old oak desk, covered with loose paper, and ideas set aside. This is where the man calls his parents every morning before he leaves for work. First his mother will invite him over for supper, and asks if they’ve thought about children lately, then his father will take away the phone, and they will talk about the football score, and whatever is troubling lately. The man always smells apple pie when talking to his mother, and cracked leather when he speaks to his father.

He loves them very much. So does his wife. Her parents died before she met her husband, and his mother and father have always treated her like a daughter. She needs this more than she knows.

Down the hall from the office is the kitchen to the left, where she peals potatoes for dinner, and bakes pies for desert and where a cheap bottle of wine makes a good meal. After the good meal, and the dishes are forgotten, they go across the hall to the bedroom. On the tired bed lie warm blankets used for years. They love each other while the forest of mismatched wooden furniture silently watches. The walls are a pale green, and mostly covered by pictures taken by the man. He is a photographer, and good enough now that about one picture in two rolls of film is worth saving. He likes to take pictures of the sky mostly, and if you lie on the bed and watch carefully, the wall will disappear and you will be lost in a beautiful world.

It is a nice home, a good home. They have no children to fill it, but already this man’s wife dreams of small feet running through the home. Small children with flushed faces and sparkling eyes. Children he will lift and fly through the air. Little ones that they can take over to his parent’s house, where grandma can spoil them, and granddad can dazzle them with tales of his childhood, while the room grows warm with the scent of pasta sauce. Children to play with, and to hold and to love.

All his life the man believed that he wanted to be a hero. When he became a hero, he realized that all he wanted to be was a father.

These men are together in a booth, watching the rain. They are average men, unremarkable men. You would not notice them on the street.

They were not noticed that day, sitting together. Not by the tired waitress with the sad smile who refilled their coffee, or the dirty rain that poured down on the crowded streets, or by the angry man with the loaded gun who demanded everyone get on the floor right now, dammit, or someone’s going to get hurt.

He just wanted their money. Maybe for a fix. Maybe for a debt. Maybe just for fun.

The young man and the old man become very sad together. They don’t realize it has happened, but it has.

The old man steps from the booth and pulls his gun from the holster tucked under his left arm in an oiled, practiced movement. He is afraid. He raises the gun and holds it steady in two hands. He looks toward the young woman who screamed. She is running past him, terror locked on her face. He steps in front of her, and hears thunder. Two holes appear in his chest, and his shirt grows wet, soaked through like the rain. He slowly sinks to his knees, oblivious to the storm around him.

The young man has pointed his gun, sees the woman run past. He is afraid. His finger pulls on the trigger. Once. Twice. Three times. He watches as the angry man falls, arms flailing, knocking the steaming coffee from its place on the table. The coffee splashes to the ground, mixing with the spreading pool of blood.

The young man drops to his knees as well, taking the old man’s hand. He is crying.

He does not see the gun rise once more in hands wet with blood. But he feels the single bullet enter his back high to the left. He falls backwards, and sees the rain through the window. He lies beside the old man, whose eyes are already empty.

He smells his wife’s perfume.

Just for an instant, and for the last time.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.