By Lana Spendl
This piece first appeared in Bayou Magazine (Issue 69)
A man in his fifties sits two tables down from me at the local coffee shop. Ads for concerts and holistic healers hang on the walls. The man’s head is shaved, and he sports a gray goatee. With careful fingers he answers emails on his phone. He wears the round glasses of a European philosopher and a long black coat. I wonder if he selected the coat at Macy’s after gravely examining his reflection in the fitting room glass. I wonder if everything he does carries the weight of history and war planes and black-and-white television sets. Does he laugh at life? Does he have a Facebook page?
Perhaps. And perhaps it displays that one picture, decades old, blurred, cropped group shot from his school days in France, when he walked the Seine and crossed bridges, and leaves turned yellow beneath cloudy skies. I imagine he has not checked his Facebook account in years. Password forgotten. Busy life. And maybe his ex from decades back sent him a message and it sits unread. She wrote him that he was the love of her life. She is married to a banker now. And after sending the message, this poor woman lay next to her husband listening to the sound of the banker’s breathing mouth. She felt regretful. She felt ashamed. She thought of her aging body, of his not answering, of the fact that she was not wanted, perhaps. Her poor, tortured eyes.
And he had, indeed, loved her once, this woman, when she would run through the rain to his apartment, and they would fumble with fingers and hands and bodies in his cold bed. He’d fix them soup on the beat-up stove, but he never took her to dinners at Professor Mirabeau’s house. She was loose, she was alive, and he wanted to raise no waves; he wanted to be liked.
But he envied her at times. The way she gazed at rain on windows and picked out images from books and turned and turned them in her mind like ballerina figurines. Music box tinkles. But she was late to class. She forgot to pay bills. She forgot their dates sometimes, and he sat and sat, checking watch. But her landlord looked at her with warm eyes. And neighbors in the street squeezed her arm with love. Perhaps that is why he never took her to parties. Perhaps he thought she’d outshine him.
He feels guilty and ashamed when he thinks of it now. And he has only gotten more envious over time. Little by little. It became tiring to keep himself in check. A person had to give in to the rolling boulder of life. If the young man he was then looked at him now, he’d have to raise the collar of his black coat, lower his head, and hide.
When I look up, he’s gone. Hurried off to a room of dust and books, perhaps. Face set to gravitas. Nothing on the table now but crumbs and an empty porcelain cup.