June 13, 2024

Acting at the Coffee Shop


In mid-afternoon a week before Christmas
there are no other people about, 
and he sits as anyone might on a warmer day
at one of the three or four tables
each with its furled umbrella 
alongside the upscale coffee shop. 

At least he’s wearing a coat, and at first
I think he is reading a magazine, but as I walk toward the door
and pass within a few feet I see that it is a crumpled flyer or newspaper insert.
It is upside down, and he bobs his head in animation—
looking down at the ragged pages and then up, back and forth—
mouthing unvoiced words with vigorous expression,
as though perhaps someone sits across from him.

If this were another story
the narrator might stop at the table on his way in
(perhaps recalling Fitzgerald’s line in The Last Tycoon,
“There are no second acts in American lives”)
and with tremendously casual off-handedness
hold out a couple of dollars and say,
"Will you let me buy you a coffee—or a muffin?
...It's pretty cold out here" —
not staying, not even lingering, just a quick passing offer,
a small thing, something warm to accompany one’s reading.

Instead, when I leave a few minutes later,
he has just risen and is beginning to walk
in shoes patched with duct tape.
Our paths cross diagonally,
and there is only the briefest exchange of glances.
Under the restless winter light one of us
—lines forgotten, out of character—scuttles toward a car,
while the other strides down the street, a spring in his step,
pages furled neatly under one arm like some jaunty broker's Journal—
face open with a daring smile.


(Copyright @ Hadley Hury 2017. All rights reserved.)




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