~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~
She spotted him in the park. He was a man of indeterminate age, dressed in a tattered green overcoat, badly in need of a haircut and shave. When he knew she was following him, he stopped and looked at her. She smiled. She had so many things she wanted to say to him.
“How are you?” she asked.
He shook his head and started to walk away.
“I saw you and I wanted to speak to you.”
“If you’re from the mission…”
“No. I’m not,” she said. “I was wondering if we might sit and talk a while.”
She took hold of his arm, gently. He let her pull him to a bench. She sat on the bench and he had no other choice but to sit beside her. He looked at her apprehensively.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’m not the police or anything, and I’m not from the mission.”
Now that she saw him up close, she saw he was younger than she at first thought. His eyes were a startling blue. He had tiny lines around them, but except for that his face was unlined. His hair was prematurely gray, in need of a trim. He smelled of tobacco and alcohol.
“Just on my way,” he said.
He gestured with his thumb over his shoulder.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” she said. “I only want to talk to you.”
She laughed and put her hands between her knees and looked up into the trees. “I guess you could say I’m a student of human nature.”
He shook his head and looked at his hands.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Is that your first name or your last name?”
“All right. My name is Susan Morehouse. I believe in laying all my cards on the table. I’m forty-seven years old and not the least bit sensitive about my age. I live with my mother on Independence Avenue. My mother was over forty years old when she had me, so you can imagine how old she is now. It’s just my mother and me. My father died at age sixty of cirrhosis of the liver.”
He started to stand. She put her hand on his arm. He remained.
“Do you have family?” she asked.
He shook his head, which she took to mean no.
“Are you a mental patient?”
He smiled, for the first time, and shook his head.
Are you a drug addict?”
A shake of the head.
Another shake of the head.
“I won’t ask how you come to be an aimless bum in the park. We’ll save that one for another time.”
“I have to go,” he said, gesturing with his thumb over his shoulder.
He shrugged, meaning anywhere and nowhere.
“The truth is, I don’t think you have any place to go.”
“I don’t see it’s any of your business,” he said.
“Would you like to come home with me?”
“I know it sounds terribly forward, but I don’t have a lot of time to waste on amenities.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything of you. You wouldn’t have to do anything. You wouldn’t be bothered. Only my mother is there. She’s a very old lady, nearly ninety years old. You can stay as long as you want and leave whenever you say.”
“I can’t,” he said. “I’m not well.”
“Do you have anything contagious?”
He shrugged and looked up at the sound of a dog thrashing through the leaves, chasing another dog.
“I’ve never done this before, you know,” she said. “You’re the first man I’ve ever approached like this.”
“I don’t think so,” he said, but she could see he was softening.
“Nobody has to ever know about it. It’s just between you and me. Entre nous, as the saying goes.”
“No, I don’t want to go with you.”
“My car is just over the hill.”
He looked up the hill as if imagining the car on the other side.
“All you have to do is get in the car. I’ll drive. It’s just a few miles.”
“I’m not going with you,” he said.
He stood up when she did, though, and walked over the hill with her. She touched him on the arm and looked at him every few feet to encourage him. When they came to her car, she motioned for him to get into the passenger-side seat, reassuring him, once again, that she meant him no harm.
Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp