The Old Man: A Vignette

Walking in Chicago means looking in windows—I do this all the time, which stresses Curtis (he's very wonderful) out because sometimes I don't look where I'm going and occasionally I walk in front of people and very rarely I bump into them and then they're upset and I'm flustered and Curtis is shaking his head. Today, following my usual pattern, I was looking in the window of a jewelry store and just sometimes looking at the sidewalk in front of me. The building had indents about every eight feet, forming natural benches.

In one of the benches a little ahead of me still, I saw a man sitting.

He wore dark dress shoes, navy slacks, a tan shirt, and a dark brown felt fedora. Thoroughly unremarkable attire. But his bulbous nose held up actual bottle-rimmed glasses with small, almost opaque lenses—the biggest nose and the thickest glasses I've ever seen. I couldn't even see his eyes through them. He sat there hugging his deep brown leather briefcase in his lap and rocking back and forth slowly. On the sidewalk in front of him was a bus stop with several young regular type people waiting for the bus. Presumably he sat there waiting for it too.

That's all. I walked twenty feet past him, and turned to look again just to cement his picture in my mind, but all I could see were his shoes and the pant legs.

If he was one of my characters, I would give him a mildly eccentric but very solid name—like Abner or Eldridge or Quint Schable. He'd be waiting for the bus to take him back to his one-bedroom apartment in Roger's Park, where he'd eat the same thing for dinner that he's eaten for the last 19 years: a slice of bread, a chunk of cheese, and a can of tuna fish. While eating, he'd pull the newspaper inches from his nose to read. But it would still be hard for him to see under the feeble light of the kitchen tiffany lamp.

After eating dinner, he'd retire to a deep burgundy wingback chair in front of the window of his second floor apartment, to watch the young couples walk dogs and the children jump rope and the old couples hobble slowly, hand in hand. Once or three times during the evening, a single tear would slip down his wrinkled face and leave a dark splotch on his tan shirt. And after a very long time he'd pour himself the smallest glass of port, and drink it very, very slowly.

Then, when his miniature grandfather clock struck eleven, he would take his glasses off and lean his head back in his chair and go to sleep—because he hasn't slept in his bed since his wife drifted off in it and never woke up, 19 years ago.

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