In a sideways howl of chill wind, I fell through the door of Sidekicks and in the middle of tossing streams of hair from my eyes, I met the sea-glass gaze, green and adrift, of an older man stationed like a statue in a middle booth. When I smiled, he remained fixed and motionless; looking deep but not seeing, sighting me but not comprehending, searching and not knowing. As I ordered and paid, his eyes never quit. Dragging their owner's vacuumed soul with them, they watched me until I sat.
The Bonnie's Carrot Shrimp Crunch looked especially good today and the portion was twice the size of last week. I ordered a Monster Cookie too, thinking I'd eat it on the drive home. Before I dug into my food, I went to the restroom to wash my hands. Sea Glass Eyes followed me coming and going. I smiled again...there was a tiny flicker of response this time, like a lighthouse on a distant shore signaling through fog.
I quelled a sudden urge to sit down with him, share his table and strike a conversational match in his face to see if he would jump, or spit, or express words of love. It felt rude to sit in the next booth with my back to him, in the condition he was, needing something and begging me for it, but he was a stranger and strange to me, so I selfishly began my planned Artist Date with a Dorothea Brande book. I meant to read at least ten pages; within those pages she would reveal and release more writing secrets to sail in unison across liquid pages and feather to the shore, where I anchored them into my notebook.
I had crunched mightily through half the mountain of carrot salad, heard the waitress give Sea Glass Eyes a coffee refill, read six pages, when I felt the air stir next to my elbow and inching by were a pair of black gabardine pants splashed on the right leg with mustard stains. Sea Glass Eyes was up and moving—an ardent lover, somebody's father, a lost artist, a disappearing man, he moved in a robotic trance to the door and there he stood transfixed looking at the wall around and above the door; head bobbing slow and shaky, like hands teeter on a table when the person is very hungry. Seemingly unable to go out or come back in, his narrow shoulders were held tight to his neck and his arms were clamped to his sides, big hands dangling curled in on very dirty palms. Why weren't the backs of his hands dirty, too?
I imagined he had climbed from under a freeway overpass during morning rush hour, fingers clawing through wet dirt, to come up from a nest of leaves where his last meal was half a corndog and three packets of mustard from the Dairy Queen dumpster. After crossing four lanes of traffic he had come to Sidekicks, with just an inch of mud staining nearly new soft-soled black shoes.
Dorothea was continuing to woo me with writing confidences about the writer's subconscious mind, circa 1934 yet still very "now", but my eyes kept tearing away to the man, who very slowly reached for and took down a newspaper from the rack by the door. Deliberately, because he knew I was watching--had seen the lighthouse on the distant shore flashing again--he turned in profile and the lovely wide glance of his almond-shaped orbs stared at the front page, fixed, fastened and frozen upon an inner world. The dark lashes didn't blink, were there demons or divinities clamoring in his head? Or, was the sea in his eyes calm because only a gentle white froth of spray misted his inner self?
Between bites of carrots and ramen, I stared at the square jaw, the Roman nose, the sweep of hair from a broad brow, luxuriant gray curls filthy now and falling gracefully over the collar of his fleece jacket. I saw what it was, and who it was, that had been loved and cherished in a lifetime shut forever behind a closed door. I saw the yawning ocean of his existence, and there was nothing I could do if he was swallowed whole in an instant.
Except, I ate all of the Monster Cookie, chocolate chunks passing my lips at a steady clip, not even finishing my carrots first. My notebook was forgotten, and when this man--who a long time ago was a baby birthed to life in a family, who had crawled and walked, gurgled and talked--passed my table again, he passed back into the void he inhabited before I saw him and there he remains. If I do see him again I can't be held responsible if I hug him, or slap his shoulder, or spill water on his table in a effort to defy his deadness—anything to make some contact that goes beyond his sea-glass eyes.