The man stood in the doorway like a shadow puppet, long and thin and without depth in the night’s wind. He entered the café with the movements of a marionette; his steps not his own but of some higher power the guided him down his path. He approached the clerk and asked for coffee and left a bill on the bar and left through the side door. We scrutinized his overcoat, shabby and threadbare, but the suit underneath was expensively tailored, a politician’s uniform. His hair was tousled and a greasy gray mess. His eyes had the hollowed, lonely gaze of an insomniac walking through the hazy world.
We watched him, through the window, light a cigar and pull from his coat a small, worn book. Sipping and smoking he was at ease in the cold winter air. Who is he, we ask Jenny, the clerk, a college girl with that beautiful youth, the golden hair and bright eyes that haunted the dreams of old men. A regular, she tells us. He has a crush on Jenny, her coworker laughs, and Jenny hushes her. Don’t make fun of him, she says. He’s lonely. A widower, I think. Always comes in and drinks a simple cup. Always goes out there and reads the same book. Always smokes until he’s finished and comes inside for a refill, and then reads and sips inside until we close. He tips nicely.
We purse our lips and make jokes at the old man’s expense, calling him a fool and a fossil, mocking the curse of age that could come down upon us in a turn of the globe. When our drinks were gone and our asses sore from the hard, wooden chairs, we said goodbye to the clerks and left for our car out the side door, passing closely by the puppet man. A gray feather drifted across our path like a black cat.
We got in the car and pulled out onto the road and one of us asked the others if they had noticed anything odd about the old man, to which we made jokes but in the end, said no, and asked why?
I thought I saw wings below that coat, he said, and in silence we sat thinking, and it was deep in these thoughts that I crossed the white line that guarded the red light and the impact was instantaneous. None of us would ever have the blessings of that old man’s curse.