The Unending Last Sip

It is four o'clock, and later than I wanted it to be.

I took too much time trying to mitigate the bitter edge off my orange crema, and the waitstaff has begun to show. A couple of the staff will come by to say, "Hello", and maybe ask me what I am working on. The younger ones ignore me altogether. They will apologetically crowd me out of my small workspace in search of the ciabatta for service.

I wonder about the averted gaze, not sure if it is because I have become too long in the tooth or unrelatable to even attempt a pleasant interaction. Though, I have to say, if I am approached, my tone is often...helpful, but short and dismissive. I have always been this way, so I have to ask myself, why would they even bother with me.

Interrupted, I get a text.

"You okay?" Asks my wife.

I respond with, "Cleaning up right now."

Before I pack up the custard, I smell it with my eyes closed. I am hoping to feel the Italian sun again on my face, but knowing very well that I can't save it. I will have to try again tomorrow. This signals the shuttering of my work day.

I can already tell I am going to miss dinner. A portion of popcorn rice and sauteed chicken thighs will be left on the counter, the fats pooling on a white plate, congealing with impatience.

Leftovers are something I despise, reminding me of the begrudging clean-up after the party. Fork and knife plodding a meandering path through old food, reminding me that the guest have left for home, leaving me to police the living room for watery glasses of rye bourbon and wadded up napkins. The thought makes me press a little harder on the accelerator.

Late afternoon, humming down the highway, I am just over an hour into my commute when I reach the service road. Almost home as I move to the exit. I notice a tinge to the skyline, it is a mouse shit brown. The flatulence of loose soil and cement dust picked up and blown across empty lots and into the eyes. The skyline diminishes in light and the entire expense is going dark.

My vehicle whizzes by some storefronts that line the service road, before the street breaks into a vast gated development of faux Tuscan structures. There is not a grapevine in sight, and after that, there is nothing but cemeteries.

I look to my left, and in the long grassy finger that separates I-35 from the service road stands a man. He is shirtless with skin as dark as chestnuts. I am close enough to see the curls of his black hair rimmed with blown soil. He is so god damn dusty. His pants whip around his spindly legs as the traffic flies by him. For a few seconds, I have a three-quarter view of this man, standing shoe less, legs planted, eyes wide and howling at the oncoming traffic.

The man, though now I can tell he is still a boy, barely 30, is looking, searching, and so very focused. Catching, I can only imagine and holding a driver's eye. His body goes taut against the wind, a single-arm moves diagonally, fingerpad to the sky, and fingertip aimed at the driver. Then it is both naked arms shooting out in a repeated but measured gesture, all to relay the curse.

If my son had been in the passenger seat, close to me, right beside me, I would have covered his face with my right hand, knocking his wireframes to the floor. My fingers grabbing, holding, forcing his round face-my face to notice his knees. There would have been a scrabble between us and shouting. He is still a good boy and would only ask me to let go.

After our passage and the recovery of his glasses, I would apologize. I would have told him there was something I didn't want him to see, something I didn't want him to carry. Obscuring the truth that what was being tossed out to anyone who looked, was the foulest gesture. This would have been an image I wouldn't want him to come back to.

He would ask me for an explanation, what it was that I thought he shouldn't see.

"A man. It was a young man in the road. He was troubled, very close to the end of his rope. A man full of justifiable malice." This is what I would have said.

I know that man, though not well, and not entirely. Once, I descended to my decrepit basement in Western Massachusetts, and placed my forehead against a dark corner. There was green peeling paint stuck to my cheeks as my nose and mouth ran snotty. I was defeated from the unending chase. Everyone gone, again, deep pharmaceutical sleep on filthy living room floors, short walks off of tall bridges, and Last Call at the morphine bar. I was left feeling nothing but the slide of chafe between my fingers.

In the end, I still have the basement, I still have a shirt over my shoulders, a pair of shoes, and someone kind enough to leave me a plate of cold chicken on the counter.