Caught Me Monologuing by Eric Duong
I was never a huge fan of the color blue in the Wal-mart logo. Or maybe my eyes are especially sensitive to the fluorescent lights that reverberate off of the polished tile floors. I’m still convinced that they’re designed that way to keep customer’s eyes at shelf level. I exhale sharply. Partially because of the cold, but mostly due to the long memory of unpleasant exchanges I attach to this watering hole of working-class America.
Either way, I’m still sitting in my car this evening, parked at the Wal-Mart lot by the University. I share the space with several RV homes that for one reason or another decided to make this tow-free zone their final resting place.
A bare fist suddenly raps on my driver side window, causing my right hand to instinctually dive for the serrated knife clipped inside my jeans pocket.
Realizing that he has startled me, the hooded figure politely backs up. Three paces. I weigh my options and his temperament before opening the door, my free hand still tucked inside of my pocket. He coughs to clear his throat.
“Excuse me, I’m so sorry to bother, but I lost my glasses.”
“Um, I’m sorry?”
We both look at each other, mutually unsure of how to proceed. I comprehend that he was going to continue before I had interrupted him.
“Someone took my glasses, and I can’t see anything without them. Do you have any change? They’re like $90, and I got…”
Chafed fingers uncurl as he begins to count out the coins squeezed within them. I finish counting before him. Its 73 cents.
A different kind of sigh. It’s Saturday night. As a nervous tick, I flick the single button on my phone, but the screen remains dark, silenced by the expiration date of the Chinese lithium battery.
“Hey man, I don’t know how much I can help you with the glasses, but if you’re hungry I’ll grab you something to eat.”
The beleaguered hoodie draped around his frame does a better job of hiding the lean state of his body from view rather than protecting it from the cold.
“Winter’s probably going to get real bad this year too. Let’s get you some gloves while we’re at it, brother. Oh, and what kind of soup are you into?”
Another pause. This one is less awkward. His sunken brown eyes flicker in harmony with the beginnings of a wry smile.
“Oh man, I do love me some chicken noodle, thank you so much sir. I hate to ask, but could you by any chance also grab a beer or two?”
“Don’t think I’d feel right doing that, friend. I’ll get you the other stuff, though. Just sit tight.”
I return from the store with the survival package in hand and some tea for myself.
He waves in the general direction of a grouping of bushes that I imagine just outside of my line of sight. Obtaining a whole tent seems like a difficult enough task. Calling it home even more so.
He’s a storyteller and, in a past life, a registered nurse. There’s enough medical bills and alcohol in between those two points for my response to not be readily available.
I’m starting to believe that silence is often an appropriate answer, even when it’s cold enough to see your breath dancing in the artificial light. I wonder when the last time he really had a conversation was.
Within earshot, a gaggle of congested female voices cackle in response to an equally drunk male one. They probably just came from a party on campus. They walk past us, stumbling in on high heels and hormones, oblivious to anything outside of the youthful path of their own evening.
It’s not indifference. And yet, frustration and fear mixes in my gut like the smell of cheap tequila and IPA wafting off of my colleagues. There’s something unsettling about how neatly this world lets someone fall into the shadows. Some would argue that a greater power allows the faithful to drink in the company of friends, while others are condemned to do so alone, while freezing in a stolen tent. I’m not really in the mood to argue though.
He says he has a cousin down in Phoenix.
“I’ll get in touch with her, I promise.”
The name that he gives me doesn’t show up anywhere online. Maybe I’ll come back another time.