Not long ago, I stood in the office of Records Management in the Indianapolis City-County Building and watched as a man with crooked glasses punched my name into his computer. It was spring. A bright blue sky, sunlight danced between the glass and steel of the taller buildings. I was there in the sub-basement to search for criminal records—my criminal records.

Outside it was sixty-five degrees. The landscape was turning green, flowers were blooming—everything was being renewed, coming back to life, starting over.

 

“The drugs!  Ditch the drugs!  He’s coming!”

When Pete doesn’t immediately comply with my frenzied request to jettison the narcotics I grab his backpack and attempt to throw it into the brackish water.

“Take it easy man,” he says, wrestling the bag away from me. “We’re gonna be fine.”

Stanton has no reaction. He silently and expressionlessly pilots the boat from his position in the back.

Seized by terror I pull my knees into my chest, bury my face between them, and tell myself that if I don’t look at the boat creeping ever closer this nightmare will somehow end.

“You’re paying, right? Remember you promised to take me out the other weekend, but we didn’t go so this can be to, like, make up for it.”

She pulls the crust off of a piece of garlic bread and dips it into her pasta’s sauce.

I resist the urge to slap her and call her a cheap bitch.

She takes the piece of garlic bread she’s de-crusted and squeezes it. The oils run together and dribble onto her fingers.

The waitress drops the bill on the table, smiles and goes back through the swinging doors into the kitchen.

“You were totally checking her ass out.”

It doesn’t seem worth denying.

“So you know that internship I applied for in New York, at the advertising firm? Well, I got it.”

I take what is left of my potatoes and flatten them out on the rim of the plate. I want her to acknowledge how smooth I’ve gotten them.

I smirk.

My silence has no motive.

“Well, I accepted it. I’ve always wanted to live in New York, and it’s a really good agency. It’s such a good opportunity for me.”

The power in the relationship long ago shifted to her, meaning she has less to lose if it ends. To me, being in a relationship makes it feel like I somewhat have my shit together. At least I’m a capable enough male to attract a mate.

I look at the bill and try to calculate the tip in my head.

“Seriously, are you even like, listening? Do you have anything to say about what I just told you?”

I can’t be sure if I do or not. The emptiness I feel seems to be aware only of itself.

“I was also thinking it’d be best if I did this on my own. I don’t want to be tied down to anything. It wouldn’t be fair to me or you. I mean, maybe you can come visit me. It’s not like I want to stop talking. Let’s just see how we both feel when I get home.”

I carve a geometric pattern into the potatoes. It looks a bit like Sumerian runes.

“I leave for New York in two weeks. I don’t want to not see you, but it may be harder, you know? I mean, it’s not like we can pretend I’m not going away, that things are normal.”

She hasn’t used the words ‘breaking up.’

I think about what the waitress with the nice ass is doing and realize how a restaurant is all these different worlds depending on one’s role: patron, wait staff, cook, dishwasher, manager, hostess, but nobody ever really considers another’s because they’re wrapped up in their personal universe.

Nobody’s reality can be felt by anybody else, which goes a long way towards explaining human relations. I have all of these ideas in my head, but to somebody else I’m just a body. A lump of flesh. Not them.

“I don’t know what else to say right now. I should probably go. Just think about things, OK? Let’s talk in a couple of days.”

She stands up and puts on her coat. As she walks by she puts her hand on my cheek and looks at me sadly, then leans in and kisses me not quite passionately, but more than a peck. “I’m really going to miss you.”

It’s not until I get home later and lay down on my bed that I start to cry, and even then it feels like my body is doing it on its own, as if I have no say in the matter.

Hardened bread crumbs burst into fine white powder, sprinkling to the ground. Seeds crack under the weight of jaws clinching, and in an imperfect circle the birds gather round the old man and strut mechanically, their fat necks jerking. They welcome him as if he is one of their own, and he in turn accepts their embrace, and feeds them grain as everyday, assuredly white proso millet and milo for the dark-eyed junco.

The sky is layered pink then orange then blue with clouds of white cotton and gray mastheads splotched throughout. A slight chill fills the air like a cold hand on the back of one’s neck unexpectedly but is otherwise refreshing and silky as it passes from the nostrils to the lungs and presses against the gut.

Crouched, the old black man talks to the birds in low whispers as if they are his children. The birds of variegated species listen attentively, cocking their heads momentarily at his voice and scoop with their stout beaks into the ground seeds threaded underneath blades of grass still wet with dew and they mash the seeds near into dust, and the wet, green blades turn white with chalk.

Laggardly, the old black man rises from his crouched position in Washington Park and stands as erect as the arthritis buried deep in his joints will allow. Muscle, bone, and tendon like toothed pinions within a three wheel skeleton clock turn slowly but surely, never faltering though their movement so supine you are certain will one day just stop, the hand of the clock ceasing, time standing still. The body no more.

He stands upright and looks over his shoulder in my direction. Even from afar, I see the crow’s feet carved into his skin on the sides of each eye, brown and deep. His eyelid hangs droopily, weighted down by age and gravity, the skin loose. His eyebrows scrunch almost touching, three wrinkles to each side of the center of his brow, as he tries to make out the other figure in the park.

I had, for about a week now, been coming to the park each day around 4:00 PM to sit and watch the old man. I watched the way the birds greeted him each day, welcoming him as if he were one of their own, birds of one feather.

The old black man spots me. His arm shoots into the air, waving. I wave back. And he turns around and again reaches into his pocket scooping seed out for the birds and they flutter around his body, wings spread then tight against their bodies.