Talking to Strangers

I look down at the loose change in my hand. A few quarters, dimes, some nickels, and a load of pennies. Should be enough to get something from a dollar menu. The long trek home from the bus stop wasn’t bad today considering it was technically still summer. Rain rolled through the day before, and, with it, came a slight cold front.

I pass the gas station. I don’t have money for a candy bar. Will power.

Darcy had been a bitch at work. I know I’m new, and kind of clumsy, but they are supposed to train you. If she would just help a little, I would be an asset. Four days in and she already expected me to get a report done…in an hour…when no one has shown me the software, despite my asking.

I pass the church. 

My feet ache. Shelby told me to bring comfy shoes for the walk. I just can’t imagine wearing a casual skirt and a button shirt with sneakers. But then again, I keep all forms of makeup in my bag for touch-ups through the day. Shelby’s not that kind girl; comfort over composure she says. I think of my mom, all those years pulling her hair into a tight bun. She didn’t believe in comfort.

As I approach the cemetery, I see a man, presumably homeless, sitting on the signage out front. His head is down, his back sags heavy. Normally I spare change when I can, but I can’t today. I have to hold out for that two-week paycheck. I expect to have to deny this man money as I walk by, but he doesn’t acknowledge my presence. I continue, pass, then pause. 

There’s something.

“Sir, excuse me, sir.”

He lifts his head, looks at me.

“Uh, oh, I don’t know what I wanted, I saw you sitting here, and you looked defeated. I just wanted to talk to you.”

His back straightened. “Oh?”

“I mean, everyone has bad days, and I hate seeing sad people, especially when you don’t know if they have anyone to talk to.”

“Well that’s all right. I don’t know if I would say I’m sad, but you’ve already made my day a bit better.”

His name is Al and he’s been all around the states. He said his wife was in the cemetery and he wanted to say bye. He was getting ready to hitch a ride far away and didn’t know when he would get a chance to visit again. 

I look over the headstones. Some flat and new, some sticking from the ground in arcs, statues, towers. There are a couple of monuments tucked in the corners. “My mom is buried here too.”

“I’m sorry to hear she’s gone. You’re young.”

“I am. She was, too.”

We are quiet for a while. I enjoy the stillness with the stranger.  He has a comforting voice, a soothing soul. I wonder where he’s headed, but I don’t ask. He knows where he’s going, and I know where I’m going. That’s all that matters. 

I reach my hand in my pocket, pull it out holding my loose change. 

“Here. In case you want to grab dinner on your way out. It’s not much, but it’s all I have.” 

He protests. I try to insist.

He holds my hand closed, then lowers it, looks at my pocket. “You need it, you need to eat. Besides, it will do me no good anyway.” 

“You don’t have to be like that. I know it’s meager but it’s literally all I…”

“I know, I know Martha, you don’t have to explain.”

I yank my hand from his, take three steps back. “I never told you my name.”

“When you are what I am, you don’t have to ask. Thank you for talking with me.”

He seemed so normal before. Great. What did I get myself into? I don’t have anything for self defense. I step back, one foot at a time, hoping he doesn’t try to hurt me. I’ve heard the bath salt stories.

“Tsk. Tsk. I’m not going to hurt you Martha. You were kind. You are safe.”

I continue adding distance between us. A young man is walking our way on the sidewalk, and I consider yelling a warning to him, but then I feel silly. This man hasn’t done anything. He’s just a little off is all. I’ll be fine. I just need to get away, get home.

“It’s too bad. I rather enjoyed talking with you. Maybe I’ll see you again someday.” He winked at me, then jumped up and crouched on the ledge where he had been sitting. In fractions of a second, he leaps in the air, is upon the young man, then they’re just gone. A smear of darkness passes my vision and disappears into the cemetery and surrounding trees. I stand there, stunned.

What did I see? Who do I tell?

I hold my neck, out of instinct I suppose, pop off my heels, then scuttle as fast as I can the rest of the distance home. 

 

THE END

 

Copyright WB Welch – All Rights Reserved

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

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