Elephants Are Bigger Than Mice
The elderly gentleman sitting in the corner of the Wiggin Street Coffee Shop readjusts the watch on his wrist and checks the time. He is reading the New York Times and turns to the next page. Something about the deep vertical crease on his cheek draws me. He rubs the corners of his eyes, pushes the loose skin back towards the edge of his hairline. His brow is bushy, thick, intense as he devours the contents of the newspaper. His glasses are on the low table in front of him. He must have already finished his coffee–there is no cup on the table–or maybe, he never had one. Next to the gray recliner in which he sits is his semi-folded wheelchair. A barely-worn beige fishing hat is perched on top of the chair, the black string dangling to the floor. He dons a full head of silver hair that mops lazily over his forehead.
I wonder how his life brought him to this moment, to this coffee shop, to this tryst with the newspaper.
Maybe as a young man, he was an army general and led scores of troops through enemy territory in an overseas war.
Or maybe he was a famous musician, the lead singer in a band, the one whom all the girls adored.
No, no. . . maybe he was a racecar driver, the winner some year of the Indy 500.
But today, he just sits reading the newspaper in a coffee shop on Wiggin Street. When he finishes the paper, he folds it neatly and puts it back on the side-table to his right. He slowly lifts his glasses from the table and puts them on before wiping his upper lip with the back of his hand. He fishes for a square travel-sized packet of Advil that has fallen on the floor underneath his wheelchair. His long aged fingers require several tries before they close on the packet. He again checks his watch–must he be somewhere?–puts the packet of Advil in the left pocket of his cargo shorts, and gazes out the shop’s front window. He is interrupted by a young woman who enters the coffee shop–he watches her as she pulls open the door and saunters inside.
I wonder if his five-year-old self could ever have imagined the man he is now. What does time mean to a five-year-old? When I was five, I thought that people lived forever–or at least the people I loved–but I soon learned that isn’t true. Maybe he thought he’d be a world-class surgeon, or a crime-fighter, or President of the United States.
But maybe he wasn’t any of these things. Maybe he spent his life as a working-class stiff who did all he could do to put dinner on the table and buy his kid a new set of toy cars on his seventh birthday. Maybe he kissed his wife goodnight every evening and had a shot of whiskey before crawling into the too-small stained bed in their fifth-floor walkup. Maybe he was scared that he’d go to work the next day and there wouldn’t be any work, and maybe he got so angry about always wondering that he punched a hole in the wall a time or two, the plaster crumbling onto the cold tile floor. Maybe he stopped caring and had to remind himself what it means to be somebody’s son, somebody’s husband, somebody’s father even when times are tough. And just maybe the sparkle in his baby girl’s eyes made him feel like he had a million bucks.
Today, an old man gazes out the window of the Wiggin Street Coffee Shop before reaching for the arm of his wheelchair. He yawns. Why do I need him to be the stuff of legend? Can’t a guy just sit in the coffee shop enjoying the newspaper, the culmination of a life generally well spent, with hopes and fears and dreams and regrets like the rest of us?
Just maybe, this is enough.
Christine Taylor, a multiracial English teacher and librarian, resides in her hometown Plainfield, New Jersey. She serves as a reader and contributing editor at OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters. Her work appears in Modern Haiku, apt, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Rumpus, Eclectica, and The Paterson Literary Review among others. She can be found at www.christinetayloronline.com