A man exits the store. The door of the Hallmark closes behind him. He passes the decorated windows. Spring flowers. Pastels. He is heavyset. Moves slowly. Khakis, green shirt, sneakers. Little hair. He is smiling. A nice smile. A bag swings forward and back in his hand. Pleased with his purchase, he walks to his car. An older model. He has had it a while or bought it used. As the man opens his car door, the bag drops from his hand. Crashes on the concrete. He stares at the bag. Doesn't instantly move to look in it. His smile gone.
My son fell asleep in his car seat. That's why I am parked in the lot. Enjoying the quiet. I stash a book in the glove box for such occasions. But a man distracted me from my reading. I'm not sure why, really. Maybe because one rarely sees a lone man emerge from a girly card shop. But I think it was his smile. A beam, in fact. It occurred to me how little I actually see people smiling to themselves. It made me smile, too. Then my breath catches in my throat. The man's bag hit the ground. I am parked yards away, but with the window open I hear the clear sound of breakage. Moments pass before I realize my hand is covering my mouth.
His car door still open, the man sits sideways on the front seat. His legs outside the car. Feet on the pavement. He holds the bag on his lap. Carefully examines the contents inside. His face droops. Chin is shaky. His gaze shifts from the bag, to the door of the Hallmark, then back again. Debating. The man pulls out his wallet. Looks inside. Puts it back in his pocket. Sits. Keeps staring. Into the bag. At the shop door.
From where I sit I can't see inside the bag, but I know the store sells some expensive things. Porcelain figurines, crystal vases; pretty things kept behind locked glass. Probably a gift for someone he loves. Someone who makes him smile that way. I think he wants to cry. The man looks repeatedly at the store entrance. Go on, I want to say. Go back in and try. Maybe the salesperson will have a heart and replace it. When he puts his wallet away, I check my own. Fifty-two dollars and change. Would it be enough? Should I? What would I say?
The man stands. A decision made. As he walks to the rear of his car, he notices a woman in a parked car watching him. He casts his eyes away. The man opens his trunk. Gently folds the bag over, like a burrito. Nestles it into a corner. He returns to the front seat. Closes the car door. Drives away.
I consider waving. Honking. Instead, I do nothing. Just watch the man's car cruise slowly out of sight. I stare at his empty space. Then peek at my sleeping son. A phrase I heard earlier in the week comes to me. From a puppet show I took my son to see. A modestly staged affair. Free. At the public library. The puppeteer said it at the end of his performance. Be good to one another. Words meant for children.
The book in my glove compartment was Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir by Lauren Slater. I remember seeing the man, and there was something wonderfully sweet about him. He seemed like the type of person who might never be written about but should be. Watching him felt a bit like watching a one-man play. So, I decided to write his sections almost like simple stage directions. Since the incident was so brief, I wanted to reflect that by keeping the writing succinct and the pace quick and choppy. Thank you for reading it.