I do a good bit of my shopping in an unlovely nearby strip-mall, the sort of place that was erected to wonderment and balloon releases before I was born: after several face-lifts and revisions of the parking pattern, it’s just a jigsaw of one-off restaurants, big box stores and mystifying holes in the wall.
There was shouting coming from under the canopy that shelters the entrance to the pet food store: a little ledge underneath offers a place to sit, and the woman was walking away from a man huddled there. As I cross the lot he hurled an empty soft-drink bottle that clattered along the sidewalk in her direction. She halted and turned half around.
“I know you’re mad at me,” he said. I didn’t want to make a point of looking straight at him; he was hunched, in the universal blue stuffed coat that seems to be the uniform of homeless men, and spoke in the mushmouthed, resentful bark I’ve heard from a dozen street corners.
“No, I have to get to work,” she said. Now I could see the not-found-in-nature pink of her polo shirt and hello-I’m-your-server trousers and grooming; she was about twenty, not pretty, not plain, just the girl who takes your order for a fajita and Pepsi. I couldn’t quite get his answer. “I’ll be around later,” she said and kept on walking away. It seemed to mollify him.
I thought that was the end of that, but then: “I love you,” she said; the way you’d say it on the phone to someone a thousand miles away, or about to step through the gate to board an airplane that would take them that far. He didn’t answer.
I went into the store to buy kibble. I still don’t know what that was about.
The human heart is a sad, dark place. Or so it seems to me sometimes.