I Love You, She Said

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.

“Stop that!”

“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.

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11 thoughts on “I Love You, She Said

    • I am always seeing jigsaw pieces like this, or rather hearing them, more than ever since people got Bluetooth and walk down the street or stand at bus stops broadcasting their personal lives. But in those cases I only hear one end of it.

    • I realized after I had written it how much I was thinking of my late and ex husband — who was never hostile, nor ever drank, but ended up in one of those blue stuffed coats.

  1. Sounds like a down and out father and a reluctant daughter having a brief and unhappy meeting. I agree with T.E. S., most sad.

    • Do you know, the idea that it was a parent and child did not even occur to me — all I could think was that someone who worked in that shopping center had befriended the old bindle stiff, probably slipping him food from the restaurant and such, and that, as so often happens, he had become much more needy than she expected. My own father threw me to the wolves and never looked back when I was about that girl’s age; I think the turn of events just surgically excised that possibility from my head.

  2. Somehow I didn’t realize he was old, and remembered a couple I saw arguing on Haight once. Early twenties, very street. He had the aspect of existing as an artist and part-time dealer living in Golden Gate Park, while she was a little cleaned up for her joe job. The frustration of loving a man who will not stand on his own feet was written all over her pretty and rapidly aging face.

    • I kind of inferred age from the man’s general physique and vocal quality; I couldn’t be sure because I didn’t really get a close look at his face.

      I know all about that exact type of frustration.

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