Is it strange that the person I talk to most since moving to the city is a homeless man named John? That when depression strikes and I isolate for a few days, guilt grows that I’m not there to ask how he’s doing, listen to him describe his day, how tired he is, that he’s only smoked one cigarette that morning, he’s headed to the doctors Thursday because he’s short of breath, and could I get him some water?
I make it out yesterday to pick up the three dating books on hold for me at the library and buy groceries. I can’t resist browsing the New Releases and grab the new Jimm Juree mystery when it catches my eye. Just what I need–a favorite cozy mystery, light, well-written, a balm for a chaotic brain.
After checking them out I check out the Friends of the Library Bookstore. I want to see if anyone bought my donation, the Alan Bennett stories. Yes, nowhere to be found. That person’s in for a treat. I remember promising John I’d bring him a book to read. Surely something in my collection would appeal to him, but nothing looks right. He likes short stories, or says so to make me happy when I suggest them.
I scour the shelves but can’t find any. Then E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime jumps out at me. I want to read it myself. Would John? I circle the cramped room again and return to Ragtime. I pick it up and fan through the pages. The large font surprises me in a paperback but I like it. After skimming the summary, something about the days before the Great World War, I dig out a dollar and stuff it in the payment box. On top sits a stack of free bookmarks so I pick one, but someone’s written “vagrant” on it. I settle on a cheery one from an autumn arts festival.
I find John, head hung low, in a shady spot across the street. He lifts it when I call, hey, and a shy smile greets me. I ask how his weekend’s been. OK, moving up and down the street to escape the sun, tired in the morning, tired at night, a doctor’s appointment for my breathing problem. Oh, I brought you a book, and hand him the used Ragtime, pointing out the large print and reading the first bit of the summary. It caught my eye, it’s a classic, and I thought you might like the history, time period, rambling. Trying to sell him a free book.
Oh, I like history. Took it in school. Look, a bookmark, too. I know it’s not short stories but…Thank you. Thank you. I’ll give it a try. You need anything? Where you going? The Yes! market. What do you want? The other store. A small spaghetti. At the deli. And could they heat it? OK. Sure. And a water, please. OK, John. Be back in a minute.
Nice staff. Crummy store. Bigger selection, all crap, and overpriced. His small spaghetti costs six dollars. It’s what he wants. I grab a fork, water from the soda fridge, pay for them, and walk back to John, head hung low, reading the first page of Ragtime.