DAY – OUTDOOR
HERB – Hey, what are you doing in this side of the park? I was heading your way.
This is Herb, late 70s, crusty on the outside but with an open-faced, warm, blue-eyed smile. He comes to the park every morning, or whenever the weather is nice, to read his paper and spend his sweet, retirement time.
MIA – What did you expect? Greg is playing the TV cop today and
told me construction is about to start on the Fifth Ave side. Better get your cart going, he just told me.
This is Mia, age unknown, face showing each of the several decades she’s spent in park benches and city shelters. Her life experience hasn’t exactly agreed with her and a sliver of bitterness always tinges her words, no matter what she’s saying.
These two have been friends for a while now. Somehow, the lonely old man finds solace in the musings of the street philosopher, and she has someone to talk to, after so many years of being ignored by folk who change lanes at her sight.
HERB – Cantagalo will finally face jail, it seems. They found 220 horses starving and sick in the outskirts of his stable. Can you imagine?With all the money he’s got.
MIA – Damn it if I don’t find a place to wash up today. I’m not paying $2 for another cold shower and no soap, no Siree.
That’s how their usual conversation goes. They’re always talking about something else but somehow, manage to keep track of what the other is up to.
HERB – Glad I went for the trifecta today, he says scrutinizing the Horse Racing pages. It’s Not My Fault sounds really good.
MIA – You old fool, I bet I won’t see no part of that purse, if you win this time, she says, snapping for a moment from her customary and endless cataloguing of the contents of her cart.
HERB – What? Are you nuts? Do you think I’ll waste my only chance of having a nice young lady joining me for dinner, so you can drag your stinking carcass beside me?
MIA – Old fool. I know, I know. I don’t get no respect but you’ll see, one day you’ll come begging to tag along and you know what I will tell you, don’t you?
HERB – Here you go again, for the thousandth time trying to make me feel bad, but this time I’m on to you.
MIA – I’m telling you, you’ll be the one crying then, just mark my words, she concluded before going back to rearranging her belongings.
They both keep silent for long stretches but it’s obvious all the banter is part of their Chemistry. Meeting each other is clearly the highlight of their day and they wouldn’t exchange that for the world.
HERB – I got a letter from Lucille today. They’re buying a new house with a pool. She wants me to move in with them.
Mia pretends she hasn’t heard a thing he said. She knows that he would never move with his daughter’s family. And that the really goal of the letter is to ask something from him. She just knew it.
HERB – Craig’s doing really well now. Have I told you he collects antique cars?
A million times, Mia thought about saying something but only muttered it under her breath.
HERB – He told Lucille my 69 Corvette is worth a fortune…
That’s it, Mia thought, her face suddenly lit with the realization she was correct, they do want something from him.
HERB – I tell you, I could go places with that kind of cash right now.
MIA – Yeah, go to the OTB and burn it all on another loser, she finally spoke.
HERB – No, I mean it. I could go to Italy, find my Sicilian family, maybe even buy myself a villa there. It’s always sunny…
Mia doesn’t wait for him to finish the sentence.
MIA – You know what? I think you’re finally losing it. What the hell happened when you went to visit them last summer, do you even remember?
HERB – That was different, those damn kids were all around and…
MIA – Different my ass, you thought you were going to die and all they cared about was your New York apartment. But forget, I don’t even know why I waste my time with you…
Herb remained silent for another while. He squeezed his eyes, to prevent the tears from swelling off. He was still a proud Vet, who served his country and faced all sorts of battles, to earn his place under the sun. And yet, he wasn’t sure there was ever one spot he felt comfortable in.
Mia stole a few glances towards the old man, making sure he didn’t notice it. She knew exactly where he was at, now. This one needs some scrubbing, she thought, examining a rusty iron pot, clearly one of her most prized possessions. But after a while, she turned back at Herb, just to make sure he was still there.
The old man’s white-haired head was slightly tilted to the right. What a handsome this poor trouper must’ve been in his youth, she thought, before stopping cold on her tracks.
MIA – Herb!…. Her voice fading, as if she already knew what just had happened.
Mia approached Herb, knowing he was not about to reply at this time, not ever. His train came suddenly to pick him up and they didn’t have time to say the proper goodbyes, she thought, while holding his hand and caressing his hair.
TO BE CONTINUED