With fall weather, the wind blew in a series of landscapers hungry for work during the recession. They roamed neighborhoods all over the country with various tools in hand, hoping for something to do. It was pouring outside and the leaves were glued to the street when I saw him through my kitchen window. He was an elderly black man who walked slowly up the sidewalk with his rake trailing behind him. His shirt was soaked, his pants were soaked and his hair was matted to his head. He looked like a drowned cat. I knew he was walking toward my apartment before he approached the stoop. He had begun his journey around the block, knocking door to door, earlier in the morning. I watched as he spoke briefly to whomever was home. He stood on their stoop for only a few minutes before he was turned away.
He knocked only once before I opened the door.
“Hello, ma’am,” He said. “I was wondering if you needed any yard work done. I just…” he looked up at the sky. Water dripped off orange and red leaves leaving a contagious splatter of gray outside my apartment. “I just started out this morning when the day was clear, but I guess it’s not so clear anymore.”
“Well I don’t know about yard work,” I said. “My landlord talks to someone about it, but if you give me your number I can certainly call him up and see if he needs someone.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said. “I don’t have a pen on me. Can I come in and use a pen and paper?”
“Sure,” I said opening the door. It was only for a minute and he was soaking wet. I walked back to the kitchen to find my notebook. The warm glow of my lamp lit up the wooden table and yellow floral curtains. A mason jar full of roses sat in the middle of the room. My notebook was not there. “What did I do with it?” I mumbled, going through each one of my cabinets.
The man stood hesitantly in my living room. A low seated love seat lounged just below the window and he looked at it curiously. Mud caked the fake wood floors. “I’m going to take off my shoes,” he said, lowering himself onto the love seat.
How long was he going to stay? I wondered.
I started to say you don’t have to but he had already sat down to untie his laces. I rushed through the living room, still in search of a pad. “I know it’s in here somewhere,” I said.
“Any piece of paper will do,” he said.
“Yes, yes,” I said grabbing an old receipt from the bottom of my purse. “Now I just need to find a pen.”
I hurried back into the kitchen to search the cabinets once again.
“Ma’am,” the man called out.
“I hate to be a bother, but I’ve been walking around here for all day looking for work and I’m pretty worn out,” the man leaned against the back of the couch, his head resting on the window pane. “I noticed you got a coffee maker there on the table and I was just wondering… would it be okay if I had just a cup of coffee?”
“Well,” I said looking at the almost full pot of coffee. “Sure, let me just grab a cup. I know where those are.”
I reached inside the cabinet for a third time and pulled out a pink, melmac, tea cup. The only clean dish in the kitchen. “Gee – I’m really sorry about this,” I filled the tiny cup up to the brim. “I know this isn’t a very manly cup of coffee, but it’s the only cup I have that’s clean right now.”
The man took one look at the shiny, pink, tea cup with the dainty little handle and raised his eyebrows high up on his forehead. “That’s alright ma’am,” he took a gulp. I heard a hard swallow as he glanced around the room again. The living room looked like fall itself. Painted in muted yellows with orange furniture, it was autumn persevered all year round.
“I’ve just got to find a pen and we’ll be all set,” I hoped by the time I had found the pen he would be done with his coffee.
“Ma’am, you lived here long? You got some nice decorations around here.”
“Oh, not very long I guess,” I said. My purse. My purse had to have a pen in it. Why didn’t I look for a pen when I found that old receipt?
I walked back to the living room and started to rifle through the black leather Coach bag.
“You like art? Pretty lady like you, I bet you like a lot of pretty things. People always tell me to get some art in my house.” The man wandered over to a poster of Roy De Forest and stared, lost in the green jungle of time. “My place isn’t this fancy though.”
My purse was deep with trash. Lighters. Empty cigarette packs. More receipts. Loose dollar bills. Floss. I started to take all the items out, one by one. There had to be a pen in there somewhere.
“Aha” I felt the tip of something sharp and slippery. It was as if the very point of his being was suddenly founded on the tip of something relevant. Pretty soon he would be gone. “I’ve got it.”
But as I turned around, the man was right behind me, taller than I had imagined. He stood just a couple feet away with his arm outstretched. He handed me the tiny, pink, Melmac tea cup, the handle fitting just inside his pinky. The cup was fully drained.
“Ma’am, do you think I could have another?”
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