by Douglas Clifton
I catch his eye and nod. He turns back to his newspaper. Christ! I only want the newspaper, not him. The waitress comes by with the coffee pot, tops off my mug, and walks over to his table.
“Refill, Sugar?” She grins. The ‘Sugar’ must be a coffeehouse joke he isn’t in on. He doesn’t look up, doesn’t even crack a smile, just holds his hand over his cup signifying ‘no’. The waitress stalks off.
No more coffee for him: good! Maybe he’s ready to leave. Will he leave the newspaper behind? He hasn’t turned the page in the fifteen minutes I’ve been watching. From what I can see, it’s the classifieds he’s been staring at: exactly what I need. If that section is so important to him, he may not leave the paper after all, and I’ll lose yet another chance to find a job.
What was I thinking, paying for a cup of coffee–even an ‘unlimited refills’ cup–instead of buying a newspaper? I can’t afford luxuries like that. But he obviously can. Look at him in his expensive suit, killing time, too important to indulge that poor waitress and her lame joke. He’s like all those others I’ve gotten a newspaper from lately after they cast it aside and walked away. If necessary, they’d just buy another. No big deal. Well, after being jobless for eight months and down to my last few dollars, it’s a big deal to me. Come on! I need that paper!
Sometimes prayers are answered. Just like that, he stands and walks out the door leaving the paper on the table still opened to that same page he was staring at when I came in, and who knows how long before. I snag it before anyone else can. Will this time be the charm? Will I find a job listing that might set me on the road to being that guy; someone who can buy a cup of coffee and a newspaper, read for a few minutes, then walk away without a care in the world.
With the newspaper opened to the classifieds, I do a quick scan wondering what had so fascinated him. For all his time staring, the only thing circled is a small notice in the lower right corner.
CRISIS/SUICIDE HOTLINE 555-9119
‘EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES’ heads several of the columns. ‘OPPORTUNITIES’ screams at me as I look at the door through which he passed, and out the window at the faceless crowd streaming by. Taking the paper, I rush outside, spot the guy, and catch up to him at the next corner.
When I touch his arm, he turns. Holding his gaze, I say, “You left this,” and hand him the newspaper, folded so that what he circled is obvious. He stands silent, but this time he doesn’t look away. I incline my head back toward the diner and say, “Buy ya a cup’a coffee?”
Douglas Clifton is a retired postal worker living in Covington, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. His short fiction, Angel of the Wal-Mart Big-and-Tall, appeared in the anthology NOT FROM AROUND HERE, ARE YOU published by The Cincinnati Writers Group, a literary review. Under the pen name D.B. Clifton, his stories The Last Watcher, The Night Of The Spear, The Lady And The Shield, and The Shield And The Shadow are currently available from Mind Wings Audio–an online audio publisher–and are also listed on the web sites of Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com., and various other online distributors. Together, those four stories form a complete, serialized novel.