UNITED STATES—”Well, I was going around the corner and he was sitting on the sidewalk, nursing a beer. And he said do you have any change?”
“And then what happened?”
“I told him I didn’t have any. I said I didn’t have any, but I could go get some at my apartment.”
“That was very nice of you. There are not many people around that nice to do something like that.”
“So I went back inside. I came out and had a dollar bill. I gave it to him and he was so happy, he wanted me to have some beer. And he said, ‘Can I suck your dick.'” I said, no, that was OK. And it was enough that he was happy. And I retreated down the block by the Armenian school. He shouted I love you. He had a voice that carried through the branches of the trees. And I put my hand on my heart in gratitude. Hey, it’s not every day you get an offer like that.”
“Did I what?”
“Did you take the offer?”
“Yeah right… Well he turned up again a month later at the same place and yelled, ‘Hey, cowboy! Can I do it. Can I do it this time?’ ‘Not this time,’ I said and moseyed on and he called out clear and loud: I love you.”
“That was the last time?”
“No. Right after you told the story at Giselle’s party, he showed up again. That’s the difference between stories and life. The story ends, life doesn’t. There’s a niche over by the Armenian school. And there he was as I pulled up to call it the end of a day, the frayed end of the end.
When I didn’t want to see a soul in the world, just get inside call it a day after getting back from the studio. But there he stood, ‘Cowboy, give me a hug.’
‘Not this time,’ I said. I didn’t have an ounce of niceness left in me.
The last time I saw him he was in pretty bad shape. One cheek drooped, his voice was slurred not just from beer; he’d had a stroke, but that didn’t stop him from hollering, Cowboy, you must be six feet tall. You look like John Wayne,” and he never got tired of making a play, “Not this time.”
I’m getting busy, sometimes I talk myself into thinking I don’t have time. This last time I was already halfway down the block and couldn’t wait to get home. Then I looked back and saw the grocery cart tilted in the niche by the Armenian school and connected with the voice shrieking, crying out, ‘Cowboy, cowboy.’
I could just see the corner of the cart, but couldn’t go back. Later though, I did, leash up the dog and we went for a walk, and when I feared, dreaded passing by the nice it was empty. Poof, he was gone. A lot of times it had been like that: there for a little while and gone.
I think Giselle had been right when she had said, he’s a kind of angel who comes around to remind me to stir up the last embers of niceness.
Graydon Miller, the Wizard of Fiction, is the author of two story collections, the acclaimed “Havana Brotherhood” and “Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood.” https://amzn.to/2wMF1ax