I was inclined from the beginning to like Robert. He was a writer, had been one all his life. His father was a state trooper back in the Old Bad Days as well as a federal agent—there had certainly been some sort of drastic split early on between the father and son, with an invalid mother fraught and tangled between them—but let me say, after a few moments with this guy, despite all my natural urges toward friendship and wanting to have another serious writer as a friend, I heard an inward voice telling me something different: get away and stay away. Do not become this person’s friend.

I was taken aback, seriously, at my own inner prompt. What am I talking about? This is a suffering fellow creature. I did not listen. I accepted an offer to visit and had coffee with him a few times over a short space of time.

I did visit him at the unutterably empty house he was trying to sell (“lawyer fees!”), to hear many unhappy tales of his non-American wife and how her joy consisted of enfeebling him. She tried to work against him, constellating his nights and days with all manner of misery.

As I listened to his grousing, I thought about how often fantasies of revenge seem to consume the minds not only of angry white guys but many Hollywood screenwriters. Word-fragments of revenge is all I got from Robert, a diffuse ill-will he never quite spelled out completely. It bothered me, and I soon stopped wanting to listen to it.

He had a young son and I was afraid I had heard, at one point, vague plans for a trip he might take after the divorce’s crushing finalities fell in upon him. Hm. Would he take his son and go, initiating an Amber alert in some other province?

I knew I didn’t want to befriend him when he told me of a game he and the boy played, when they were together, which was not often: it was a game, he pointed out, that helps a youth learn how to deflect aggression from others, and he explained the game using me as a replacement for his son. One person tries to touch the nose of the other, with the “learning” person blocking the other’s intruding hand. Though I can appreciate how one might benefit from this knowledge, I did not like this game. I would bet Robert’s kid did not like it, either.

The last time I saw him—though I am not certain it was he—was late last summer during the height of the drought. He seemed to have gained some weight or else wore more clothes than the heat dictated. Pale khaki shirt, sleeves gone, pants the color of a dirty tiger. Seated legs akimbo at a tight intersection not far from his old house, his non-cardboard sign lettered thus:


No cars were pausing, but it was a bad place to beg.


© 2017 Thomas N. Dennis

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