By Jodi Bosin
It looks, of course, as though nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened.
Dark roast and conversation dance in the particles of space that shared what I had seen.
Appropriately incongruous, I first go – of course – to the last place I ever thought I would see, tucked away in the hall in the back behind the counter. Walls painted a sickly sort of tangerine and the kind of doorknob that turns the small room inside out. Had he been gazing at his morphing reflection? And what – what – had he been listening to? For some reason, this is the question that haunts me.
The summer before, that door had been locked. I think someone’s in there, the cashier had said. I thought nothing of it. And when a policeman came in I thought nothing of it. And when I heard sirens go by I thought nothing of them. A passing car, a passing thought between taps of the espresso maker and dings of the register. But the sirens didn’t fade away, and suddenly the taps were roughly removed and replaced by the shouts of a paramedic and tables being pushed against the wall where I backed up beside them in shocked solidarity. There were only a few other customers. A stretcher stood between us, before me, where the dish rack had just been. For a long moment it was empty, waiting calmly with bleached and open arms. Abruptly the paramedics pulled someone from the back hall. I stood leaden in front of them and stared. The owner was beside me. Is there something I could do to help? I mouthed uselessly, and almost even laughed. HAHA. There was nothing I could do and I knew it, but it seemed like the right thing to say. It wasn’t; He shook his head. I felt my skin grow pale as the paramedics pumped, breathed, brandished all the weapons they had against that obtuse force that we in our waking hours make a gracious effort to ignore. But here it was, and he was my age. He was my age and he was wearing large black headphones around his neck and his skin was sallow and varnished with the long, drawn-out sigh of the paramedics. A sickly sort of tangerine. As they wheeled him by me the owner to my right turned to me – why to me, I do not know – and said:
Yeah, he’s gone.
I stood by the wall for a very, very long moment before I picked up my book and left through the swinging door and the flashing reds and blues outside it. I thought only of a family on the other end of a landline somewhere in Somerville. Eight months later, I almost expect the building to be torn down, all of it, but it is alive and breathing and filled with blueberry lemon scones and the whirring of steamers, as it always has been. The wooden tables are still and silent, a memorial. Quiet onlookers whose insight I have shared. And I think to myself, again (and again (and again)): What had he been listening to?
A silent fire truck passes by the window; I can never know.