His blood was boiling. He could not take his eyes off them. Everywhere. Every unrestrained jiggle. Every poorly padded nipple. Every sweet, shapely ass. Every curve, every bulge, every stolen glance down the shirt. His blood seethed right behind the eyeballs and his lizard brain screamed its primordial mating call in the subconscious recesses of his self. There were beautiful women everywhere and he felt utterly powerless to resist them. The streets were a minefield of libidinous hazards. He had to hide or he feared his head might explode, hormones rushing through him, torrential, violent, powerful.
Yet, sitting there alone in the cafe sipping his tepid coffee and staring at the buxom brunette with the fancy Italian-named drink he could never hope to pronounce correctly, he suddenly felt very old. His suit felt like shackles, the unfulfilled dream of his squandered youth. His graying hair another reminder of his drained virility. His belly hanging over his 15 dollar belt a harbinger of the end. His sad, useless life in decline.
He wanted so badly to bury his face between the young supple breasts of the brunette he had been staring at for almost an hour that he could almost feel the warmth of her breath on his threadbare scalp and smell the secret drop of perfume he suspected she placed in her cleavage, a reward for any man lucky enough to find his nose there. But not for him. Never for him. His days of unrestrained lust were behind him, memories of the way things should have been but were not. Now he was relegated to the role of suffering silent observer. There was not a woman in the whole world that would look upon his tired paunch with desire and he knew it. And he felt it. He felt it in the very core of his loins. Everything was lost.
A look at his watch told him it was time to get up and go unless he wanted to be late for work. He wouldn’t have minded being late for work if he wasn’t so petrified of his boss, of the trouble that lateness would welcome. He never liked to have attention drawn to him. The less people around him knew he was there, the safer he was from their scrutiny. He folded his newspaper and walked toward the garbage can. Just as he passed the brunette’s table, she took a sip of her foamy drink and then said, “Oh, excuse me?”
Lightning shot up his spine. “Yes?” he answered lamely.
“Are you done with that newspaper?”
“This one? Yes.”
“Can I have it?” she asked, but all he could do was stare at the tiny spot of milk fluff on the tip of her nose. She noticed him staring. “Is that ok? Were you going to keep it?”
“Oh, uh, no. It’s just that…well, you have some foam on your nose.”
She reached up, felt her nose, giggled, and wiped it off. “Is it all gone?”
“Yes. Just be careful the next time you drink.”
She laughed again. “You’re cute.”
The lightning hit a tree in his heart that burst into flame. Inside him, the Santa Ana winds carried the flames from the tree across the hills, setting every scrap of dried, brown desire alight. He felt himself flush. He readjusted his glasses. He held out his hand, “Archie Greene.”
“Nice to meet you, Archie. I’m Samantha. You can call me Sam.”
“A pleasure. Are you a student?”
“No, a recent grad. Hard time to find a job right now, you know?”
“Don’t worry too much. You’ll find something.”
“To tell you the truth, I don’t really know what I want to do. Something fun and creative, I hope.”
“Well, my job is awful. You could have it if you wanted. A hamster could do my job.”
She laughed. His courage soared. She said, “You’re funny. You kind of remind me of my grandfather. In a nice way.”
Winter. Archie’s internal landscape snow covered and barren. All life drained. The fires extinguished. “Oh,” he said, hoping that the disappointment wasn’t too obvious on his face. “I should get going.”
“It’s been real nice talking to you, Archie. Maybe I’ll see you around sometime?”
“I come here a lot. They’ve got good coffee. Good luck with the job search.”
“Thanks. Bye,” she said with a smile.
“Bye, Samantha,” he said and walked out the door, knowing he would never come back to this coffee shop so long as he lived. He could not bare to encounter her again, to relive the rejection, the frustration so common to his miserable, forlorn joke of a life. An existence unsuitable for a dust mote, his life was one crushing defeat after another and this interaction with the young, beautiful brunette was just another example of how the universe had it out for Archie Greene.
He crossed the street into the park across from the coffee shop. On the ground laid a partially eaten bagel, cast aside for some unspecified reason. Archie sympathized with the bagel, felt its feelings of pointlessness. He picked it up, decided they wouldn’t miss him at work, and sat down on a bench under a tree. The day was bright, the air crisp, refreshing, the sky blue, the birds jostling for attention. He picked the bagel apart and threw bits out for the pigeons that reminded him so much of himself. Another castaway created by this society, yet unloved as a nuisance, pathetic, filthy. Just as the humble pigeon had outlived its usefulness with the extinction of the Carrier, Archie knew that he was obsolete. A relic.
Pigeons fought for the crumbs, making Archie feel worse for having inspired such antagonism in them. He had just wanted to share something with the poor, maligned birds, as he had wanted with Samantha, but all he caused was strife.
“Archie, you’re making those birds fight each other,” said a voice to his left.
Archie turned to see a dark haired man wearing an impeccably cut suit and designer sunglasses that Archie could recognize as expensive, but not place the brand. “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you here. Am I bothering you?” Archie said.
“Not at all. I’m quite enjoying the little display of aggression,” he said.
“It’s just that I didn’t see you sit down and…”
“Don’t worry, Arch. I have a way of sneaking up on people. It’s just my nature, I suppose.”
Something about this man seemed familiar, but Archie could not place it. “Do I know you?”
Archie tried to think of where he might have seen this man before. He didn’t recognize him. Maybe from a television show or the news? He had the look of one of those Hollywood actors he saw in the newspapers and magazines sometimes. “Are you on television?”
“No, but you’ve seen my work there, Arch.”
“Wait. How do you know my name?”
“Good guess? It doesn’t matter. Shame about the brunette back there. What was her name? Sam? That’s a fine one.”
“How do you know about that?” he asked. He felt both nervous about this strange man knowing so much about him, about the attention he was being paid, and a little elated that someone had noticed.
“I…overheard. Like her grandpa, huh? Brutal.”
“Yeah, that was a real zinger. I’m hardly old enough to be her father.”
“Women can be so cruel.”
“I don’t really have a lot of experience with women,” he said and threw the final bit of bagel out for the birds. He sighed.
“Would you like to come to a party at my place later?”
“Oh, uh, I…I don’t know what sort of impression of me you got but…”
“Nothing weird, Arch. Just some friends getting together. You seem like the kind of guy who could use a night out. Am I right?”
“Great then. Tonight at 9?”
“I don’t even know your name.”
“Ah, yes. How foolish of me, Arch,” the man said and pulled a business card out of his lapel pocket.
Archie took the card. It read: Morning Star. “Morning Star?”
“My dad was a real hippie. My address is there on the bottom.”
“You have your home address on your business card?”
“My office is the whole world, Arch. See you tonight? Great,” he said, standing. “No need to bring anything except yourself.” Then the man in the expensive suit walked away.
Archie sat and looked at the card for a few minutes, thinking that he would probably just stay home tonight. He never felt good at parties, even ones where he knew most of the people there. What would he say to so many strangers? Nothing. He couldn’t go. He had nothing nice to wear and he was sure that Morning’s friends were rich and educated and all the things he was not. No, tonight would be pasta for one, a DVRed episode or two of Star Trek, and then bed. No parties. And on a work night? No. He slipped the business card into his pocket and walked off in the direction of work.