She didn’t know the girl, she was sure of it now. In the walk from the department store she had rifled through her memory, cross referencing facial features, hair style, voice, clothes, posture, gait; and found nothing. Now, she felt more anxiety, even more than she’d felt when she heard the comment as she marched through the cosmetics department. But now she questioned: had she heard it – would a stranger be so rude? Was it just her imagination running away with something she could not be sure of? Again the rifling started, the Rolodex shuffle; maybe she knew the girl, maybe…
She caught her reflection in a store window. She hated the way she looked when she was submerged in obsessive thought – her eyes looked smaller and her face longer, her chin tended to jut out. She thought she looked like a brooding old spinster at best, at worst: an angry man about to rampage through the streets. Not the desired presentation for a woman of twenty years who woke up this morning vowing to shine like the rising sun.
He was a big guy, tall and broad shouldered, his black jacket doing little to conceal the bulk. However, he was as shy as he was big, and more than that, sad and morose. He always looked like he’d just been crying, even though that seemed out of the question, as his personality was clearly cobbled from Gary Cooper parts. He would loom over his friends in front of clubs, looking about, almost disinterested, his shaggy hair falling into his face. Rarely speaking, he nodded his head at the bar when he wanted something, as if unsure anyone would respond to his verbal requests. He wished to take up as small a space as possible. Still, he was big, and his size brought with it a natural presence that, even if he’d rather it not, brought him some attention.
He had the air of the graveyard about him. Even if he was at a party, he looked like he was ruminating in a cemetery. There was something deep and dark on his mind, though not dangerous, and if anyone can be comfortable bearing such burdens, he seemed that one. Comfortable in a chosen skin; black leather, as it was for everyone in those days.
One evening he and his friends passed a vagrant outside a shuttered storefront. A week later he received one of those friends at his house, and when he had turned his back on his visitor, the friend noticed a stirring in an adjacent room. Quickly, thinking it an intruder, the friend rushed in and found the vagrant, unnerved but cleaned up a bit, and apparently staying in the abode. The friend turned to his tall and broad host, who, of course, said nothing, then the friend looked around the room. There were photographs, at least a dozen of them, affixed to the walls and leaning on tables, of a young woman the friend had never seen.
“You got somethin to say to me?” the friend inquired, somewhat pointedly. Predictably, there was no response, just the slightest bow of the head, which somehow completely took the edge off the moment. The friend inhaled as if to make another inquiry but held the breath. He turned to look at the photos before exhaling and, after grabbing the big guy’s sleeve, he left.
When the friends met up later that evening, nothing was said about the visit, nor would anything ever be said about it. Nothing really changed in the dynamic among friends, just as nothing had ever changed before, except in considering an incident which occurred shortly thereafter that would have never happened in prior times, in this way. A wisecracking bartender at a restaurant started in on the big guy, equating his silence for stupidity, The bartender made one crack too wise and two too many, and the friend who knew the secret lost his composure. Now, normally, busting up each other with put downs was the primary pastime among the friends and their acquaintances, but something, some small thing, had changed, at least that’s what coursed through the mind of the friend in the seconds that transpired while he grabbed the bottle of rye on the bar, smashed it, and started after the bartender.