The man had been so incredibly rude. Bob didn’t realize how annoyed he still was until arriving home, he slammed the keys on the small table by the front door. He heard the metal exclamation as if with Jenna’s ears.
Emerging from the kitchen, dishtowel in hand, she said, “What’s wrong? You look upset.”
“Nothing. Just some guy.” Deliberately, so as to gain control over his irritation, he undid his tie while crossing the living room to kiss her.
Smiling, she said, “Just ‘some guy’ gets you all steamed?”
He announced he would change, and she said dinner would be ready in fifteen minutes, adding, “Salad and linguini with tomato sauce. I hope a light meal is okay.”
It was as they started in on the meal at the dining table corner of their apartment that he explained. “There was this blind guy standing at the corner of 12th Street, near the subway entrance. I asked if he needed help. He said he was waiting for a friend. I said, ‘Have you been waiting long?’ and he said, ‘Ten minutes.’ I have no idea how he knew ten minutes. Maybe those people have internal clocks. You hear about people who can tell the time without clocks.”
“Or maybe he has a watch,” Jenna said.
Hunched over her dish, as was her way when they ate at home, she said, “What does he look like?”
“Red hair, thirties, University of Florida T-shirt. No dog. Has a cane. Seen him around?”
“I think so. I’m not sure. Anyway, what made you so mad?”
Bob wound a strand of linguini on his fork. “So I said, ‘Sure your friend is going to show up?’ And he said, ‘She always has before.’ Well, I didn’t like leaving him like that. I mean, suppose she didn’t. Then what’s he going to do?”
“Ever the knight on his white horse.”
“Are you making fun of me?”
“I like it when you get on your white horse. Sometimes it’s funny, that’s all. What happened next?”
“So, I said, ‘If she doesn’t show up, will you know how to get to wherever you need to be?’ He gave me this big shit-eating grin and said, ‘Sure I know where I need to be.’ Which left me feeling pretty stupid. I mean, it was like it was obvious, which it wasn’t.”
“Obvious to him, maybe,” Jenna said.
“Right. But not obvious to me. So I was still in this, like dilemma. Here’s this blind guy waiting for some woman—his sister maybe—”
“Or girlfriend, or office colleague,” Jenna pointed out.
“He doesn’t work in an office, not wearing that T-shirt at six on a weekday evening.”
“So girlfriend, then.”
“Okay, or sister. Or just woman friend. Maybe they went to college together. Anyway, so there you are, in a dilemma…”
“Right, so there I am, and even though he’s acting like an arrogant son of a bitch, I don’t want to leave him stranded.”
“Sounds like he was telling you to do just that.”
“How could I? If you know how to swim and you see someone drowning, you don’t shrug and say, ‘If he wants to swim out that far, he must want to.’”
“Drowning and standing on a street corner are two very different things.”
“Not if you’re blind they’re not.”
“How do you know?”
“How do you know they’re not?”
“Okay,” she conceded, slicing an especially long strand of linguini, “I don’t. So tell me, what did my hero do next?”
“You keep turning this into a joke.”
“I keep trying to find out what happened.”
Bob paused to collect his thoughts. Jenna never made explanations easy. It was the teacher in her. Frustrating, but in the end it was why making the effort with her was worth it.
She’d asked that they not turn on the lights yet because she so loved the evening light at this time of year, even though it hardly penetrated into their apartment. Still, though her features were blurred, her fair hair glowed. He remembered how he’d first responded to her bright eyes and mobile features that one moment made her appear sly, the next filled with emotion. So familiar after four years, two of them married to her. So familiar that tonight he wasn’t sure if he saw those shifts in her expression or just knew what they would be.
He resumed. “I figure he’d gotten there by subway, with him standing by the entrance and all.”
“It might have been the woman who was coming in by subway,” Jenna said.
“Whatever, I said, ‘I guess you know how to use the subway,’ and he said, “Yes, I do,” like I was prying. So I said, ‘Here, let me help you with the fare.’ He said, ‘No need.’ ‘I’m sure,’ I said, ‘but let me help out anyway.’”
“Weren’t you being a tad pushy?”
“I was trying to help.”
Jenna stayed focused on her meal.
“Just trying to help,” he said, sensing what she wasn’t saying.
She looked up. “You’re a kind man.”
“And kindness is so overrated, isn’t it?”
“I’m not being sarcastic.”
“I know,” Bob said, by which he meant that although he hadn’t known, he believed her. “Well, I pulled out a five-dollar bill.”
She chuckled. “Enough for two subway fares.”
“If they made two-dollar bills, I’d have given him one of those. I said, ‘Here, take this. It’s five dollars.’ ‘No, please.’ Why ‘please,’ I ask you? Normal people say, ‘No, thank you.’ His saying ‘please’ sounded really aggressive.”
“Aggressive or firm?”
“You’re taking his side again.”
“There aren’t sides to take. I’m trying to understand.”
“So he gives me this aggressive ‘No, please,’ and I say, ‘Take it, please.’”
Bob waited for Jenna’s mocking grin, but her expression stayed neutral. He said, “I pushed the bill at him.”
“How would he know?”
“I guess I touched his chest with it. All right, I know, now who was being aggressive?”
Jenna gave him her neutral look.
“The guy stepped back. ‘Hey, careful there,’ I told him, ‘you’ll fall off the sidewalk if you go back one more step.’ He stopped, straightened up and guess what? He folded his hands behind his back. His cane was poking out behind his shoulder.”
“So, there you are, hand outstretched with a five-dollar bill, and he’s doing everything he can to say no.”
Bob objected. “You don’t say no to someone who’s trying to help.”
“So you say, ‘Thank you’?”
“Be decent about it at least.”
“Come on, Jenna.”
“You were in a difficult predicament,” she acknowledged, resting her fork on her plate to show he had her full attention.
Sensing her relent, he said, “An incredibly difficult position.”
“So what did you do?”
“I threw the bill toward him.”
“Did he catch it?” she said, amused again.
“It fell on the ground.”
“Hard for him to find, I imagine,” she said.
“I don’t know. He could tell the time, couldn’t he?”
“And then I came home.”
Jenna picked up her fork and went back to work on her linguini. “And the five-dollar bill?” she said.
“Probably one of the homeless guys who hang out there picked it up and….”
“Please don’t say ‘And bought a pint of cheap gin.’”
Bob put on his trademark fake grin. “I was going to say a tofu and kale sandwich. Mind if I turn on the lights now?”
“Go ahead. I hope his girlfriend showed up.”