Before & After

He rarely took a lunch break, preferring to work straight through until 6:00/7:00. Had he been that busy? Graphic design does take time. He thrived on lattes and the creative boost they rushed. Then he was promoted to Art Director, and although he filtered out the design work to his eager team of recent art school grads, he still remained at his desk, reading magazines and Web sites and fielding client calls.

That was two weeks before the accident.

Now, he breaks the workday into two halves. He still picks up a third latte from Barry’s Bean on the corner, but walks on toward the park instead of taking a left to return to the office. He sits on the same bench, somehow always vacant, and is shaded by an immense oak whose limbs greet with thick shade.

He watches her from this bench each afternoon at 1:00. He had not planned on eavesdropping on her everyday, but now he can’t help it. It’s not a weird obsession or perversion, nothing like that. He’s not even attracted to her. But, he finds comfort in the schedule she maintains. As he sips, not realizing the singe of his tongue from the scalding liquid, she picks at her raspberry/peach muffin, plucking the edges of its top in a circular motion, round and round until the sugary crust vanishes revealing a center of sweet dough and chunks of fruit that stain her fingertips. She dusts crumbs away from the book resting in her lap, turning slowly each remaining page of few.

Sipping, picking, cooling, plucking. Their daily rhythm now in synch.
He recognizes her habits and studies her from a shaded distance of safety. He is a stranger sharing in the peace of their ritualistic comfort.

She never looks up to meet his eyes. He can’t see what color her eyes are from this distance and that is the question he leaves with today. Another day he’ll wonder her name, what book it is, where she lives, does she work, is she a student. Each day a new question to ponder.

And yet, by the time he returns home, he still lacks an answer. But it’s these questions that keep his mind surfaced these days. For now, he’s staring his way to a solution.

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