A Walk in the Park
© 2012 Elaine Seldner
I do not know why I was wandering around Rittenhouse Square that morning at seven. Dad’s place was up on the tenth floor overlooking the square. Perhaps he wasn’t awake yet. I know I’d gone down for some coffee only to discover the corner coffee café, redundant as that seems, wasn’t open for any coffee at all. I’d tapped on the door. A tall fellow in a tall white toque pointed to the array of carafes with a shoulder-shrugging, open-handed gesture that meant, “Sorry. Not even perking yet.” Well. It wasn’t the end of the world. The day was bright and the park was certainly open for business. I don’t often linger in the square. I simply cross it on my way to & from my parked car, different paths from differing parking spaces and garages in the area. It’s not like this park is part of my home, to settle into and soak in the sun.
The restaurants in a row on the east side of the square, elegant and empty, were all fetching, but their goodies were locked away. The book store on the north side had its cozy nooks for feeding body & soul. But there was no access at this time of day. On the south stood the church with its lacquered red doors. I’d heard the PLAYER send out his bell notes of hymn. He practiced some afternoons and song would spread freely over the park. I’d only hear it if the windows to Dad’s place were open or if we were being quiet. His place was behind me now, the south side filled with apartment houses gently spilling early risers to work or jog or walk the dog. I had no purpose in the park. Waiting is no purpose. I began a tour through the square admiring the mature old trees, the design of the floral borders, the layout of paths and statuary, the antique kiosk once manned, now empty. All of this had been planned out in the Gay 90’s, I supposed, having the look of some Parisian pleasure garden.
I took the steps up to the terrace that held the ornamental pool, and sat at the edge. A man of middle age, younger than I, sat on the balustrade opposite. I got up and walked the short way across the wide path. He watched me approach. He had a quiet and alert demeanor. “Coffee?” I inquired.
“You got some?” Clearly, no.
“It’s time the shop’s open,” I indicated with a head nod.
“Sure,” he said. And I headed on a diagonal back toward the café. I hadn’t asked him how he took it.
He called after me, “Black is okay.”
I turned as I kept walking. “Black it is.”
The toqued tall fellow at the shop recognized me and explained, redundantly, that the coffee hadn’t even started brewing when I’d been at the window. He’d discounted his most eloquent gesture. “Take your pick,” he said, pointing to the display of identical urns. Each had a silver plaque hung around its neck . All manner of exotic names could be read, betokening nuanced flavor notes explained in parentheses below. I chose “rich and full,” and poured a prodigious amount of milk into mine. I wished then that I’d asked if he’d take it with milk.
I returned through the quiet park and handed over the cup. “Thanks,” he said.
We pried off our lids together. “How are you doing?” I asked.
“Oh, not so bad,” he averred. We slurped down a draft.
“Do you sleep here in the park?”
“Nearby. Sometimes. I move around.”
“How do you find a place?” I asked as my head tilted towards my coffee.
“Oh, you’d be surprised how many city buildings have a vacant spot nobody bothers to tend to.” I imagined gardening sheds, pump rooms, coal bins as I drank.
“You out of work?”
“Oh, yeah. There’s plenty of unemployed. I had a good job. Few years back I lost it. Then I lost my wife. I got kids. “ He’s nursing his cup. Not as eager as I am to finish up.
“Geez. That is tough.” I take a swig.
“Hardly a point in looking for a job these days. But I keep at it. This’ll turn around. There’s ups & there’s downs. God will provide. I just gotta keep going till things turn around.”
I suppose I gave him a look which, loosely translated would have said, “Are you sure about that? “ hopefully nuanced with, “ I half believe you’re serious,” because he then said, “I’m okay. Really,” followed up with, “It was hard at first. It was really hard when my wife threw me out…I miss the kids.”
“Do you get to see them?” I take another gulp.
“Oh, yeah, from time to time. The youngest is seven. My older boy is nine.”
“Oh, yeah. They’re good kids.” He takes a good drink.
“Oh, that’s good.”
“Yeah. Real good.”
We drink together.
“You going to be here tomorrow? “
“Probably not. I have plenty of places around the city.”
“And food?” I drain my cup.
“There’s the shelter, kitchens.”
“I get by. The churches have ‘em. Different churches.”
My cup is empty. His, too. “You want me to take that?” I indicate the garbage receptacle at the end of the path.
“Naw; I’ll take care of it.”
I wish him a good day and better prospects.
“Don’t you worry,” he tells me. “God will provide.”
Dad would be awake by now. It was time to get back. I looked up at his windows. I imagined him looking down. Just in case, I waved.