He walked through the door, kicked off his boots, and gave me his hat. I put it on its very own hook. It smelled like horses and lake water. I told him to sit down and he agreed. He looked thirsty so I offered him some tea, to which he also agreed. We were hitting it off.
I placed the steamy cup of green tea in front of him. He tried to blow away the flecks of leaves so that he could take a sip but I told him that it was much too hot and that he should wait. He winked at that. We seemed to be tracking.
He wore a checkered shirt and a pair of black jeans. His chest pocket bulged from the pack of smokes that sat hiding. His face looked chewed up like an old deflated football. The wrinkles on his face nestled between sporadic whiskers. His moustache climbed to the peak of his lips and he spoke,
"Mind if I smoke?"
I blushed and waved my hands in a "do whatever the hell you want" fashion. He offered me my own and I took it from him like a US Olympian receiving a baton from his/her teammate. I picked it up, brushed it off on my jeans, and stuffed it firmly into my shirt pocket, right next to my beating heart.
The cigarette seemed to relax him a bit, and the tea had cooled by then, so he seemed to be enjoying himself as much as could be imagined given the absurd circumstances. I eased myself into the chair across from him and we sat.
After a few minutes he asked me about my family. I answered. I asked him about his flight. He asked me something about Airmiles, how they work, or something. I laughed. He wondered why. I reminded him of my son's name and told him that if there was an unexpected twin we could have called him "bonus Miles". He forced a grin... really forced it, and I mentally punched my brain in the crotch.
He cracked his knuckles, one at a time, and squinted at the photos on the shelf. Up on the shelf were 3 photos in 3 wooden frames. One of me and my wife and kid, another of just me and my wife, and another of just the boy. He looked like he was going to say something about them but then stopped himself.
He asked about the guitar. I got up and gave it to him. I sat back down and prayed silently.
Out of tune. I am such a loser.
He twisted and pulled on the heads and plucked the strings until it hummed. I closed my eyes, just for a moment, to thank somebody.
I heard a song I've never heard before. He sang and he sang, just for me. Something about redemption or being out on the road or gambling or something like that. His yellow nails plucked on every string like rain on a sidewalk. His head swayed from side to side like a sobbing child. His foot tapped like a wristwatch.
A few minutes later it was over.
I refilled his tea cup. I might as well have had an apron on.
He got up, and as he placed the guitar back on it's stand, he got a better look at the photos on the shelf. He stood there for a moment. Then he chuckled, as if he suddenly remembered something, or as if whatever suspicions he had about whatever was in the photos was true.
He sat back down on the couch and sipped at his tea, grining. His cigarette lay smoldering on an old magazine cover. The cover was waxy so I wasn't worried about a fire.
I asked him which one of the photos he was looking at. Silence. Then he turned to me and gave me a look that seemed to portray respect.
My mind flashed and I thought to myself. I wondered what he liked about the photos. I wondered if he admired the fact that I was a "family man", or did he think that my wife was way too good looking for me. Maybe he was surprised to see that I only have one child.
Maybe it made him envy me. Being a "rambler and a gambler" his whole life, out roaming, looking for a home. I have the albums. I've seen the movies. This man was lonely.
Was this really happening? Was he going to open up to little ol' me? All because of some family photos? Were things really that bad for him?
I calmed down and relaxed my tention. Somehow I seemed to be up to the challenge. Talking about life with none other than Bob Dylan! I would dive in and prepare for any trail that came my way. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a box of tissue near the couch. Perfect, just perfect!
Once again, I asked about the photos. He simply replied,
"From far away it looked like you and your wife were in that picture with a puppet! Now I see that that's no puppet, that's a boy! Good for you, mister."
He got up, thanked me for the tea, and walked to the door. I got up, raced to his hat sitting on it's little hook, and handed it to him. He slipped on his boots, slid on his hat, and adjusted it in the mirror. He pulled another smoke from his pocket and lit it up like James Dean would.
The door opened and he walked out of it.