Agatha made a poor job of hiding the damage.
But Blind Guy was blind, and he wouldn’t immediately know she slept in the garden. The neighbors might say something, but generally they steered clear.
“Morning, Gene,” she called from behind the okra to a man across the street. Gene brought his dog out to pee same time every morning. She was almost always there but he never said hello. Gene never took his eyes off the dog’s rump as it nosed around his postage stamp of a yard.
Agatha looked down. The tomatoes were toast, laid out flat and wet — stains on the back of her shirt. Blind Guy planted marigolds to keep the rabbits out, but she’d tied two of them into her shoe laces. The morning was hot, she felt soupy under her arms.
Blind Guy was in the screen door. “Agatha are you in the garden?”
“Morning, Blind Guy.”
“Agatha I’m going to call the police if you don’t leave. I didn’t sleep well, and I don’t have time this morning.”
“Okay,” she said, thinking of the tomatoes stuck to her back. Normally she could wheedle out a conversation, but she had a package to pick up and it was already getting hot. “I’ll be back for coffee tonight then.”
“That’s fine.” And he disappeared back into the dark house. Agatha had never made it beyond the front porch, he never invited her. But she could smell the cumin and cat piss on his shirts when they sat together in the evenings, or down at the diner when he bought her coffee. With this she pieced together fantasies
Agatha loved Blind Guy and bourbon. Blind Guy because he couldn’t see that she had none of her front teeth. Bourbon because, god, it made everything so nice. When she fell asleep, the bourbon filtered sounds of the city, sirens, peel of passing car tires, air conditions in windows and made them pleasant. They reassured her the world was still there, warm, lovely bodies. People were alive and well, that she wasn’t alone.
She also loved the 42 Bus. It picked up just on the corner of Broadway by her house. In the middle of brutal July, she rode it all day, an air conditioned tour of the whole city: from the Plaza to the Stadiums, past the art museum’s explosive gardens and trees, down past the jazz district where it turns around and does the whole thing in reverse. Pulling on a pint of Evans, she spread out on the back seat and made a day of it.
Before she transferred to the 31 Bus on her way to coffee with Blind Guy, she made a special stop under the I-70 bridge where it crosses the Little Blue to pick up a package from her son who sometimes lived there. She found him with his feet in the water, leaning back on his hands.
“Barry, you got the thing?”
Yeah, Ma. Who’s it for?
How you holdin’ up, boy?
Well enough, Ma.
“You’ll have to meet him. He’s wonderful. Lives up in Longfellow.”
Barry loved rivers, cheap meat, and heroine, which is why he didn’t live with Agatha.
“Got any cash, Ma?” she handed him a twenty dollar bill, which he rolled up and stuck in his pocket.
“Stay cool, Barry. Get yourself some coffee.”
Will do, Ma.” He turned back to the river as she carefully stowed the little brown bag in her backpack, and started walking.
Around dinner time, she passed the diner. Blind Guy was in his usual spot, the first table on the sidewalk closest to the door. Pushing the fork around his plate he scooped scrambled gravy onto a biscuit and put it in his mouth. His enormous beard was combed and tied at the bottom with a bow. He had on a leopard print shawl, and shorts that stopped way above the knees.
When she sat down, he perked his eyebrows, he rarely had dinner guests. then smelling the bourbon, let his face fall.
“Hello, my love. Whatcha got tonight?”
“Oh…” He was blind, ugly, old, and gay. Loneliness sat in his chest like a lead weight. “It was just eggs. Let me get Maria. She has yours.”
And they sat together shaded under an awning rom the afternoon sunlight, sipping coffee, mostly silent. One was rather uncomfortable with the other, and the other loved him dearly. If all she did was love him for the rest of her life, that would be alright.
He didn’t know if she was the only person in the world who cared about him, but that wouldn’t be a surprise.
For long minutes they sat, Agatha happily mopping up the gravy with her biscuit. Then Blind Guy started in:
“Without simpiness, without forgiving, let’s mull over the notion of dying disgraced. Dying with the knowledge your memory is monstrous to most people you know. You won’t be incidentally forgotten, slowly slipping from day to day habits and reminders, but gladly left behind.”
Agatha sat spread legged, leaning forward in her chair, resting elbows on her knees. “I’ll remember you fondly”
“I said no forgiving, Agatha. Just think on it for a moment, tell me what you think.”
Agatha sat for a moment, staring at the sidewalk. A hot breeze rolled through, and the thin white hair on her head flopped from one side to the other.
When she was younger, it occurred to her she never told her grandfather how proud she was of him before he passed. Sadness welled up in her knowing that as much as she needed validation growing up, there was nothing saying we stop needing it as we get older. She pulls her backpack around in front of her, opens it up and extracts the little brown bag.
Blind Guy must have heard the crunch of the bag opening, but he didn’t react. Fully wrapped in shade, the bus boy came out began wiping down the tables around them.
Agatha fumbled with a little box, extracted a ring. She didn’t even think to look at it before now, she knew it would be perfect, and it was. She took Blind Guy’s hand, he flinched, but submitted. She pressed the ring into his palm and said, “I want to marry you.”
Blind Guy, who normally breathed through his mouth, snapped his jaw tight, and settled back in his chair. They became aware of the bus boy lingering, giving the tables a second wipe down.
“Please leave Matthew.” He picked up a stack of dishes and went inside.
Cars peeled by, and the robins whistled from the low, brown pear trees. Agatha and Blind Guy sat in silence again. Agatha was feeling soupy under the arms again, and was beginning to think using the restroom might be a good idea before she left.
“Agatha,” Blind Guy started. “Agatha, you can’t live with me.” She looked wide eyed, nodding.
“But”, fixing the button on his shawl, blushing, flustered. “Come and fix this shawl for me. I must look a disheveled whore.”
Agatha grinned a wide, toothless, stinking grin. “Of course, my love.”
Blind Guy paid the check, and the pair walked down the street, as they did almost every night in the summer. When they got to Blind Guy’s house, they walked up the steps, Agatha hurrying past the broken okra and tomatoes. She took a seat on the porch, her usual, waiting for him. Instead, Blind Guy reached for the door handle.
Her heart sank. She had been hoping for just a little more time.
“Agatha,” He paused to suck his front teeth. “it is much too hot out here. Would you like to come inside for some lemonade?”
She was gobsmacked. Unzipping her backpack she took out the little bottle of Evans and tugged at the rest of it. Then stood up.
“But first,” Blind Guy held up his hand and she stopped. “why don’t you take a shower.”
She warmed. “Of course, my love,” and went inside.