Maury is on the sidewalk near the coffee shop this morning, picking up stray bits of paper and other litter and putting them in the pockets of his jeans. This is what Maury does habitually, but today it’s in the thirties and Maury is wearing a tee-shirt and a Day-Glo orange gimme cap. His denims are threadbare and his sockless feet are in worn slippers. I go get him and lead him back to the chair he usually occupies near the coffee shop’s fireplace. He’s shivering. His jacket is on the floor. I get him a cup of coffee and he nods at me.
I can’t remember when I first met Maury, but it’s been years, maybe more than a decade. He’s a big guy in his 60s, a mentally challenged man with friendly eyes that are almost always smiling, as if he could tell you something amusing and maybe important, but won’t. At one point he wanted me to ask out a woman whose boyfriend had just died. I demurred. A week after that, he told me I’d missed my chance; the woman had already found a new partner.
This morning Maury’s eyes are troubled. His hands shake but I can’t tell if it’s from the cold or from something else. I hold up his jacket and he slides into it. He sticks a hand in a pocket and pulls out a handful of shredded bits of paper, cigarette butts, candy wrappers, and a piece of metal that may have come from a bicycle derailleur. He looks at these bits of rubbish quizzically and I suggest he put them in the trash bin. He does so, and then sinks into his chair. I ask him if he’s all right. He doesn’t react. I stand next to his chair not quite sure what to do when suddenly his face shimmers back to normal. “So,” he asks, “What’re you doing for New Year’s?”
Years ago, my father fell victim to Alzheimer’s. He would often wander in and out of the present much as one might go aimlessly from one room to another, admiring whatever curios were there on display. He was sometimes lucid and sometimes not, and there were moments of anger and distrust. A recurring theme was that I was stealing his money. To allay his fears we would find the tens and twenties he had hidden in his shoes, under the silverware in the kitchen drawer, and between the towels in the linen closet. In the evening we’d go over his bank account statement line by line, and do it again the next morning. It was exhausting, depressing, infuriating. Today, I think Maury’s affect is very similar to that of my confused dad.
After a while, Maury rises from his chair, takes his wallet out of his jacket and counts the few dollars there. He looks at me shrewdly and says, “It’s all there. You didn’t rob me this time.” Then he gives me his plastic glass and says, “Can you get me some water?”
I do and stick a couple of lemon wedges in the glass. When I hand it to him, he smiles and says, “Just like my mom used to do it!” Then he claps me on the shoulder and asks, “What’re you doing for New Year’s?”
Nothing is planned this year, I tell him, and add that I might walk down Broad Street in the evening, if it’s not too cold. My small town has a celebration each New Year’s Eve, with a live band and food vendors. I’ve been there a time or two.
“Then I’ll see you tonight,” Maury smiles again. “You have a great day, buddy!” He hands me his glass. “Why are you drinking ice water? It’s cold as hell out there.” He winks at me and leaves.

About epiphanettes

Writer, songcrafter, possibly the best French pedal steel guitarist in Virginia.
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