Some Big News

  1. From a slight distance, the sea looks like foil with sailboat
  2. leftovers. The sails are down as though the boats are
  3. grieving. I wonder if I’ve missed some big news. The
  4. people in the coffee shop didn’t strike me as especially
  5. aggrieved. They were just gabbing. One of them was extragabbing.
  6. Her son seemed a little off. He was behind me in
  7. the coffee line, dressed for a job interview or as a Mormon.
  8. He ordered exactly what I’d ordered. Just before
  9. commenting on this coincidence, I realized that the manner
  10. of his copying was strange, as though until I’d ordered he
  11. didn’t have a clue what sort of coffee he might want. The
  12. strangeness was confirmed when the barista asked if he
  13. wanted anything to eat with that, and he stammered, as
  14. though this were the most impossible question in the world.
  15. If I’d ordered a sesame bagel with veggie spread, I bet he’d
  16. have ordered the same thing, confirming my nearly initial
  17. suspicion that his copying was less flirtatious than born of
  18. desperation. Maybe he was grieving. His mom was still
  19. gabbing like a rooster, hours past sunrise, as though sunrise
  20. were just one moment among others, like she just didn’t
  21. care or notice. He joined his mom at the table and buried his
  22. head in the local paper. If it had been the Help Wanted
  23. section, his outfit would have made more sense. Not that
  24. anyone dressed up in this town; not that any interview here
  25. would require the getup. He was immersed in what seemed
  26. a completely random page, neither about jobs nor any
  27. particular disaster. If it had been a disaster, the font would
  28. have been larger, so I could read over his shoulder: this
  29. being why disaster headlines were in larger fonts than those
  30. of other stories, so more people know. This is how word got
  31. round. As I left the coffee shop, my best guess was it was a
  32. feel-good story about a do-gooder. Besides the boy
  33. reminding me of Bartleby, everything seemed fine. Maybe
  34. the boy would never leave the coffee shop. Maybe the
  35. coffee shop would have to set up across the street. Maybe
  36. the boy was the disaster, cause for the lowered sails. Maybe
  37. everyone knew the boy was the disaster but wasn’t letting
  38. on; or maybe nobody, including the boy, knew he was the
  39. disaster. They could have been covering something up.
  40. Nearly everyone is capable of this, especially in such towns.
  41. I met a woman once who lost everything in a fire, and she
  42. just kept on playing croquet, bantering about her child’s
  43. recent graduation from Bowdoin, Bela Fleck getting an
  44. honorary degree, how wonderful for a banjo player to be
  45. given such a thing. We wondered if other banjo players had
  46. ever achieved such distinction. We couldn’t think of any.
  47. She roqueted my ball into the privet. I roqueted hers into the
  48. ocean. We laughed and laughed against the coral sky. No
  49. one at the party would have guessed her child was in the
  50. fire. Snoopers were trying to figure out if the child had
  51. survived. Others were mentally drafting intentionally vague
  52. condolences that sent the right message regardless. She had,
  53. after all, lost a lot of things. Nobody wrote “I wonder if
  54. your child is alive,” though everyone thought it. There was
  55. no way given the circumstance of getting answers. All of a
  56. sudden I heard down the sidewalk what sounded like Carl
  57. Orff. It was an enormous number of kids with parents, or
  58. teachers, or given the season, kids and their camp
  59. counselors; or given the town, kids and their nannies, or
  60. kids with other kids who were too old for the swim team.
  61. Depending on whom one asks, there’s either a troop or a
  62. shrewdness of apes. There’s a culture of bacteria, a brace or
  63. knob or volary of birds. There’s an army of caterpillars, a
  64. troubling of goldfish, a romp of otters. What do you call a
  65. bunch of kids? Everyone, including the adults, was holding
  66. a yellow piece of paper. Everyone was chatterboxing. There
  67. might have been a few quiet ones. When I was a child, I
  68. was one of the quiet ones until I put away my childish
  69. things. But even the quiet ones were holding yellow paper,
  70. like it was obligatory, like a scavenger hunt. If I were on a
  71. scavenger hunt and had to find a bunch of kids, I found
  72. them. Maybe they were grieving. Maybe it was another
  73. cortege and they were doing their best to hide it. They were
  74. doing good jobs.