You and I see a man sitting on top of a garbage truck, no shirt, yelling.
You ask me if I think he’s just some random person taking a joy ride or if he is an actual garbage man (it’s probably just some random guy who jumped up there without the real garbage men knowing), laughing lightly as you ask as if you don’t really care to know but are just making conversation.
I tell you that he must be a garbage man, that no one gives a damn if his shirt is on or off. Would you care if you were the owner of a garbage disposal company and your employee decided to throw concern to the wind and strip, to fight off the August humidity in any small way that he can? Of course not.
You and I see a man in a suit and briefcase walking through the city, by himself, at 2 a.m.
I ask you if you think he is lonely. I flex my calf muscles, alternately.
You say no, maybe not, maybe he is just out working late. You push my knee down with your fist to settle the twitching.
I say that I wonder if someone is waiting for him at his apartment, sitting up in bed and cradling a book in his or her arms as if the book were the loved one he or she were expecting, just waiting for the man in the suit to come home, not being able to sleep because he or she needs him right up against him or her to fall into any sort of comfortable slumber, requiring his warmth, even though he or she gets quite hot at night and requires the use of a fan on high speed in order to sleep, that he or she needs him that much to suffer the side-effectual sweaty armpits and swampy forehead.
You say, That is possible. You touch my knee with your entire hand, no longer a fist, touching with every square centimeter of your palm as if drawing some invisible energy out from beneath the skin, but not cupping.
But, I say, That can’t be. There is no way possible that That could be. There is, undoubtedly, no one waiting for him.
A pigeon sitting on the adjacent bench sticks its beak inside a plastic bag and gets the bag stuck over its head. It seizes.
Why can’t That be, you ask me, scratching the inside of your wrist with the business card with the name and address of the realtor.
I tell you that he must be alone, that there is no one at the apartment waiting up for him. If he had that person, if he or she were in their bed cradling the book as if it were the one he or she were expecting, he wouldn’t work that late, missing the opportunity, missing spending the invaluable time sitting next to him or her on the couch watching their favorite sitcom together or reading next to each other, drinking Sambucas out of chipped glasses. Or something.
Yes, you say, maybe he is alone. Your hand is still on my knee, palm flat.
Yes, he must be. I say, loneliness is a brutal thing in a place like this. My kneecap spasms.
Loneliness is just a reflection of you being incapable of being by yourself, of being uncomfortable with your personality, you say. You click your teeth together at my face, the way that you know I dislike.
I disagree, I say. That is just not true. You need another person, sometimes, to make you see the world for what it is. You alone cannot provide perspective. I cross my legs, bringing a dampness to the underside of my knees.
People restrict perspective, you say. Your own perspective is the most valuable. Other people create myopia, you say, scratching your scalp as white pieces flake off and fall onto your nice black pants.
I don’t believe that, I say. I love you, and that expands, not limits my perspective, I say. I say.
Maybe he just likes being alone, you say, that he is not lonely, you say, standing up from the bench. That maybe That man in the suit walking in the middle of the dark is like the garbage man, knowing that no one cares what he does. He can take off his shirt and scream and no one will tell him to stop.
Maybe, I say. I say.
His freedom is invaluable, you are sure, you say.
Lee Matalone is a writer based out of Virginia. In 2011, she was awarded a grant from the University of Virginia to compose a collection of short stories under the editorial guidance of writer, Sydney Blair, whose novel Buffalo won the Virginia Prize for Fiction.