I give the man Richie his change, and he glances at me, eyes wet like a puppy, wanting to say something. He wraps a fist around the neck of the brown-bagged Wildberry Green wine and deposits the thirty-two cents into his ragged army coat. His beard looks dirty, like he just crawled through a construction site flat on his face, and a bright blue rubber band dangles aimlessly from the growth, locked amazingly into place by just a couple of course red hairs. He stinks like rotten pears and moldy tapioca.
When he speaks it sounds like his vocal cords are each holding their own unfiltered cigarette, wet at the tips: “Did you know that some people think it’s normal to take a dump four times a day?” His words are yellow and sticky as they bubble out, barely audible.
“Really?” I say and lean in, actually somewhat amused by his random behavior. Richie never speaks, save the occasional grunts of greeting and thank you and whatnot.
“Really. I saw it in the paper. Do you believe that shit?” He speaks more! My lucky day at the liquor establishment.
“Oh yeah, I believe that SHIT,” I say, adopting a comedic smirk.
We laugh. My tenor laugh drowns out his whistling, weakling cackle.
When I look again at him he is suddenly dead serious. “Do you really believe that shit?” he says, eyes unwavering, still wet. “Do you shit that much?”
For a moment, I think clearly and choose not to respond. But I do respond for some absurd reason. I say: “Sometimes.”
His face curls up into a sneer as he snatches the cheap wine substitute from the counter between us. Turning away, he laments “fucking faggot” through his handicapped throat in a voice surprisingly loud for him. His body language as he exits through the glass door suggests that he has just given up hope on a once promising friend.
-“The Halverson Encounter” appeared in Haggard & Halloo for March 30, 2007