Monday, April 25, 2016
When Maury came to the coffee shop this morning, he found his regular chair in front of the fireplace taken by a slim older man wearing a baseball cap and reading the Post.
Maury stood stock still for maybe 30 seconds, and then looked at me. I was sitting in a booth a dozen feet away, peeling an orange. He caught my eye. I shrugged, a What Can You Do? message. He made a face and bobbed his head.
He went outside and, as he usually does, began picking scraps of paper from the sidewalk and putting them in a city trash can. There’s a new crop of litter every morning, and Maury sees it as his job to tend to it.
He returned five minutes later. The slim man was still there. Maury filled his coffee mug, came to my table, smiled crookedly and asked, “How’s the cancer?”
That’s an unusual question, but not from Maury, who once suggested I start dating a woman whose boyfriend had just died. “Okay, I guess,” I said, but Maury wasn’t listening. The man in his chair was stirring, perhaps preparing to go.
“Good,” said Maury. “That’s good.” The man in the chair did not leave but instead picked up the Post Metro section. Maury sighed, left his coffee cup on my table and headed for the men’s room.
While he was there, the slim man packed up his newspaper and left. As soon as he did, another coffee shop regular slid into Maury’s chair.
Maury returned from the bathroom and paid scant attention to the new usurper. He asked me, “So the cancer’s good?” Then he added, “Not peeing blood, I hope.”
Um. Where does Maury get his info? I KNOW I never mentioned the particulars of my case to him. I said, “Why do you ask?”
Maury pulled a chair to my table even though the booth bench across from me was vacant. “I peed blood once, for a week,” Maury said. “I went to see the doctor and he said it was a yutee.”
“A yutee. A urinary tract infection. He gave me pills. I peed bright orange for a while; it was strange. But the yutee went away.”
I offered him half my orange. He took it and carefully separated the wedges, then lifted off the white stuff that sticks even after the fruit is peeled.
He ate… mournfully is the only word I can come up with. His eyes were beagle sad and his jaw worked methodically. Between wedges he said, “I was really scared” (chew chew) the first time it happened (chew chew). The peeing, I mean (chew swallow). I thought I was maybe dying (chew chew), but I wasn’t.”
When he was through with the orange, he took a sip of coffee and wiped his mouth with a napkin. He looked at me and asked, “Are you scared?”
I said I was, sort of.
The man in Maury’s chair got up. Maury made to hurry there but stopped. He patted me on the shoulder, gave my arm a gentle squeeze. “Don’t be,” he said. “It’s gonna be all right.”
He settled into his chair, put his feet up on the fireplace lintel, and gave me a thumb up.
Everything’s gonna be all right.