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56th and York
56th and York
The faded words are scribbled onto the ripped, dirty paper. I look up at the street sign. Only a block to go. The blue man appears on the streetlight, but I just can’t move. I can’t follow all the people who venture across the street around me.
I flip the paper in my hand. Dull letters catch my attention and I have to squint to read their message. Visit me anytime, written in an unfamiliar masculine scrawl. But mom didn’t. She knew exactly where he was all those years: 56th and York. She found a way to push it out of her mind, out of my mind.
I look up from the paper. My eyes land on a man, across the block. He is holding a little girl, kissing her and hugging her, making her laugh. I was used to it by now. That’s probably why I surprised my mom when I asked for the deal: when I was eighteen, I would get all the information. She might not have wanted it, but I did. It was all I had asked for, and of course, all I had gotten. I shouldn’t put it to waste.
In a rush of adrenaline I cross the street, ignoring the red hand that forbids me to go. Cars honk as they stop short. The sudden noise gets the attention of the man across the way who, for the first time, lifts his gaze off the girl and stares at me. I smile before continuing on my way.
The adrenaline keeps pumping as I continue down the block. I pass by colorful banners that hang above. Boutique. Shoe Mart. Joe’s Diner. Joe’s Diner. That’s it, my destination: I stop below the sign, in front of a man sitting next to the door.
His long hair is gathered up into a knotted ponytail. Gray flecks are sprinkled about the dark hue. A few loose strands stick to his sweaty neck. He sits on an old ratty blanket, which holds his only belongings: a bag of chips, a can with a few pennies, and himself. The clothes on his back are just as old and dirty as the blanket, with holes and stains. He wears a jacket and pants, though it is in the middle of the summer. His blue eyes look up at me and his mouth splits into a smile, showing off his few yellow teeth. Unable to speak, I nod my head toward the diner doors and walk inside.
“Table for two please,” I say to a waitress without looking behind me to make sure he follows. I follow the woman and sit down at a booth in the back where he joins me. The waiter puts down two menus and walks away, trying hard not to stare.
“What do I call you?” I ask, looking up and down the menu.
“Most people call me Charlie.”
“Okay Well Charlie, you haven’t touched your menu.”
“I have no money,” he says, as if I didn’t realize.
“My treat, please.” He gives in and picks up the menu.
“What do I call you?”
“Kelly is fine.” The waitress returns with a pad and the conversation is put to a halt. “I’ll just have coffee and a bagel.” I say as I hand in the menu.
“Me too,” Charlie says shyly.
“No, get whatever you want. Really.” I take back the menu and put it in front of him. He gives in yet again and reorders, this time not holding back.
“I guess we have a lot of catching up to do,” he says.
“Yeah, eighteen years of it.”
“Can you fill me in a little?”
“Sure,” but I don’t know where to start. How do you tell someone about eighteen years of your life? “I guess I’ll just start with recent stuff. I’m going to college in the fall to play volleyball.”
His blue eyes brighten up, “That’s great. I’m proud of you.”
The food comes and Charlie doesn’t wait to begin. The three pancakes, four eggs, and home fries are gone before I can put milk in my coffee.
“Here, take my bagel,” I hand it over to him. This time he doesn’t argue.
“So,” He mumbles, food spilling out of his mouth. “Is your mom—”
“Shh. Just eat.” I say, handing him a napkin. I watch as he wipes his thick beard, sweeping off the bits of bacon and bread. His almond eyes squint as he takes a bite of his bagel. I feel like I have seen it all before. His arched nose, his slightly pointed chin, it’s all too familiar.
He sits back in the booth and smiles. “This meant a lot to me—seeing you,” he says, placing his hands on his stomach.
“Yeah, I’m glad we could do this.” The waitress comes back with the check, unsure whom to give it to. “I’ll take that.”
“Next time, it’s my treat.” He says with a smile. I smile back, knowing that will not be the case since there will not be a next time. I help him out of the booth and we walk out of the diner side by side. We stop at the front desk so he can snatch some mints for later. I help him set up his spot and offer him a bed to sleep on for at least the night, though he refuses.
“I guess I know where I get my stubbornness from.”
“Promise me that you’ll learn to control that,” he says, placing a wrinkled hand on my arm.
“I promise.” I go in for a hug and am greeted by the rich smell of garbage and smoke, but I don’t mind it. I don’t mind that I will have to take at least three showers to get the smell off. I don’t mind that people are staring. In fact, I wish that we could be photographed, because I always want to remember the day I spent on 56th and York.