The air was cool in the morning when he stepped out onto his porch to head to work.
This was to be expected in early October, and he was thankful for it. The summer had been a hot one, and he’d been ready for the opportunity to break out his jacket and long sleeve shirts by the end of August. But, unfortunately, the summer heat had held firm throughout most of September. Now though, the heat had finally broken, and he was looking forward to the brisk air of fall.
He turned, checking to ensure he’d locked the door before he made his way down the steps and out onto the sidewalk.
“Good morning Ms. Galespi!” He called to the older lady seated on her porch smoking a cigarette.
“Oh, good morning, boy!” She called back, her breath heavy with smoke in the cool air. “Off to work?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He said, smiling at her. Then, he paused, taking the time to greet her properly before continuing on. “How are you this morning?” He asked.
“Oh, I’m well enough.” Ms. Galespi said.
“Good. Kids gone off to school already?” He asked, checking his mental inventory for all information about the woman.
“Yeah, bus just picked them up.” She said, taking another drag from her cigarette.
“Those things are crowded. Kids tend to act like fools a lot of the time. I remember how it was back when I was a kid.” He said.
“Yes, sir.” She said. “Unfortunately, I can’t get them there myself. My eyes aren’t what they used to be.”
“Yes, ma’am. Not fair you’re the one to have to take care of them. Has to be hard on you.” He said.
“Well, you know how it is. Their mom, well, the less said about her this morning, the better.” Ms. Galespi said.
“Probably.” He agreed.
“Perhaps she’ll come back one of these days. Take care of the responsibilities that are hers. Sometimes I can’t believe I managed to raise a woman like that.” She said.
“I wouldn’t count on it, ma’am.” He said, knowing the kid’s mother would never be back. Not anymore. What she’d done to those kids, what she’d put them through, had been wrong. She wouldn’t be back, never again.
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right, son.” Ms. Galespi took another long drag from her cigarette. “You’d better be on your way, don’t want to be late.” She said.
“You’re right. We wouldn’t want that. They pay me to be there on time, so that’s what I do.” He said.
“You’re a good boy. And a good neighbor.” She said, waving at him as she exhaled smoke again.
He frowned. “Those things aren’t good for you, ma’am. But, if there is anything I can do to help you….” He started to say, but she cut him off.
“Now, son, respect your elders. I know these things are killing me, but they’re about all I have left anymore.” She said.
His frown deepened, unsure how to accommodate two conflicting thoughts. Finally, he chose to take her advice and let the subject go. “Good morning Ms. Galespi. I’ll see you later.” He said, waving as he continued on his way to work.
Work was uneventful. As always, he clocked in on time, greeted his coworkers, and set to his tasks. That was the way things were and the way things should be. He worked through his breaks, like always, never drawing attention to himself or the bit of extra time he put in while others were off drinking coffee or smoking. And he was careful to be back from lunch five minutes early as well. Sure, they didn’t usually pay him for the bit of extra time he put in throughout the day, but that wasn’t the point.
Work was important. It didn’t matter what you were doing. Whether you were stocking shelves, doing someone’s taxes, or running a business or nation, your job was a part of who you were. And more than that, it reflected “What” you were. He took that seriously. He was a good man, and though he was typically surrounded by people who were less than he was, it didn’t matter.
Who he was wasn’t dictated by the other people around him or what they thought. Who he was, who he really was, was dictated only by himself and his actions.
As he left work for the day, he decided to stop by the store on his way home.
Making his way through the parking lot, he saw a middle-aged woman struggling to balance her cart and young child. Her purse had spilled onto the pavement, and she was holding the child’s hand as she attempted to scoop the items from her purse into a small pile.
Cautious, knowing how people often reacted to the intrusion of strangers into their daily lives, he approached.
“Miss.” He said, stopping several feet away.
She looked up, her eyes nervous. “Huh?” She mumbled, taking his appearance in quickly before looking back down at the spilled contents of her purse.
“Miss, you look like you’re having a bit of a time there. May I help?” He asked.
She looked up at him, then at the little girl holding her hand, then quickly at the cart full of groceries that was slowing rolling away before glancing up at him again. “No, I…” She started to say.
He took several careful steps forward, stopping the cart and holding it still with one hand, the other held out to his side, palm open. “You’re trying to juggle a lot there; the least I can do is hold your cart for you. Maybe I could help you get the groceries in the trunk while you get things situated?” He offered.
She regarded him again for several long moments before she relaxed and smiled at him. “Thank you, yes. That would be a big help.” She said.
He held the car while she gathered the spilled items from the ground and then opened the trunk for him.
“Thank you again.” She said.
“Of course, you go ahead and get her in the car; she’s looking tired.” He said.
The woman looked down at the little girl hiding just to the side of her mother’s leg, still holding her hand. “Sounds like a plan.” She said.
He watched her lead the small, shy child around to the side of the car and began putting the bags in the trunk in an orderly fashion. He was careful to ensure the lighter items went on top so that nothing would be broken or crushed. When he was done, he stepped back, pulling the cart off to the side.
“There you are.” He said as the woman walked around the car to the driver’s side.
“Thank you again.” She glanced at him one more time, taking in his whole appearance for the first time. “I’m Jamie.” She said, holding out her hand.
“Nice to meet you, Jamie.” He said, shaking her hand. Something hard pressed against one of his fingers. A wedding ring.
“You’re very sweet, would you like to…” She began.
He frowned. “I’m sorry, I just got off work and am in a bit of a hurry. Please, drive safe; I’m sure you have someone waiting at home for you.” He said, turning to guide the cart towards the store. “I’ll take care of the cart for you.” He said, not looking back.
Inside, he gathered up the few items he’d need for the week and headed towards the registers. The self-scan was open, as always, but he didn’t care for them. They were too impersonal. A sign of the times, he supposed. So instead, he went to one of the slightly longer lines and waited for an actual cashier.
As he neared the front, his attention was drawn by a man’s gruff tone.
“Can we hurry up already?” He said.
The woman in front was handing a small pile of coupons to the teenaged cashier. The older woman was small and frail and looked startled by the man’s outburst.
The middle-aged man behind her looked just as surprised; the cashier looked terrified.
“I’ve been waiting for twenty minutes now. Let’s go. I have things to do.” The man said.
“Sir…” The cashier tried to say.
“No, let’s go. I’m not standing here waiting for you to scan all that crap just so she can save twenty cents on her cat food. She’s probably got too many of those monsters running around her house anyway. What, no one else to take care of?” He said.
The woman looked shocked. She glanced at the cashier, “I’m sorry since my husband died….”
“No one cares about your cats or who they’re filling in for. Let’s go. I have to get back to work already.” The man said.
“Sir, uh, you could, have, you know….” The cashier tried to speak, but the man cut him off.
“If I wanted to use the self-checkout, I would have. I hate those machines. They’re even dumber than you kids. Lets. Go!” He said.
The man in front of him looked visibly nervous now. “Look, if you’re in that much of a hurry, you can go ahead….” He said.
The man cut him off too, “I will.” He stepped in front of the man, glared down at the small woman, and then at the cashier. “Let’s go already.” He snapped.
The cashier finished scanning the woman’s coupons, shaking as he tried to hurry. Finally, he took her money, made change, and smiled nervously at her as he loaded the last of her bags into her cart. “Have a good day, ma’am.” He said. “Thank you.”
“You too.” She whispered, hurrying away
“Now, let’s go.” The man said.
The cashier, for his part, simply stood there. “Sir, there is no reason to be rude.”
“Rude!” The man said. “It’s rude to waste everyone’s time with cheap coupons and stories about your cats and dead husband. No one cares. Let’s go.”
“Sir, please, if you would just….” The cashier tried to say.
“If I have to call your manager over here, we’re all going to be wasting a lot more time!” The man said.
Watching all this from what was now third in line, the good man spoke up. “It’s alright, young man. Just ring him up.” He said, his voice calm.
The cashier looked back at him and immediately seemed to relax. “Yes, of course.” He said, taking the man’s items and quickly scanning them before putting them into a single plastic bag.
The man paid him, grumbled a few more obscenities, and hurried out.
The good man put one hand on the shoulder of the man in front of him and smiled. “Would you please watch my things for a moment?” He said.
The man only nodded.
Later, the good man stood outside an old but well-kept house. The cool night air on his face was both relaxing and uplifting. He loved this time of year. When the season began to shift from the heaviness of summer into the light air of autumn. It always made him feel just a little more alive. Fall was almost like a breath of fresh air right before the cold, starkness of winter.
In the dark, he watched the lights in the house flicker. He’d been waiting for a while now but was in no hurry. Things would play out as they needed to.
Eventually, most of the lights in the house went out, and he made his way through the backyard. The fence had been no obstacle, and it had been simple enough to find a secluded spot near the detached garage from which he could keep an eye on the house. He tried the knob on the back door, knowing it would most likely be locked. It was, of course, but he never wasted time making assumptions if he could help it.
The man lived alone; he’d made sure of that, just as he’d made sure he had the right house before preparing for the task at hand. It hadn’t been hard to find the address, not once he had the man’s license plate. The internet was a pretty valuable tool if you knew how to use it. Sadly, there were people in the world who used it for all kinds of horrible things. But there wasn’t much he could do about that. He was just one man, after all.
One problem at a time.
He felt the door click open quietly as he worked the lock and slipped inside. He moved silently through the house, taking his time to let his eyes adjust to the changing light as he moved. He found the man sitting in a small home office. His face illuminated by the computer monitor as images flashed across the screen.
Distracted by his activities, he didn’t notice as the good man crossed the room behind him. Not until the hand slipped over his mouth.
“Don’t move.” The good man said.
The man froze, shocked and startled at being caught in such a compromising position. He choked slightly as the knife pressed against his throat.
“You were very, very rude today.” The good man said.
The man tried to say something, but he choked again.
“No, it’s too late for that. First, you were very rude to that poor old woman and the young man at the store. And now, I find you here, and it turns out, you’re even more awful than I’d realized.”
A single tear slid down the man’s face as he tried to work his mouth, then he gasped silently as the knife slid across his throat.
The good man held him as he died. After all, no one should die alone, no matter how bad they might be.