Penny placed the coffee and croissant in front of Frank, and he watched a stranger’s hand reach for the cup. A thin hand. A bony hand. How had his nails gotten so long? He read somewhere, years ago, when he was young, that cartilaginous features lengthened with age, like chins and noses, while muscles atrophied, and bones shrunk. He looked down at the baggy crotch of his belted khakis. “So true,” he said, and he laughed, a laugh that came out as a cough. He could have been choking, but nobody in the place turned to look at him. Not even Sam in the kitchen looked up. How long was it he’d been coming to Sam’s? Years.
Frank’s arm dragged as he reached for the croissant, and he knocked his fork to the floor. It clamored the way forks do on ceramic tile, but, again, nobody turned to look. The sound was irrelevant. He was irrelevant. If he had it in him, he’d break wind. Maybe that would give them a start, have the diners turning around to look at him. He gulped air and belched as loud as he could, but no one looked his way. Proof. He was irrelevant.
Frank turned his attention to the fork on the floor and thought he might as well leave it where it was. He didn’t need the fork to eat the croissant. But what was that next to the fork? A photograph? It looked like an old photograph.
Frank picked it up. He liked the feel of it in his hand. It was a real photograph on real photo paper, not one of those modern-day print outs. It was creased, like his face, as if someone had carried it for a long time. The girl was alone in a field. She was smiling at someone taking the picture, and Frank smiled back. “I know you, don’t I?”
The girl’s hair was long and blonde and parted in the middle, and she wore a mini skirt and a short leather vest with long fringe. A hippie. The word flooded his body with feeling, not a memory, but a visceral flood, everything of his life at that time all at once. Frank flipped the photograph to its backside to see if anything had been written, just as a man hurrying by bumped Frank’s hand. The photograph fell to the floor.
Frank tried to stop the kid from stomping on it, tried to push the kid out of the way, but the kid’s sticky shoe picked it up.
Oh. He almost had it, almost pulled the corner of the photo off the back of the kid’s shoe.
Frank walked too close behind the kid as he followed the photo on the shoe out the door. Almost. He almost got it with his foot. He had it! He had the corner by the tip of his shoe. He bent. He lifted his shoe. He watched the photograph blow down the street faster than Frank’s old legs would carry him, until ...
It stopped, held by the windshield of a parked car. The photograph was backside up, and Frank could make out the words, Daisy loves Frankie.
Daisy. He’d been loved by Daisy. Frank reached for the photograph as a memory came close, as if coherence waited on the edge of a cliff, but a man jangling keys beat him to it, balling the photograph and shooting it in the trash.
Frank was breathless, not from the activity, but from need. He needed to feel that photograph. He needed to smile at the smiling girl. He needed to remember.
No! He was only inches from reaching into the trash, from having the photo back in his hand. He waved his arms at the mom. He told her to stop. The mom paid no attention to Frank and threw her kid’s drippy ice cream into the bin.
Frank scraped the ice cream off the photo with a piece of cardboard from the trash. Daisy smiled and Frank smiled back. Love flooded his body with feeling, not a memory, the memory still stood at the edge, but the visceral parts of love, an everything all at once flood of love that he almost thought might make him cry.
“Penny,” yelled Sam, from the bagel shop’s kitchen, “It’s 7 a.m. Did you put the coffee and croissant on Frank’s old table?”
“Did it, Sam.”
“How about the picture of Daisy?”
“Can’t find it. I couldn’t find it yesterday when I went to clean up.”
“Was Frank here?”
“I watched the fork slide off the table.”
“Then he was here.”
“How long are we gonna keep setting this table for Frank, Sam?”
“Until he stops showing up. Until the cup stops changing its position, or things stop sliding off his table.”
“Here, put this on the table since we don’t have the photo. Maybe this will do the trick.”
Penny read the message on the napkin. She shook her head, but she placed the napkin next to the croissant.
. “Sam!” Sam turned to see the napkin slide across the table, and the two stood to watch the napkin hang in the air - for only a second before it fell to the ground.
Frank couldn’t remember why he didn’t have Daisy. He lost the photo somewhere. Was it yesterday? He was more disconnected than usual. Another memory that stood just at the edge.
He watched Penny place the coffee and croissant in front of him and he gulped air to try belching again. Maybe, if only someone turned, he could feel his relevance again. No one turned.
Frank closed his eyes, but the memory stood just at the edge. He needed to feel the photograph. He needed to see Daisy’s smile.
He saw words written on the napkin Penny placed by the croissant plate, and he slid the napkin across the table to read it. Frank, You’re a ghost. Daisy is waiting for you in heaven. Let yourself leave this place. Go to your wife. She loves you, Frank. We love you, Frank. Sam
Frank held the napkin to his chest. His body flooded with feeling, and the memories, all the memories, he saw all the memories, an everything all at once wonderful flood that threatened to fill him with tears. He dropped the napkin to reach for Daisy who stood in front of him, smiling. He smiled back.