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A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud.
by [?]

The beer on the counter before the man was in a large brown mug. He did not pick it up to drink. Instead he bent down and, putting his face over the rim, he rested there for a moment. Then with both hands he tilted the mug and sipped.

“Some night you’ll go to sleep with your big nose in a mug and drown,” said Leo.”Prominent transient drowns in beer. That would be a cute death.”

The paper boy tried to signal to Leo. While the man was not looking he screwed up his face and worked his mouth to question soundlessly: “Drunk?” But Leo only raised his eyebrows and turned away to put some pink strips of bacon on the grill. The man pushed the mug away from him, straightened himself, and folded his loose crooked hands on the counter. His face was sad as he looked at the paper boy. He did not blink, but from time to time the lids closed down with delicate gravity over his pale green eyes. It was nearing dawn and the boy shifted the weight of the paper sack.

“I am talking about love,” the man said.”With me it is a science.”

The boy half slid down from the stool. But the man raised his forefinger, and there was something about him that held the boy and would not let him go away.

“Twelve years ago I married the woman in the photograph. She was my wife for one year, nine months, three days, and two nights. I loved her. Yes….” He tightened his blurred, rambling voice and said again: “I loved her. I thought also that she loved me. I was a railroad engineer. She had all home comforts and luxuries. It never crept into my brain that she was not satisfied. But do you know what happened?”

“Mgneeow!” said Leo.

The man did not take his eyes from the boy’s face.”She left me. I came in one night and the house was empty and she was gone. She left me.”

“With a fellow?” the boy asked.

Gently the man placed his palm down on the counter.”Why naturally, Son. A woman does not run off like that alone.”

The café was quiet, the soft rain black and endless in the street outside. Leo pressed down the frying bacon with the prongs of his long fork.”So you have been chasing the floozie for eleven years. You frazzled old rascal!”

For the first time the man glanced at Leo. “Please don’t be vulgar. Besides, I was not speaking to you.” He turned back to the boy and said in a trusting and secretive undertone: “Let’s not pay any attention to him. O. K. ?”

The paper boy nodded doubtfully.

“It was like this,” the man continued.”I am a person who feels many things. All my life one thing after another has impressed me. Moonlight. The leg of a pretty girl. One thing after another. But the point is that when I had enjoyed anything there was a peculiar sensation as though it was laying around loose in me. Nothing seemed to finish itself up or fit in with the other things. Women? I had my portion of them. The same. Afterwards laying around loose in me. I was a man who had never loved.”

Very slowly he closed his eyelids, and the gesture was like a curtain drawn at the end of a scene in a play. When he spoke again his voice was excited and the words came fast—the lobes of his large, loose ears seemed to tremble.

“Then I met this woman. I was fifty-one years old and she always said she was thirty. I met her at a filling station and we were married within three days. And you know what it was like? I just can’t tell you. All I had ever felt was gathered together around this woman. Nothing lay around loose in me any more but was finished up by her.”

The man stopped suddenly and stroked his long nose. His voice sank down to a steady and reproachful under-tone: “I’m not explaining this right. What happened was this. There were these beautiful feelings and loose little pleasures inside me. And this woman was something like an assembly line for my soul. I run these little pieces of myself through her and I come out complete. Now do you follow me?”