cyle talley

The Walrus At My Table*

“‘Siseat taken?” I put a finger on the sentence I had been reading and look up to see a walrus wearing a baseball cap. The baseball cap bears the logo of an agricultural machinery company and the walrus is not actually a walrus, but only a very rude man. He tips his paper coffee cup at me and I think he is trying to smile, but he looks more like a mustachioed fat Elvis chewing a huge wad of gum.

“It is not,” and he sits down heavily at the small table on the patio of the coffee shop downtown before I can say, “But that shouldn’t be taken as an invitation,” or ” But I would prefer it if you did not sit down,” or “If you must be so garish and rude, the least that you could do is to please stop chewing your gum like a cow chews its cud.”

But I say none of these things.

Cars and bicyclists pass by on the street in front of the walrus and I. A tourist in bermuda shorts walks by leading three dogs on leashes. The dogs, as dogs sometimes do, suddenly veer in divergent directions. They entangle themselves and their owner. They cause a minor fracas on the sidewalk. The walrus chortles and I take another look at him. He has cut off the sleeves of his black Harley Davidson t-shirt and its crisp darkness makes the white of his arms look like soap. His long, dingy socks droop around the tops of his equally dingy tennis shoes. Still chortling, he digs one hand into the very full pocket of his camouflage cargo shorts and takes out a comb which he uses on his mustache. My disapproving gaze is reflected in his wraparound Oakley sunglasses.

I return to my book half-heartedly, still incredulous at my tablemate’s boldness. I cannot imagine sitting down next to a perfect stranger, no matter how full the coffee shop. I would curse my rotten luck from another table or from where I stood next to the condiment counter like any polite person. Would I grow impatient? Maybe. But I would never think to interrupt a person reading and drinking their coffee and enjoying a beautiful day in the shade of the awning of a coffee shop on an idyllic main street as a soft breeze blows and soothes brows and tempers a hot sun.

Never.

It occurs to me that perhaps this man is alone and looking for someone to talk to, which makes his sitting down next to me all the worse. If he is indeed looking for someone to talk to, why would he choose the young man sitting by himself at a table, perfectly content reading? Readers are not talkers. Readers like being alone. Prefer it. Crave it. 

He pops his chewing gum loudly with a smack, runs a middle finger and thumb across his mustache and slurps from his coffee.

“D’ya wanna get goin’?” A woman who has had her skin replaced with leather calls at him from the nearby bicycle rack.

“Ah s’ppose it,” he takes another slurp from his coffee, belches, knocks on the table twice as a salutation and stands up with some effort. The contents of his cargo shorts sway with each plodding step as he meets her and unlocks two matching bicycles. He kicks a soapy leg up and over as though the bike were a horse and they ride away. I watch his girth sway the bicycle with each revolution of the pedals.

A middle aged woman walks by. She has a tattoo of a charm bracelet around her ankle. The charms are a smiling sun, an orca whale, a palm tree, a single flip flop and other trinkets that she’s regretted walking around with for at least two decades.

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