The first day of his retirement from his post office job, he headed downtown. In Union Square, he hesitated on the street corner, deciding to turn left, toward the distant swatch of ocean. People milled about him, splashes of less lustrous color.
He entered the café, choosing that particular pit-stop because of its vivid orange walls and the wooden chairs painted in assorted rainbow colors. A further boon, through the wall speakers, Dean Martin crooned Little Old Wine Drinker Me.
He carried his iced-tea and almond croissant to a small table by the window, his reflection looking back at him in the glass, the last strands of brown flecking his hair. The window appeared spotless, until he noticed several small finger smudges just under his line of vision. He pictured a blond-haired boy looking out at the countless stalk-legs passing by, wondering what kind of legs he’d grow into.
Over the next hour, he watched the passers-by, spotting several possible candidates, but deciding he or she wasn’t the one. This would be his first time; he needed to get it right. Almost an hour passed.
He finally chose to follow the short, squat woman with the mannish haircut and linebacker shoulders. As he hurried from the café after her, he imagined swapping out her stud earrings and denim overalls for gold hoops and a long dress with brilliant tropical flowers. He trailed her, licking at the sides of his mouth and catching the last of the croissant flakes clinging there.
She entered two different department stores, travelling their floors end to end, stopping every now and then to touch some item of clothing, or lift a vase, smell a candle. In the second store, she carried several garments into the dressing rooms, and remained inside for almost half an hour. Just as with the first store, she left without buying anything.
Inside the frozen yogurt store, she glanced over several times, her faded blue eyes running away whenever he met her gaze. She looked again, and he nodded, smiling. With a burst, she exited the store, leaving her half-eaten yogurt behind, and hurried down the street.
He caught up with her at the intersection. She sounded short of breath, and looked about to run, to shout for help.
“Please don’t be afraid. I followed you this afternoon—no, please, just listen, okay? I noticed you. That’s all I wanted you to know. You were seen. That’s it.”
The traffic lights changed; she rushed out into the crosswalk.
He called after her. “Wait, please.”
She plowed into the crowd, away from him.
On the bus, on his way home to an empty house, he fought the sinking feeling, wondering who tomorrow would bring him, and asking again if anyone would ever appreciate what he was trying to do, would ever reply in-kind “I noticed you too.”