Lynette stood inside the restaurant and watched the man stumble across the street, maneuvering two canes topped with bands that supported his forearms. He looked so ashamed. He was moving so slowly, despite the flailing canes and his awkward strides, hips jerking out as they tried to accommodate his legs.
Watching him, Lynette felt as if there was a knife in her stomach. She sensed the impatience of the cars at the stop sign on the four-lane road, each of them looking ready to lurch forward the moment the man cleared their fender. One engine actually revved, growling like a wild animal about to descend on its prey.
He crossed the street at noon every day. He never came to the restaurant where she was a manager, but turned left at the door and disappeared from her sight. She wondered where he ate and wondered why he didn’t even cast a second glance at the menu posted in the window of Elite Pizza.
To the left were four more restaurants. He could be mixing it up with all four, or have a favorite where he’d eaten lunch every day for the fifteen months she’d been observing him. Did he prefer the upscale burger place? Mexican food? Thai? Or the Vegan place on the corner?
She’d thought about stepping out on the sidewalk to watch which door he entered, but she never did. By the time he made it across the street, she was usually perspiring from feeling his effort as if it were inside her own body, exhausted from fearing that one of the rubber-tipped canes would fail to hold securely and he’d be tossed on his back by the momentum of his own vigorous motion.
Why didn’t anyone help him? The world was full of selfish, cold-hearted people. They looked at their phones, averting their eyes, not wanting to notice his struggle. Couples wrapped their arms around each other and walked quickly, aiming to out-run him. People leaving their offices for lunch either lagged behind, deliberately pausing to text, or made wide arcs around him.
Every time she watched the flow of people, like a troupe of dancers twirling across the street in time with each other, she wanted to throttle each and every one of them.
It was sunny and warm, so at least she didn’t have to fear slippery pavement this time. Lynette closed her eyes for a moment.
When she opened them, he was about a third of the way out. The two men and the teenager who’d stepped off the curb at the same time he had were nearly across the street.
Lynette walked to the door and flung it open. She walked outside. She folded her arms and moved closer to the curb just as the teenager launched herself onto it, pivoting right to avoid colliding with Lynette.
The teenager was as good a sacrificial lamb as any of them. Lynette grabbed the girl’s arm.
“Hey!” The girl’s phone slipped out of her hand and landed on the sidewalk. She twisted, trying to escape from Lynette’s work-hardened hand.
“Let go of me!”
“I want to talk to you,” Lynette said.
“You’re lucky it didn’t break, bitch. Now let go of my arm or I’ll scream. And you don’t want that. I scream louder than anyone.”
Lynette maintained her grip. “Look behind you.”
The girl glared at Lynette.
“You saw that poor man. He needs help.”
“Who?” The girl continued to twist like a rat with an appendage caught in a trap.
“That man with the canes.”
“He doesn’t need help. I’ve seen him before. He’s just fine. Now let go of my arm.” She gave a furious yank just as the man put the tip of one cane on the curb.
The man cried out and stumbled back, but he maintained his balance.
“See what you almost did? Let go of my arm.” The girl was shouting now.
Lynette felt people staring. The businessmen had stopped just short of the curb. Neither of the cars in the two lanes closest to her side of the street had moved forward, even though the way was clear.
Lynette’s eyes filled with tears. “You have no heart. Every day he battles his way across, and you run around him like he’s a piece of trash that you don’t want to accidentally step on and soil your nice shoes.”
The girl bent over, putting her face close to Lynette’s arm. She bit down hard on Lynette’s bare upper arm, sinking her teeth deep into Lynette’s flesh. Lynette screamed, feeling slick wet stuff — blood — on her arm. She let go of the girl and slapped her hand over the spot. There was no blood, just some broken skin and a smear of saliva.
The girl bent down, picked up her phone, and darted into the street. At the same moment, the car closest to the middle divider, satisfied that the altercation was not that interesting after all, plowed forward. There was a heavy thud as the car hit the girl. Her body was flung away from the bumper and she fell onto the street with a sound that made Lynette sick to her stomach. Lynette retched. The sour remains of boiled egg and strawberries filled her mouth.
The driver was shouting for someone to call 9-1-1. Several car doors opened. One driver gunned the engine and drove through the intersection, escaping to its intended destination.
Lynette held her hand over her mouth to keep the liquid from dribbling out. She looked up.
The man with the canes gave her a nasty look. “Look what you did. You should mind your own business. I guess you will now.” He swung his cane wide and lurched around her, continuing down the street. She didn’t turn to see what restaurant he entered.