December 3, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Mr. Smith

By |2018-03-21T19:07:07+01:00August 16th, 2015|Area 51|
The cat that vanished...

r. Smith is waiting for his wife to come home. He’s lonely sleeping alone. He tires of going out and playing cards with his buddies at the center. Even his colorful baseball stories grow old because he’s heard himself tell them so many times before. Like the time the famous team of castoffs and nobodies from Washington beat the mighty New York Yankees, and he wheedled himself into a photograph of the two teams. Or when the famous right fielder caught a ball in the furthest corner of the stadium and threw a “rope” — he puts gumption into the “r” — to get the startled runner at third base, in disbelief that a man could throw a ball so far and so hard so accurately.

Mr. Smith feels young and loves using his touch-pad to look up things, like the origin of the dish we’re eating at the Mexican restaurant, which Google tells him dates from the invention of wheat and cheese, “a long time ago.” He talks politics like a freshly enfranchised voter, howling at the silliness of Donald Trump and promising to have a lot more to say about the U.S. presidential race before November 2016 rolls around.

Mr. Smith calls his wife a “beauty” and still can’t understand why she decided to marry him after only a few dates when they were teenagers. That wasn’t too long ago, he laughs, and then meticulously reconstructs their first meeting, which happened over ice cream. He was terrified. “I still don’t believe she even showed up.”

Mr. Smith recalls the time when his wife’s car broke down at the grocery store and he arrived like a knight in shining armor in a second car, only to find out he didn’t really know how to use jumper cables, nearly electrocuting himself until someone more adept stepped in. “That night we had meat loaf and laughed. I decided to become a mechanic.”

But he didn’t. Instead, he turned into a home handyman. “Anything that broke, I fixed it, so long as I didn’t have to use jumper cables.”

Mr. Smith has a story about a stray cat that visited their yard and decided to climb their maple tree, only to get stuck nearly at the top. Mr. Smith put a ladder to the tree to try to coax the cat down while his wife prepared food. “Good tuna!” But the cat wouldn’t budge. They finally gave up after a few hours. The next morning the got up in near unison to see what the cat was up to. It was gone. “Just flew away.”

Mr. Jones thinks his tacos are delicious and tells the waitress, who smiles. He also embarks on a story about the history of wheat, which he stops telling after a few seconds. “I keep thinking I’m talking to her…”

Mr. Smith explains the night, which has become lonely. “You get to feeling how someone is beside you and when they’re not there it’s like something’s missing or maybe wasn’t there at all, and that’s when you get to feeling sad.”

But the sadness lifts when dessert is ordered and sweet and creamy custard is served. “Just like ice cream but not as cold.”

Mr. Smith shares his custard with the others at the table, but after one or two bites puts his spoon down to tell another baseball story, then one about football in the dead of winter. “I felt like I was alone at that game, it was so cold. Those of us there were so busy trying to stay warm, what with the wind, that we almost forgot who was winning.” Yet he remembers the final play and the final score.

Mr. Smith doesn’t want to go home when its time. He’d like to talk all night. The next day he’ll go back to the hospital as he always does, as he has done for two years. He’ll sit by her and narrate the events of the night and she’ll say, “yes, dear,” or he thinks she will, since the two-year coma has shut down the speech on which he depended on for dear life.

Mr. Smith knows she’ll wake up soon and come home. His friends nod. Mr. Smith wonders if he’s mentioned he’s tired of sleeping alone. His friends say they understand, and they walk him to the door.

“Nice to have met you,” Mr. Smith tells me, and extends his hand. He then turns and says, “remember to stock up on ice cream and not to eat it alone.”

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris in 1953 and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.