by Steve Gergley

I SLEEP FOR one minute each hour and wander around town the rest of the time. What do I do with all these useless, seemingly infinite minutes of my life? Nothing important. Each day I draw fantastically detailed pictures of birds and tape the finished drawings onto the front door of a coffee house located on the corner of Grove Street and Cambrian Heights. This morning my drawing depicted a white-plumed honeyeater. I’ve never seen a white-plumed honeyeater in real life since they only live in Australia, but I know what they look like thanks to a book we have here in the town library. The white-plumed honeyeater is not my favorite bird, but it is a very beautiful bird. That’s one of the reasons I decided to draw it. Another reason is that a certain man who works in the coffee house on Grove Street is a passionate lover of birds. How do I know this? The man and I are very close friends. We have known each other for more than fifteen years now, and we see each other many times a day. From the sidewalk across the street I peer through the windows of his coffee house and watch as he flutters around serving customers, his long, ebony hair swinging about his ears, his maroon apron draped over his chest, the sleeves of his plaid button-up neatly rolled to his elbows. My watching of the man is not a secret. It doesn’t have to be with him. Unlike everyone else I encounter each day, the man in the Grove Street coffee house doesn’t glare at me in fear or disgust or suspicion when he sees me watching him. Instead, each time he sees me watching, he smiles at me and waves. Sometimes he gives me a thumbs up. And when I tape a bird drawing to the front door of his coffee house, he holds up my drawing, gives me a big grin, and mouths the words, thank you, Jane! before carefully tacking the drawing onto the wall alongside the hundreds of other drawings I have made for him over the years. These are the best moments. These are the moments that make the endless minutes of my life slightly more bearable. His mouth forming the shape of my name is the best part. Jane. That stupid word somehow feels special when his mouth forms the shape of it. This is another reason why I consider him my closest friend in the world. He is the only one in town who knows, or cares, what my name is. He knows this because I have recently begun signing my drawings. At first I did not sign them, out of fear of being arrested for harassment or vagrancy. Then, once I saw that the man enjoyed my pictures, I began tagging them with the letter J. After a few years passed and my friendship with the man deepened, I drew him a picture of a common nighthawk and wrote my full name in the corner of the drawing. Later that day, when the man opened the coffee house and saw my nighthawk picture on the door, he looked at me across the street, widened his eyes in exaggerated surprise, and mouthed the words, Jane? Your name is Jane? Thank you so much, Jane! It’s so nice to finally meet you, officially! Then he tapped his chest with his palm and began to mouth his own name, but I closed my eyes and looked down at the pavement.

Thanks to the man’s continued kindness, I am inspired to use the extra money I make from panhandling to buy colored pencils and sketching pads instead of drugs or other substances that would help me escape my lonely and depressing reality. But as long as there is the small chance that me and the man in the coffee house will one day speak to each other, I will keep living this life and drawing pictures of birds for him. That would be a wonderful thing, I think, to one day speak to him. But maybe it wouldn’t be. Maybe our current friendship is the best type of friendship the two of us could ever enjoy. Maybe by speaking to him, the simplicity and purity of our friendship would change. Maybe it would disappear completely. I don’t know. Is this what love feels like? I’m afraid. I’ve lived in this town my entire life. I’ve been alone for as long as I can remember. Though I only need to sleep for one minute each hour, the dreams I have during those minutes are so vivid, and so long, that they seem to last an entire lifetime. Worst of all, the man never appears in my dreams. His coffee house is always full of people, both customers and employees, but he is never there. I don’t want that to happen in real life. I don’t want to ruin things and lose him forever. So I stay on my side of the street and keep quiet. Because if he leaves, all I would have left is time. And that is nothing at all.


Steve Gergley is the author of the short story collection, A Quick Primer on Wallowing in Despair (LEFTOVER Books 2022), and the forthcoming novel Skyscraper (West Vine Press 2023). His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Pithead Chapel, Maudlin House, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Barren Magazine, New World Writing and others. In addition to writing fiction, he has composed and recorded five albums of original music. He tweets @GergleySteve.

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