The short, bearded man stopped and turned to face his shouter.
\”Hobble…why, no one has called me that in years. Let me have a look at you,\” he replied. The shouter approached him with a broad grin plastered to his mouth. He looked old and weary; sunken face like a jack-o-lantern illuminated by his glowing smile, an otherworldly smile. He was tall and lanky, wearing a shabby tweed suit and a bowler cap tilted to the left. Mr. Gardenome did not recognize him. Was this a long acquaintance he\’d just forgotten? A faceless client he\’d passed on after contract was met? Some thief or confidence man out to trick him? His queer gaze gave away his dilemma and the skinny man\’s grin softened to a mere smile.
\”Don\’t remember me, do you? No, I\’ve lost a lot of weight, you see. I\’m a little worse for wear after trouble and hard times,\” said he.
Mr. Gardenome felt his self-importance eek away as the realization crept upon him like a spider tip-toeing up his spine. The words came out softly, \”Garn Blackman. By God it is you, isn\’t it?\” Mr. Gardenome felt obliged to remove his tophat and place his round spectacles in his expensive coat pocket. His hand caught his watch-chain in the process and the timepiece snapped off, falling into a puddle of slush.
\”Here, let me,\” said Blackman. He stooped and picked it up, handed it to Gardenome and dusted his hands off. A smile still adorned his face.
\”Look at you,\” said Gardenome, \”Let me buy you a cup of coffee!\”
\”Only for old time\’s sake and not for pity\’s,\” he replied. \”You seem to think I\’m worse off than I am.\”
\”Not at all!\” Gardenome worked up a smile, clapped Blackman on his back, and they walked down the cobblestone street to the nearest cafe. There they sat. Gardenome had Irish coffee, Blackman only a cup of drip. They sat quietly, each taking in the other for a moment before Gardenome spoke up again.
\”What was it? The last I\’d heard was cancer. Heard it from some old classmates.\”
Blackman nodded after a sip, \”Cancer, indeed, then diverticulitis and some other GI problems. It was real trouble, I tell you. Didn\’t think my family\’d stick it out but they did, and so did I. Beat the cancer, had half my stomach removed, a year or two of rest and now I\’m healthy as a horse – or at least a horse that\’s had a race with cancer and some mild surgery.\” He chuckled.
Gardenome sat in silence at that; momentarily the humour was lost on him. It was too severe a situation to laugh at. But he started to laugh for politeness, and then it took. The laughter rose like a hill, burst from him and onto Blackman who could not help himself and cackled aloud, throwing his head back. Now it was not about a horse or cancer, it was about two friends long removed finding each other by chance on a slushy street corner in February. It was about that ability, seemingly lost to grown people who are wound too tightly in their own webs, of reconnecting with another soul with whom you once felt comfortable enough to lean on. The times before, memories of laughter and good cheer flooded like a broken levy and now the two friends were just as they had been; not a man of wealth buying a troubled friend a patronizing drink, but two boys lost in the sheer enjoyment of the other. Long after the laughter ended they talked, dwelling little on present troubles or past, but on the joys of now and the warm pleasure of things well remembered. They talked and talked. The one forgetting his important luncheon, the other his book club. They would talk through the afternoon, through three more rounds of coffee, and go home to their wives with full reports of an afternoon that was more lively than any they could each remember since the first snowfall.