UN POINT FIXÉ • by Salvatore Difalco

I was sitting in Café New Orleans on Toronto’s Yonge Street one cool autumn day, watching the foot traffic flow north and south, nursing a coffee, my thoughts diffuse. Except for a young couple sharing a quiet tête-à-tête at a corner table, I was the only patron. I thumbed through an old copy of Pierre Reverdy’s Picasso-inked book of poems Le chants des mortes — hoping to spruce up my French — without much attention. I’d been feeling morose of late, though I couldn’t pinpoint why. Things weren’t any worse or better than they had been for a long while. Perhaps that was the problem: my durable stasis.

In the midst of my reveries, a man approached my table. As I liked to sit near the front for a panoramic view of the street, I observed him in the reflection of the window, a dark figure distending as it neared me. A fingernail of anxiety plucked my nerves. I thought perhaps a solicitor, beggar, or a deranged man intended to interfere with my state of abstraction. Strangers put me off, whatever their costume or motivations. I’m not a friendly or gregarious person by nature, nor can I pretend to be.

Nevertheless, I turned away from the window and saw an elderly man in a three-piece brown suit standing there, shirt collar open, his neck sagged and crinkled like beige crêpe. His face looked vaguely familiar, aged but still well-defined, even chiseled, with high cheekbones and a strong nose. He was bald with a smooth, unblemished skull and large leathery ears. I caught a whiff of Tabac Original, an echo of a past when men routinely splashed a little aftershave on their raw, freshly-razored faces.

“Hello,” he said flatly. He wore no expression and kept his arms at his side. I was drawing a blank.

“Do I know you?” I asked.

“It’s me,” he said, his lips rising at the corners.

A moment passed. I had a peripheral but detailed awareness of the long-bladed ceiling fans in the café swirling slowly, the whispering couple, the waxy greenery of the potted plants, and the fastidious waiter with the impresario moustache twirling around tables and gliding to the bar. Faint jazz played over the speakers, inarticulate, more like a pleasant buzz.

The man seemed to be gathering himself for an announcement or statement. I was about to tell him off when he bent toward me and said, “I’m your father.”

At first I thought I’d misheard him, that he said he knew my father. My father had died when I was a child. My memories of him were fragmented at best. I said nothing and waited for the man to either repeat what he just said, or perhaps disassemble as would any sketchy figure who had made an outlandish claim and was about to be called on it.

“Did you hear me?” he said.

“I heard you just fine,” I said.

A silence ensued. The waiter appeared, shot me a look, then asked the man if he wanted anything. “Just saying hello,” he said. “I won’t be long.” The waiter again looked at me and as I gave no indication of discomfort — though I didn’t exactly feel comfortable, more like mildly flummoxed or annoyed — he assumed all was well and darted off.

“Look,” I said, “I don’t know who you are, or what you want, but my father died a long time ago. I’m guessing you’re not all there, maybe a little touched, I don’t know, I don’t care, but I suggest you beat it before I do something you won’t like.”

Far from being deterred or intimidated by my threat, the man smiled.

“You think I’m being funny?” I said.

“No,” he said. “You’re just like I used to be. A hothead, a tough. I bet you can handle yourself. But I see you read books, too. Nice.”

I flattened my hands on the table and leaned forward. “I bet I can handle you,” I said. “Now quit bothering me and get the fuck out of here. I’m not telling you again.”

The man raised his hands in surrender. “Okay, boss, no problem,” he said. He turned to leave but threw me a final, over-the-shoulder salvo. “Say hello to Carmela,” he said. With that, he shuffled toward the exit, nodded to the waiter, and pushed open the door.

I sat there for a long moment.

The waiter came and refilled my coffee. “Everything okay?” he asked. He had served me on countless occasions and we shared an impersonal but amicable bond.

“My mother’s name is Carmela,” I said.

The waiter looked at me uncertainly. “Um, that’s a lovely name,” he said with an almost questioning lilt.

I returned to the Pierre Reverdy book, disquieted, but also deeply saddened, as I often was when I thought of my mother — stricken with dementia and bedridden in a nursing home for the last few years as she was. How did that bozo know her name? I thumbed through the poems with blurred eyes and a lump in my throat.

I had no explanation for what had happened. Maybe the guy was an old family friend, or someone from the nursing home. Maybe the whole thing was a prank, initiated by who knows who — or maybe, in the end, it was just a cosmic fluke. I wasn’t going to dwell on it. You can drive yourself mad trying to figure out all the weirdness of this life.

My gaze strayed toward the street. A man garbed like a mime — face painted white, beret on his head, red scarf, striped top — appeared. He looked complete, padding along on slippered feet. The only fault lay in his paunchy physiognomy. It’s hard to take a bloated mime seriously. Nevertheless, as he passed, he happened to turn his head and we locked eyes. He stopped and made a sad face, then traced his forefingers over his cheeks as if tracking the course of his faux tears, or mocking mine.

Sicilian Canadian poet and short story writer Salvatore Difalco lives in Toronto, Canada. Recent work in Cafe Irreal and Third Wednesday.

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