An Air of Need

Prose short story

I got off work late again.
I stopped by the local grease monger for a poorly prepared burger.
I wasn’t hungry, I just didn’t want to go home.
The waitress already knows I want it burned so she only asks what I’ll have to drink.
“Coffee, same color as the burger.”
She laughs politely and leaves to deliver my demands to the kitchen.
There are always too many people in this city.
That’s why I like this place so much.
It’s just distasteful enough that a guy can get some quiet space to think.
This was my sanctuary.
I opened up yesterday’s paper and tried to find the article on budget cuts in the schools.
I had started it on the bus.
“Excuse me, my good man,”
I flipped a corner down an looked up.
“Might I bother you for the horoscopes?”
I was not his good man.
Nor was I his dinner company, but there he sat.
My new uninvited guest.
I simply stared for a moment, collecting my thoughts.
He was dressed much to nicely to be out north of the tracks.
And his speech followed suit.
I flipped through my oily pages and pulled his request.
“I’m a Pisces,” he informed.
I just handed him the paper and looked back at my own.
I tried to ignore him.
For some reason he reacted loudly to each bit he read.
“Woah-ho-ho, wouldyalookatthat!” he exclaimed with a victorious slap to the paper.
I folded my paper up.
I didn’t think I’d be doing much reading now.
“What?” I asked flatly.
“I need to watch my finances this month,”
He disclosed through a smile,
“They may be in jeopardy, especially next week.”
I couldn’t tell if he was serious at first.
He thought for a moment and then it sunk in.
“That’s a serious need,” he said solemnly.
“Those things are just for fun, you know,” I consoled.
His face didn’t change.
“There’s no way that everyone born in October is going to struggle the same week.”
“March,” he interjected.
He must have been hooked on this stuff.
“I was born in March.”
I sighed audibly and started to get back to my paper.
The waitress appeared with my coffee.
My new friend said he didnt need anything.
There was silence when she left.
He seemed uncomfortable about it and finally broke it:
“What do you need?”
“What do I need?” I repeated.
I just seethed for a moment.
“I need some space,” I replied coldly.
Another moment of silence.
“Space… no, space won’t do,” he finally said,
“I don’t need space. I have tons, too much even. Maybe I need less.”
Sarcasm seemed to be my only ally.
“Can’t imagine why,” I offered.
He didn’t seem to notice or care.
“Friend, I sure am mixed up,” he said earnestly.
He wasn’t going to leave.
“I have to need something. Everyone does, right?”
I put the paper down again incredulously.
“You need a need? What does that even mean?”
“You want mine?” I offered in jest.
“Yours? I daresay I couldn’t,”
The concern painted his face gray.
“What would you need then?”
“I think I’d be real happy without any needs,” I replied.
“You think so? What is a man without a vacuum to propel him?”
“A vacuum?”
“The air knows the way, friend.
Its always eager to attack any void it finds.
Thats where wind comes from, you know.”
“What has wind got to do with any of this?”
The waitress came with my burger.
I started patting the ketchup bottle on my palm.
“The borders of my life are all unmoving,” he said,
“I’m forced to lay stagnant, passionless.”
He gazed out the window unfocused and listlessly.
“Why’d you come out here?”
I asked through half-chewed fries,
“No offense, guy, but you dont belong here.”
“I suppose I came ‘looking for trouble’ as they say.”
“Well thats ’bout all we got here,” I replied with a wide-armed gesture.
He forrowed his brow and focused on what I said.
After some time he stood up and picked up his hat.
“Maybe I’ve forgotten how to find it then.”
And he left.
Back to Top