David says they should all wear name tags, the green and white kind that say Hello, My Name Is… That way it could take on the semblance of meaningful human interaction as opposed to a strict business relationship. He says there’d be a marketing advantage, too. He says it’s all about branding. Patrons could actually know their names from the very beginning.
I tell him I don’t think the patrons are after meaningful human interaction, at least not the kind he has in mind.
He says he still thinks it’s a good idea. Maybe he’ll talk to our councilwoman about it.
I tell him it’s a free country.
We continue walking east on 14th, then turn south on Spruce. It’s Christmas time; someone is playing a Burl Ives record at full volume through an open window. A light snow is falling.
The street is full of them tonight, at least one on every block, both sides of the street, mostly hanging in the shadows. Must be hoping to get picked up quick, trying to get in out of the cold any way they can.
A shadow steps forward, asks me for a cigarette. I fumble through my jacket, looking for my pack. David asks the kid his name. He hesitates, uncertain. Grant, he says finally.
I find my pack, offer the cigarette, ask if he needs a light. No, he says.
We cross the street and continue walking up Spruce. I ask David what all that was about.
He says he’s just proving a theory. They just want someone to acknowledge that they’re still human.
I tell David the kid was lying. I tell him that Grant is the name of the street we just crossed.
David says nothing.
I glance back over my shoulder. The kid is a shadow again. He hasn’t lit the cigarette yet.
David brings up the name tag idea again. He says he thinks he’ll start handing them out himself. He says he’ll start with Grant.
I tell him to knock himself out. But I don’t want anything to do with it.
David tells me I can’t just do nothing. He says I’m being heartless.
I tell him he’s being unrealistic. I ask him how he’ll feel if one day Grant ends up buried in the Metro section of the Star-Tribune, identified only by his green-and-white name tag.
David says nothing.
A car pulls up ahead of us, at the corner of Spruce and Oak Grove, half a block from home. A shadow approaches it cautiously. Words are exchanged. The shadow gets in.
David says I didn’t used to be this callous. I tell him I don’t remember him being this naïve.
The car drives off.
The wind picks up, throwing snow in my face and blinding me for a moment. David asks if I’m okay. I tell him I’m fine. He asks if I can still see. I tell him it doesn’t matter; I’ve been this way before.
Will Curl is currently a Lecturer in English at the University of Wisconsin – Fox Valley, the current editor of Fox Cry Review, and has fiction appearing in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Karamu, juked, and other venues.