was parked in a vacant city lot, sleeping in a company truck, when the fat homeless man stuck his head in my open window.
I worked as a legal courier, generally messing up the preferred whereabouts of vital contracts and documents. I'd smile at secretaries in important-looking offices--the kind with regal portraits on the walls and real hard-wood floors and paneling and soft classical music piped in from hidden speakers--right before they said things like, Oh, this isn't us, honey, this is the other firm, the one across town. I was always dreaming, floating around in memory, thinking about some masterpiece I was going to write, my mind worked over by the ten-hour days and the driving and the thick petrol fumes and the unblinking sunlight. My incompetence startled even me.
--Hey, said the man, his face eclipsing the light.
I sat up, flinging open my eyes. I let out a little scream that had been crouching in my throat for weeks, waiting for a carjacking or a mugging.
--I went to high school over there, he said, pointing out at the city. He said this with the soft, raspy intonation someone more mentally stable might say, I am in love.
--Oh, I said, calmer, thinking now that he would simply ask me for change.
Several of his teeth were gone. A shattering of blood vessels spread across his meaty nose. One eye was half shut. There was either dirt or a big grayish birthmark on one cheek.
Evidently he had been a star athlete in high school, the one out there in the ether he kept pointing to. That seemed to be the gist of what he was saying.
Eventually, he asked me for a ride. The radio, the one they used to chastise me for botching deliveries or taking too long, wasn't barking any commands right now. I said, --Sure, why not, get in.
He smelled, frankly, like he'd soiled his pants a week or so ago and hadn't bothered himself about it. His belly nearly hit the dash. I think the spot on his face was an odd birthmark. Or cancer.
--Where do you live? I asked.
--Down there, he pointed.
I followed the direction of his finger. --Where?
--Down there, he pointed again.
He was pointing to an alley entrance strewn with garbage cans on the other side of the vacant lot. It was about fifty feet away.
--That's where you live?
--Yeah. For now. I'm looking around, though.
--You want me to give you a ride over there?
--Please. You'd be saving my life, man. I can't walk across the lot with the sun like this, and all those weeds, man, growing up through the cracks. I'm stranded.
--Isn't that obvious? Look around you, man. I mean, just take a look! Christ!
He seemed like he might cry. I didn't want to pursue this conversation--his rules of logic clearly differed from mine--so I rolled over to the other side of the lot, near the alley, at about five miles per hour. He tensed up as we rolled over the sunniest part of the cracked asphalt, cringing a little.
He got out. He thanked me over and over, as if I'd given him one of my organs, a few pints of blood. I rolled back over to the other side of the lot and tried to nap again until the next call. I sat up to look a few times and he was standing there in the shade, mumbling to himself.
Over the next six months, until I was getting ready to go to graduate school, every time the man saw me pull into the lot to wait and to nap with my radio hissing pickups and drop-offs, he would waddle out of his alley, just to the edge where building shadow met sunlight, and throw up his hands in victory signs, as if I was some great hero returning home, as if I'd actually saved his life by giving him a ride across fifty feet of hot asphalt.
I was having a hard time back then. I'd lost a lot lately. My loneliness resided right in the dead middle of me, like starvation. I'd drive miles out of my way just to see the fat homeless man, then fall asleep, on the clock, smiling.