The name on the bench

777 words

This is awful. But with a hundred floor of frights, they can’t all be winners.

He tapped his pen rapidly against the Formica tabletop. Taptaptaptaptaptaptaptap. He usually did this when he was deep in thought or reading. He was doing the latter at the moment. He squinted at his laptop screen. It was an Acer, at least seven years old, and on its last legs. Glancing around the coffee shop, everyone else seemed to be displaying silver laptops featuring glowing fruit. But those laptops, he knew, were too pricey for him.

Taptaptap. Taptap. Tap.

His lips moved unconsciously as he read. He nodded vaguely, then retrieved his phone from his worn leather briefcase. He noticed messenger bags were all the rage right now, but he preferred what he had. He’d been using his once-glossy leather suitcase for almost 30 years and didn’t see a reason why he should wrinkle his carefully pressed shirts by flinging a canvas strap across his chest. He also thought those bags looked, well, sloppy. Untrustworthy. A man with a briefcase is a man you can trust.

He held his phone next to the laptop screen, his eyes darting between them, comparing the two. Unlike the laptop, the phone had been purchased recently. It was a smartphone, technology now required of all employees of the Betterfield Realtor Team. It had to do with the app. All employees must have the Betterfield app installed on their phones to give each client “the complete attention you deserve when finding your home sweet home.” He’d had to give up his beloved Blackberry, which was a shame. He liked the tactile buttons and the satisfying click they made. This new phone had a strange, smooth screen, and though the phone makers had programmed a clicking sound plus some sort of mechanical thunk—he could feel it in his hand—fake buttons just weren’t the same. But he had to admit he really liked that Candy Crush game.

But now the company needed him to install an additional app. It was a several-step ordeal, and they’d sent out an email with instructions. The directions were lengthy, and began with, “It’s easy. Simply…” He didn’t think this was easy. And the process was not, to his mind, simple. He could have gone into the office and have Steve, the IT person help him. And Steve would have been more than happy to do so, without or condescension. He was a good guy. But having someone else do this would be admitting he needed help, and needing help with technology was yet another sign that he was getting older. “Not ‘older,’ he thought, peering at his phone, ‘old.’”

He sat back in his booth and uncapped his pen. It was one of the good ones he liked—a Uniball. He reached into his briefcase again without looking; his hand felt around and pulled out a yellow legal pad. Another blast from the past he couldn’t give up. Everyone else seemed to take notes on their phones or laptops; he preferred pen and paper. He flipped up the top page, folded it behind the cardboard backing, and set it on the table. He wasn’t sure why he needed the pad right then. He supposed he felt comforted by it in the face of technology.

He was doodling when the woman walked by. His doodle depicted a smartphone with a speech bubble floating next to its little screen. The phone was declaring, “I HATE PEOPLE!”, but the screen itself had a little smiley face. He glanced up at the woman, made eye contact, then returned to his legal pad.

“Oh hey, it’s you,” the woman said, stopping next to his chair. She had a look of amusement playing in her eyes.

“Pardon?” he said, startled. He looked around. “Me?”

“You’re the bench guy,” she said, motioning toward the shop’s front doors. “The real estate agent? I see your ads on the bus benches all of the time.”

“Realtor,” he said. “It’s… a trademarked thing. Most people don’t know that.” He shrank inwardly. It was a pedantic thing to say. But he continued anyway, unable to stop. “You have to take a test and everything. Get a license.”

She smiled. “What’s your slogan again? Something like… ‘Welcome home’?”

He laughed. “You’re close. It’s, ‘Your home. You’re home.’ The two different ‘yours,’” he felt himself babbling again. She was an attractive woman. “Um, it’s a play on words. It’s better when you see it,” he said.

“No, no. I get it,” she said. “It’s clever. Really.” She waited. He wasn’t sure what she was expecting.

“Oh! I’m sorry. I’m Kevin. Kevin Lancaster,” he extended his hand.

“Maddie Markel,” she took it.

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