He was sitting, staring into space, not outwardly troubled, seeming like any other man in the middle of a day of cares. But it was him, certainly, the spitting image of the picture, the very same. Thirty years old, the oldest he would ever get. She approached quietly, ignoring the unfamiliar surroundings, the strange clothing styles, the sounds from passing automobiles — actual petroleum-powered automobiles — until her fingers came to rest on the cast iron end of the bench.
“Don’t do it,” She blurted, artlessly, and then winced before the man could even turn and react.
“What?” He asked, as if he hadn’t quite heard, before continuing after it had registered, “Don’t do what?” He looked at his sandwich as if wondering if she’d seen something wrong with it.
She sat on the bench next to him, careful not to disturb the detritus of his almost-complete sack lunch. “Sorry. I’m Etheline.”
“Etheline was my mother’s name. We almost named our daughter that. Funny.”
“I know. She won’t shut up about it, in fact.” She forgot herself for a moment, caught up in a memory. “I used to complain about my name all the time and she would go on about how it was almost hers but her mother wouldn’t let…”
He was looking at her with confused eyes. He hadn’t started glancing around for a security guard yet, which was a good sign; or maybe it was a side-effect of the problem at hand.
“That’s okay. I’m just not sure I follow you…”
She’d rehearsed it. There was no reason to abandon a plan of words carefully chosen, but now, sitting here next to him, it all escaped her. “How are you feeling?”
He shrugged. “Fine today, I guess.”
Fine today. “But you haven’t been fine?”
He paused. “Did someone from HR send you to find me? Are you a counselor?”
“Nothing like that. But I did come to talk to you.”
“You said ‘don’t do it.’ What is it you think I’m going to do?”
“You tell me.”
Now he was glancing around, shifting his weight, arranging his feet so that he could get up at any time. “Listen—”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to freak out.” She leaned in, not close enough to make him more uncomfortable, but enough so that she could lower her voice. “People have noticed you’re having a hard time. Jeannie has noticed. She didn’t… she hasn’t said anything because she didn’t want to embarrass you. She regrets that now. So much. You should talk to her.”
A security guard passed, an honest-to-gosh firearm in his belt, but Gramps didn’t flag him down. After a minute, he said, “She’ll think I’m weak.”
“But how do you know?”
“I could prove it to you. How I know, I mean. But then you’d never be able to convince yourself I was just some socially awkward lady from HR.”
He nodded, slowly, and then gathered up his trash and walked away.