She stood under the awning looking at the grey raining sky. A gust of wind dappled the splattering pools of water.
Do you think it will ever stop? someone asked.
Charlie was startled. Some times she felt like her thoughts would leak out. And this prooved it. Some unknown had picked up her thought, and said it out loud. She turned to see. It was a man who had old markings. Creases on his face. Grey in his hair. And wires for eyebrows. He smiled at her with his blue grey eyes.
Charlies heart raced unexpectantly.
I'm sorry she said I gotta go.
Take care now. he said
And he unscrewed the lid of a thermus, and poured it full of coffee. He sipped with a loud satifing slurp followed by ahhhh. He just looked forward at all the wet greyness.
"I remember the dry times" he said to the rain.
Charlie looked across the lot. She also remembered those days. In the distance a rig door opened and a woman climed down raising her purse above her head. She was a working girl and working girls like her all wore impractical shoes. The woman's tight skirt constrained her gait, so she ran awkwardly toward them, with a squeal meant for the cold rain.
"He baby" she said to the man.
"Ma'am", he replied
"Oh now, don't call me that", she said, "call me honey, honey."
The woman measured Charlie with a glance. Charlie looked down, pulled her mechanical hand into her sleeve, and look away holding the elbow.
"What you got in there? Can I have a sip? You look like a bourbon man to me, am I right or what?" she asked
"None felt m'afaid", he said
"Why don't we go over to yours? I'n make you some" she asked
"No can do ma'am" he said.
"Suit yourself pappa", she replied and walked off.
She stared at Charlie as she left. How do women know these things, Charlie wondered.
Maybe it's in the posture. Or maybe it's written on her face like a spill. She thought. You know how with a single glance, at a man walking the sidewalk, you know without a doubt that he is gay. You don't think it, you know it. There is no elaborate difference between that particular man and any other man on the same street at the same time, yet something inside you knows. Well the same is true for a whore. You look and you know.
Charlie watched the rain.
The man finished his coffee and flicked the cup and screwed it on the thermus. He looked up and raised an umbrella. It was an old mechanical umbrella, a flimsy aluminium poll with a hexagonal crown of thin articulated fingers, webbed with material that stretched tight and gave it form. He pressed a trigger and it popped open. The man with white hair stepped into the weather.
She hadn't seen an umbrella like that for years. The antique artefact prompted memories. Her great grandfather was once again with her, with his smiling wife hooked on his elbow. They where both so proud of each other. It was a look between them that she remembered most. A look that locked them together. A look that was tangible to anyone near them, it was something special. Their look made you envious of their eyes, you wanted to see through them, just for a moment, just long enough to feel locked like that.
The man with white hair crossed the courtyard and climbed into a station-wagon, with padded side panels. It was also old, the windows had a ghostly pale blue tint to them and the passenger seat was empty. A neighbouring vehicle, farther down, honked at him. His lights turned on, and he honked back with three short toots. And then as if perfectly rehursed both engines started, there where a few more honks from around the lot, and then a smaller car pulled up along side the station station-wagon hooting with long hard punches. There was a pause then more hooting, then the passenger door opened and an overweight middle aged woman climbed out and strode across the lot with a short anxious gait. She headed for the shopping mall with a phone pressed to her ear and a face full of anger. She checked her wrist watch as she passed Charlie.
The other cars idled quietly for a moment but then began to reverse and orientate one by one into a caravan. A worm of machines tip to tail. Pilgrims reading to travel across a desert land of rain, a land of mud and drenched roads, heading to some unknowable mecca, some mysterious land, a better place populated by their people. Charlie saw this more frequently with each passing year. The old where stationary no more. They did not want death by bed.
They did not believe the promised hope that spewed from the media. They had seen too much life to be blind to the reality that they would never leave. They would see the end on their birth planet. They where perhaps the only truly free people left on earth. The retired had no more potential before them. All their greatness was spent, their income taxes paid, all their great deeds, regrets and anxieties where done. Their lives where memories, of their life, captured in digital dust, shared between family photos of past gatherings, video clips of healthy happy corporal vestiges of their former self.
The back windows had drawn curtains and the interior looked orderly. The car started, reversed and circled round the lot and all the way back to the loading area, where Chalrie was standing. The man got out, threw some trash away got back in and he was gone. Charlie left sad about that and she did not know why.
She sighed to herself and looked at her phone. There was a message from her truck, she pressed it a screen opened and showed her it's location and a pie graph indicated the batteries where 57 minutes away from full. She turned the trolley around and went back into the mall.