The Muffin Man had sliced the circumference of his beaten top hat all the way around save for three inches in back that served as a hinge, and he’d flip the lid and pull out a muffin. I wouldn’t share because of my weight, but it moved me to think that a poor man would share. I met him with Mom on my first visit to Occupy, one–hundred or so pup tents down by the bay. We brought blankets and food, and Mom was my guide. Gregory flipped his “sun roof,” and Mom laughed so hard her hair whipped her face. Later she said, “He reminds me of a hippie charmer I knew.”
I returned without Mom, with canned beans and soup. Gregory sat at the opening of his tent with his arms wrapped around his hiked–up legs. It made him look small, but he was tall and solid. His smile was so white, and the whites of his eyes were so bright, I guessed he was twenty–seven or so despite his leathery face. “It’s a lived–in face,” he said with an apologetic sort of grin. He pulled an article about income inequality from the band of his top hat. “Lincoln kept legal notes in his hat band,” he said. He smiled like this was the coolest fact ever. “Did your Mr. Marvel tell you that?”
Mr. Martin, my revered AP Gov teacher, had not.
“It’s tragic,” I told Mom at home as we cooked. “Gregory’s house was foreclosed by the bank.”
“One of those adjustable rate loans, I bet. The banks pushed those like drugs.”
“Hell of a way to treat a veteran.”
Mom arched her brow in that annoying skeptical way.
On my next visit, Gregory shared canned tomato soup in his tent. He hung pen flashlights and glow sticks, and it looked like a bistro.
I told Mom, “He has PTSD from the war. His nerves are a mess.”
She snapped her knife onto the cutting board. “And what makes you think this drug bum is a vet?”
“He told me! God, you’re suspicious!”
Gregory wrote poetry about the war and read it to me. I told him his words were like bleeding flesh. He asked me to write a poem called “Bleeding Flesh,” and I did, and he loved it.
“Jennifer—that’s enough! Don’t you see what he’s trying to do?”
I thrust my lower lip. Mom knows she can’t order me around when I’m wearing my fish face, so she gripped my shoulders. “Jenny,” she said. “This person doesn’t care about you.” She scanned me from my big stupid glasses down to my big belly. “He just thinks you’re available, hon.”
In Gregory’s tent, I lay on his shoulder. He smelled like liquid soap and earth. He laid his hand on my belly so gently, I could almost feel a baby in there.
A human, Jon Sindell earns his bread as a humanities tutor and a professional–writing coach. His short fiction has appeared in dozens of publications; these include Hobart, Pithead Chapel, Word Riot, Connotation Press, MadHat Lit, New South, The Good Men Project, and Weave. He curates the Rolling Writers reading series in San Francisco and practiced law once’t.