No longer suburban, Bruce Bentzman offers the latest piece in his new series:

From the Night Factory

15. The Litter

I am a very judgmental person and my judgment is often wrong. I parked the car in a remote spot and headed towards the mall. It was late evening and an overcast of threatening clouds brought the night early. It was freakishly cold.

A woman came out of the mall's adjacent office building and to me it looked as if she intentionally discarded some garbage on the sidewalk. My first feeling was to yell at her some offensive remark, but that's not like me. I simply let nasty criticisms pour silently through my mind. She looked like she could be in her forties, a bit tired, in clothes that appeared comfortable and not too fetching. I got the sense that she was leaving work late.

We passed each other in opposite directions and I noticed she carried a thick paperback book. It looked serious, perhaps literary. This had me thinking better of her, but I remained annoyed.

I approached the piece of trash I thought she intentionally discarded, expecting it to be the wrappings of something she had just bought. I was determined to pick it up and discard it in the garbage barrel not ten feet away. As I neared, it began to look like the torn half of a #10 envelope. As I lifted it, I realized it was folded notebook paper, wide-rule, for a three-ring binder. I opened it and saw that it was a letter that seemed unfinished. I ran after the woman.

She was just pulling out of her parking slot. I was afraid to bang on her window and alarm her, or be hit by her backing out, so I waited at a distance. Then I realized she was turning to go in the other direction, away from me. I called and chased after the car. She didn't have far to go to reach the first stop sign and I nearly caught up, but if she heard me or looked in her rearview mirror, she either ignored me or simply wasn't paying attention. The latter would explain her losing the letter to begin with.

When the distance was too great, I gave up and once again headed for the mall. En route across the well-lit parking lot, I unfolded the letter and read it:

Dear [deleted],

I am sorry that we missed each other - that night when you saw your furniture in my bedroom & realized you had been abandoned was upsetting for both of us. I sensed your despair & I could do nothing to help you. I was feeling despair. I was surrounded by country club single family home & good schooling, but emotionally I was dying.

I realized that the family had abandoned you. The stories & facts didn't make sense. I feel intense sadness about our loss of connection & your early death at age 50. I will never have a chance to reconnect with you & tell you how I feel. I feel sad about the lack of support & help given you. I felt scared that I too would be abandoned.

I brought the letter home and showed it to Ms Keogh, my more significant other. She looked at the letter and thought it was written as part of transactional analysis therapy. “The woman was probably coming from her therapist,” she said.

On another day, I returned to the office building by the mall and examined the directory hanging in the lobby. There were a number of the building’s residents who could have been the woman’s therapist. It occurred to me, she might have a weekly meeting scheduled with her therapist. Choosing the same night of the week, at the same hour, I parked the car and watched the building’s exit to see if the woman would again appear, thinking I could return the letter – well, offer to return the letter. I didn’t actually have it. I sent it to a friend in Santa Fe, a retired professor of psychology.

The woman did not appear, but then the building had doors on both sides. She could have left by the other doors. Maybe I had the wrong night.

I would have gone back the next night, but Ms Keogh recommended against it; “She may think you’re stalking her, especially if you don’t have in hand the letter in question. Besides, being faced with the fact that you’ve invaded her privacy, might embarrass and humiliate her, and make you appear creepy.”

My friend in Santa Fe returned the letter and wrote that he agreed with Ms Keogh about it sounding like part of therapy. And the question is, did the woman drop the letter on purpose, did she drop the letter by accident, or was it something in-between?

The question Ms Keogh has is - how far should I go in order to have material for an essay?

Mr Bentzman will continue to report here regularly about the events and concerns of his life. If you've any comments or suggestions, he would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems "Atheist Grace" is available from Amazon, as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"