I didn’t want to know his name, but I thought of him as Lyle, which annoyed me because Lyle is my middle name. Despite my desire to avoid him, he kept turning up, always looking as if he could see right through me while at the same time seeing nothing at all. He was a slight man, small enough to fit inside a large man, and had a scruffy appearance—unshaven, threadbare clothes, chaotic hair. His teeth were discolored and I could smell his shoes.
The first time he spoke to me I was at the library reading a newspaper. I’d seen him there before, and he’d given me his look. This time he leaned on the table where I sat and said: “Nowhere to go? No one to see? Nothing to do?” He waited for an answer, but if I’d replied would he have kept at me?
His presence stayed with me after he’d stepped away, creating a nagging inward pressure. I imagined getting up and Lyle laughing at the sight of my back retreating from him. I sat still for a few minutes and then, without seeming to rush, exited the building.
At a coffeehouse near where I live he showed up at my table, blowing on a fresh cup, and I told myself to never again sit with my back to the door. “Do you belong anywhere?” he asked. “Are you lost?” I could have asked if he was lost, but why engage him and suffer the consequences of his reaction? I ignored him, and before moving on he whispered in my ear: “It won’t work.”
One afternoon when I was out for my daily walk he passed me going the opposite direction on the other side of the street. He waved and smiled as if posing for a camera. Is he loaded? I wondered. For blocks I looked over my shoulder, irritated that I feared seeing him.
My next encounter with him occurred during another walk, though I’d taken a route away from familiar surroundings. I’d expected to feel safer, but as I made a left turn I noticed him following at a distance. Could it be a coincidence? I took another left turn at the first opportunity and, cutting my eyes, saw him in pursuit. I ducked into a store and hurried to the rear where I couldn’t be seen from outside. Soon, he passed, his eyes searching for me. He gazed inside the store and then went on, but as I emerged from hiding I saw him appear again. He’d turned back and was entering the store. I opened a door to the staff area and escaped through an exit into the alley, expecting at any moment to see Lyle pop out the same doorway. I ran, finding a lane off the alley that led to a small square with benches and chirping birds. I spotted a small restaurant. I walked there and sat at a table in the back with a view out the front window.
Though I’d avoided it for several weeks, I returned to the library, hoping Lyle might be occupied with other prey. I sat in a comfortable corner chair with the newspaper, the only other chair filled by a snoozing man. As a further precaution, I raised the newspaper in front of my face. In less than five minutes the man who’d been sleeping groaned and pushed himself to his feet, leaving the chair gaping beside me. I then heard footsteps and smelled Lyle’s shoes. He flicked the newspaper with a finger. I continued to hold it between us, and he pushed it forward, reversing the vertical fold. I lowered the paper but didn’t meet his eyes.
“Cup of coffee? No? Don’t have the nerve? Was your first word alienation?”
I tried not to guess how long he would speak.
“I don’t need to know your name to know who you are. I see you. I am your witness. Nothing to say in your defense? You can’t even think what to explain.” He put his face closer to mine. “I know where you were going. Nowhere. What makes you afraid to admit it?”
He left me, my shaking hands rattling the paper.
To change my pattern, I began walking at night. I was enjoying some cool air off the river when I saw a man leaning on a rail that overlooked its bank, staring out, the wind blowing his hair upright. It was Lyle. No one else was in sight, and an idea took hold, entering my breath. I followed the path down, treading softly, not allowing myself to imagine what I intended, still seeing no other person in any direction as I approached. I shut my eyes to shield myself from what I would do and lunged toward him, opening my eyes when I thought I was at the rail, halting before my momentum carried me over.
Lyle was gone. Had he heard me? Had I imagined him? I looked to each side. I heard his voice from behind, saying “Hello there,” the sound infuriating me. He came at me, aggressive, wisecracking, my mind too blurred to understand what he was saying, or perhaps he slurred because he was drunk. I yanked his arm, pulling him forward, and heaved him over the rail. He tried to scream but couldn’t catch his breath.
I stumbled backward and fell over, scuffing my hands on the ground. I stood and hurried away, warning myself not to mutter out loud.
My head lowered, I walked straight home and paced the floor, free to mutter. I stayed close to the front window, on alert. Silence surrounded me, filled by fear and inner noise. Could I be sure I’d seen the last of Lyle? Could he have crawled up the riverbank, coughing up foul water, intent on revenge?
I remain vigilant, but so far he is only inside me. I am still waiting.