Mark tipped the valet and got behind the wheel of his Mercedes. As his car shot out of the porch and glided down the incline, he glanced at the digital clock. It was 6 AM. It would take him an hour to reach his destination, and then another hour to prepare himself for his day’s work. If he missed the peak rush hour of 8 to 9, his entire day would be wasted.
The dilapidated cottage was a portal into his parallel universe. He would pass through it every morning on his way to work, and return through it every evening – six days a week. He parked his Mercedes in the garage, and went up the steps that led into the living room. The living room connected to a small bedroom upstairs, one in which he had never once spent the night – a few afternoons may be, when business had been good in the mornings.
There he changed into his costume. He had about a dozen of these, each tailored to a particular locality and designed to appeal to a specific gentry, and each improved and enhanced over the years. He loved to experiment. Today, he was going to wear his third creation. The costume that he had designed twelve years ago. The costume and his act had together brought him many thousands of dollars, and yet he wasn’t happy with it. It still wasn’t perfect. He knew he could make it better – but he didn’t know how.
He chose it for today, mostly because it rendered him completely unrecognizable. Even his mother, God rest her soul, couldn’t recognize him if she happened to glance down from the heavens. And yet, it didn’t generate the kind of response he expected.
It needs to be improved, but how? He wondered, as he turned the key to lock the door.
The tramp stood near the entrance to the subway. It was his favorite place. Mostly because he could see her coming down the sidewalk, her hair windblown, her eyes appearing mysterious behind her sunglasses. He watched her shapely legs that tapered into her fashionable heels and her sweet knees playing hide and seek under the helm of her tailored skirt, as she passed him on the sidewalk. She never stopped. Never threw a dime in his hat, but she made his mornings and evenings more interesting.
After all these years of their marriage, he was still in love with her. Sometimes he felt guilty about keeping his secret from her, because she never hid anything from him. He was her entire existence. He knew that upon reaching home, he would see her silhouette in the window of their kitchen, and when he would enter the house, she would come to kiss him – she had done it every evening, since they had got married.
I’ll see her again in a few hours, he thought as a man in a long coat threw a two dollar bill in his hat.
And then he saw her again. She hadn’t gone down for the subway instead she was standing at the entrance. His heart leaped into his mouth. Had she learned his secret?
Another bill fell into his hat, but he ignored it. And then he saw him. He was about thirty and wore denims. No class. But when she saw him, her face lighted up, and then they kissed.
Then, together they walked back. As they passed him, his arm wrapped around her shoulders and hers around his waist, he took out his wallet and dropped a five dollar bill in his hat. Mark’s wife, who had never before looked at the beggar on the sidewalk, looked at him and gave him a smile full of pity.
Impotently, passively, Mark watched them leave. He couldn’t destroy his disguise by reacting – it was his best costume. It wasn’t perfect, it didn’t generate the kind of sympathy that he wanted it to…and yet…
Then he noticed his hat. It was overflowing. As he scrambled to empty it, he realized that tears were streaming down his face that reflected his broken heart. As the pious and the kindhearted emptied their purses and wallets to fill his hat, he realized that now he had the perfect costume.
But the price that he had to pay for it was his perfect life.
Image Attribution: By ALAN SCHMIERER (via Wikimedia)