The two old men met early each afternoon on the pleasant wide porch and waited for the postman. The porch faced the park, the water and the afternoon sun. There were glass jalousie windows which could be rolled shut when the winter wind came up across the Tampa Bay.
The two old men, Mr. Beattle who had been a professor and Mr. Kelley, a retired manufacturer, were as different in character as one could imagine; and yet this was the time of day they both waited for all morning. It was a time of easy comradeship, free from solitude, and safe from the inquistion of strangers who had no notion of privacy. There was, too, and more important, the possibility of mail.
“No, I haven’t seen him yet.” Mr. Beattle was seated in the light aluminum chair, his walking stick laid precisely across the arms, his feet in their highly polished black shoes and wool-rib socks placed side by side in a spot of sun that warmed the green sisal rug.
Mr. Kelley, breathing heavily, was coming up the three low steps. He pushed opened the glass door. “I thought I heard him.”
There was no need to comment on this and Mr. Beattle, who was from Virginia, remained silent in his tidewater way.
It was Mr. Beattle’s impressive head that was a surprise each day to Mr. Kelley. Beattle had the sort of thick gray and sandy blonde hair that stayed combed but nevertheless stood up and away from his head. With his shaggy eyebrows it gave him a leonine aspect and great dignity. He had practically no cheekbones so that there were slanting hollows from his deepset eyes to his strong jaw. His teeth, too, in spite of their stains, still showed strong, and added to the vigorous feline countenance.
His body, though, was thin. In winter, when he wore his tweeds, he had the bearing of a large man; but now in the early fall with his sport shirt and narrow knit tie, he was plainly thin and old. Kelley often wondered if Mr. Beattle ate enough.
It was plain to anyone that Kelley had eaten enough all his life. His florid face sagged with weight; and folds of fat hung from his jawbones and swayed when he moved his head. His stomach was enormous and had the padded appearance his grandchildren liked to imitate with sofa cushions. His voice rolled in the deep, hearty manner of many fat men and made Mr. Beattle look smaller, as though he were shrinking to escape the voice which reverberated in the glass sunporch.
“Mr. Beattle,” he said, “the sun’s still hot.”
Mr. Beattle nodded that that was true.
Mr. Kelley let the door close behind him and lowered his weight onto the green web of the aluminum chaise longue. His seersucker shirt was transparent where it stuck to his pink breasts and his green putter-trousers were as wrinkled as pajamas. He wore sandals and no socks. There were days, Beattle was sure, when Mr. Kelley tried to look as repulsive as possible.
On such days, Beattle had further noticed, Mr. Kelley was inclined to make personal remarks.
“Mr. Beattle,” he said between breaths, “I don’t see how you stand those wool trousers.”
With his grey-haired fingers, the yellowed nails pared round and close, Beattle pinched the seams of his worsted flannels at the knees. He was inclined to say that he found them comfortable and was accustomed to them, but that would only open the way for more remarks from Mr. Kelley in his present mood.
When Mr. Beattle said nothing, Kelley watched him shrewdly out of the comer of his eye. He tried again: “Don’t you sweat?”
Beattle was certain now that this was a bad day for Mr, Kelley. Even though the question was direct, he chose not to answer.
It was a bad time for Mr. Kelley. For three days he had had no mail. Yesterday he had walked straight from the porch to the Korner Store and had bought things that were not on his list: shrimp Creole, poppyseed rolls, French Alsatian wine, a pint of ice cream, four different kinds of candy bars, and promising himself that he would portion these things out to himself over a two-week period, he’d gone home and eaten them all before midnight.
Twice he had awakened during the night with indigestion. This morning he felt not only fat but completely without character and had thought, as Beattle surmised: “To hell with socks. If I’m going to eat like one, I may as well look like one.”
When Beattle had waited long enough for the porch to echo with the brashness of the question about his sweat glands, he said, “It is warm today.”