On an early evening in May of 1963, a young man with his hand in his pocket walked briskly up New York’s Third Avenue. The air was soft and beautiful, the sky was darkening by slow degrees from blue to the calm and lovely violet of dusk. There are people who love the city, and this was one of the nights that made them love it. Everyone standing in the doorways of the delicatessens and dry-cleaning shops and restaurants seemed to be smiling. An old lady pushing two bags of groceries in an old baby pram grinned at the young man and hailed him: “Hey, beautiful!” The young man gave her a half-smile and raised his hand in a wave.
She passed on her way, thinking: He’s in love.
He had that look about him. He was dressed in a light grey suit, the narrow tie pulled down a little, his top collar button undone. His hair was dark and cut short. His complexion was fair, his eyes a light blue. Not an extraordinary face, but on this soft spring evening, on this avenue, in May of 1963, he was beautiful, and the old woman found herself thinking with a moment’s sweet nostalgia that in spring anyone can be beautiful… if they’re hurrying to meet the one of their dreams for dinner and maybe dancing after. Spring is the only season when nostalgia never seems to turn bitter, and she went on her way glad that she had spoken to him and glad he had returned the compliment by raising his hand in half-salute.
The young man crossed Sixty-third Street, walking with a bounce in his step and that same half-smile on his lips. Part way up the block, an old man stood beside a chipped green handcart filled with flowers – the predominant colour was yellow; a yellow fever of jonquils and late crocuses. The old man also had carnations and a few hothouse tea roses, mostly yellow and white. He was eating a pretzel and listening to a bulky transistor radio that was sitting kitty-corner on his handcart.
The radio poured out bad news that
no one listened to: a hammer murderer was still on the loose; JFK had declared that the situation in a little Asian country called Vietnain (“Vite-num” the guy reading the news called it) would bear watching; an unidentified woman had been pulled from the East River; a grand jury had failed to indict a crime overlord in the current city administration’s war on heroin; the Russians had exploded a nuclear device. None of it seemed real, none of it seemed to matter. The air was soft and sweet. Two men with beer bellies stood outside a bakery, pitching nickels and ribbing each other. Spring trembled on the edge of summer, and in the city, summer is the season of dreams.
The young man passed the flower-stand and the sound of the bad news faded. He hesitated, looked over his shoulder, and thought it over. He reached into his coat pocket and touched the something in there again. For a moment his face seemed puzzled, lonely, almost haunted, and then, as his hand left the pocket, it regained its former expression of eager expectation.
He turned back to the flower stand, smiling. He would bring her some flowers, that would please her. He loved to see her eyes light up with surprise and joy when he brought her a surprise – little things, because he was far from rich. A box of candy. A bracelet. Once only a bag of Valencia oranges, because he knew they were Norma’s favourite.
“My young friend,” the flower vendor said, as the man in the grey suit came back, running his eyes over the stock in the handcart.