Bill and Frank sat watching people go by. The place was a large outdoor pedestrian mall with an ornate fountain as its centerpiece. An indoor mall sat at one end and the Mississippi River ran along its side. All manner of people went by and Bill quickly washed his feet under the weight of a icy stare from an old woman with cat-eye sunglasses on, who sat frozen, admiring the fountain.
Bill turned to let his feet dry in the breeze. Now he was facing the woman. Frank didn't seem to notice her as he smoked and had apparently picked up a pair of sunglasses. Bill wondered at Frank's ability to procure items like cigarettes, lighters, sunglasses, hats, shoes... He figured that he'd either walked into one of the shops back on Canal St. and taken it or swiped it off of someone whilst walking. In either case, it was a pretty neat trick to be able to pull off consistently without getting caught a lot, at least it seemed so to Bill. He bummed a cigarette off of Frank, who apparently had a whole pack.
Frank moaned just loud enough for Bill to hear and when Bill looked over, Frank was staring. Bill followed his line of vision and ended up looking at a gorgeous young woman in a flower print sun dress. She had wispy blond hair and open shoes that were nothing more than a wedge of rubber with tiny leather straps binding them to her feet. Her body was that of a swimsuit model. She walked at a brisk pace, but her face was relaxed and peaceful as if she had nowhere to go, just extra energy. She positively glowed in the sunlight.
Bill looked away before she noticed his stare.
Frank, his head not moving, followed her with his eyes from behind his sunglasses.
While waiting for her to get out of earshot so they would be able to discuss the nuances of her passing, Bill fidgeted around, examining the stone of the fountain, checking his shoes, waving his feet... He still could feel the old woman's stare and he looked at her quickly. Sure enough, she still seemed to be staring right at the spot she had been when they'd first arrived. Bill wished he had a pair of sunglasses. He puffed at his cigarette.
"Damn, that bitch was fine!" Frank said.
"That girl in the flowered dress! Didn't you see her?"
"Oh, yeah...yeah! She was a goddess."
"And she knew it too!"
"DID she!" Bill shook his head.
"Did you catch the painted toenails?"
"No! What color?"
"Looked like red..." he pointed to his sunglasses and sighed.
"I liked the shoes."
"Yeah," Frank nodded as he produced a candy bar.
"But how about that beautiful little dress?"
"Shit, that bitch could have been wearing a potato sack..."
"Yeah... Maybe you're right," Bill said as he slipped the shoes onto his bare feet. "But the dress didn't hurt either. How about the way it blew around in the wind, letting a little extra thigh show now and then?"
"You're right, but all I'm saying is that she'd have been fine either way." Frank said as he scanned the crowd, studiously taking in every woman that went by. He dismissed the men as soon as he determined that they were either cops or too smart to be conned. The ones he decided were cops he imagined into painful situations. He was picturing one particular pinhead with a sharpened coat hanger piercing his navel when Bill said something. "What's that?" Frank asked.
"I said, what would you do if you knew you only had a year to live?"
"Well I guess I'd do what I'm doing now until I died in the Charity ward." He paused. "That's a hell of a fucking question to ask, man."
"You took it the wrong way. Of course, that's what I'd do too, given our present situation." They both glanced down at their clothes. "I mean if we were straight and had jobs and houses and wives and families and everything. What then?"
"Those are a lot of ifs..."
"Yeah, but humor me, I think I'm on to something."
"On to something?"
"Yeah. Just answer the question. What WOULD to do?"
Frank thought for a minute. "Is it something painful?"
"The thing I'm diagnosed with."
"Well of course it matters! If it's some horrible wasting illness like AIDS or something, I'd probably kill myself before the year was up."
"Okokok! It's a painless tumor that the doctors say will explode and kill you in exactly one year."
"They can't operate?"
"Ok. well that changes things a lot."
"You're right...So what would you do?"
"Well, let's see..." Frank meditatively watched a little latin girl go by.
"Caramel." Bill mumbled.
"Yeah, that mexican cutie with the caramel colored skin that just went by..."
"Oh, yeah. I saw her. . . So?"
"What would you do?"
"I don't know," Frank said, getting annoyed. "I guess I'd divorce my wife, kiss my kids good-bye and buy a Harley. Maybe smoke a lot of opium and tool around on my bike until the damned tumor blew up and killed me in my sleeping bag."
Bill didn't say anything and just sat nodding reflectively.
"Hmmm," Bill said, seeming to wake up from his thoughts.
"Then what would YOU do?" Frank asked with a tinge of sarcasm.
"I'd just stay in my place with my family... Don't get me wrong, I'd quit my job and all, but it'd be better than dying alone."
"Eh, maybe you're right." Frank watched a young couple pushing a baby in a stroller. The man was sweating profusely and carrying two large baby bags that threatened to burst. "What kind of question is that to ask anyway?"
"I dunno," Bill shrugged, "I just think it says a lot about a person's ambitions, that's all."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I think the answer to that question says a lot about you, where you picture yourself going and what you want from life. Like you, for instance. You want to be left alone to enjoy what you can get your hands on, while I want love, and to be with my family and all..."
They both sat and thought, watching the beautiful women walk by in groups and alone, with husbands, boyfriends, babies, parents, siblings and pets. Each one more sensual than the last. Huge vessels went by on the river. Tanker ships, cruise ships, tugboats and barges. All of them with men scurrying around on their decks.
Frank suddenly stood up, slapping both of his knees.
"I think it's time we went looking for some grub, pardner."
"I think you're right." Bill said as he got up to follow Frank.
The old woman quietly sighed to herself and rearranged her hands in her lap.