Mister Margaret (A Story)
His name was Mister Margaret. Everyone called him that. He was around sixty, the indeterminate kind of sixty, and in fantastic shape. He walked around town often. How he stayed in shape was a mystery. He never wore a hat and also was never quite clean-shaven. You could tell he was observant. No matter where his head was turned, you could see that his eyes followed everything.
Away from prying ears, people speculated how the name came to be his. Not me. I had been initially curious, that’s true. Unlike my fellow townspeople, though, I just asked Mister Margaret one early morning. I’ve learned that life is too short to avoid a momentary bit of possible awkwardness. He was outside the diner, sitting on the uncomfortable curb along the street, holding a coffee cup. I learned that if it wasn’t raining, he always took his third cup of coffee outside to drink it. “Ain’t no reason to be indoors all the time. I want to see the world, and I imagine the world might want to see me a bit, too,” he’d told Joshua, the diner owner.
I sat down a few feet away from Mister Margaret, awkwardly folding my legs against the pavement. I wasn’t as fit as him, and my knees and hips reminded me to do everything with caution.
“Can I ask you a question, Mister Margaret? You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. How’d you get the name?” I smiled, hoping he would forgive my directness.
He laughed. “Yeah, I’ll tell you. I know people want to know. I hear whispers. And because it is a terrible story, one you probably can’t guess, you can’t regret knowing. That’s what knowledge does to us. It opens us and we can’t go back once we know something.” He paused. I nodded. As if we’d shaken hands and swore an oath, Mister Margaret started talking.
“My wife died about a year earlier. I had a great business along Main Street in my hometown. I killed a young woman one Saturday afternoon.” He paused, knowing that he’d thrown me a curveball. “She ran across the street without looking. I hit her, going forty-five miles an hour. The impact broke her all over and flung her body further than you’d believe. After the County Sheriff ruled it to be an accident, a lot of the girl’s family got anger and grief mixed up in their hearts. A month after I killed her, I walked out of the grocery store to find myself facing her father, a man everyone called Mister. He had a knife and told me he was going to kill me. I didn’t doubt him. He lunged at me in front of several witnesses. I sidestepped him and hit him in the side of the head as hard as I could. Two things, though. I didn’t really sidestep him as much I thought. He stuck that knife five inches up into my belly. I struck him so hard he fell. His head hit one of those concrete carstops in front of the store. He never woke up. His daughter’s name? Margaret. After three weeks in the hospital, I got discharged, and I sold everything I had and moved here for a fresh start. It seemed right to take both of their names as a reminder. You can look it up, if you’re inclined to do so. And that’s the story of my name.”
He looked at me intensely, waiting to see what I might say.
“It’s a good thing you didn’t run over someone named Turd,” I said. I was a bit horrified I’d said the words out loud. I was trying to be funny.
To my surprise, Mister Margaret began to laugh like I’d told the best joke in the world. He threw his head back, and he began to shake and cough with laughter. Tears streamed down his face, and I grinned as I watched.
“I haven’t laughed like that in ten years!” he said. “I guess that means we’re going to be friends. By the way, friend, what is your name? It better not be Asshat.”
We both laughed. We finished our respective cups of coffee, watching the town around us.
That’s how our lifelong friendship started.
With a laugh.