"I think I even miss that goddamn Maurice. It's funny. Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody." ~ Holden Caulfield
But his face is kind, his smile gentle and sad. The first crinkles of middle age are gathering around his pale blue eyes magnified to blurriness behind heavy circular lenses.
His name is Maurice. He shows me around the abandoned department store, up and down dim, dusty aisles. Though Maurice walks with the slightly duck-footed rolling gate of the hugely obese, he is surprisingly light on his feet. He sails his 500-pound bulk through the womens' clothing section, jostling faded cheap blouses and leaving them quivering on their hangers in his wake.
He says he has lived here alone for more than 20 years.
Maurice lives well, sleeping in what was the manager's office on a stack of king mattresses neatly made up with linens and blankets from the bedding department. The room is lined with the best paperbacks from the book section. I glimpse some of the titles. Confederacy of Dunces. Catcher in the Rye.
His living room is what was once the department store pharmacy, furnished with the roomiest sofas from the furnishings section, the best of the cheap lamps, rattan tables, and color prints. In the middle is a large recliner chair. He has swept all the pharmacy drugs from their shelves into the trash, replacing them with a collection of musical CDs. A Beethoven symphony rises muted from an electric-blue boom box.
"Why do you live here alone?" I ask.
"I suffer from a terrible condition."
He explains that periodically his head grows to an enormous size -- 10, sometimes 15 times larger. "And then I have to remain in this recliner chair, not moving. I can't read, can't listen to music, can't even go to the restroom. I have no way to feed myself.
"So you see," he says. "I need a friend. Somebody to help during these times."
I'll be his friend.
A week or so later when I visit, I find him suffering from one of his attacks, immobile in the recliner chair with his huge head propped on several pillows. He did not think I would return. I spoon-feed him hot oatmeal. Take care of his hamsters and fish in the pet section. Read aloud from Catcher in the Rye.