Working on a manuscript in a scruffy (the best kind of scruffy) coffee shop somewhere along the California coast. A woman enters, dressed in worn coveralls and an off-kilter trucker cap. She is wearing safety glasses and rubber gloves. Her face is seamed and weathered and has that look of someone aged prematurely by time and trouble. I saw that face many times when I worked in mental health.
She stops at my elbow, leans in, makes eye contact, and in a firm, pleasant voice, asks, “Do you need any help today?”
“No thanks,” I say. She smiles kindly, dips her head, and moves on, making her way from table to table, asking each person the same question, and in turn, each person politely demurs.
She’s out the door and down the street before it occurs to me: There may be no kinder question.
And I don’t believe any of us answered correctly.
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