I come here a few mornings a week. The clerk knows my face. Today I’m waiting for a bagel to be trussed, and my phone rings. I have a brief, breathless logistical conversation and then hang up. The clerk looks up and asks me how I’m doing today.
I decide to be honest, he’s just witnessed the flurry on the phone. “I’m a little frazzled,” I tell him. “How are you?”
“I’m fine, thanks,” he says, and looks out the window.
I wait until his attention strays back to me. “Would you have told me if you weren’t?”
He’s confused. “I’m fine,” he says again, smiling.
“I know, but if you weren’t fine, would you have told me that?”
He laughs at me, it’s a laugh I’ve seen before, the one he reserves for the florid and broken section-8 housing residents from around the corner who count out their pennies for coffee. “Of course not,” he says, still smiling, “I wouldn’t tell you that.”