THE MAN WITH THE
RED AND WHITE SCARF
Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Volume 11, Number 2
Copyright © 2016
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to
in the Apple Valley
Review are retained by
the individual authors
Fiction by Karl Harshbarger
Peterson was walking along 58th Street and had stopped to wait
for the lights to change at Lexington Avenue when he saw someone he
knew among the people waiting to cross from the other side.
That is, Peterson was pretty sure he knew him. Although the man
was far enough away across the width of avenue that he couldn’t be
But he was pretty sure.
The man was wearing a dark, conservative overcoat which marked
him out as a lawyer or perhaps a business executive. But, contradictorily,
in a way, he was also wearing a bright red and white scarf which he had
flipped out over one of his shoulders.
So maybe he wasn’t a lawyer or a business executive.
Peterson tried to remember the man’s name. Just at the moment he
couldn’t recall it. But wasn’t it “Carter,” or perhaps, “Curtis?” Some
name like that that starting with a “C.”
Or maybe not.
Well, in any case, it didn’t make any difference what his actual
name was because in New York City when two people who sort of
knew each other met like this it was always a pleasant experience. A
real sense of luck, of everything breaking your way. There you were
among hundreds of thousands of people on the streets and yet the two
of you somehow ran across each other. Of course, you would stop and
talk. You would ask him what he was up to and he would tell you, oh,
he was just on his lunch break and had run some errands, and you would
reply that you were on an errand, too, to find some potted plants for
your wife. Not to mention that the next time the two of you saw each
other back at the office building or the fitness club, or wherever, it would
be as if you shared some sort of special secret—a secret which other
people didn’t share.
Except when Peterson looked across Lexington Avenue again the
man wasn’t there.
What? thought Peterson.
Peterson especially searched for the brightly colored red and white
scarf. But he didn’t see it.
Well, Peterson told himself, it didn’t really matter. After all,
Peterson couldn’t even come up with the man’s name.
Some of the people on his side of the street and also across
Lexington Avenue were already beginning to step out into the paths of
turning taxi cabs, and suddenly the lights must have changed because all
of the people on both sides surged forward.
And Peterson saw the man again. There he was with the red and
white scarf. In fact, he was on a path which would intersect with
Peterson’s. Good! They would meet!
“Hello, there!” said Peterson.
The man didn’t even look at Peterson but continued his way across
“Hello!” he called out.
The man continued walking until he reached the curb on the other
Peterson realized he had only seconds to make his decision. He
could continue in the direction he was going and find those potted plants,
or reverse directions and follow the man.
The taxi cabs were already edging forward when Peterson reversed
directions and headed back barely making it to the curb in time.
But looking out over the heads of people walking along 58th Street
he couldn’t see the man. Not even the red and white scarf. So which way
had he gone? Had he turned down Lexington Avenue or continued along
58th? Maybe he had gone into one of the stores? And, if so, which store?
Suddenly Peterson felt a sense of loss.
That didn’t make any sense, Peterson told himself. Come on! He
hardly knew the man. Maybe he had met him at a party, or some such,
maybe seen him around his office building. And, come on, he couldn’t
even remember his name.
So it didn’t make any difference.
None at all, Peterson told himself.
Suddenly he saw a flash of a red and white as he looked down 58th
Peterson walked as fast as he could, passing other people,
occasionally losing sight of the red and white, and then seeing it again.
Finally he got up right behind the man and slowed his walk matching the
And then it happened. Out of nowhere. Peterson remembered the
Of course, Tom. How had he forgotten it?
The man even looked like a “Tom.”
Peterson quickened his step until he was even with the man.
“Tom, hello, there,” said Peterson.
The man glanced sideways at Peterson and continued walking.
“Tom?” said Peterson.
The man quickened his step and Peterson had to quicken his step to
“You remember me, don’t you?”
Peterson reached out and touched the man’s arm.
The man whipped his arm back and said, “Hands off, buddy!” and
began to walk even faster.
And suddenly Peterson knew. That he didn’t know this man. That
he had never met him. Never in his entire life.
Peterson watched him disappear along 58th Street.
Good riddance, he thought.
He also thought, Thank God.
Because one thing was for sure. He would never see this guy again.
After all, he had to get on with his life, didn’t he? Find those potted
plants for his wife?
Of course, he did.
Peterson turned in the direction he had originally been going, walked
back along 58th Street to Lexington Avenue. As he waited there for the
lights to change he saw people gathering on the other side also waiting for
the lights to change.
He searched their faces.
But he didn’t know any of those people.
Not one of them.
Karl Harshbarger is an American writer living in Germany. His short
stories have been published in magazines such as The Atlantic Monthly,
Ploughshares, The Iowa Review, The Antioch Review, The New
England Review, and Prairie Schooner. Two of his stories have also
been selected for the list of “Distinguished Stories” in Best American
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