A chair gouged the stone floor and a man dashed after the fisherman. Someone silenced the music and the barista stood frozen, stirring. A tide of voices floated to the back of the cafe as gossip turned to speculation. The man in dripping waders had gulped a single word and disappeared. Now a woman in running gear rushed after them through the parking lot and down the wooden steps.
The man in the corner glanced up from the notebook in his lap, seeking the source of distraction. He found headphones and drowned cafe chaos in waves of cello and French horn. Meted in three, the piece led him back to the numbers and he scratched paper with precision strokes, ignoring the peripheral human churn. By threes and fives, customers abandoned drinks and schooled outside or to the windows for an elevated view of the spilling drama.
He counted thirteen inside and the crowd outside quickly multiplied. He factored in the shop across the parking lot, with an equally advantageous view. As the number of spectators increased, he knew the victim’s chances of survival statistically decreased. Sirens permeated the shallow membrane and he raised the volume. A three-minute response was average. Assuming the man had obtained the requested rope, the rescue may have begun in time.
He watched as the first emergency vehicle backed into the parking lot at the top of the steps. A wake of hats and umbrellas surged the walls of the two shops, flowing around parked cars. Predictably, phones and cameras emerged. He hummed the waltz. A woman turned from the window and stared at him, as if he were the tragedy. She looked like she might speak. A man pulled her arm and brought his phone to her face. She squinted, trying to make sense of the tiny image, shaking her head in confusion.
He returned to the numbers. There was nothing he could do, anyway. It was too late. He wondered the difference between those who rushed blindly after the fisherman, and those who chose the view. He added a few strokes to the equation, and paused with eyes closed as the music climaxed. They would each take ownership of this, personalize it, hijack it and spread it through friends, family and strangers. By the time the story garnished the local news, hundreds, maybe thousands would call it their own. Behind eyelids, he imagined an ocean of vibrating lips, faces without ears.
He had no compulsion to be counted in this tragedy of infinite proportion. He remained immersed in the music. Occasional glances toward the window revealed an event for which all senses were not required. Spectators turned away as lights flashed again. Perhaps it had been a child. The sea of umbrellas ebbed as the vehicle moved slowly out of the lot. It was over, then. Oblivious now to the thinning school of onlookers, he concentrated on the equation that sustained him. He worked through the late afternoon until the final shift whistle sounded at the mill across the river. His mind surfaced and he rolled out the door and into the waiting van.