(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

It is not yet dawn on a rainy morning when the twelve-year-old paperboy decides to have a cup of coffee at Leo’s café before finishing his paper route. There are few customers this morning: some soldiers, some laborers from the nearby mill, and an unusual looking man drinking beer alone. Leo, the surly owner of the streetcar café, pays little attention to the boy, and he is about to leave when the man with the beer calls to him. The boy cautiously approaches the man and is taken aback when the stranger declares that he loves him. Though the other customers laugh at this declaration, the man is deadly serious. Embarrassed and unsure of what to do next, the boy sits down when the man offers to explain what he means.

With the boy seated next to him, the man pulls out two photographs and tells the boy to examine them. Old and faded, both are of the same woman, whom the man identifies as his wife. As he begins his story, the boy, anxious to leave the café and finish his paper route, looks to Leo for help; when none is forthcoming, the boy starts to leave, but something in the man’s manner compels him to stay. Nervous but resigned, the boy listens, half convinced that the man is drunk.

However, the man seems sober and almost eerily serene as he explains that, to him, love is a “science”; by way of illustration, he tells the story of his marriage. Twelve years ago, when he was working as a railroad engineer, he had married the woman in the...

(The entire section is 575 words.)