A Gesture Life opens with Franklin “Doc” Hata discussing how much he has grown accustomed to the people and lifestyle in the affluent town of Bedley Run, where he has lived for the past thirty years. Bedley Run resides fifty minutes north of New York City, and when Doc Hata first read about it in 1963, the place had just been cleared for development. The town appealed to him despite its desolate appearance. Whereas other suburbs had felt unwelcoming, Doc Hata felt welcomed and encouraged to play a role in establishing this town. In the present time of the novel, around 1993, Doc Hata has become very well-known and respected in the Bedley Run community.
Doc Hata explains that, despite the moniker “Doc,” he is not, in fact, a doctor. Rather, he ran a medical supply store in town that became something of an informal clinic where he always provided his customers with friendly advice. Doc Hata reflects that some people may think he has relied too much on his welcoming demeanor to gain the approval of others. He reflects, too, that it’s difficult to understand why a person acts the way they do and indeed difficult for a person to understand even their own actions.
Doc Hata describes his store, Sunny Medical Supply, which has fallen into disrepair now that he’s sold it to James and Anne Hickey, a young couple from the city. The store hasn’t done well since the sale, and James suspects that Doc Hata knowingly sold them a dying business.
A few days ago, Doc Hata dropped into the store to check in on its new proprietors. James and Anne had just been arguing. James felt overwhelmed by financial troubles, and he took his frustration out on Doc Hata. Anne apologized and thanked Doc Hata for his kindness. Doc Hata stayed and spoke with Anne, who told him that their son, Patrick, had a congenital heart disease and urgently awaited a heart transplant. She also informed him that they were in danger of losing the store to the bank since they hadn’t paid their mortgage in several months.
When customers came into the store, Doc Hata took his leave, and Anne accompanied him outside to say goodbye. He thinks she picked up this social custom from watching him when he used to own the store.
Before Doc Hata left, Anne remembered to give him a box of photographs that she found in the storeroom. She remarked on the photos of a young girl. Doc Hata said she must be talking about Sunny, and he explained that Sunny, the namesake of the medical supply store, had come from Japan to stay with him while she was in school. Upon leaving, Doc Hata wished he hadn’t lied about Sunny, but he had felt unprepared to talk about her.