The old man studied the stain left behind on the wooden table by the Pilsen bottles as he played with the ring on his finger. He stopped and dipped his rag, black and brown from use, in the bucket of water and carefully, in small circular motion, wiped where the stain was until it faded into the woodwork after which, he scrubbed it with his thumb, tracing the oval shape with the tip until his thumb was dark from the grime and the wooden table was as clean as it possibly could be. Never new. Its disposition had been marked from the years of use and it would never be new again and he had made peace with that. Now he tried to keep it as worn out as it was when he first started working at the cafe. When he failed at that, he made peace with it as well. He wiped his thumb on his pant leg without care and moved on to the next table.
Beside him, Conrad whistled to himself. He cleaned his tables with less care and with less diligence. He often forgot to wet his rag so that the dry rag merely scrapped off the fallen food bits and dropped them on the floor to be swept up later but not before it became caked with dirt and attracted a thin line of black ants.
The old man carefully eyed the next table under the candle light, the wax dripped down into the metal cup that was placed in the centre of each table and in its centre, the slim body of the candle looked ghostly pale under its own flame. Natural light had been put out and he didn’t notice for the entire day the light had been imprisoned behind the dark clouds. The same clouds barred the stars, which he was so fond of seeing and the sliver of the moon could hardly be seen in its darkened cell. He bowed his head and scrubbed the table and used his hand where the rag would not do until he was at peace with it. He smacked the air around the candle with his rag and extinguished its flame and he looked up at Conrad to see if he saw that but he was busy brushing bread crumbs to the floor. The old man smiled to himself and went towards the flickering light of the other candles that danced with the wind and waved and called him towards his duty.
“Just come why don’t you and sleep when you’re dead.” Conrad said moving to the table beside him. He cleaned the table quickly.
“If I keep going on like this, that won’t be far away.” The old man replied.
“Don’t be like this. You’re always like this. Always making it more complicated then it needs to be.”
“There’s nothing complicated in a man’s need for sleep. In fact it is the least complicated desire a man has.”
“And we desire your company. To hear your stories. Come just to tell us a few and have a few drinks that’s all.”
Thats what they always say. A simple jester to their kings court.
“You’ve heard them all.”
“Not all and even so I don’t mind hearing them again.”
“What if I mind telling them again?”
That was true.
“Besides nothing puts ones mind at rest then a good drink and a rested mind means good sleep. So you won’t be complaining about that anymore.”
That was true as well. The dark spots under his eyes, which could be seen in the candle light as he scrubbed the table were witnesses to his restless nights that were spent trying not to dream.
“I don’t know what it is. I shower before going to bed but that feeling of dirt never leaves me. Its like the dirt is underneath my skin just as it is under these fingernails. Its just another thing I have to make peace with.” Just as he had to make peace with the blotch of grease on the table after he had spent a good minute rubbing it.
“Drinking was created to make peace, don’t you know?” Conrad smiled.
“I’m yet to see that. If forgetfulness was its aim then yes I have seen that but peace I haven’t.”
Conrad moved on to another table after blowing out the candle.
“Who will I wager on if not you?”
“Ah, now I see why.”
“You know as well as I that no man can out drink you and the fiesta brings good business and boys who are full of pride and if you’ll be a good friend and listen to your friends plea we can both make something extra. See it as work.”
The bartender announced last call and the boy who was sitting in the corner asked for one more bottle of Redds. The old man got the bottle and went over to the boy. He shook his head as he passed Conrad.
The boys hair was neatly done to one side. The sleeves of his buttoned shirt were rolled up as far as the shirt allowed and there was redness around his chin the kind you get when you are still learning to shave. The old man had on occasion watched the boy work these past few hours and he had wondered if his own son worked like this or if he was unfortunately like his father. He hoped it was the former and it scared him to think it might be the latter.
The boy sat on the corner table with thick panelled glass on either side and the light from the street lamps graced him from above while, the fiesta lights, which snaked on top of the panelled glass of the patio were done over twice on the head of the corner pole on which, the boy leaned on and the light hovered over his head and in the night it looked as if a halo crowned the boy.
“Thank you.” The boy said. He took the bottle and took a sip and placed it on the table. The wood of the table was hardly visible underneath the scattered pages and file covers.
“You look tired if you don’t mind me saying. Was it a hard day at work?” The old man asked.
“Just started.” The boy replied.
“That looks awfully tiring as well.” The old man glanced over the pages that were covered from top to bottom with black ink and occasionally with red markings and scribbled notes squeezed in on the edges of the paper.
“It can be if you let it be.”
“Are you a writer?”
“I guess you can say that.”
“Why I guess?”
“I write but I am no good.”
“There are plenty of people who are no good but they boast about their work. Just look at the politicians.”
This made the boy smile.
“I work for the Sunday Times.”
“Are you here for the fiesta?”
The boy nodded.
“I’m covering it for my paper so they sent me over here and booked me a small little room at the inn just a few minutes walk from here.”
“The Haven inn?”
The boy nodded again.
“The man that runs it told me about this place.”
“Andre has been working there since he was a boy when his father ran the inn. He’s a kind man. So, are you catching up or getting a head start?”
“I figured I’ll be plenty busy the next few days so I better get some writing done today.”
“You’re right to think that. One forgets even ones own name during the fiesta let alone the time.”
“I’m looking forward to it.” He drank from the bottle. “Never been to one before.”
“It’ll be my first.” The boy took another sip as he studied the paper in front of him.
He looked to be nineteen maybe twenty. Old man could still remember the train and its tight compartments, crammed together in the small cabins with his two comrades, as he liked to call them in those days, Henry and Jake and a family of three whose name he had forgotten, as they travelled through the mountains in Italy when he was as red as the boy. The last thing on his mind was work.
‘If you don’t mind me saying, you remind me of my boy.”
“Does he work for the paper too?”
“I don’t know.”
The old man turned away from the boys studying gaze which told him that he did not understand and how could he. He was just a boy. He picked up the two empty bottles from his table and started to leave.
“Actually, now that I have you here, could I ask you something?” The boy said.
“I’m at your service.” The old man said turning back around.
“This fiesta, what’s its point? I mean, I understand the celebration of it but I can’t find anywhere the real purpose behind it.”
The old man paused for a moment, he clicked the bottom of the bottles together and then shrugged his shoulders.
“Well, in all honesty, I don’t know myself and I have celebrated it for the past twenty years and I have heard some say it is for the coming spring, while others think its for the rebirth of the fertile land. I see it more of a mating ritual.” He smiled at the boy. “All I know is that we wet the ground with spilled wine and through it rises the flowers of May.”
“That’s quite the feat.”
“Of course its just an excuse really to give the farmers a break and get the villages to come together and to make the businessmen’s pockets full as if they weren’t full already but don’t tell anyone I told you that.” The old man winked.
“Yes of course.” The boy marked down everything he said.
“Will I be in the paper?”
“Maybe.” He finished writing.
“Please send me a copy if I am.”
“Consider it done.” The boy took a sip.
“Me? In the papers? Wonderful.”
“Fertility of the ground.” The boy said. “Maybe this article will grow my career as well.”
“You must come visit in the summer time. The streets are peaceful, the grass is green the same as the trees and you’ll never see so many different kinds of flowers. Its truly an Eden. And then there is the water.” The old man closed his eyes and took a deep breath, taking in the smell of the evening tide that was carried in by the wind. They could not see it but it was there, beyond the houses, in the dark. “There is nothing like the summer sun and the warm waters. I tell you, it keeps an old man like me living. You write about that and you’ll have people begging to read more of your work.”
“I might have to book a return trip one day.” The boy said although he did not seem convinced.
“It might make for good writing.”
The old man played with his ring.
“You know I used to write a little when I was younger.”
“Not as well as you I’m sure but I enjoyed it. Got a couple stories in the local magazine in fact.
“That’s no small feat.”
“You think so?”
“Hell, that means you got something, right?”
“But that feels like a different life. When I was your age the last thing I would think about was my work, there was just too many wonderful distractions and too much to see but here I am, chewing your ear out with my nonsense, don’t mind me. I shouldn’t keep a young man as yourself from his work for I am being your distraction.”
Conrad had finished cleaning the rest of the tables. Only the boys table remained. He told the boy that the cafe was closing and that it was time to pack his things. Conrad and the old man stood quietly together as he finished his drink and tidied up his documents and arranged them in his files. He stood up and rolled down his sleeves and put on his jacket. He placed the amount he owed on the table and then some more.
“Looks like it is about to rain.” He said.
“So much for all of this work.” Conrad replied.
He bid the waiters good night and thanked the old man for the talk. The old man smiled and just nodded.
Together, Conrad and the old man cleaned up the last table and carried the empty plate and bottles back inside.
“You’re coming aren’t you?” Conrad asked.
Conrad admitted defeat and dropped the topic. He looked at the shelf of bottles all different sizes and flavours and asked if anyone will notice if he took a few.
“Be my guest. I won’t tell.”
“You’re a good man.”
He climbed the steep road with his head bowed against the wind and the light drizzle peppered his back. He had gone with Conrad enough times to know how the night would have ended so he was happy that for once he chose a different path. He walked with a slight lean as if he carried a boulder on his shoulders for it relieved the pressure from his low back but did not relieve completely the pin like pain that had permanently embedded itself there so that each step pushed those pins further in, burning the base of his back and the concrete sidewalk hammered in his old knees. They were daily reminders that he was no longer a young man. Reminders of his past years and his past catching up. Days of flight long gone and the birds wings clipped and forced to walk on its claws but still with the painful memories of the rushing wind under its wings and the soaring heights and the reminders of what it could do flashed in its eyes along with the reminders of what it couldn’t do anymore.
His father used to praise him for his quickness and it was one of the few things he prided himself on. Done with a book in a single day that took others a week to read. He had fond memories, that he often thought of, as a young man, not much older than the boy at the cafe, of writing whole stories in just a day. Sitting down as the noon sun in the clear skies and when he got up from his desk and looked outside he would be surprised to see the sun peeled away and replaced by the pale moon, the yellow gone for the white. He loved those days but he could not make them last, there were too many distractions and his own will was weak. He had run through those days. Now it hurt to walk. The desire to run was still there.
Fog crept down from the mountains that towered over Liga. It had haunted his steps the first time he had come here. Back then the town still celebrated the Grand Carnival with its parades and floats of animals, the floats that were peppered with children, waving their tiny hands, as the floats rolled over the flower petal covered streets and the drums boomed all around town and fire rockets started in the morning and ended with the setting sun; now in its stead, they had the fiesta, which was just an excuse of excess and drunkenness for the poor men and woman to forget their poverty for a few days, no longer were there roads of petals and bands that played dancing music at each corner or smiling children.
The Carnival was what attracted him to Liga and he had come with Vic Brahman and Dwight Fields. it was twenty five years ago and they had heard the rumours of the Carnival’s grandeur and were not disappointed. It was all new back then. Every part of the town a treat for their eyes, that had grown up seeing farmland, for it was untouched so that even the cracked bricks were passed by without another glance by the town folks, attracted his eye and he would wonder how long the bricks had been here and what caused the cracks; rain, snow, the salted air or human play, and the beauty in the age that even with its failings it still kept the walls upright and the houses livable and the same failings that the townsfolk tried hiding during the Carnival with fresh coats of paint and decorations, he saw as marks of life for it full filled its purpose and like everything in nature, it grew old and worn down and it was perfect cause it had done its duty.
Now he was like the others, he walked past shaking his head at the crumbling back roads and admiring the new paint that hid the old beauty. He had forgotten the old feelings. They had passed him. He sometimes tried to force himself to appreciate the minute and the forgotten but his mind would quickly jump to the things he had to do or what he had just done or what he was going to do. Fiesta brought back the memories of his younger age when he first came to Liga those memories that kept him awake at night and tired his eyes during the day.
The old man looked at either side of the road before crossing through the fog. His fingers instinctively playing with the ring.
He used to take the bus back to his apartment but the past few week he started to walk in hopes that the long walk would tire him out and bring about seamless sleep. There was a time when the busses drove more than just him and the other townsfolk for when the Carnival still called Liga its home, busses came stuffed with people and some even sat atop of the metal roofs, smiling and waving, as they came at the horizon knowing that they were about to spend a week of their lives which would feel like a lifetime and in those days he never had trouble sleeping. It was as if his sleep had gone with those people and now he wandered around looking for it like Liga looked for its once wanted self. It had been wanted once by the big businesses that saw the potential of the ocean waters and the snow covered tops of mountains but the town shielded itself from modernity and kept stagnant and he had once heard praise for his work all those years ago and at night he would think about those days as the town folks thought about their failures, for the businesses found home in the neighbouring towns and as they grew, Liga stayed, as his friends moved on, he stayed behind remembering the times when he was known for more than just a table cleaner or the old man who told stories and Liga was known for its grand streets and festivities instead of a quiet spot that allowed the drunkenness for it needed the drunk as bad as the drunk needed the next bottle and with it, it was an empty shell of what it could have been. Wasted.
He crossed a park with fiesta lights coiled around the branches of the oak trees. Red, green, purple and yellow, they sparkled in the dark. The path was littered with fallen leaves dried up and crumbled that were still to be swept from the past winter. There were empty bottles on the grass and the nearby trash bin stood unused. A couple sat in the dark and watched him walk. He stepped off the path briefly to let a group of young men walks by and he was amazed that they kept their balance so well for the ground was no doubt shifting in their heads.
Ahead someone had broken the fire hydrant and its inside spilled over onto the road and the sidewalk so that it took form of a stream or a river and the old man stepped over it and his heel came down on the water and it wet the bottom of his trousers. He heard someone call his name and he turned towards the sound and saw Conrad waving his hat from across the street. He motioned him to come over and Conrad disappeared through the tinted doors of the pub. Somehow he walked towards where he didn’t want to go. Pubs lined one side of the street and they were all on fire for red glow of light emitted through the tinted windows. The whole avenue came alive at night and in the day time it slumbered so at night it could live again.
A head of an owl sat atop of the large dark oakwood doors. Its blank stare looked into him as he crossed the road and watched over him as he pushed the doors open. A wave of smoke surrounded him and he fanned his hand in front of his face to clear it away but the moment he stopped, the retreating smoke came back for another assault. He swallowed his dry spit and felt his heart beating in his throat. He should not have come here but now that he was here he could not leave. Shouts and cries filled his ears as the other souls in the dwelling tried to talk over the loud music. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with the palm of his hand and looked for Conrad.
The light in the pub was encased in coloured glass so that red light shrouded them and he squeezed around the tables towards the glass window on which a three headed dog was painted, each head showed its yellow teeth and saliva dripped from its jaws. A group of people cheered behind him and a man accidentally spilled his drink and his friends laughed and ordered some more. He blinked quickly to rid himself of the tears that had come about from the thick smoke. Everyone in the pub seemed to be smoking and the windows were all closed. He forgot which way was out.
“You came. I knew you would, you old dog.” Conrad said
He offered him a seat beside him. Conrad was not alone. The old man shook hands with the man in the black broad rimmed hat and with the two women, one wearing a knee length checkered dress and the other had on a simple yellow dress that was tied around the waist with a thin black belt. Someone offered him a drink and he accepted. Another offered him a smoke and he took it. Conrad handed him a leather pouch with wine inside and he tipped it to his lips and squeezed the leather skin and drank and some of it spilled and went down the old man’s chin and left purple stains on his shirt. They all cheered and Conrad patted him on the back. One bottle was emptied and another was presented. One smoke was gone and another appeared. All around him the drunkenness was the norm and the celebration of life was under way while the three headed dog growled at him, etched in the window and the fog shifted through the streets outside.
“To the good life.” Conrad said and they all drank to it.
The surroundings were familiar and it made the old man feel at ease and because they were familiar, it made the old man drink more so that he did not feel at home.
“Never thought the good life would be cleaning tables.” He said.
“Could be worse. Could be working the lumber mill.” Conrad said.
“Can you imagine me working at the mill?” He laughed. “They’ll probably throw me under one of those big machines with the sharp blades when they hear me complain, hell, I already hate how my hands feel now, all wrinkled and hard, imagine how they’ll be if I had to cut wood all day.”
“That’s a man’s job. A worthy one.”
“To hell with worthy, all I need is this.” He finished off the liquor in his glass and looked around for the waitress. He caught her eye and ordered another one.
“What did you think the good life would be?” The man in the broad rimmed hat asked.
“I think I wasted too much time thinking so I don’t want to think about what it should be.” The old man said.
He drummed the table with his fingers.
“What happened to your hand?” The girl in the checkered dress asked.
“This is a good one.” Conrad said.
The old man examined the back of his hand and the cut that went from his knuckle to his wrist. He had had it for so many years that he often forgot about the abnormality.
“I must have told you the story before.”
“Tell us again.” Checkered dress said.
“It might bore you if you have heard it before.”
“I don’t remember it.”
“Then I must not have told it to you.”
He told them about his brief tenure as a fishermen in Cuba and how he had gotten caught in a storm one day when he had accepted a wager and gone out foolishly for the catch even though all signs pointed to rough waters and ever worse showers. In the storm he had been thrown to his side as he was cutting a piece of rope that was as thick as his wrists and in his fall the blade had sliced open the back of his hand but it did not hurt but what did hurt was the sea water washing over it and the salt from it burrowing inside his wound. He could not remember how he possibly stayed conscious enough to make it out of the storm for the pain caused him to see only bright lights. He played up the storm and its danger for it made for a better story but other then that it was all true. He emphasized the pain as the sea water went into the deep cut and the checkered dress woman ran her fingers along the trench line scar left behind by the incident.
“But I did win that wager.” He finished and the others laughed.
“Told you it was a good story.” Conrad said.
“Hopefully you’ll remember it.” The old man said to the girl.
He took a drink and his throat burned. He noticed how much he had been sweating.
“I tell you what, I never felt pain like that, even breaking my hand wasn’t as bad?”
“How did you possibly break that?”
“Would you like to hear that one?”
“Go on. Tell us.” Checkered dress said.
He paused for a few seconds and gathered his thoughts for the liquor in him was fighting the workings of his mind. He waved away the smoke from his face. He enjoyed these moments when people looked at him and waited, hanging on his every word, their heads moving along with the rhythm of his words and their faces contorting to whatever expression he wished them to convey. It made him feel alive like he mattered.
“This one involved a girl I fancied and wanted to dance with. We were celebrating something but I cannot remember what. Maybe it was someones birthday? Anyways, this girl, she accepted my hand and we were dancing, oh and this was years ago, when I was a young man, anyways, like I was saying, this girl and I were having a good time when the fella she had come with came up and had something to say in a manner that I did not quite appreciate. So one thing led to another, headed by the sweet trail of booze, it only took one or two more words before our fists began to fly. I tell you what, those Australians have some hard heads because I hit him good twice and on the third time I hit him clean to the head and I didn’t feel it then but that one broke these two knuckles. But the Aussie stayed on his feet and I knew then I was done for and boy was I right.”
“The girl eventually pulled that man off of me. My boys, if I can call them that, took me to the hospital. I had bruised ribs the doc said but you know what, it wasn’t too bad. The nurse was quite the looker and I managed to get her and I’ll tell you something else…” He trailed off as he noticed that the checkered girl and the man in the broad rimmed hat were no longer listening but were lost in each others mouths. Conrad had left the table and was at a different one talking to a pair of men. The yellow dress was staring at him or rather staring through him as the five empty bottles in front of her and her hanging lower lip told the old man that she was in a different world, a world where he did not exist.
He forced the last of the liquor down his throat and it burned all the way. He wiped the sweat from his brow with a napkin and stood up.
“Where you going?” Conrad came through a crowd. Two men followed him.
“I’m not feeling well.” The old man said.
“Nonsense. I just stay a few more minutes. I just got these boys to come over. They want to have a drink or two with you.” He winked.
“Not today.” Old man squeezed past the kissing couple but found his path blocked by Conrad who stepped in front and placed a firm hand on his shoulder.
“They’re willing to put up a tenner each. Come on.” He said softly so that only the old man could hear.
“I don’t belong here. I need to go. I need to get out.” He pushed Conrad’s arm away and turned towards the doors. Conrad called after him but he could not hear over the loud music. Breath came to him sporadically through the smoke and he coughed in his hand. He shouldered past a waiter and he heard a glass breaking behind him and someone yelling but he did not turn to see. His feet moved ever so slowly, each step laboured and hard and the thump of his boot vibrated in his skull and he waved his hand to clear the smoke and he felt sweat creeping down the side of his head and the back of his neck. He desperately played with his ring turning it over and over again around his finger. Around him shadows moved and in one corner there were flames and the hooded bartender poured more drinks and behind him, the three headed dog watched as he looked for the exit and it followed him until the owl took its watch and the dark eyes of it followed the old man as he crossed the road.
On the other side, he took a deep breath. Then another and another until the ache in his chest calmed and his breathing returned and the sweat dried. He did not know how long he was hunched over on the side of the road but when he straightened his back protested and the pins dug deeper and for a second he saw stars as he squeezed his eyes and when he opened them the stars disappeared and the heavy clouds drifted above him. Smoke had married his clothes and his own self repulsed him.
“Nada” he said shaking his head.
He twirled the ring around his finger and looked to see that he was alone except for the fog that shadowed his movement and led him up the street. As a young man, he had imagined this to be his golden years. Sand floating on his porch as he stared into the ocean from his rocking chair, with a book on his lap and paper and a pen beside him on top of a wicker basket. His children caring for him. His wife an arms length away. His friends calling to come play a round of chess or discuss the going on in the world over some good wine and even better steak. He had lost touch with most of his friends. A few, like Old Jack O’Brien, had passed and he remembered when he heard about Old Jack’s passing, it did not affect him the least bit and it should have because they were the same age. Others had settled down, raised families and moved on.
He raised his shoulders to his ear and ducked his head. The wind came strong now that the buildings around him lessened and somewhere ahead he could hear the waves crashing.
He had used his days thinking about that one day. That one day that was inevitable in his young mind and now in his old one, he thought often of the days wasted. That boy still had his days. He needed to sleep, he wanted to sleep.
He heard a church bell. He checked his watch and it was two in the morning. The bell rung once more and it lingered in the air, vibrating and then fell silent, gone like the days when anything was within an arms reach. He could faintly make out the wooden cross peaking its head above the other buildings from the plaza floor. Its silhouette looked to be hanging in the air.
“Nada.” He said.
The working boy. He continued walking. The working boy. He hoped his own boy was working too. His own working boy.
The street was deserted and the shops that were once busy and filled with energy were now closed and boarded up. Most of the lamp posts no longer full filled their purpose and those that still did, only shone flickering dim light. He carefully stepped over the broken glass of a shop that used to sell souvenirs whose shelves now were turned over and the ground was littered with little bell tower models and stuffed animals and paper. Paint peeled from the front door of another store so that the original blood red of the door mixed poorly with the damp woodwork that looked out from the peeling strips of red. The black ink of the shops name faded as if it had been here for centuries but the old man remembered the day the young mayor cut the ribbon of the new street and welcomed them all to what he called the future of Liga, a little glimpse at what the town would soon look like. He walked under the flickering light of the lamp post, the two that actually worked, while the rest of the street lay in darkness. Cars avoided the road here for the potholes were many and he walked in the middle of the road, careful not to step in the holed ground. Crowned at the end of the street was the bell tower that rose in size as he got closer and it had been the town pride as the brickwork was laid out and the miniature model of what it was going to be was proudly displayed in front of the building site and now the model was long gone, stolen or broken to pieces, and the rising tower cut short as its missing head was a stark reminder of the failed ambitions and no matter how well the foundation was laid and how well it looked from far away, when one got closer, the realization that its insides were hollow was a fact that no one could forget and here it stood, the symbol of the forward march now left behind with the rest of the abandoned street.
He passed the tower and it faded away in the back and his breath was full of ocean air and the wind moved his hair back.
He took off his shoes and his socks and rolled the bottom of his pant legs up and carried the shoes with the socks inside of them in his hand and stepped on the cold sand. The sand gave in under his weight and rushed around and over his bare feet. He sat down and put his shoes beside him and pulled his knees to his chest. Nearby birds picked at the littered paper and more circled the busy skies. He could just make out where the tide broke and darkened the golden sand. Each time the wave receded it claimed a bit more for itself.
A wave gathered and rolled towards him. It threatened to take him as the peak grew, the mountainous past coming his way, he watched as it reached it zenith and started its decline, and it had been declining since it first gathered but now that its height had been seen, it’s decline was more evident, and it broke down and fell apart and lost its once terrifying potential and washed up on the shore. It wet the grains on the beach and took a few more inches. It spread ceased and it retreated back to the ocean and behind it another wave rose and another one beyond it. The fog lingered behind him for the mist from the water stalled it and the salted air pushed it back.
He walked towards the pier by the shoreline so he could feel the cold wetness on his feet. Seagulls sat perched on the wooden post watching him walk by. The wooden boards felt foreign under his foot for it had been too many years since he last step foot on the boardwalk and he felt he was intruding in someone else’s memories. He left behind a trail of wet steps to be followed. The water underneath became deeper the further he went as the boardwalk stretched out into the water.
He used to take his little boy to the pier and together they would stand at the edge and watch the waves and his boy was terrified at first and would cry in his arms. Eventually, he got used to it and when he could walk on his own two feet he would waddle in front of the old man, young at that time, to the edge of the pier and he would keep a tight grip on the boys hand as he looked over into the deep waters underneath. His wife’s nerves acted up each time. It scared her. There are some things women can’t get used to as easily as men can. She would tell him to be careful and he would tell her that he was and his boy would laugh and point at the fish at the bottom of the pier.
He sat down at the edge of the pier and his feet dangled in the air and he the breaking waves sent drops of water that washed his bare feet. He played with the ring on his finger.
They had left ten years ago today, he thought, as took off the ring but its mark stayed on his skin, white circle, standing apart from the tanned leather of the finger and it reminded him of the marked table tops that he could never clean completely and had to make peace with. He closed one eye and raised his hand and looked through the ring at the coming tide and he watched it as it crashed into the poles of the pier and shook it and seagulls fluttered right over his head and he ducked and his fingers slipped, the gold flashed in the air in front of his eyes and he reached out to grab it, one moment he saw another rising tide and the next he saw nothing but dark waters. He closed his eyes and felt his chest cave in as he fell into the flow of the water that had been hardened by the rough waves. The waters entombed him and he could not see. All around him was dark. He tried to pull at the waters with his arms and push with his legs but he didn’t move. With his lungs heavy with breath, he paddled up and the surge of water grabbed his head and pushed it down. He climbed up knowing that he had only a brief window and his head pounded from the lack of air and as he glimpsed the clouds, he was hooked again and his legs gave out, the clouds rose away until they disappeared completely. Tumbling down and tide going over and washing over him, pushing him across, frantically waving his arms, kicking his feet not knowing whether he was going up or down and when he thought he saw the white of a circling bird, he was crossed again by the breaking tide. Through the corner of his eyes he saw blurred waters that turned black, the dark circles closing in and his jaw hurt as the little breath he had slipped out of him and another blow threw him to his side and he was at the mercy of the blue corner.
He didn’t think of his father or his mother or his wife or his boy. He didn’t think of his wasted youth or the promised future. Didn’t think of any white lies that he often told himself when the truth was harsh. In fact, he did not think at all. He felt calm and he closed his eyes and his dying mind brought to him the peace that he had desired his whole life and now it came at the end and he was happy, not merely just at coming to peace, but happy at the fact that he got somewhere. He drifted until something hit him across the chest and his body wrapped around it and he held tight as a babe does his mother as his boy held him.
It was wooden and long and he held tight and felt the pressure in his ears that throbbed and he clutched the post. The water, instead of pulling him down now helped him up. The next combination hit him but it did not take him anywhere and he took advantage of its backward step and counted to ten in his head and if he reached ten he would claim the false peace and if not, then, he would be forced to make true peace. He climbed up the post and when he got to seven he saw the clouds and at eight he heard the wind and at nine he felt the wave crash over him and he gulped at the damp air and heard the seagulls and his body trembled as he held strong to the wooden post of the pier. He stayed there as the wave continued to assault him and he dared not to leave his life line. Slowly the feelings in his arms and legs returned and his heart was freed and it ran now as fast as it could, away from the prison cell it was in and he felt each beat as his chest was glued to the post and he looked behind to see the swelling tide. The tide came and he twisted around the post so that he could watch it rise and reach it peak, he read its movement and he put his bare feet up against post and when the wave broke he pushed with the little energy he had left and he rolled with the coming blow and countered it using its own momentum so that the breaking waters that had kept him down and then pushed him up, now pulled him towards the sand.
He washed over and not an inch of his body was dry. He rolled to his side and there was seaweed laying across his knees and some more around him. An empty coke bottle had washed up with him and he continued to gulp the air as if to store it inside of him so he never has to feel that sensation again. He crawled away on all fours and watched as a tide rose and another one beyond it without any sign of intent. It continued. The tide fizzled away and crawled under his legs. Another rose.
He lay there in the cold sand that caked around him and he laughed. At least now his clothes did not smell of smoke. He could not tell if he had broken anything or broken everything for his whole body ached and his tired eyes went up in weight with each passing second. He crawled further away from the shoreline and then gave in to the exhaustion.
When he woke there was a faint glow coming through the clouds. The sun rose with him. The birds continued to circle the ocean water and the water had calmed and it continued in its natural cycle undisturbed by the pebble that had fallen into it in the middle of the night. Above it all, the light was rising. The fog was gone and he could clearly see the path.
He squeezed his temple with his fingers and took a few deep breathes. He studied the white stain on his finger where it had been, tracing the circular mark with his thumb. When he stopped he reached into his pocket and it was still there. He quickly let it go as if its metal frame had stung him and interlocked his fingers together and rested his hands on his chest where they rose and fell along with the rhythm of his breathing.
He wished the waters had taken it. He had hoped it would have. It would have been so much easier if that was the case. Instead, he was cursed to grabbed it and keep it through out the whole ordeal and now here he was with it in his pockets, left with the choice.
He stood up and looked around for his shoes but they weren’t there. He watched the waters and thought of throwing it in there and be done with it. He would hurl it with all he has in him and then he would go to his room and call his son and ask him if he was busy.
He turned and walked away from the water.
The lamp posts were twined with electric light that glowed heavenly as did the birch trees that flanked the road on either side. A man lead a white bull through the streets and children ran behind it and the man shouted at them to leave him alone. The sacrificial offering of a bull started off the fiesta and the boys wanted to touch the animal before it was too crowded to do so. The shops were closed. He walked past a woman sweeping the ground outside her cafe and he nodded at her as she said good morning. Another man cleaned the inside of his restaurant and a boy passed him riding a bicycle and around him he carried a sash with newspapers inside of it. He watched as a pair of red breasted birds flew by and in the shadow of the birch trees he climbed up the road.
He passed the town square and the plaza was filled with people enjoying the sun and eating breakfast from the food carts that lined the square. He made way for a family of three that expected another one and the husband nodded at him and he bid them a good morning. When he turned the corner the sound from the square faded and he stopped and looked at his apartment building.
In there was his room with the two windows, a small kitchen, no television or radio, the couch that had lost its spring and his bedroom that was always in the dark for the black curtains were shut tight and the old hard mattress where he never found sleep. Beside that was the wooden bedside table where the old phone sat and beside it was the notepad that had the number that would lead him to the conversation that played in his head every night.
“Where were you? Why didn’t you call? I don’t want to see you. I hate you.”
He couldn’t let it go. He had hoped to let it go by now. He wanted to but some how it had made its way back to him and he couldn’t do and he knew he could never do it for he had never been able to before and all of it was for nothing for he was who he was.
Ahead he saw Conrad coming towards him waving his hand with the others trailing him.
“Come on lets go see the opening. We still got plenty left from last night” He pointed at the satchel around his chest that had the bottles in it.
The old man looked behind him.
“What you got in there?” Conrad pointed at his pocket where his restless hand twirled around.
He slipped it back on.
“Lets go.” The old man said.
He turned around and walked back down the street away from his peaceful bed that he longed for.
“Where are your shoes?” Conrad asked.
“I lost them.”
“Must be a good story.”
“Can I have a sip of that? I’ve been feeling a bit thirsty.” The old man said.
He raised the bottle to his lips and saw that his watch had stopped working. It was stuck in the past. He slapped the watch with the palm of his hand three times but it didn’t move.