The ceiling fan lifelessly groaned as the warm summer air came through the open window. The fan leaned heavily on one side as if it were giving way to some burden and the electric wires curled and twisted from the socket from which the fan was attached to the ceiling. He had meant to tell the landlord about it but he hesitated in case the landlord asked questions. Instead, he opted to close the window and forget about the fan.
Outside, people were already busy. The sun had barely risen but man was always awake. No rest for those who think and man cannot stop thinking. If only he could go down like the sun and forget that he had ever risen. He dressed for work, wearing the same shirt, the same trousers, and the same boots. The belt he chose was the same one as well. The brown leather belt that had been with him for too many years now. It had changed as he had changed. Now the last hole of the belt strained as he buckled it around his waist. There was a time when the second did him fine. There was a time for a lot of things however, that time was different and this time was what he had left.
He adjusted his trousers so he could get some more breathing room. The ceiling fan lay motionless now and so did everything else in the small room. It was everything he had and he did not mind it. The small possessions of his were his own and he knew them by heart which made the small great because each piece meant something. Perhaps this was why he had not gotten a new belt. This one had been with him for too long to throw away like some piece of rotten food. Even it had a purpose still, just the same as him. His purpose, for now, was to open the shop and sweep the floors before the customers came.
The shop was hidden behind the new stores that were built the year before. At least that’s how people described it. The little shop that looks out of place. It may have been old and out of place but it was still fine. People still came through the doors and the little bell still rung and the customers still appreciated the food.
At least the same people did. It seemed as if only the old remembered the shop for it was always the same people that came at the same time for the same food and said the exact same words. He greeted them the same as well and asked them the same questions. Robert, who worked as a server had noticed this and made a joke, saying that whenever he came into work it was like he was living the same day again.
“I could go about the day blind and still see,” Robert said. “I don’t know how you do it, man, I’ve been here for like two months and I’m going mad, you’ve been here like ten years—”
“Fifteen? That’s even worse, I don’t know how you ain’t gone mad.”
“It’s not that bad. I don’t mind the everyday.”
“This ain’t for me, man, I’m trying to get out when I can.”
“You should. You can do much better.”
“Franz you always be telling me this and you’re a good man for it but you should take your own advice.”
He shook his head.
“I don’t mind it here.”
The little bell went off and it was time for Mr. Friedrich to come. He was an older man, older than Franz but he still had a full head of grey hair. He walked slowly, leaning on one side because of the wound he had suffered in his leg from the war that still bothered him. It had bothered him more with each passing year. It bothered him the most now for he could not lean upon his wife anymore.
Mr. Friedrich sat down at the corner table by the window. He liked to feel the warmth of the sun. Although he never said as much Franz figured it to be true. The elder hands always rested where the sunlight fell. Robert went to greet him.
Franz already knew the order and had the eggs and bacon ready to cook. He also had the orange juice waiting for Mr. Friedrich. Robert came back and told him what he knew and Franz started cooking. Robert leaned up against the kitchen counter and folded his arms. He whistled himself a tune as Franz cooked, rhythmically tapping his foot on the tiled kitchen floor which was swept clean by Franz hours before.
“Why do you think he comes here every morning?” Robert asked.
“Maybe he likes my cooking.”
Robert laughed and his laugh made Franz smile.
“I heard he’s well to do.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Meaning he ain’t need to come to a small little place like this. He could go to a fancier one, better one and have grub there.”
“Mr. Friedrich has been coming here for years now. He used to come with his wife before. I’ve even seen him come with his daughter.”
“She good looking?”
“Out of your league, son.” He chuckled.
“You’d be surprised, Old Fran, I can make plenty of things work.”
“Yeah, yeah. How about you make yourself work first and take this to Mr. Friedrich”
The store got less busy when the afternoon came. It was just how things worked around here. The warm sunny days made people slow and relaxed. They much rather walk the coastline or lay by the beach and watch the waves come and go instead of being stuck in a small five table shop in the corner of the town. Franz liked this part of the job. Afternoons were what he looked forward too for he could step outside the kitchen and have his smoke under the sunlight. He sat on the curb in front of the shop and watched the quiet streets. In the big cities, you could not find such peace. It was the kind of peace one could discover at any moment of the day. In the big cities, peace like this only came at home, if that, but here, all he had to do was close his eyes and have his smoke and he would be at peace for the town was at peace.
He looked at his left hand and no longer was there any mark that changed its disposition. With time, the sunlight had branded over his previous brand. Now, it was concealed as if there was never anything on his finger. The sunlight fell upon his chest as well. There was no concealing what was inside there. A branded heart cannot be rebranded. If only the smoke and the sunlight could calm the memories. Amidst the peace was disorder but only he felt his disorder, the rest of them did not see it, but he knew the rest were disordered as well, but he did not see it. He wondered how peaceful the town really was.
The little bell rang and Robert came out of the shop. He sat beside him on the curb and Franz passed him the smoke. Robert was a good boy. He complained a lot but he always did his work and soon he’ll move on like the rest of the kids do but another will come to take Robert’s place and Franz hoped he would be as good as Robert too.
In the evening Mr. Friedrich returned. He never came back in the evening however, Mr. Friedrich did take his usual seat by the window. He ordered some whiskey but Robert informed him that they didn’t serve alcohol like that. Mr. Friedrich asked for it again and when he asked for the third time it sounded as if he were on the verge of begging, the proud man’s voice quivered as he failed to look Robert in the eyes.
Franz gave Robert some money to run down the street and get the whiskey from the liquor store. Mr. Friedrich sat quietly holding the piece of newspaper he had brought with him. He did not read it until Robert came back with the whiskey. Franz put three cubes of ice in a glass and drowned it with alcohol. He set it on Mr. Friedrich’s table who just nodded. He took a sip from the drink and then unfolded his paper and began to read.
“Odd fellow ain’t he?” Robert said to Franz as the two watched from the kitchen. “Made a big deal about the drink and now he’s barely drinking it.”
“It’s not about the drink,” Franz said.
“What you mean?”
“Think he just didn’t want to be alone.”
Robert turned back to study Mr. Friedrich.
“Night can be too long when you are alone.”
Mr. Friedrich finished his drink slowly. He did not ask for more. When he tried to pay for the whole bottle, Franz told him not to worry about it. Mr. Friedrich was a proud man and he did not take the service for free so he left a good tip on the table. Franz let Robert keep the tip for himself.
“You deserve it,” Franz said, “never seen you run that fast.”
Robert laughed and the two of them shared another smoke. Robert suggested that they might as well have some whiskey too while it’s here and Franz agreed. Franz did not talk much but Robert did, he never stopped talking, Franz simply sat there smoking and drinking until he felt a little light headed and he wasn’t sure if it was the drink or Robert’s word that made his head feel that way but he was glad for Robert and his words because otherwise, it would have been him and his own words.
When Franz got home, he sat down at the edge of his bed and took off his shoes. Afterward, he undid his belt and he felt his stomach thank him. He laid the brown leather belt beside him and went to open the window. The warm evening air came through, slightly moving the cream colored curtains. He stood by the open window and had another smoke. The landlord wouldn’t like him smoking indoors but he felt if he did it by the window, it would not be that bad. All he could see from his window was the quiet back street where a cat lay curled up. He often fed the little cat and he called it Franny.
Once Franz finished his smoke, he grabbed the wooden chair from his study table and set it in the middle of the room. He went to his bed and picked up his brown leather belt and looped the belt through the buckle and tied it at the last loop which had been strained by the weight of his belly. He stepped onto the chair and lowered his head slightly so that it would not hit the ceiling fan. He put the belt through the somewhat dusty arm of the fan until the belt was centered. Franz needed to get on his tippy toes to get his head through the loop. Once around it, he balanced himself on the chair, his toes scraping the wood. Here was where his coward came out. Always here. At the edge of it, he was always to cowardice to jump, to plunge into the nothingness and be brave about what happens next. But his heart wasn’t built like that or it may have been built like that but he had drowned his courage and now all that remained was the coward. He swallowed his spit and took a breath and pushed the chair away. Slowly the disorder went away.
Franz awoke on the floor. The chair lay on its side and he unknowingly mimicked its stance. The belt still hung on the ceiling fan but it was no longer circular but rather it hung, limp. Franz rubbed his tender throat and even inhaling stung. He should have known better to take a deep breath. The warm evening air came through the open window and he lay there. After some time he slowly got to his feet and set the chair in the middle of the room again. He climbed up it and reached for the leather belt. He saw the loop had finally given way and was ripped.
He liked that belt. It had been with him for too long. He placed the belt in his cabinet and the ceiling fan leaned a little more or so he believed. Outside, the cat meowed and he forgot that he didn’t even feed Franny and so he went out into the warm evening to do that. While outside, he decided to have another smoke. At least this time he had made progress.