Lessons From Stories: Hemingway’s A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

Ernest Hemingway captured an essential understanding of human nature in just 1,465 words. The understanding is: We need order when we’re lost in life.

Chaos and order are the bases of many stories, so it is not unique per se that Hemingway explores this issue, but the way he does it is unique. In A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, the cafe represents order because cleanliness and light are often associated with orderliness. The cafe is an attractive place that shelters those in need, like the old man who is lost in life. The old man regularly gets drunk at the cafe and later on, we are told that his wife recently passed away and he tried to commit suicide. The old man has lost his sense of purpose, his meaning for life and so he clings to the cafe because he doesn’t want to be alone.

Solitude represents chaos in this story. The old man doesn’t want to be alone at home. The older waiter, whose perspective we see the story from, can’t sleep until the sun rises. This is because when your mental state is not correct, one of the worst places you can be is in your own head, alone with your thoughts. That is a dangerous place. A chaotic place. 

The opening scene of the story has two waiters. The older one and the younger one. The two are different in one main way; the younger waiter has a sense of purpose and meaning, hence, he has order in his life.

“You have youth, confidence, and a job,” the older waiter said.

“You have everything.”

“And what do you lack?”

“Everything but work.”

“You have everything I have.”

“No. I have never had confidence and I am not young.”

This is why the younger waiter has a tough time emphasizing with the old man. He can’t see the old man is lost. He passes judgment on the old man and even says the old man has nothing to be sad about because he’s rich.

“Last week he tried to commit suicide,” (young) waiter said.

“Why?”

“He was in despair.”

“What about?”

“Nothing.”

“How do you know it was nothing?”

“He has plenty of money.”

This raises an interesting question. Can someone who has order or meaning in their life relate to someone who doesn’t? Someone who is in a chaotic state? Often when we have meaning in our life, we are focused on it and that can cause us to put blinders on and not see others who are trying to find their own way. Trying to find order. 

The older waiter suffers from chaos. He can’t be alone with his thoughts. He has trouble finding meaning in anything. This is shown in perhaps the most famous passage of this story.

It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee. He smiled and stood before a bar with a shining steam pressure coffee machine.

Nothing matters to the waiter.

But because the waiter has no meaning in his life, he can relate to the old man, and feel empathy towards him. The older waiter is even willing to keep the light on in the cafe for a while longer to give the old man more time to drink.

“We are of two different kinds,” the older waiter said. He was now dressed to go home. “It is not only a question of youth and confidence although those things are very beautiful. Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be some one who needs the cafe.”

“Hombre, there are bodegas open all night long.”

“You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant cafe. It is well lighted. The light is very good and also, now, there are shadows of the leaves.”

Hemingway was famous for capturing a moment in time, a slice of life. The story ends without an answer. The old waiter blames his state of mind on insomnia, which could be seen as a scapegoat instead of confronting the reality of the meaninglessness of life.

But what could be a solution to this chaos?

Lost souls need order as evidenced by the old man’s desire to stay in the cafe. Order is then an essential need for those who are without meaning. Perhaps this suggests that when we are lost and lack meaning, we need to find things that bring order into our lives. Routines, habits, people, places, etc. Whatever helps us positively deal with our mental state.

In the story, it is implied that the old man lost his meaning after his wife passed. While the old waiter is seen trying to find meaning through religion but fails to do so. Even the young waiter finds his meaning through his work and his wife, both are liable to change.

What then?

Perhaps the meaning of our life has to be intrinsic. Something that can survive the ups and down of life. Perhaps that is the meaning. How well can you navigate what life throws at you? To constantly find the meaning behind your suffering. To search for the light in the darkness.

Maybe that is how meaning is created, and our mind becomes a place of solitude. 

Short Story: A Warm Summer Evening

The warm summer air drifted through the open window. It shook awake the somber curtains and caused the ceiling fan to groan. The fan had three blades, one of which was crooked as if it were in mid bow. That one had less dust on it than it’s counterparts. 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. It was just another thing he would have to keep to himself. He closed the window.

The sun had just risen but he had been awake. No rest for those who think and he couldn’t 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 beige shirt, the same black trousers, and the same black 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. It was like with each new hole, he had lost out on a different life, now that he was on the last one, there seemed to be no other lives left for him. The path he walked on now showed no signs of branching off, rather it gave the impression of being a dead end. But he held out hope that maybe as he approached that wall, he’ll notice some kind of opening, something that will take him a different way.

He adjusted his trousers so he could get some more breathing room. The ceiling fan hung motionless now and as was everything else in the small room. It was everything he had. The small possessions of his were his own and he knew them by heart which made them great because each piece meant something. Perhaps this was why he still used the old belt. This one was familiar to his touch, his hands felt the different groves of the leather as he wrapped it around his waist, a familiar embrace, the way his wife used too or his little girl. How old was she now? He could barely recall what she sounded like? Would the belt fit around her waist? The belt still had a purpose just as he did. 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. The store was like a snapshot of some long forgotten past with its red bricks, yellow rooftop, and old western style font that spelled out its name along with when it was open and closed and how breakfast, which ended at eleven am, was half off. All of which was painted in black ink on the large glass window. This contrasted drastically from all concrete buildings that had sprung up in recent times. Which is why people described it as the little shop that looked out of place. From its appearance, it was still functioning. People still came through the doors but not as many as they used to. And the tiny bell still rang but not as smoothly as it used to and the customers still appreciated the food but not as much as they used too.

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 six years—”

“Eight.”

“Eight? That’s even worse, I don’t know how you ain’t gone mad.”

It was actually ten but he kept that to himself

“It’s not that bad. I don’t mind the everyday,” he said.

“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 but you should take your own advice.”

He shook his head. “I don’t mind it here.”

The little bell rang with a slight hiccup 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, unlike Franz. He walked slowly, leaning on one side because of the wound he had suffered in his leg still bothered him. It bothered him more with each passing year. It bothered him the most now for he could not lean upon his wife anymore.

Mr. Friedrich had the choice between the four tables. All four were identical. White flowery cloth, salt and pepper shakers, a dessert menu that was rarely touched, a couple of mints that were placed in a small cup and a bunch of napkins. He took his usual seat in the corner table by the window. He liked to feel the warmth of the sun. Although he never said as much but Franz figured it to be true. The fragile sun spotted 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 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.

“Mr. Friedrich?”

“Ya-huh”

“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 here.”

“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,” Franz chuckled.

“You’d be surprised, Franz my boy, I can make plenty of things work.”

“Yeah, yeah. How about you make yourself work first and take this to Mr. Friedrich”

The trickling of the customers lessened in the afternoon like a leaking tap, the kind where one can see the water droplet form, gather size, cling to the metal rim before elongating and falling into the sink. 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 four table shop in the corner of the town. Franz liked this part of the job. Afternoons were what he looked forward to the most because 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.

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 his 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 had 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 had and another will come to take Robert’s place and Franz hoped he would be as good as Robert too.

“Did your daughter like the boots then?”

“What’s that?”

“You know, those black boots for her birthday. The ones I told you about.”

“Oh, yeah, she loved them.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, she said she wore them that day.”

Robert passed him the smoke.

“When’s she coming here? It’s been like a year since you said she was coming.”

“Thought better of it,” Franz said, “Wanted to keep her away from you.”

Robert laughed as he took the smoke from Franz and finished the last bit of it.

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 whiskey but Robert told him that they didn’t serve alcohol. 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 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 ice cubes 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?”

“He could have stayed home, in a comfier chair and had a drink.”

“I’m still not following,” Robert said.

“Night can be too long when you are alone.”

Mr. Friedrich finished his drink. 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.

“You know I really want to be a dad,” Robert was saying, “I’ve been talking about it with my girl. I want a boy but she wants a girl. I’d love to have a whole bunch, you know, but damn, the thought of it is kinda scary, right?”

“It was.”

“But you just gotta do it, I guess, just go with it. But first I need to find something better, don’t you think?”

“You will find something better.” He took a sip of the whiskey.

“You think so?”

“Yeah, you’ll be a good dad too.”

“I hope so. No, I know I will. I know I’ll get something better. That’s how you gotta think, right? You have to get all those bad thoughts out so you can think only good ones. I think that’s how it’s gotta be.”

“You know, that isn’t a bad way to think about it.”

Robert looked pleased with himself.

Before going home, Franz stopped to see if he had received any mail. He hadn’t. When he got him, he sat down at the edge of his bed and took off his shoes. Afterward, he undid his belt and 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 which had yellowed slightly from the cigarette smoke. He made a note that he should get those washed before the landlord says something about it. He stood by the open window and had another smoke. 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 put the belt through the 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 scraped the chair as if he were testing out how cold the water was, not wanting to plunge right in, which was something he had learned from all his mistakes but if there was a time to plunge it was now. Here was where his coward came out. Always here. At the edge of it, he was always too cowardly 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, the same way he had drowned his marriage 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 woke up on the floor. The chair lay on its side and he unknowingly mimicked its stance, on it’s back, staring up at the ceiling. The belt still hung on the ceiling fan but it was no longer circular but rather it was limp, oval shape like a horse racing track. Franz rubbed his tender throat. 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 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 had ripped.

He liked that belt. He placed the belt in his cabinet and the ceiling fan leaned a little more. Outside, the cat meowed and he forgot that he didn’t even feed Franny. While outside, he decided to have another smoke. At least this time he had made progress.

Franny came up to him as he set the bowl on the ground. He opened the can of tuna and emptied it in the bowl. Franny started to eat. He gently brushed her fur saying, “Good girl, good girl, I love you, You’re so good, I love you.”

Short Story: Older Than Older Brother

When the train came to a halt he stayed seated and a part of him wished to keep going west. Another part wished he wore something other than his uniform. He could see his mother and father waiting for him on the platform. Mother was so old now. She studied the faces that were getting out of the carts, her light brown eyes the same as her dress, seemed to sparkle as they filled with a thin film of sadness. She must be wondering if her other son was gone for good too. She turned to his father and asked him something, he shook his head. She stood on her toes, trying to look into the train windows.

The frequent assault for her worrisome thoughts had etched itself in the folds of her face which resembled the trenches where he had spent his innocence. The grey in her hair seemed to have come in an instant, like a snowstorm in April, the beauty and youth of the budding flowers covered in a pile of harsh winter just as that, her beauty had waned under the weight of her unpleasant contemplation. Perhaps he could alleviate her troubles a little bit by his presence but never entirely.

When she saw him, her face broke into a smile and those fearful tears now fell down the ripples of her cheek with content. She tugged at his father’s sleeve and pointed at him her finger shaking. She still knew him. His mother could still see him.

“Oh, Henry!” She cried. She wet his cheek with her kiss and further marked it with her tears.

His father’s handshake was firm but not as it used to be.

“Good to see you again,” his father said. His eyes lingered on the side of his face for a few seconds before he cleared his throat and looked away. Henry’s face was scarred from a shrapnel blast. The metal had tore pieces of flesh from his cheekbone and up into the side of his head, even the tip of his ear was gone. It was as if a wild cat had swiped across his face. The doctors had said that the blast had damaged parts of his nerves. They said he might never feel that side of his face and so far they were right. However, he could always feel the stares.

His mother was glued to his side as if he was still a little boy. She was afraid that if she let him go he will get lost or maybe it was the other way now, maybe she held on to him because she knew the feeling of being alone. She walked with a slump as if the little cross that hung around her neck weighed her down. She glanced at his face a few times thinking he did not notice.

“When did you start wearing that?” He asked her.

Her hand automatically clenched the cross and she tucked it under her dress.

“Our prayers have been answered,” she said, “Oh, my handsome boy,” she rubbed his hand, “Handsome boy.”

His father’s presence was what it used to be but his body was no longer that. He was thin and tired just like everyone Henry knew. He reminded him of an old sergeant because he was respected for what he used to be able to do and not because of what he can do now. He walked slightly ahead of them in a plain white collared shirt which hung loosely around his shoulders. His brown leather boots, polished right before he left home, clicked on the train platform which had a few crimson leaves scattered on it.

Both of them didn’t comment on his appearance except for his mothers “handsome” talk which he knew to be the symptom of coping. Henry thought this might look like a lovely family reunion but they all knew there was a piece missing. You could hear it in their steps. There was supposed be another beat in the rhythm. It was like the orchestra played its tune without the violin.

Something beeped on his father’s belt and he looked at it.

“He just got that thing,” his mother said, “Apparently it’s the new thing to have. Did you see anything like that in Europe?”

“Sure ma.”

“Its always beeping,” she laughed, “It’s bad enough with all the people coming and going in the house but now they even come and go when we aren’t there.” She lowered her voice, “Don’t tell him but I know he feels like a big shot ever since he got that thing.” She laughed again.

Her hands cradled his wrist. Her touch was comforting, it had a calming nature to it, the kind only a mother possesses but at the same time, there was a foreign feeling too. It was as if she wasn’t his mother, wholly. That he didn’t belong to her completely since a part of him never came back and that part could have been the one that was the closest to her. She smiled every time he locked eyes with him.

They lived in a small town in Illinois so small that even the railroad had forgotten to come there. It didn’t matter much anymore, not as much as it did when he was younger when only the Robertsons had a car and he would fight with his brother about who gets to sit in the front seat. His father briefly explained why he bought the Ford as they left the station behind. He told him about the Fords reliability and its efficient gas mileage. He sounded like a car salesman himself.

“The car manual is in the glovebox if you want to look through it,” his father said.

The metal chain from the dog tag rattled when he opened the glove box. It snaked further into the dark corner. His father didn’t hear it and neither did his mother. He closed the glove box as his father turned up the radio.

He flipped through the ford manual as his mother talked for talking sake talking about all the things he had missed while he was away. All two and a half years worth. He listened and didn’t talk much. His father didn’t talk much either but he did look at him every now and then as if to make sure he was still there.

“They’re renovating the school down the road. It’s going to look really nice. Maybe we can finally get a station there too. Wouldn’t that be nice? We wouldn’t have to make this drive if we had one there but then again it’s not like you will be leaving any time soon right?”

“No.” He said pulling the seatbelt to relieve the tension in his chest, “Won’t be going anywhere soon.”

The strange thing about memory is that it sort of has a mind of its own. Whenever he thought about his home all he could recall was the squeaky third step that lead up to the patio or the way the screen door let out a long, agonizing groan as it slowly closed or the faded gold colour of the doorknob, the silver of the metal underneath showing itself from the repeated twists and turns which had scrubbed the gold off. All of which was no longer there.

The step was fixed, the door hinges were oiled, the gold knob was freshly painted and a new set of wind chimes hung at one end of the patio which sang peacefully with the wind and it reminded him of shell cases dropping. On the other side of the patio were two rocking chairs, in between was a wooden table with a chessboard on it.

“We’ll play some chess later,” father said, “Remember how much you loved it.”

“Haven’t played it in a while,” he said.

They made no comment on the changes. For them, nothing had changed, it had just evolved. Naturally flowing from the past to the present. For him, the evolution had skipped a step, disregarded the past and jumped into the future.

“Come on you two,” his mother called.

He coughed walking inside and his mother asked him if he was okay. Her hand jumped to his forehead and started feeling his temperature and he gently pushed it away.

“Debra I said not to leave these candles burning.”

“Oh, I thought Henry would like it. Do you like it?”

“Sure.”

Mothers candles had impregnated the wooden walls and the couches and floorboards. The new aroma couldn’t be escaped and he knew it would be on him too. It reminded him of the smoke which used to rise all around him, mixing in with the rising moans of people he loved, that smoke which kept on climbing, heaven-bound like the silence of people he loved, knocking at heaven’s door, asking if the rain was ready, that moment before the rain fell upon them, cleansing the blood and dirt away, revealing the shame and guilt. All of that flooded into his mind and he wondered if he had really left that place.

His father’s touch snapped him out of it as she gestured towards the football that was on the sofa.

“We can throw the pigskin around later,” father said.

“Like old times,” he said.

His father echoed his reply with masked sadness.

He looked around at the pictures. His own face looking back at him in most of the frames. He could tell from the shadowy imprint on the walls that certain pictures were moved. The ones with the familiar face of his brother, Jake. The mantlepiece above the fireplace revealed the lingering effects of a box that had been removed because there was a square four-inch spot which had less dust than its surroundings. Medal of courage, the same one he got for his service.

Mother saw him looking and she said, “Henry it’s so good to have you back.” She grabbed his wrist and pulled him away.

He remembered something. Something that he had been looking forward to for a long time now.

“Wheres Charlie?” He asked.

“Poor Charlie,” mother said.

“He was a good dog,” his father said.

That’s all they said and he didn’t want to know how because he knew enough.

“Why don’t you go freshen up. Take a nap. Your mother will get the dinner ready,” father said.

He carried his luggage upstairs careful not to hit the walls his father hated that. He passed by the closed door that would remain closed and went into his old room. A cross hung above the bed, above where his head would be. That was new.

He put the bag at the foot of the door. The bed was neatly made his mothers touch evident in the folds. He sat at the edge of it disturbing it as little as possible. Before coming here he had stayed in a few hotels overnight. The strange rooms with strange beds and strange walls felt more familiar than his own room.

He straightened out the blemishes he had made on the mattress and it looked as if he had never been there. He sat down on the wooden chair by his study table. He leaned back into it and folded his arms across his chest and stared at the cross above his bed. He watched it as he tried to put together what his life used to be here but he couldn’t find all the pieces anymore and perhaps that was a symptom of dying. He looked down at his belly but there was no wound there. He wondered why he only remembered the things he wished to forget.

He accepted the glass of whiskey from his father. This was the first time his father had seen him drink. Steam rose from the bowl of mash potatoes which his mother placed on the table. Beside it was a plate of mini sandwiches with the crust cut off, just the way you like it, she had said. There was salad, garlic bread, tomato sauce pasta with big slices of mushrooms in it, you love mushrooms don’t you, his mother said. She had even cooked steak for them to enjoy.

The dining table was the same as before but it was covered by a new cotton cloth which had flower pattern embroidered on it. The window was slightly open to allow the evening air to come in. The curtains fluttered against the grandfather clock in the corner of the room. It’s ticking was the background to every noise. To match the ancientness of the clock, there was a glass cabinet parallel to it on the other side of the dining room. Inside which were old plates and glasses which were only taken out on special occasion such as this one. Above the cabinet was a family portrait. The portrait was positioned in such a way that the curvature of the dresser blocked the figure standing by the hip of his father.

He finished his whiskey. “Want some more?” His father asked.

“Love some.”

Father handed him the bottle from across the table and he topped his own glass to the brim. His father watched him carefully.

“Everything okay?” He asked.

He took a sip from his whiskey. He put on a smile and said, “Yeah, everything is great.”

Mother came in carry a small plate of strawberry cheesecake and set it right in front of him.

“Let’s pray before we eat,” she said.

They all held hands and his mother whispered and thanked the good Lord for bringing him back home, thanked him for the blessings and thanked him for the food. After they said amen, she kissed his cheek.

“Handsome boy,” she said. Her fingers crept up the side of his face and the tips brushed over the scarred ridges and he grabbed her wrist and moved her hand.

His father scooped some mash potatoes, a little bit of pasta along with some salad. He stabbed a piece of steak and moved it onto his plate. The knife sliced through the flesh and the blood spilled out.

Henry wasn’t hungry but ate nonetheless. His mother watched him eat and took satisfaction as if every bite he ate filled her up. His knife gently piercing the tough skin of the meat and the blood drizzled out onto the plate and tried not to look and his knife scratched the bottom of the plate.

His attention kept on falling on the empty chair beside his father. It used to be filled with laughter. The whole room, the whole house, his whole world used to be filled with the distinct high pitched laugh which belonged to his brother. With it missing, it was like writing a sentence without a noun. The subjectless writing which was noticeable by even the comprehension of a toddler. But for some reason, his mother and father acted as if they didn’t see the glaring mistake. 

“What took you so long to come back? Summers boy came back two months ago.” His father said.

Henry took a sip of his whiskey.

“Just random difficulties getting back, you know, there were so many of us.”

“I can only imagine,” his mother said.

“Do you sleep well enough at night?” Father asked.

“Sure.”

“Cause if your not you know I can help you,” his father could always tell when he was lying or at least when he masked the truth.

“Sure, thanks.”

“Summer brought her boy to see me the other week. He had been having a nightmare—”

“Is it necessary to talk about things like that at the dinner table?” His mother interrupted.

His father observed him some more and then went back to his steak.

“We should all go on a vacation someday,” mother said. “Did you ever get to see Paris?”

Henry shook his head. “‘Fraid not.”

“Oh, what a shame, it’s so beautiful, your father and I went there for our honeymoon, didn’t we?”

“Beautiful,” his father said with a mouthful of potatoes which he pushed to the side, bloating his cheek momentarily.

“We went by it,” Henry said, “I think I heard someone say that the smoke was coming from Paris but I’m not sure. I guess I shouldn’t say we went by it.”

He felt his fathers eyes on him so he took another sip of his whiskey.

Mother suppressed a laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Henry asked.

She looked at his father and said, “Remember when you beat up those two boys in Paris?”

“Debra, please.” He replied with an embarrassed flick of his wrist, “No need to bring that up.”

“What’s this?” Henry inquired, “I never heard this one.” He was smiling.

“It’s nothing,” father said.

“Your father really laid it into these two guys who kept bothering us.”

Henry had to laugh at that.

“I can’t imagine you even throwing a punch,” he said.

“Oh, your father was a real hothead back in the day.”

“You’re lying?”

“No I wasn’t,” father concentrated on slicing a piece of his stake.

“Anyone looks at me for more than two seconds and he’d be eyeing them down,” mother leaned closer to Henry and said softly, “He’s the jealous type.”

Whatever father said went unheard as Henry and his mother laughed. His mother’s laugh above all as if she was making up for lost time. His father had a hint of a smile on the edge of his mouth.

“Still can’t imagine you fighting anyone,” Henry said.

“How do you think my boys got the fighting spirit,” he said with pride but that erased the joy from his mother’s face and like a wave, that sadness washed over his father as well. His father cleared his throat and took a sip of his whiskey.

“Henry!” Mother covered her mouth.

“Your face,” father said standing up from his chair.

Henry’s hand quickly went to his face and he felt the beating, pulsing, vibrations which spread up and down his cheekbone and the side of his head like the after effects of shell bombardment which makes every nerve and tendon in the body twitch with fright long after the silence had settled.

“It…it’s nothing, it, sometimes, it just happens,” his hand was shaking as well as he reached for a napkin to cover his face so that they didn’t have to see him like this. As he leaned across the table his elbow struck the glass of whiskey which dropped over, staining the pure white cloth with its insides and the glass rolled to it’s side and fell down the table, splitting into multiple pieces on the floor. Mother was standing and father had come around the table and was saying it’s all right, don’t worry about, he patted him on the back. Henry covered his face with the napkin, continuing to apologize over and over.

Mother hadn’t said a word. Tears welled in the corner of her eyes.

Henry was in the washroom, staring at himself in the mirror. He had splashed his face with tap water which now streamed down his face like rain on a car window. There was a knock at the door.

“Yes?” He said.

“Everything okay?” It was his father.

“Everything’s fine.”

“Did you take the pills I gave you?”

He stared at them in his hand.

“Yes.”

“Okay.”

“I’m sorry pops,” he said.

“Don’t worry about.”

“Tell ma I’m sorry too.”

“She fine. Everything’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”

His father left after he said goodnight.

Henry went back to staring at his own reflection. Even as he touched it, he didn’t feel the pressure of his fingers. However, at night, when he was alone with his thoughts and memory he could feel it going all over the place like that part of him didn’t want to be connected with him anymore. As if it wanted to leave him.

Maybe it was all a dream and he would be called back and the Germans weren’t really gone and they needed him back again and he didn’t know he could do it again, he didn’t know if he could stay whole again but he wasn’t whole and he hadn’t been whole ever since Jack left. Maybe Jake will be the one to tell him. No it can’t be Jake. Jack was still alive. Jack was alive because he thought about him. He hadn’t thought about Jack for a little while and that killed him. He thought about Jack now and that meant he was alive. As long as he kept thinking about him Jack will stay older. If he stopped then he will become older than his brother.

Was he really here? He realized how much life had bled out of him. It must have gone out of him slowly, drop by drop, perhaps at night when he was asleep so that he didn’t notice the life leaving him as he dreamt those dreams that belonged to someone else.

There was another knock at his door.

“Henry are you okay?” It was his mother.

He couldn’t tell if the wetness on his face was from the water or his tears.

“Yeah, ma. I’m fine.” He said.


 

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Article: Indirect Battle Strategy and How It Can Help Us Overcome Our Own Obstacles

Short Story: Everything Work’s Itself Out

Lessons From Stories: Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants

‘Hills Like White Elephants’ is a short story by Ernest Hemingway. The story is about a young couple waiting on a train to come and In the meantime, they have a conversation about a lingering topic of conflict amongst them, the unplanned pregnancy. The initial conflict is simple, the American, as the boy is called, wants the girl to have an abortion. The girl wants their life to go back to what it was, prior to the pregnancy. Much of the conflict takes place subtly as was Hemingway’s style.

Without conflict a story is bland. No one wants to read about some person who got everything they wished and then lived happily ever after. This can barely be even classified as a story. At the surface of ‘Hills Like White Elephants’, you may think that it’s without much conflict as much of the time the couple bickers over hills which may or may not look like white elephants or what drinks to get, however, the conflict is evident in the changing desire of the two characters which takes place underneath the surface.

The warm wind blew the bead curtain against the table.

‘The beer’s nice and cool,’ the man said.

‘It’s lovely,’ the girl said.

‘It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,’ the man said. ‘It’s not really an operation at all.’

The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.

‘I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let the air in.’

The girl did not say anything.

‘I’ll go with you and I’ll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in and then it’s all perfectly natural.’

‘Then what will we do afterwards?’

‘We’ll be fine afterwards. Just like we were before.’

‘What makes you think so?’

‘That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy.’

The American wants the girl to have an abortion, this is his desire. The girl agrees but only if it pleases the American in the hope that this will return their relationship to what it was. She desires the past, a time before this “interruption” came.

‘If I do it you won’t ever worry?’ (the girl said)

‘I won’t worry about that because it’s perfectly simple.’

‘Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I don’t care about me.’

‘Well, I care about you.’

‘Oh, yes. But I don’t care about me. And I’ll do it and then everything will be fine.’

‘I don’t want you to do it if you feel that way.’

The American is displeased because he’s getting want he wants but not in the way he’d like because he loves the girl he wants her to do it if only she wishes it too and not as a favor. The conflict leads to a change in desire. The girl wants to please the American but can’t and the American wants the girl to be happy which she isn’t because her happiness is tied with the American who she knows desires the operation. 

And we could have all this,’ she said. ‘And we could have everything and every day we make it more impossible.’

‘What did you say?’

‘I said we could have everything.’

‘We can have everything.’

‘No, we can’t.’

‘We can have the whole world.’

‘No, we can’t.’

‘We can go everywhere.’

‘No, we can’t. It isn’t ours any more.’

‘It’s ours.’

‘No, it isn’t. And once they take it away, you never get it back.’

‘But they haven’t taken it away.’

‘We’ll wait and see.’

She is displeased now because she’s realizing that things will never be what they used to be and so it doesn’t matter if she keeps the child or not, her desire will never be fulfilled. This is where the story ends. A realization that there is no turning back the clock, whether or not the abortion takes place, this relationship has changed for good. The girl grows as a character through this realization and the story leaves the reader with the harsh reality of life which is that with each action you limit certain possibilities in your life and open others. Once that action is committed all you can do is make the best out of the possibilities that are left for you. 

‘Do you feel better?’ he asked.

‘I feel fine,’ she said. ‘There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.’


Short Story: Everything Works Itself Out

The death of Katherine Moore overshadowed all other news for the past week. It was mainly due to the gruesome nature of the killing, her body was found littered with knife wounds, but also because she was an up and coming actress. All the news channels and the newspapers used the same professional headshot of hers where she was candidly looking slightly to the left of the camera, getting a profile view of her slender nose and her long blonde hair and her lively eyes, as the newscaster said. They kept referring to her looks as graceful and soft but he didn’t understand that. How could you tell that from a black and white photo? What he did understand was the use of words like potential and budding because she had just starred in her second movie which, to him, meant that she was on her way to becoming a relatively successful actress. Because that’s how life worked. It was like a ladder, you have to climb it one step at a time, no skipping, and she had started climbing and eventually, her work would have lead her to greater success and so, in that manner, her death was tragic.

“Her life unexpectedly—” The newscaster was saying when he changed the channel and right that second his mother’s nagging voice rang.

“Jaaake, I was watching that,” she said from somewhere in the kitchen behind him. He heard the tic-tic-tic of the knife striking the cutting board. “Put that back on, please.”

“Haven’t you had enough of that same ol’ story by now?”

He did as his mother said.

“The horrific scene was first reported by the victims’ landlord some three days after the initial incident as the other tenants complained about the foul odour—”

“Here, hun, eat something before you go.”

His mother joined him on the sofa with a plate of sliced apples with salt sprinkled on top and a handful of almonds bundled together on the side.

“Not hungry right now,” Jake said.

“It’s always good to go into big days—”

“With a full stomach,” he completed her saying, “I know ma and I’ve told you before that those kinds of things don’t matter.”

“Listen, mister, you may have gone to a fancy college but there are something books don’t teach you.” She kicked off her slippers and sat on the sofa, Indian style and had one of the apple slices herself as she watched the news. There was no point arguing with her. Her way of thinking was set so he just grunted in response and bit down on a slice, snapping it in half, making sure she heard the crunch.

“Tsk-tsk-tsk,” she shook her head as they showed pictures of a young Katherine in her first school play. She was dressed in a white tutu with wings. She was meant to be a fairy.

“Poor thing.”

“If you keep watching this kinda thing over and over your brains gonna rot,” he said, “like it ain’t full of worrying already.”

“You sure you didn’t know her?” She had completely ignored his comment.

“Yeah.”

The newscaster said they were still looking for the individual who did it and that the police had a few leads they were pursuing.

“I bet you a dollar it turns out to be a man.”

“Why’s that?”

“Just a feeling I got.”

The news switched to a different story. This one about a highway robbery in California and she turned off the television and placed the remote control on the table in front, on top of the newspaper with Katherine’s face.

“What are you wearing today?” She asked him. “Wear something nice so Mr. Edwards can be impressed.”

“I’m wearing one of the shirts and ties he got me.”

“That’s a good idea.”

Mr. Edwards was his manager. He gave him a birthday present each year. The present was the same every year. A collared shirt with a matching tie, nothing fancy but a nice gesture. By now, he had five such combinations and in another month he would have six. He wore one of the combinations for this special day.

A dark blue collared shirt which would be neatly tucked into his freshly ironed trousers. With it, he picked out a checkered pattern tie with various blends of different shades of the colour blue. He made sure to match his shoes with the outfit for Mr. Edwards was an old school kind of man who put weight on a man’s shoes.

“Dark blue?” She asked.

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Oh nothing hun, you know you look handsome in any colour but extra handsome in something livelier. Don’t you have that salmon shirt?”

“I don’t like that kinda stuff. It draws too much attention.”

She cupped the bottom of his chin tenderly, “Why don’t you want to draw attention to such a handsome face?” He batted her hand away. She continued, “And I bet that burgundy tie will look something special with that Salmon shirt.”

He replied with a grunt.

“Okay, fine, you do what you like.”

She took the empty plate to the kitchen but not before sliding her forefinger across the surface of the plate and picking up some salt that was left behind and licking it clean off her finger.

“Are you sure today is the day?” The sound of the tap turning on and rushing onto the plate filled the moment of silence that followed her worrying.

“I told you everything is in order.”

“But don’t get too worked up if it doesn’t happen today.”

“Course it’ll happen today. It’s as simple as one plus one equals two. I put in the work and now I’ll get the promotion.”

“Okay, I believe in you—”

“I got a favor to ask you though.”

He joined her in the kitchen, leaning against the dark grey granite countertop with spots of black in different circular shapes. He folded his arms across his chest. His mother opened the cabinet beside the stove and took out a pot.

“What’s that?”

“I need the place to myself tonight.”

The burner clicked three times and came alive. She placed the pot over the flames and turned to look at him.

“What’s the special occasion?”

“I’m meeting someone for dinner and if all goes well, you know, it’s best that your not around tonight.”

“Whose the special lady?”

She poured milk into the pot and the twisted the pink bottle cap back on the milk carton.

“Amy. Friend of a friend.”

“She’s no hussy is she?”

“Ma, come on.”

“Sorry, dear, just don’t want my boy to get taken advantage of.”

He let out a sigh, “Could you please just go to Aunt Jenny’s or something.”

“Jenny might be busy tonight.”

“Ma, please.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll go.”

“Great. I’m going to go get changed.”

His mother smiled at him.

“Hurry up, I’ll have the milk ready by that time. Lukewarm just how you like it.”

The meeting with Mr. Edwards went off without a hitch. First, Mr. Edwards compliment him on his salmon shirt and burgundy tie. Second, he invited him to take a seat and got straight to business. Mr. Edwards wasn’t a man who liked to waste time in small talk. Third, a few thank you’s and handshakes later, he left Mr. Edwards office with the thought of the car brochure that was in his desk drawer. 

Apart from that, the meeting had only further solidified his understanding of life. You moved up in a rational, orderly, step by step basis. Now that he had the promotion, the car was next and then, getting his own place. It was all falling into line. When he remembered he still had his date with Amy, he thought maybe today would be the best day of his life.

“You got the promotion?” She sounded surprised as if it were even up for debate.

“Didn’t I tell you. There was no other possibility,” he said as he flipped the brochure page and paused to admire the red convertible BMW.

“I’ll bake some cookies for Mr. Edwards.”

“You don’t have to do that. In fact, don’t do it. It’ll look too desperate.”

“Nonsense, he will love them. I’ll start right after this.”

He flipped the page and grunted in response. He knew there was no point in fighting his mother once her mind was made up.

“They say they’re getting real close to identifying the suspect.”

“What suspect?” He held the phone in-between his ear and shoulder, leaning back, he folded the top corner of the brochure page that he liked.

“The one who killed the Moore girl,” she said, “Are you sure you didn’t know her?”

“Yeah ma, why would I know some random woman?”

“There’s just something familiar about her.”

“Like I told you before you probably saw her in some dish detergent ad or something.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Or maybe at a grocery store.”

He could hear his mother thinking. If she were a poker player she’d be a bad one because every time she wrestled with her thoughts, she’d take these long inhales and quick exhales like she was hyperventilating. Thinking of poker, he thought it may be a good idea to go celebrate at the casino on the weekend.

“Ma, I gotta get going.”

“Huh? Oh,” she had forgotten she was on the phone he thought, “Okay hun, I’ll call you later.”

“Don’t forget about going to Aunt Jenny’s.”

“Oh, almost did.”

“Ma.”

“I’m only teasing you. Now, whose worrying?”

“Good one.”

His mother laughed by herself as he rolled up the brochure and batted it around as if he were hitting home runs at the park, “Speaking of it,” he said, “Did Amy call by any chance?”

“I don’t think so, no, only call I got was from telecommunication—-”

“I think I accidentally gave her our home number. I was meant to confirm with her about our date tonight.”

“I’m sure it’s fine and I’ll keep by the phone in case she does call.”

“Okay, thanks ma.”

“Take care and don’t drink and —”

“I know, I know, you don’t have to worry about that, I’m not a little kid.”

“You’ll always be to me.”

“Make sure you’re not home, ma, I don’t want another Monica Lewis situation happening. She never talked to me again.”

He rolled his chair closer to the desk so he could put away the brochure in the drawer.

“She was a hussy. I did you a favor.”

“Ma, I mean it, if you mess things up with Amy I won’t forgive you that easily. I really like her.”

“Fine, don’t be so dramatic. I already called Jen and made plans for tonight.”

“Great.”

The giant tv screen played the last few minutes of the Bulls game. He had been watching it since the first quarter. The Bulls were out of it by the end of the second quarter. In front of him were four empty bottles and a plate of french fries with only the small, burnt ones remaining along with the smeared ketchup. He took of his burgundy tie and tossed it on the wooden table which was marked with spillage over the years. The smell of cigarette smoke passed him as a group of guys walked past. To his right were a series of pool tables, from one came the sound of a gunshot as the cue ball scattered the other balls.

He went to the bathroom to relieve himself in order to make more room for the liquor. As he was leaving the bathroom stall, he bumped into another man who was coming in.

“Sorry,” he mumbled moving aside to let the man pass.

“Jake?” The man called his name.

Jake studied his face for a moment, trying to recall a figure in his memory that resembled this man whose face was half hidden by a patchy beard and the brim of his dirty hat shadowed the other half of his face. Only his eyes were clear which were paler than the rest of his tanned face as if he had been out in the sun for a long time with sunglasses on. He failed his attempt to correctly piece the picture together, an attempt that was made difficult with the liquor that circulated in him.

“Sorry do I know you?”

The man cracked a smile and put a hand on his shoulder. For a second he tried to remember if he had been coming in or going out of the bathroom.

“It’s Roy,” he said, “Roy Campbell. Remember?”

The name was familiar, very much so, but the face still didn’t match any of his memories of Roy Campbell. It was as if some stranger had picked that name out of a hat in some twisted reality show and now, he could go on living a life that didn’t belong to him and it was up to people who knew the real Roy to figure out if this one was an imposter or not. If he got it right maybe a camera crew would jump out from the corner.

Roy seemed to have read his mind as he scratched his beard and kept smiling.

“I know I look different. Haven’t had the time to clean up, you know how it is.”

He didn’t but he said he did.

Roy asked him to wait a moment as he went into the bathroom. He quickly returned and the two of them sat down at Roy’s table. Empty peanut shells littered the round stained wood table, along with a tall glass of water in which the ice has melted adding to the volume in the glass.

Jake reached for a couple peanuts which he cracked open.

“I’ll get us a pitcher,” Jake said.

“Not for me,” Roy replied, he dug into his back pocket and got out his wallet inside of which was his AA token. “Almost sixty days.”

“That’s great.”

“I just came here to watch the game,” he nodded at the big screen.

“What a blowout,” Jake replied.

Roy cracked open some peanuts and emptied the shell out in the palm of his hand before tossing them back into his mouth.

“What you been up too?” He asked.

“Just working.”

“Going good?” He chewed with his eyes fixed on the tv screen.

“Got a promotion today so yeah, going pretty well I say.”

“Big shot over here,” he said, “No I’m kidding, that’s great. How’d you do it?”

The waitress brought him a bottle of beer and refilled Roy’s glass of water.

“What do you mean?”

He took a sip and held on to the bottle to feel its cool temperature run through the nerves of his fingers and into his palm.

“How’d you stick to a place long enough to fool them into giving you a promotion? I tried so many times but I couldn’t hack it. After a few months I would pack my things up and keep on moving. Even now I’m getting the itch to get going, to go somewhere else, to run away in a sense.”

Jake shrugged. He was recalling now why he hadn’t kept up with Roy over the years.

“We can’t all just leave, besides that’s how things are. You put in the work for long enough and you’ll get rewarded. Two plus two equals four.”

He rubbed his eyes with the moisture from the cold bottle.

“That logic is too simple,” Roy said. Before Jake could reply, Roy changed the subject. “You married yet?”

“Not even close.”

“Really? We all thought you’d be the first one to bite it.”

“Why’s that?”

“I don’t know, you just seemed like the type.”

“Looks like you bit it.”

Roy closed his hand around the glass of water but even through it you could see the pale moon like ring imprint around his finger.

“I was about too,” Roy said, “Was engaged but then I found out she was cheating on me so I decided to return the ring and get something for myself.”

“We got one thing in common then.”

“What’s that?” Roy asked.

“Lousy luck with women,” he said, “Was supposed to meet a girl here but got stood up.”

“Yeah, it is like that sometimes. When I found out she was cheating on me it kinda broke me, you know. Couldn’t get myself to go to work after that,” Roy explained, “And got let go but that’s a blessing I think.”

“You’ll land on your feet.”

“You think so?”

“Oh I know, we always said Roy was the kind of guy who was going to do big things. You just got to start stepping.”

“Two plus two equals four.”

“Yeah exactly.”

The game ended and for a brief moment, the channel switched the news coverage of the actress’ murder. Roy watched, quietly sipping on his water and as the newscaster began to talk about her promising movie career the channel switched to a football game and Roy shook his head, placing the glass of water down.

“Maybe she deserved it,” Roy said.

“Huh?”

This time Roy shrugged as he leaned back into his chair.

“Who knows what she did to get the guy to act that way.”

“Does that matter?”

“Two plus two, right?”

“What do you mean?” He asked Roy.

“Well, outside the moment of madness, there must have been a catalyst for the person who did that to her and if that catalyst was her then it adds up to it being her fault or at least part of the equation.”

“Man, that’s twisted. I’m sure whoever did it will be caught soon. It’s only a matter of time.”

Roy washed the peanuts down with his water.

Jake had finished another beer and got the urge to use the bathroom again. As he stood up he stumbled a little and caught the back of the chair to stay upright. Roy asked if he had enough and Jake slowly shook his head but even that simple movement caused him to grab the chair.

“Don’t drink much,” Jake explained.

“I can see that. You need help getting up the stairs?”

“I might just head on home.” He squeezed his temple.

“Can’t let you go by yourself. Did you drive here?”

He nodded and immediately regretted it.

“Give me your keys, I’ll drop you off and take the train back.”

“It’s a bit dirty but I’m gonna get a new one soon,” Jack tossed the empty McDonalds paper bags in the backseat and sat down. He apologized for the smell as he cracked the window, he said something about the gym bag in the backseat but Roy told him not to worry. The radio station started to play “wish you were here” by Pink Floyd and he turned the volume up as they drove.

“Every time I hear this song it reminds me of Cor,” he said, “Remember when he got a standing O for playing this at the talent show? Man could he sing.”

“He’s dead now,” Roy said as if he were commentating on the incoming dark clouds which gathered above them.

“What?” He turned the song down. “He’s what?”

“Dead.”

“Stop saying that. I got a letter from him just the other week.”

“A lot can happen in a week.”

“You must be mistaken. I’m talking about O’Connor.”

“I know. He’s dead.”

“Stop talking like that, like it isn’t a big deal like you aren’t talking about something serious. What’s wrong with you?”

“Sorry.”

The song ended and a radio advert of new tires replaced it. Jake turned the radio off.

“You sure?” He asked.

Roy kept his eyes fixed on the road and nodded.

“I got a call from his sister. She was trying to get some old photos of us all. O’Connor never liked pictures so he didn’t keep many.”

“How’d it happen?”

“Just random luck. He smoked some weed that had some other shit in it and he went to sleep and threw up in the middle of the night and it went back down into his lungs. Pretty much drowned in his own vomit.”

“Can’t imagine a worse way to go.”

“He was all alone too. On the road for some gig. That’s the worst way to go. Being all by yourself. I couldn’t handle being by myself.”

“I should call his mother.”

Roy nodded in agreement.

“Life can be so chaotic,” he said, “One moment your riding high and good and the next it all goes to shit.”

The rest of the ride was spent in silence except for the occasional directional instructions which he told Roy.

“Make yourself at home,” he said as Roy followed him into his house. “I got some food and drinks in the fridge but not much.” He hurried upstairs, saying that he’d been holding it in for almost an hour now.

Roy went to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Upstairs, he could hear Jake walking. There were a couple cartons of milk, some fruit, and vegetables, a Tupperware with some rice in it, leftover Chinese food and a box of four cupcakes with the word ‘congratulations’ stickered on the plastic. He closed the fridge. There was a plate of cookies on the kitchen counter, beside the telephone where a yellow light was flashing. He opted for a chocolate chip as he pressed the button to hear the voice message.

“You know I think you’re a real jerk and in all my times I’ve never seen anything more cowardly than to get your mother to call off the date,” a woman voice rang through the speaker. He ended the message without listening to the rest.

The phone rang right after and the name ‘Aunt Jen’ flashed on the little screen.

He picked it up.

“Hello, Jake?”

“No ma’am, it’s Roy.”

The woman’s breathing picked up and for a few seconds, she said nothing.

“Hello?” He said.

“Roy who?”

“Campbell, ma’am. And you are aunt Jen?”

“No, I’m Jakes mother.”

“Oh, we met a few times but I don’t blame you for not remembering me.”

“Where’s Jake? Put him on the phone. Please.”

“He’s not here right now.”

He could almost feel her beating heart from the quick exhales.

“Put Jake on the phone,” She said. “Let me talk to him.”

“I can’t right now.”

“Why not? Where is he?”

“He had a little too much to drink but don’t worry, I’ll look after him.”

“Tell him I’m on my way. Tell him I’m coming home. You hear?”

“Don’t worry ma’am.”

She finally broke.

“Oh god, Jake, Jakey, oh god. I know what you did. I know it’s you who did it.”

“It’s okay, ma’am, it’s going to be all right. Do you understand?”

“Where’s Jake? Put him on the line.” Her tone became more authoritative like mothers usually are and it reminded him of his own mother and he smiled sadly to himself, thinking about what his mother would think of him.

“I can’t ma’am.”

“What have you done? What have you done to him?”

“Ma’am you remember that Bob Marley song? Don’t worry, be happy, ma’am you remember?”

He heard Jake walking upstairs again and told the woman he’s got to go now. She was crying. Another woman voice said something the background but he couldn’t hear what was said. He tried to think of something to say, some comforting words but his own mute screams were deafened by his cries of loneliness.

He hung up the phone and disconnected it.