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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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: Senior

The day of the promotion Junior felt a surge of excitement which he had not felt in a long time. Last time he had this feeling, he had been accepted into his architecture program, which he still hoped to complete one day. He kept the acceptance letter in his desk drawer at work, occasionally taking it out and reading it over again, thinking about how it would have felt if he had been able to graduate. Now, however, he had another letter, one that informed him of his promotion. He carried that with him in his breast pocket so he could show his father.

He parked his car in front of his fathers’ house. As he went around the hood of the car, he almost stepped into the puddle of water which was slowly draining into the street gutter. The rain had just stopped on his way over here. Luckily, he caught himself and was able to skip over the puddle and onto the neatly kept front lawn. He went and knocked on the front door, which his father had built himself. It was made of thick red oak wood and it hurt the knuckles but you had to knock because the doorbell didn’t work. It was as if you had to pay a price to see him. His father’s footsteps fell upon the floor with authority, whose verdict he felt under his own boots. Something stirred inside of him from merely feeling the vibrations of his fathers’ footsteps, his presence coming nearer, and he straightened his posture and he held his wrist behind his back like a young solider does when a drill sergeant enters the room. He eased out a long, drawn-out breath and waited. The steps were not hurried. His father did not rush for anyone. He was always in control. The door sprang open and his father stretched across the gaping entrance. Junior could tell his father had not been expecting any company for he simply wore his robe with no undershirt and he could see his father’s broad chest and specks of grey hair that covered it. Junior found himself lowering his head as if he were bowing, a natural reaction.

“Is it Friday already?” His father voice was deep and his lips barely moved. There was some stubble on his chin.

“No, it’s still Wednesday.”

“Of course I know what day it is, you think I’m that far gone?”

Junior smiled, embarrassed at taking his father’s question literally. His father often joked and asked questions that didn’t need answers but he found himself answering them anyway.

“I thought you only came to see me on Friday?”

His father stepped back, granting Junior space to come inside. Junior squeezed past his father who closed the door behind them. His father was a big man, shoulders still strong for someone his age, chest still stuck out further than his belly even though men his age often had fuller bellies. He pulled him in for an embrace. There was a musky smell to him as if he had just been exercising. When he let him go, like a little child, Junior found himself staring up at his father.

“So, what’s the special occasion?” He asked patting Junior on the back which made him stumble forward a little. Before Junior could answer his father started for the kitchen and Junior hurried to keep up with his long strides.

“I was just making some coffee. You want some?”

“Sure. Two teaspoons of sugar please.”

“I don’t have any. The doctor said to lay off so I’ve been having it black. It might be too bitter for you.”

“I think I can handle it,” Junior said.

“You sure? I guess you’re a grown boy now.”

The sound of the news anchors filled the open room as the shifting light from the television set fell upon the yoga mat that was set in front of it. The mat was flanked on either side by two sets of dumbbells. You had to take a step up from the living room onto the kitchen floor where the table was lightly decorated with just a crystal bowl in the middle with a couple bananas in it and a war novel lay on top of the morning paper. The table was surrounded by a few chairs and his father pulled one out, gesturing for him to take a seat as he went to pour the coffee.

“This any good?” He asked his father as he picked up the novel and read the back summary.

“Junk,” his father replied, “none of them can ever capture it correctly.”

He put the book back down.

“How’s Emily?”

His father joined him at the table, placing a cup of coffee in front of Junior.

Junior felt the warmth through the mug as he lifted the cup to his lip. His father was not lying about the coffee. He had to consciously stop himself from making a face as the bitter drink went down his throat because he could tell that he was being watched. He took another sip for good measure.

“Better now, she’s almost over her cold,” Junior said, lowering the cup down to the table.

His father spread out on the chair and faced Junior. Junior felt as if he was back in school, in the principle’s office having to answer for some wrongdoing, that he hadn’t done. The silence alone was heavy enough to cause him discomfort as his father calmly sipped his coffee. He cleared his throat and attempted to say something but his father cut him off.

“I have been meaning to thank her for letting me stay with you for those few months.”

“Oh, that was nothing. It was the least we could do.”

“I must have been a real nuisance for you to get rid of me so quickly.”

This time there was only the illusion of silence as he tried to think of a way to counter his father’s ruling but instead, he sank further into the chair or perhaps his father grew larger. Junior stared at the tabletop where his coffee cup was, watching the steam rise. Although his father had been a difficult house guest because he needed so much attention, Junior could never bring himself to tell his father the truth.

“No, it was never like that,” Junior muttered, his voice was subdued, barely above a whisper, a courteous man would have leaned closer but his father kept his imposing position. It was as if his father’s gaze could change his tone, manipulate his words, cause the letters to come out quickly, in a hurrying manner as if he were breathing hard, trying to catch his breath.

He reached for the novel again but stopped, instead he folded his hands in front of him.

“Come on, I’m only joking,” his father’s loaded hand patted Junior on the shoulder, “we can joke with one another, can’t we? That’s what men do. Your mother never understood it but I told her that it’s all play between us.”

Junior replied with a smile and a soft, “yes,” that was barely audible and sounded more like a deep exhale.

“But I must say, I would like to see you and Emily more than once a week. I’m getting up there, not much left for me. If I can’t even get my boy to come to see me, what am I still doing here?”

“Don’t say that, please, I know I should come more often but I’m just trying to do for what you did for me. I’m trying to make it easy for you. Also, while we are on that subject of work—” he went to take the envelope out when his father asked, “How are you liking my old job?”

“About that—”

“Do they still talk about me or have they forgotten about the old workhorse?”

“They remember, of course, they remember, how can they forget someone like you?”

“What good is a horse if he can’t gallop,” his father said, his voice flat and toneless as if he were making a statement to himself.

“Mr. Edwards speaks so highly of you there that I’ve had trouble keeping up.” He said which made his father smile. “I’ve been working so much overtime recently so that I don’t fall behind on anything.”

“Just make sure your bride doesn’t mind. That was a good thing about your mother, she understands a man’s need to work.”

“Emily is a doll. She’s always putting up with my headache but I’ll take her on a vacation or something one of these days.”

His father finished his cup of coffee. He stared at Junior’s almost full cup, knowing he had been right about his son’s taste. He took his own empty cup to the sink and started to rinse it.

“I can do that for you,” Junior said, joining his father at the kitchen sink. There was a window above the sink but the curtains were drawn. The faint sound of the drizzle outside could be heard tapping against the window. He noticed the lack of dust on the windowsill.

“I’m not that old yet,” his father replied.

“I didn’t mean that,” said Junior whose voice was drowned by the flow of the tap water. His father shut it off and placed the cup to dry on the cloth that was placed beside the kitchen sink.

“So they still remember the old bull?” He asked.

“Oh, very much, in fact, Mr. Edwards was talking to me about you today.”

“My works got you looking soft,” his father poked Junior in the belly. “Here, look at mine, still solid,” he slapped his own stomach with an open palm, “Now you must know how hard I used to work to keep in shape.”

“I guess Emily’s been keeping me too well fed,” Junior smiled.

“That’s no excuse. A man has to stay tight. Softness is an illness to his character. How can you expect others to follow you if they see this belly of yours? You can’t lead men if you can’t even control what you put in your mouth.”

“You’re right.”

“Of course I’m right, I’ve been doing your job much longer than you have.”

“About that—”

“I saw the doc the other day and you know what he said?” His father didn’t wait for an answer although Junior opened his mouth to reply. “He said I’m in the top percentile of his patients when it comes to physique. I told the doc I’ve never missed a day of exercising. Every morning I exercise. You should do that too or else you’re gonna fall apart when you get to my age.”

There was a hint of a joke in his father speech and so Junior smiled, weakly. His father patted him on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, you’ve got plenty of time to straighten up.”

“But listen I got some good news for you,” Junior said.

His father turned towards him, leaning onto the kitchen counter, arms folded across his chest.

“What’s that?”

Junior pulled out the letter from his supervisor.

“I’m being promoted,” He said, presenting the letter to his father.

His father did not accept it.

“About time we got that position.”

He turned his back to his son and picked out a glass bowl from the cabinet above. “The son always eats the sweet fruit of his father’s labor,” he said, as he poured cornflakes into his glass bowl.

“I am very grateful.” Junior’s arm hung beside him and his hand still holding the letter.

His father spoke, as he poured milk into the bowl, “I suppose that is what the purpose of being a father is, I lay the foundation, build upon it, make it nice and pretty for you to come and see further than I ever did. Congratulations.”

“Thank you.”

His father took a spoonful and aggressively shoved it in his mouth, some of the milk dribbled down his chin which he wiped with the back of his hand.

“I was thinking,” Junior said, “This new position can allow me to hire some help to look after you the days I can’t come.”

His father chewed, his jaw flexing and relaxing, his eyes staring right at Junior and Junior’s own shifted back to the tabletop, where his coffee had lost its steam.

“So you’ll be coming to see me even less?” His father asked.

“No, no, nothing like that. I just felt it’ll be good for you to have someone around to talk to and be with.”

“Why can’t that someone be you?”

Junior’s voice softened. “These past few months I’ve been neglecting Emily too much and I just thought the two of can spend more time together.”

His father did not reply. Instead, he quietly finished his bowl of cereal, the metal spoon scraping the glass bowl after each bite. Once the bowl was empty, he let out a sigh and leaned back into his chair.

“It makes sense, more time for your bride and less time for your old man. Don’t worry, I’ll be gone soon, you’ll have plenty of time after that.”

“Please don’t talk like that.”

“All these years I spent working, I only did that so I could see you do good in his life. So, I’m happy for you and now, if it means to watch you from afar, then I suppose I’ll do that, I’ll clap for you from the stands.”

He stood up, towering over Junior, “You do what you think is best, after all, you’re the man of the house now, right?”

Junior looked down, staring at his father’s strong legs and feeling the weight of his father’s touch as he lightly patted him on the cheek. His father picked up the coffee mug and carried it with the empty bowl to the sink. He poured out the coffee into the sink and rinsed out the cup before cleaning the bowl as well. He left both the cup and bowl to dry beside the other mug.

He seemed to be waiting for Junior to say something, perhaps apologize, to take back what he had said, thank him for the promotion but Junior stayed silent, his voice not allowed to speak.

“Well you must be a busy man these days,” his father said, “I shouldn’t keep you away from your mistress much longer.” He started for the door and Junior stood up without a word and followed his father’s strides.

His father held the door open for him and Junior stepped through.

“It was good seeing you,” his father said.

“Please, I would come more often if it wasn’t for Emily and the work—”

His father smiled, quieting Junior with his look.

“Your grandfather would not tolerate such words, in fact, I think he wouldn’t like you one bit for saying such things. I’m different than my father, I don’t judge like he used to. He would have judged you to be a lousy boy. Inconsiderate. He was a hard man from a different time but I still loved him and took care of him because that’s the duty of a son. But me, I don’t judge you. You do what you think is best and send my regards to my workers and also to Emily.”

The light from the sun cast his father’s shadow upon Junior whose gaze was fixed upon his father’s feet, unable to raise his head and meet his father’s eyes.

“I’ll try to make it work,” he said.

“You do what you like, son, you’re the man now.”

His father closed the door.

For a moment he stayed in the silence that was only present in his heart as the street behind him busied itself with an utter disregard. He felt so alone and so small. That silence that was within him began to break and it started as a whisper first but in seconds it turned into screams, screams of yearning, screams for acceptance, screams which wanted to hear his father simply say “I’m proud of you”, screams which were ultimately just the tantrums of a child, he understood. He took the letter and crumpled it into a little ball and threw it down the gutter as he got into his car and headed back to work. The rain fell tearfully from the skies.

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.

Short Story: Barn Burning

I see a barn burning. Every time I’m alone with my thoughts this picture of a flame engulfed barn seeps into my mind. Each time the flames are in mid roar, whipping at the air, coiling back like a snake and striking whatever is near it like the patch of grass surrounded by dirt at the foot of the barn or like the leaves on the tree which had grown towards the barn as if it had some kind of gravitational pull, the tree trunk wasn’t on fire but it would be soon enough, down to the roots. I find myself out of breath as if I am there in person. My lungs taxed from breathing in the heat embedded air. I could almost cough from the ever-widening ball of smoke.

Then, I’ll remember I’ve got to do something or the phone would ring or someone will call my name and the image would vanish, like a snap of a finger, that quick. Sometimes I think that I can smell smoke but that’s just my mind playing tricks.

I work as an editor at a furniture magazine. Sounds exciting? No, I didn’t think so, but it pays the bills so I can’t complain. Each day I get a few articles about the different types of couches (I couldn’t believe how many unique pieces of couches there are because before I started  working here, all I knew about was that one long piece on which I often fell asleep on at night and also a love seat just because I read about it in a book one time) or I’ll edit articles about some new trend in home interior decorating, which if you pay attention is just the same out of style trend coming back, it just skips a generation or two and then becomes “new” again. All I really do with my time is delete a couple sentences, reword some here and there, fix a few spelling mistakes and perhaps add a sentence at the end of a paragraph to help it flow into the next one. Pretty simple stuff. So, now you can understand why I think about that burning barn so much.

I do all my work at the downtown office. It’s good because I read once that familiarity and routine are two things you need to get your creative juices flowing. The same time, at the same place, concentrating on the same thing is supposed to help you connect with the muses if you believe in such things. It’s these muses writers often credit their ideas to. How wonderful. I can sometimes feel the muses as I edit these articles but then again, I think about how I can sometimes smell smoke on my clothes after I’ve thought about the barn burning.

Once I’m finished editing I go to this bookstore nearby to do my own writing. I read once that new settings, new experiences can jog up the story inside of you. There I set camp by the window and watch the living screen in front of me unfold with all its moving parts with its different characters and the changing scenery and noises. Each second is unique. Even inside the bookstore is pleasant for the barista rings the little bell when the coffee order is ready and it reminds me of Nabokov’s Lo-Li-Ta because its three actions as well, the bell-the name of the customer in a cherry voice-the thank you reply trying to match the cheerfulness of the barista.  The murmurs of people, the footsteps clicking, the pages swishing, even the scratching legs of the chairs don’t bother me, its all part of the play, the music, the charm of the place.

The most charming of all is the girl that works there. Shoulder length black hair with a hint of brown, always flashing a smile when you walk in and asking if she can help you.

“Just looking around,” is my usual retort for I like to browse the new releases, perhaps grab a couple and read a chapter or two before starting on my edits.

One day, as I was editing, she came up to me and asked if I was a writer.

“Kind of,” I replied, “trying to be one but right now I edit writers.”

At that, her face broke into her usual smile and she sat down beside me, without invitation but I didn’t mind.

“I’ve been thinking about writing something too,” she said.

“Have you written a story before?”

“Not yet,” she shook her head and her shoulder-length hair fluttered side to side, gently like a curtain does covering an open window as the calm wind blows outside.

“What are you interested in writing about?”

“I don’t know, just about life or maybe about working at a bookstore, I don’t know, I just feel this desire to write something.”

“Well, that’s a good place to start.”

“How long have you been writing for?” She asked.

“Editing for about three years or so and I’ve been trying to get a story together for about four…or, gosh, maybe five, time flies you know when you get busy. One day I’ll figure it out.”

“You know, thinking about it, I actually do have something specific in mind.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, you see for the past month or two, around the time I got this itch to write, I’ve been thinking about this scenario a lot because it keeps popping in my head and I don’t know where it’s coming from but it feels important, you know, like it won’t go away until I do something about it.”

“What is it that your seeing?”

“A burning barn,” she said, “I just feel like I need to get it out of me, you know. Do you ever feel that way?”

 

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Short Story: The Man Who Read Everything

Important people walked around the hall with champagne glasses in their hands while their diamond watches reflected the chandelier light in all direction. A permanent smile was slapped across their faces. These men and woman gathered each year in order to expand their network but in reality, it was a celebration of riches. This was the time to show off their hard-earned suits and dresses, leather boots that clicked each time they made contact with the marble floor and cufflinks that were worth an average man’s salary and jewels that would put to shame the Kings and Queens of old. Here was the ideal situation for Abraham Hart.

‘What do you do sir?’ a tall man asked him. He had slicked back hair and one hand was in his front pocket while the other massaged the bottom of the wine glass. Just by the smell of him, Abraham knew he was some lawyer who had made a fortune before the age of thirty.

‘I am a doctor of life, sir,’ Abraham replied. The man was looking around for a higher class person to talk to because Abraham was the only man dressed in a plain black shirt, black trousers, and running sneakers. It was embarrassing to the man to be seen with Abraham but the peculiar answer caught his interest.

‘Interesting also an interesting choice of dress.’ He was not sure yet if Abraham was plain crazy or if he was to be tonight’s entertainment. A jester to make them laugh like in the forgotten times.

‘Nothing interesting about it,’ Abraham replied, ‘it’s what I wear everyday because by wearing the same pairs of clothes each and every day it allows me to save three minutes  from my decision making capability which, like a man of your capacity can calculate pretty quickly means that in a years time I shall have saved one thousand and ninety-five minutes of decision-making time, one thousand and ninety-five minutes which I can spend on more important and more responsible things.’

The lawyer raised an eyebrow and the side of his mouth twitched up for a smirk. He extended his hand and introduced himself, ‘I am Douglas Hanson, I own the Hanson firm’ he said.

Abraham shook his hand and said it was his pleasure.

‘And you are?’ he asked as if he were speaking to a child, still confused whether or not the man was really all there in the head or not.

‘Oh, you do not know me?’ Abraham replied with an air of shock as he looked around as if Mr. Hanson was the crazy one.

‘I am afraid I do not, although you look familiar.’ Abraham knew it was a lie. The two of them had never met but the simple fact that he had made himself important had caused the lawyer some discomfort. The power shifted and Abraham acknowledged it.

‘You must have heard about my experiment?’ It was a good sign to see the lawyer take his other hand out of his pocket and to see his fingers fidget with the bottom of his suit jacket.

‘I’m afraid not, sir.’

‘Well for the last twenty-one years I locked my self in a room and consumed the knowledge of the world in order to find the meaning of life.’ His long hair that reached down to the mid of his back and his gray beard that settle on top of his chest were taken as signs of a man who would do something like that, a man who would dedicate his life to learning and without questioning the lawyer put down his drink and cupped Abraham’s hand with both of his, shaking with excitement.

‘Of course, sir, of course, now I remember. I feel such a fool for not knowing right away.’ By now a few of the others nearby had stopped their conversation and were listening.

‘Your experiment was truly remarkable, I could not believe it when I first heard about it but here you are in the flesh. A living proof.’

‘Believing everything one hears is a poor quality in life so I must congratulate you sir for having some doubt about my work,’ the lawyer beamed as Abraham praised him for something he had not done.

‘Tell me one thing, sir, how did you even think of such an experiment?’ One of the bystanders asked. More people had joined in on their conversation. In the distance music lightly played and people who had not heard of what was going on kept on drinking and networking.

‘My parents passed away when I was young, leaving me in the care of an orphanage,’ people gave sympathizing nods and looks, ‘so my childhood was filled with unstable changes and constant hardship, the whole while I fell in love with books and in them I found my sanctuary and in them I found my quest so when it was discovered that my uncle left me his fortunes in his will, I at the age of twenty-one decided to venture on in my quest to find the meaning, a quest as of a month ago I have completed. In fact,’ he looked around at the perfect faces of his audience with a smile under his bushy beard, ‘this is my first social gathering in twenty-one years,’ a few applauded while more people stopped doing what they were and joined at the edge of the ever-widening circle of admirers.

‘Well, what’s the answer then? ’ someone asked in the back and all eyes stared at Abraham waiting for him to speak.

Abraham continued smiling and he spread his arms wide, ‘what’s the hurry, my friends, if there is one thing being alone in a single room teaches you, it is patience. And another is the sweet climactic release after a long build-up, if you know what I mean, my quest took me twenty-one years, twenty-one years of build-up until finally, I saw the light so please, humor me and ask not what I learned right away for that knowledge shall come in time but first ask how I remained sane all those years, is that not a better question? Would you acknowledge the answer if it came out of a madman’s mouth? Is it not better to question first before believing?’

The silent crowd broke into different pockets of buzzing, each pocket discussing what the old man had said. Abraham looked on, studying the curious faces closely until finally, someone said, ‘how did you stay sane, sir?’

‘Who said I am sane? HA!’ he cackled looking around at the richly attired folks with expressionless faces for they were used to getting quick and straightforward answers but now, he made them wait to earn his wisdom. Abraham ran his fingers through his beard and cleared his throat.

‘Isolation is said to be the worse punishment a human being can go through,’ he continued, ‘for physical pain comes and goes and we as evolved humans can adapt to receive pain and even adapt to physical pain but when it comes to metal struggle and torture tools that dig into a man’s psyche well then things get interesting, my friends, but there is always a solution.’

‘Dr. Frankl summed it up the best, if you have hope and if you have the will and a clear goal in mind, us humans can do anything. Dr. Frankl survived the terrible Nazi occupation and their camps because he had a mission and so did I, mine was to figure out the meaning of life and that excitement of actually moving towards that goal kept me going the first year of isolation. In that year I read the history of our world, everything from how our planet and universe came to be to how first societies began, when the first societal conflicts arose, the effects the Greek and Roman’s had on the future generations, the impact of the Golden Horde to the greatest scientific inventions that changed how we live and think to the last great world war’s. Everything that has ever been written on our human history,’ he pointed at his head, ‘is in here.’ He cracked a smile once more at the astonished looks he saw.

‘So my sanity survived the first year and the second and the third for my goal was clear and I moved towards it each day and that’s all I cared for. And in those years I learned how lucky we truly are and how there is no difference between the poorest man in the world and the richest in terms of intelligence, the only real difference is in their natural habitat, the richest was born on a higher rung and was exposed the tools that would allow him or her to climb while the poorest was born at the bottom rung and was never taught how to climb. This showed me that the meaning of life cannot be ones riches for it is all subjective.’ More people were listening now and his claim that riches do not matter in the grand scheme of things had them whispering angrily to one another for the goal of riches had been their ultimate end for as long as they could remember. But none of them spoke up and disagreed instead the whispering and buzzing of the crowd quieted down to hear more from the old man.

‘But the fourth year of my isolation tested my will like nothing before. My eyes had grown tired of reading and my mind begged for rest and my body hoped for the comforting touch of a fellow man or woman. I do not exaggerate when I say that I clawed at the door which was locked from the outside, I peeled away the brown paint until the wood underneath poked out and I further attacked it. I do not know what took a hold of me but I had become a savage. My hair tangled and messy reached to my lower back, my nails grew and gathered dirt, even a tooth fell out,’ he opened wide to show a missing tooth in the back of his mouth, ‘I could not tell you why all of this happened. Perhaps it was reading our violent history where since the beginning of time we have killed one another and as time has gone on one thing that became certain was our efficient and effective kill rates and now, even though we live in a time where the crime rates is lowest and the quality of life at the highest, our ability to kill a fellow man has never been better. Perhaps at the time, I believed the meaning of life is to simply die for that is a singular thread that weaves throughout our human existence. And that thought must have depressed me to the point that I wanted to get out of the room and run towards an incoming bullet and end our miserable existence.’ The air in the room thinned and the music stopped for even the band players wanted to hear the old man, their saxophones and flutes and violins hung uselessly from their hands. The somber room waited eagerly for Abrahams next words and he chose them purposely.

He clapped his hands the sound of which vibrated around the room and startled some of the listeners and he cracked his smile again and said, ‘that’s when I discovered the joy of philosophy and my hunt for the ultimate meaning kept going, not believing my previous conclusion for it could not be true, I just knew it could not.’

The tensed up faces of people who for a second believed the meaning of life was to die, relaxed, relieved that there was some other point to this existence. A few even clapped for they dreaded the former notion so much.

‘How do we know all of this really happened and that you are not lying?’ someone in the back spoke up and it was a valid question in Abraham’s mind but before he could defend himself, the lawyer spoke up.

‘This is the world-famous Dr. Hart you are talking about, haven’t you read his research?’ said the man who had not known who Abraham was twenty minutes ago but the embarrassment of not knowing Abraham and his research shut down the fellow dissenter and he did not retaliate further.

‘Please go on, sir.’ Mr. Hanson said bowing his head slightly.

‘Here is where my isolation ended for these philosophers were with me, it was as if I was back in school just a little kid looking up to my teachers as they opened my mind and put in information that changed my life. I truly felt like I was sitting cross-legged on the floor while Plato or Montaigne or Hume sat on my chair and taught me a lesson or two. That joy of learning was the happiest I had been in my life. it was incredible and it is something I wish all my fellow men and woman to enjoy.’ Nodding heads met his words, all of them most likely making mental notes to find their philosophical teachers.

‘With these great minds I had discussions of free will, of societal norms, of religion and science and the need of us humans to create self-boundaries and self-rule, a code of a sort to allow us to reach our full potential, or like Seneca said to find four or five people we wish to be like, aspire to be like and when the time comes for decisions or you find yourself at a crossroad think and ask yourself what those individuals would have done at this point, how would they have handled this problem, this situation. It was wonderful discussing with them the materialistic life we now so enjoy and the disconnect with our self, our self that is so emphasized in the eastern philosophy which has been drowned by our need for desires. Our life should be about balances like Aristotle believed, do nothing in excess for it just hurts the soul and we should always be a student like Socrates preached I know nothing, that was the motto I lived by at the time and opened my mind up for further suggestions and once I reached the end of the philosophical spectrum, five years had passed and I discovered the true meaning of life.’ Abraham made them wait a moment longer as the crowd visibly leaned closer not to miss the answer. ‘Meaning is to find what makes you happy and just do that everyday not worrying about being the richest or being the smartest or being the strongest, worry about being the happiest.’

Before the crowd could discuss this revelation and revelation it was for these people had not once cared to find happiness but instead spent their lives in a vanity race, Abraham continued.

‘For me, my true happiness laid in reading and even though I had come to the ends of my goal, I stayed in isolation for I was surrounded by what made me happy, books.’

He stopped and took a sip of water. People talked amongst themselves discussing what made them really happy but most of them replied with ‘I don’t know.’

Abraham continued, ‘the next two years I devoted to reading everything from the classics and the giants of literature to the newest released detective novels and my personal drug of choice, fantasy. There I no longer lived in my room and in a way it was cheating that I was allowed to read fiction for I spent time in middle earth, I traveled from Paris to Spain to see bullfighting, then I bore witness to the creation of a magical village that spanned four generations, I went and lived on different planets not just Earth and so a glimpse of our future and then I came back just in time to hitchhike across America and sailed down the Congo River and countless other adventures. I considered myself a well-traveled man having not left my room for about twelve years now.’ The crowd smiled and laughed with the old man who remembered the happiest of his days.

‘But for some odd reason, something kept poking me, something hidden down in my stomach kept me awake at night and no matter how much I read or wrote, that feeling that there was something missing in my life was still there, a constant reminder that I had fallen in a trap of my own illusion so I did not have to suffer more in my quest, a divergent path from my true goal and one day I snapped.’

‘My sanity, which I had kept strong for the past twelve years finally came crumbling down and at the moment when I was the happiest I began to cry, more like weep, and started tearing apart all my books and writings and notes,’ he waved his hands wildly around and the people closest to him took a step back worried that they would in the way of his anger, ‘which I had so methodically gathered in the past twelve years, all gone, pieces of random paper littered my room and each step more paper crumpled under my weight,’ he stepped on imaginary paper lifting his knee to his chest and stomping the marble floor so that the sound echoed in the quiet ball room and the on lookers looked at one another with confused glances thinking the man was truly insane, ‘and I almost broke away from my quest, penning a letter to my servant who brought me food and books each day to let me out that I cannot bear the burden of my mission that no man could carry the weight of it on his weak shoulders but my servant knew me better then I knew myself and he refused to let me out. He is the reason that I stand before you all for if I had been let free I am sure my grief at my failure would have led me to the nearest cliff and I would have jumped to end my misery,’ he jumped where he stood with a smile on his face but none of the others were smiling at the sight of him falling down to his demise, but like an addict, that feeling of missing something came to an end when I found something to plug up that hole. In my case in my rage to tear up all of my books and curse my servants name as I did so I stumbled up a box of books labeled religion,’ he instantly calmed his animated motions and his arms hung down his sides, ‘and the sight of those words calmed my nerves and I took a deep breath hoping that this was the final test.’

‘Here I was confronted with some deeper issues, issues of what is good and what is evil. In my philosophical phase, these issues had risen but I had subconsciously steered away from them because I did not feel I was mentally capable of discussing them and perhaps my reading of literature was a distraction from this big picture but now all of that was over and I was faced with the questions that now I know I had purposely avoided.’

‘By learning and discussing the teachings of Gods from different walks of life it gave me a different, a unique kind of perspective on my previous conclusion of the meaning of life. I started to believe that life cannot just be about self-happiness. It is a great feeling that of being happy and that is a good life but now I believed more than ever that one should give up part of their happiness in order to make the world better and one way to make the world a better place is through love. I cannot tell you how many times I converted to a different religion believing my quest has led me to this faith or the other but in the end I found that the best faith is the one you make for yourself, in other words, I began to follow a religion I created a religion that I constructed through all that I had read and learned in my years of isolation and it was wonderful. In my religion, it was the utmost importance to love, to be happy and to leave our world one percent better than we first got here. I lived by this for a few years, molding the laws and rules to my liking and what I thought would be the best way to accomplish my goal. And now I look upon your faces and I know that you do not believe me, that you think I lie to you all that the meaning of life is to create your own world that best helps our current one and I would say to this,’ he paused and the room held its breath for a moment, ‘is true. All of this was bullshit, excuse my language, but it was for these idealistic notions rarely come true in the real world and so after seven years of faith-based living, I gave it all up and I gave up reading for good.’

The room buzzed louder than ever. Their whisperings were more out of annoyance than anything else. The moon had risen to the top long ago and by now the old man had been speaking for two hours but Abraham did not care, he continued to study them as he combed his beard with his fingers until finally, one person spoke up and said, ‘what is the meaning already, stop philosophizing and just tell us already.’

They had learned nothing so far, not an ounce of patience from a man who had patiently sat in one room for twenty-one years trying to follow his quest. 

‘We are almost at the end my friend. You all with your riches must mean that you are smart intelligent people, right? Well if so then you shall know that nineteen years have passed since I first began to tell you my story, a story you asked for, which means only two more years are left, friend, so if you please, I will tell you what happened in those two years first.’

He did not wait for their approval and continued speaking after a quick breath.

‘When I gave up reading I picked up the pen, my head hurt from all the things I crammed into it and slowly all the information packed into my mind flowed down to my neck and then into shoulder and down my veins of my forearms and my hands and into the black and blue ink of my pen and I wrote everything. I swear, I have written the greatest of novels in that time and I have comprised the greatest of encyclopedias of all fields, for such was the baggage that I carried. As I wrote the more I knew I was heading towards the end when finally one month ago from this day I reached the conclusion of my quest and I simply informed my servant who agreed I had accomplished my mission and let me out and here I am, gentlemen and gentlewomen, a man who spent twenty-one years in a room, following an experiment that nearly killed my sanity but in the end rewarded me with the ultimate truth.’

‘Well, what is it?’

‘Simply, it is to see and if not get a dog, then you shall see.’

At this the room exploded in a round of angry discussion and amidst the rumbling, the old man slipped quietly away but not before hearing people ask one another “what is it that we are supposed to see” or “see what” or “how would I know if I have seen it?” and some even asked what kind of dog.

Abraham did not waste any time, he left the rich dinner party that was full of confused and angry people. He drove to his house and the light coming out of his bedroom told him that his wife was awake. He peeled off his wig and placed the long gray hair on the head of the staircase as he climbed the steps.

‘Yes….how many?….okay I’ll make the appointment.’ He heard his wives voice say through the cracked bedroom door.

When she saw him, she pulled the telephone away from her ear and held her hand over the bottom part so whoever was on the other side could not hear, ‘you won’t believe it Abe but I keep getting calls for adoptions. I swear at least twenty of my puppies will have a new home by tomorrow.’

Abraham merely smiled and stretched his back so that it cracked.

‘All that standing up really takes a toll on the body,’ he muttered.

His wife hung up the phone after confirming the person’s appointment.

‘By the way,’ she said as Abraham climbed into the bed with her having changed his clothes, ‘how did your research go?’

‘Oh wonderful dear, another success in the field of human naivety.’ 

His wife got another phone call. Abraham fell asleep to the image of his smiling wife and the cheery tone of her voice.