I don't put up any of my fiction works here, but I figured since I missed my (self-imposed) Monday deadline I should go ahead and put something - even if it is late. My writers group had a contest - as we do once every month. It was to be a romantic 3-page page-turner. So it had to end where the reader wants to read more. I had never placed in my writers group, but this one, which I completed in about an hour, right before our meeting, placed second. It felt nice. Funny tidbit of information, I had just introduced the old man in the story when all of the sudden an old man came up the stairs at the library where I was writing, and that's where I received the inspiration for his appearance. I hope you enjoy reading. I think it's a relatively fun fiction piece.
To all my friends I was way behind on the kissing scene, but my argument was that I didn’t plan on dying anytime shortly after my sophomore year of high school.
I feel as though I’ve tossed you into the middle of a thought process where there is no direction. The direction was directed merely by accident.
My mom, who follows an all too busy schedule being the mother of one and the wife of none, dropped me off at a bookstore coffee shop on a morning I’ll never forget. My love of words and coffee made it an obvious choice for a day she had “umpteen” errands to run. I say “umpteen” because that’s what it sounds like when she says it. It’s not a word, and although she calls me her “little wordsmith” (and that I surely am), I still have an appreciation for her creation of such a term. I appreciate it even more because I understand what it means, although in English terms it doesn’t mean anything – seeing that it’s not actually a word.
So, it was a cold Saturday morning around 10 a.m. and I had just purchased my first cup of coffee to eventually be followed by several more. Into the first sip I read the opening lines of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, a book I couldn’t wait to fully engage.
“Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton.”
That was the first line of the book. No one said that to me. I think that would have been an odd way to start a conversation, however, it was a great way to start a book.
Boxing was a sport I had learned to love from the stories my late grandfather told me. He had a million stories, most of them the same, just told in various forms. Regardless, all bestsellers in my mind.
I don’t want you to gather the wrong impression of my student mentality when it comes to books. I love the written word, but am by no means a book worm. When people state that they become engrossed in a novel, it means “engrossed.” All caps and with an annoying little exclamation point at the end. I never become engrossed. Not with anything. From my perspective, life is too short to become engrossed with anything, much less a book.
There are way too many things to do and accomplish. And when there is no time for doing or accomplishing, seeing is the runner-up to the two. So as much as I was interested in reading, I also kept my watch on the door for any visitors who may enter the establishment.
The clinging of the little bell connected to the top of the front door would clang and my eyes would inadvertently look up and take a gander. I use the word inadvertently quite loosely – I quite looked forward to the sound.
The first clang of the bell introduced an old man wearing a Korean War hat. He was obviously a veteran. His thick glasses made the impression on me that even his eyes felt that he had seen too much. His hunched over shoulders seemed to carry the weight of the world, and without his cane, the weight most assuredly would have been too much.
He never made eye contact with me. He just meandered to the counter, ordered a cup of coffee – “Bleck” – he called it “bleck”, although in proper English he meant black. He ordered it as if he had to have it to get through the day. I suppose when you reach a certain age, you feel that way. Coffee is what keeps you going. “Bleck” coffee, of course.
Now that I think of it, there was no reason for him to request the coffee black. It is our chore to make our own coffee. I reckon he simply did it to let everyone know he didn’t put up with pansy cream and sugar. But I was the only one in the bookstore. Maybe he wanted me to know. Or maybe he didn’t know he would have had to make it on his own. Regardless, “bleck” it was and “bleck” it would be.
He pulled up next to me, though not acknowledging me, but he did seem to glance at the cover of my book. He continued on pass me and I continued on with Hemingway.
I had covered a quarter of the book by the time he came back for his coffee. The time it took for him to find his reading selection, I figured the coffee to be quite cool. His slow progression to his seat made it ever so slightly obvious that his seating arrangement would be saddling up very close to me. He placed his coffee on the table with a hand that shook softly. He had the smell of an old man. Like grease, gasoline, and a sense of know how.
He placed his cane alongside his table and slipped the book from between his arm and body. He let it linger in his hand, the cover made obvious for my reading ability. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. I wondered if he did it because he liked Hemingway or because he wanted a conversation. If he wanted the latter, he had picked an intelligent way to do it.
It made me wonder about war times in the movies. There was always a signal for whatever mission. I could picture my Hemingway comrade-in-arms 60 years ago preparing his men for battle.
“Alright, corporal. If we attack tonight, you’ll see a young man in the teashop reading The Old Man and the Sea. If he, however, is reading The Sun Also Rises, then we abort the mission and we retreat.”
I could hear his gruff voice in my head telling his young corporal all he needed to know. And then turning to an eager private and yelling, “Coffee! And make it bleck.”
I audibly giggled at my comrade’s 60-year-old demand and it caught his attention.
“Hemingway got you laughing?” he asked.
He had played his hand quite well. His selection was for conversation. “No, sir. I just realized we were reading the same author,” I responded.
“Then I suppose I was right,” he retorted.
I thought for a moment and realized he was. “Yes.” That was all I could manage. He was old and physically slow, but his mind made him appear a lot like what my grandfather used to call a “whipper-snapper.” Again, a made up term that made perfect sense. My mother inherited her ability honestly.
“Are you, too, in love with a woman you’ll never have,” he asked out of the blue.
Again, with all my might, all I could muster was a “yes.” How did he know that?
“That book, son, is a depressing one,” he added. “But then again, it is Hemingway and he was never one for happy endings.”
“I guess he liked to deal in reality,” I said, feeling as though I was really adding to the conversation. My comment made his eyebrows jump, like I had really surprised him with such a comment.
“Now, son, please don’t allow the greatness of writing deter you from the greatness of life,” he said.
I was a pessimist, for certain. My parents had gotten a divorce just two years ago, a little before I hit high school. So all the questions I needed to ask my dad about girls and defending myself had to wait every two weeks.
“Actually, I feel they’re one and the same.” My pessimism was bubbling into a full confessional and I couldn’t stop.
He just smiled at me. It was one of those smiles you gravitate toward. The kind you know is genuine. It was a smile that had seen the horrors of all the world and yet for some reason decided to continue showing itself.
“Don’t believe in love?”
“Never witnessed any that seemed real to me.” I said.
He let out a sigh and took a sip of his coffee. He never took his eyes off of me, almost as if he felt his audience would escape if he did. His smile curled back onto his face and now it seemed as though he was no longer looking at me, although his eyes connected with mine. “Then let me tell you a story of what love really is."