A short story told through a series of flashbacks about an aspiring writer.
|He sat, as usual, on the patio. It was an exceptionally nice day, even for December. He had never understood Texas weather, but then again, who had? It was seventy-four degrees and sunny, in December. Perfect writing weather. He had made it a habit to sit outside and write daily, or, at least, on nicer days. Days like today. The spot was nice, a public, yet unpopular outdoor dining facility. Well shaded and contained by a neat row of hedges which broke only for two modest entrances. A well traversed sidewalk snaked along two sides of the patio. Frequently, large groups or solitary travelers would make their way across it to who knows where; never stopping to converse with the writer, or even perceive him it seemed like. He liked it this way though, invisible in plain sight. An idea which was paramount in the majority of his works. This idea weighed especially heavily on his mind today. Today, he felt truly invisible. People passed by, some even familiar without stopping to even acknowledge his presence. It reminded him of something he had read recently. A quote, or perhaps more of a definition. An idea. Just one word, Sonder. The idea that every person that passes by is not only a part of your world, but also part of their own, complex world. The brief moment of overlap is insignificant compared to the ever changing sum of their experiences. A world truly their own. Every person was living their own distinct life, and to them, you were just a moment, same as they were to you. The idea fascinated him. It reminded him of a time when he was younger.
He sat in a crowded classroom, filled with the chattering of forty some odd students. There was a guest speaker that day. A preacher. He was telling the students, who were to be, in a short time, camp counselors, of the iceberg model.
"In the water, you can only see the tip of the iceberg, correct?"
A few nods.
"The same is true with people; you only see the outside, the actions, the tip of the iceberg."
Several more nods accompanied by a few looks of understanding.
"You see, like an iceberg, people have a lot below the surface. Stories, events, hurts. Remember that when dealing with these children."
By this point he was starting to get hungry. He checked his watch, 11:30; not too early for lunch, he decided. He took his sandwich out of its brown paper sack and carefully unwrapped it. Italian Sub, the label read. One of his favorites. He took a bite. It was a bit dry, but tasty nonetheless. Or at least familiar, he thought. He looked around, the sidewalk was quiet and he was the only one sitting on the patio. Alone. This was not unusual; he was used to eating lunch alone. He had never been much of a social person. He preferred eating alone, actually. He did not have to make a conscious effort to involve himself in the situation.
He sat in silence for a while as his friends enjoyed a pleasant conversation about something or another, he couldn’t remember the subject. The restaurant was loud and crowded. Uncomfortable.
“Are you okay?” She asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” He replied.
“You sure, you don’t look fine. What’s the matter?”
“Yeah, you okay?” Another friend chimed in. “You know, you can tell us anything. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing is wrong!” He said, almost angrily. “I mean, well, I didn’t mean it to come out that way. I’m fine. I really am.”
“I wish you would talk to us more, you’re always so… stoic. Why can’t you just involve us in your life? We want to be there for you, but you won’t let us.”
The words stung.
“It’s getting late,” he said, “I’m going home.”
A calm wind blew lazily across the patio, causing the pages of his notebook to turn. He looked down, all of them, empty. He had come out here to write. He had to write, not for a class or some assignment, but because he felt he had to. He had a gift in writing and he wanted to share that gift with the world. After all they wanted, nay, expected him to write. It had become his identity. He wrote on many different subjects, sometimes poems, sometimes stories, sometimes even essays. People enjoyed his work, or, at least they told him they did. He was always suspicious though, never trusting their courteous analysis. He had decided long ago that people were generally nice when it comes to dealing with other people, but that was all a façade. People were only nice so that they wouldn’t hurt other’s feelings. To gain approval, in a sense. A very pessimistic worldview, perhaps, but he felt it was the most realistic.
“Great job!” His uncle said as he posed by the animal, half smiling. It was a cold December morning, and they had just gotten back from a big hunt.
“That’s a fine looking deer!” He said, proud.”It will make a great wall mount.” He didn’t know how to respond.
“But, I missed.” He said, after a long pause. The smile faded.
“Of course you didn’t, you hit him square on!”
“Yeah, in the stomach” He wanted to say. It was true though. The animal didn’t die instantly; instead, it had run for over a mile. They had to track it down over the course of a few hours using a specially trained dog. They had found it, lying down, eyes blinking wildly, in the middle of a dense thicket. They had to put it out of its misery. A second shot, this one fatal, and it was done. He wanted to say all of this, but instead he just nodded.
“Yeah, I guess I did.” He faked a smile.
He glanced down at his watch. It was about noon now and the usual crowd of sidewalk pedestrians began to trickle through. In a weird way, this way his favorite part of the whole process. Watching. It was fascinating to him how the people passed by and went about their daily business. Some kids ran to and fro, reveling in the nice weather. Others walked by like zombies, completely unconscious to the world around them. Entirely consumed with reading their cell phone screens, and even occasionally running in to each other. The phone zombies were by far his favorite types of people to observe. Then came his least favorite, the head-over-heels in love young couples. They held hands, laughed, stared into each other’s eyes, and frequently shared a romantic embrace. He genuinely hated these people. They had something he felt he never had, however transient it may be. They had love. Or at least, he didn’t think he had ever had it. Had he really loved? Perhaps, he thought. A few instances came to his mind from years ago, one sticking out more than the others.
He was 16 years old, lying in a dark bedroom, phone pressed against his ear. It was late, excessively so. Their once vibrant conversation had died down to silence, mostly, with the occasional phrase uttered by either party. He liked it though, just being connected to her. It felt right, it felt good. It was her that broke the silence this time.
“Do you ever regret not doing something?” She asked.
“All the time,” he replied “like what do you mean?”
Silence, for a while. She said his name.
“Yeah?” he responded.
“I..” she said, shakily “well, that night, the last time we were together, I, well. I..”
“You what?” he asked, although he knew what she was going to say.
“I wish I would have kissed you.” More silence. He knew how he wanted to respond, but couldn’t find the words to say. He had wished the same thing.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that,” she said, embarrassed.
“No, don’t be embarrassed” he said, “I wished the same thing.”
The conversation slowly died down, until both laid their heads down to sleep.
“Goodnight.” He said.
“Goodnight.” She echoed.
A beautiful memory, yet haunting. That one, he would always have, he thought to himself. And he was okay with that. It had been over an hour now since he sat down and the sidewalk traffic was beginning to pick up. A few people had sat down to eat their lunches at some of the other tables around the patio. He overheard a conversation from an adjacent table. They were talking about religion. One was clearly an atheist, laying out a careful and scientific argument for the invalidity of Christianity. The other, a well versed Christian apologist, was carefully picking apart the atheist’s arguments. Being an outside observer, he could see the legitimacy of both sides. This mildly shocked him. He had never found himself so neutral on the subject, a trend he had recently starting noticing. He had always been set in his opinions, what had caused him to change? He recalled one conversation, in specific.
“I just, I don’t know. I can’t buy that everything happens for a reason, I guess.” he said.
“Well what do you mean, of course it does! Do you really think this world is devoid of any sort of meaning?” She countered.
“Well, not exactly. I just can’t buy that some man would go into a public place and shoot a bunch of people he doesn’t know for a reason.” He mumbled, head facing straight down.
“Everything has a meaning, but we don’t always know that meaning.” She started, “We cannot understand the ways of God, his plan is so much greater than ours, don’t you see?! Maybe it was to bring awareness to violent crime so that future crimes could be stopped, or maybe it was God’s judgment. Or maybe even something else. Don’t you see, we can’t fathom the depths of God’s understanding? He created the earth and has run it justly since the beginning. Even events the Bible things weren’t always seen as right or meaningful at the time. Such as the death of Jesus. The messiah king wasn’t supposed to succumb to death, but rule forever! Or so they thought. But that happened for a reason, don’t you get it? God planned the death and resurrection all along! Same with everything that’s happening now!” She finished. He could feel that she had gotten closer to him. He looked up, she was looking at him kindly, concerned.
“I just don’t understand why innocent people have to be sacrificed so that God can carry out some grand scheme of his. How is that just? How can you say that murder or child abuse is for a fucking reason! It makes me sick. I don’t know, I want to believe in all that, I just can’t. Not right now.” He wanted to say. In his mind, he was screaming. It wasn’t so much that he was in conflict with her, but with himself. Instead, he just faked a smile and nodded.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
He picked the pen up from the pages of his notebook. How long had he been writing? He looked down at his watch, already almost two. He was very puzzled. He hadn’t even realized that he had started writing. He flipped back through a few pages, now covered in ink. Most of what he found consisted of absent minded, light-hearted doodles and scribbles, which was not at all unusual. But one thing stuck out. He didn’t know when he wrote it, and, in fact, he doesn’t recall writing it at all. It was a poem.
Flames of red-gold
Light the night sky
But still, i am cold,
A whispering wind
Tells of the news
This is the end
I, frozen in time
I can see the whole earth
In a glorious vision
But for what it's worth
The colors don't fit in
The blues are too vibrant
The yellows as gold
The beneficent tyrant
Won't relinquish his hold
Of the hearts and the minds
Of the still-asleep people
In his fashion, he binds
The ideal to the real
The corporeal semblance
Of which we inhabit
Holds too many secrets.
The unknown is whispering
I can hear the faint sound,
Clear as the cold air
I can't speak.
The world falls apart.
I, still frozen in time.
He looked up and half smiled. It had been a successful day indeed. He slowly packed up his things and began walking home into the early afternoon light.