by Bob'n Around
A return to where love began.
|Editors Choice 7/21 Drama Newsletter. Daily Writer's Cramp win. Prompt: counter
“Let’s just be friends,” Pa Snyder squeezed his grandson’s hand. He stopped shuffling his footsteps to study his eyetooth’s mirrored image in the store window. He flicked his tongue at lingering particles of lunch.
“What do you mean, Pop?” The ten year old walking at his side rubbed at the window dirt to see what was inside. “We’re better than friends. We are family.”
“It all started here, Samuel. You wouldn’t be here if this place didn’t exist.” The old man took out his well worn red hanky to polish the window’s surface so they both could see in.
“Oh, go on, Pop. I’ve never seen this place before. Look. Nobody comes here. It is closed.” He had to raise up on tiptoe to look inside. Chairs waited to be sat on. A long ornately carved wooden counter offered a cracked mirror rising behind it. Signs promised dime shakes, fifteen cent root beer floats and banana splits for a quarter.
“We met right there. Carved our names in the wood when we became sweethearts.” Pop Snyder rattled the glass handled doorknob, listening to the shudder echo inside. “Come on. I’ll show you.”
Samuel’s mom had given him the assignment to take care of Pop while going on an exercise walk. She’d made it sound like Pop was taking care of him. Double duty meant she got some well earned shopping time in. “It’s locked, Pop. You mean you and grandma met here?”
“Fell head over heels,” Pop gave up door rattling to launch an unlikely path towards a littered alleyway. “Back door never fit good. Bet it still doesn’t. You coming?”
“Someone is in there.”
“Probly just a drunk. Throw a rock in. See what happens.”
A scraggly yellow eyed cat darted out between them, moving so fast it was a blur of fur and was gone. “Yep. That one’s ancestor used to haunt the garbage can’s for left overs. Mostly half eaten burgers and burnt french fries. She never did learn to cook. Love made everything taste good.”
The two, young and old versions of amature explorers followed the cat’s path to the back door, hinges hung half broken, an open gaping dark hole yawned at them. “Creepy, Pop. You go first.”
Pop huffed, catching at his lost breath, gnarled old fingers wiping away at his mist filled eyes. “She’s haunting the place. Maybe you should stay here, son.”
“No way.” Samuel’s backbone shivered. “I’ve never seen a ghost. I’m coming with.”
“Watch your step.” Pop led the way across the cracked tile floor, memory serving his feet well.
Samuel became his silent, wide eyed shadow, fingers hanging on the back of the old man’s belt. “What do you see?”
“Martha? That you?” Pop Snyder’s voice was gruff. “Nope. My own self in the mirror. Don’t step so close, son. You’ll trip us up. Where’d I put it?” He’d stopped smoking years ago but still kept a pocket knife and a lighter in his pockets. The one on the left, the other by habit, on the right.
“Meant to give this to you long ago. I’ll teach you how to keep it sharp for whittling when you get bored.”
“Gee. Thanks, Pop. That’s swell.” Samuel opened the blade, watching it flash in the light flaring up from his grandfather’s shaking hand. “Don’t drop the lighter. We’ll burn the place up and get in trouble.”
“You hold it, then. We’re looking over there.” Once again, Pop’s shuffling feet began their solitary dance scuffing the floor.
Dust rose into the air knee high, raising clouds left behind for Samuel to catch and cough at. He pushed ahead to light the way. “Here she is, Pop.” The light flickered over the name etched at the end of the counter. “Martha.”
“I have to sit down. My heart ain’t what it used to be.”
“And Ralph? Whose that? Is that you, Pop?”
“I’ll take a sasparilla, Martha, if you’d be so kind,” Pop Snyder had closed his eyes. He opened them with a start. “Just like when she was alive. Come and gone fast as that yeller cat. Gone to get me that drink, and me without my purse.”
“You saw her, Pop?”
Firelight flickered in the old man’s eyes from the lighter held by his grandson, then died as the boy moved it to look around.
“More like felt her. She’s close, boy. Never felt her closer.”
“There’s a note sticking next to your names, Pop. Somebody stuck it there with some gum.”
“Juicy Fruit. That’s her favorite. Careful, now. Bring it here.”
The old man’s lips trembled, following the faded words written there. He whispered them like a prayer. “She came here before me. Figured she might.”
“What’d she say, Pop?”
“Hand me my lighter. Time to make an offering to the past and a hope for the future.” Pop Snyder lit the note, watched the edge curl and dropped it to the dusty floor. “It said a little more, but hinted at hoping to see me again.”
Samuel nodded, stomping out the last of the charred ashes. “Can I have one of the posters?”
“Don’t see why not.”
Helping the boy strip the old dried up tape and curl the poster down off the mirror, Pop grunted in surprise when half way through. “You see her, boy? There in the mirror? Behind where the poster was?”
“Yeah.” Samuel stared hard, before turning around. “It’s only an old photograph of people who used to work here. You want it, Pop?”
“Naw. I’ll leave her be, here where we met. She’s too young to take along.”
It was a week later, when Pop Snyder woke from his nap, Samuel had brought Martha with him to rest against the old man's head on his pillow.