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the End of Summer

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    frankfillmore
    Participant

    Would anyone be interested in reading this story and giving feedback?

    I was greatly influenced by the prose of Fyodor Dostevsky as you might be able to tell as well as the films of Woody Allen.  This is the first piece of fiction I've written, just want some unbiased feedback.

     

    The End of Summer

    I:

    The Beginning of Fall

    The evening was cold and as fall crept
    in to town the the city outside was bleak and bereft of life.  It was in the small and stuffy taverns of our
    city the people would steal away to their cold weather vices underground.  Downstairs and off the street Harold sat before
    a cold pint at the bar of Colonel Brooks’ Tavern.  Harold ran his fingers around the sweating
    pint glass in front of him feeling it might be time to leave.  He had thought about catching a midnight
    showing downtown, or beginning one of the portraits he’d been thinking of.  Even a bike ride across town through the
    frosty city night would have been a fine idea. 
    It came down to it that Harold couldn’t make up his mind whether to stay
    or to go and the truth was that one way wasn’t any better or worse than the
    other.  It wasn’t that Harold was
    avoiding anything in particular and it wasn’t that he was making excuses for
    not getting anything done.  It couldn’t
    be so simple.  Harold felt there were
    many things he would like to do, there just wasn’t enough time in a day.  It may have been that there just wasn’t
    enough Harold to understand that there was. 
    All Harold could be sure of was that he was conscious, thinking and
    breathing, and that it had been a long time since he had actually felt like he
    was living.  Harold paid his tab and left
    for his flat having become frustrated by the sense that something strong was
    coming over him.

    Harold resolved to turn in early in
    hopes of sleeping off the unsettling sensation. 
    If nothing else, sleep granted him a brief period of relief in which all
    he had to do was simply exist in his wild and wandering dreams.  And so it wasn’t unusual the next morning
    when Harold awoke in a state of dismay. 
    All morning and through the afternoon Harold took to feeling very dismal.
     The tolling of the floor clock in the
    corner made each passing hour more depressing and harder to rise than the last.  Harold hoped for sunshine on cold and rainy
    days, and though the familiarity of such miserable weather was comforting to
    him as much as it could be debilitating, he wished today was less bright and
    humid so he might feel better about feeling so terrible.  It was easy and not uncommon for Harold to
    spend long hours in bed and in that sense this day was no different as he lay
    staring at the ceiling from underneath unlaundered bed sheets.

    He reached across himself for his
    eyeglasses on the nightstand and putting them on he found his dilemma was
    turning out to be much more serious.  It
    was true that his head pulsed and his eyes burned quite like any other headache
    he had experienced, but there was something more to it this time.  Straining to make out the time displayed by
    the floor clock was no use.  He removed his
    glasses and the room was as it should have been: blurry, out of focus, and one
    dimensional.  Though suddenly to him now
    it seemed he was thrown in to some crude and haunting cubism meets pointillism
    portrait painting, the kind you need to take several steps back away from in
    order to get the picture, and even then you may not understand what exactly it
    is you’re looking at.  The walls seemed
    to be breathing and the old brown wooden clock reached long, thin, tree
    branch-like arms toward him.  Bearing a
    menacing, sharp-toothed sneer, it began to toll louder than should be expected
    for such an old clock.  Harold thought it
    may have even been attempting to mutter something, though entirely incomprehensible
    over the noise.

    The phone rang, howling at his
    bedside.  Harold glanced over at the
    black rotary telephone and put his face in his hands.  Rubbing his eyes and running his fingers
    through his hair he considered whether or not it was this time his mother, or
    brother, or best friend phoning him for the first of more than a dozen times
    they could all be expected to phone that day. 
    He felt the greatness of their love for him, and he felt it burdensome
    and painful to be so loved.  His heart
    sank then a bit more than it had the many days previous as the phone would ring
    and he would let it remain.  He just
    couldn’t take it.  He couldn’t be sure of
    what he could take any longer.

    Harold descended on to the street from
    the dingy, crummy closet-like flat which he leased on the fourth floor.  The sun was as bright as the first day of summer,
    but fall had in fact begun as it should over night.  Despite the chilly weather that had been creeping
    up all through the week, it was rather surprising that the air this day should
    have been so exceptionally stifling in our city, and much farther from the
    weather I could recall being predicted by the weather man.  Behind Harold’s ear a perfectly sharpened
    pencil sat tucked, the eraser never having been used, and under his arm the
    brown leather bound notebook he carried around on days like this, a notebook in
    which he so infrequently ended up adding anything new.  For the past several months Harold felt he
    had been living the same mundane, uneventful day over and over again.

    As he often did most days of the week
    when he could find the strength and sense to leave the depressing hole he
    called home, he wandered the streets and alley corridors and parks of our
    city.  Meanderings through these
    particular places invariably led him to feeling nearly completely at ease.  Music played in Harold’s heart.  He walked and he hummed, occasionally
    vocalizing some such original or otherwise self-interpreted melody that raced
    around his mind.  Among the perceived
    chaos and the deafening noise of chatter and street cars passing, and the
    nearly intolerable, yet strangely settling brightness of sunlight reflecting
    off each window of high rise apartment and office buildings Harold felt free at
    least from the unrelenting and nearly limitless sorrow and misdirection he
    otherwise carried around with him.

    Harold found himself this evening led
    in to the lower city district that was home to one of his least disliked dive
    bar-cafés, Café Cafard.  Always dimly lighted
    and stuffed to capacity, noisy with the shouting of orders across the bar and
    the clamoring of silverware on porcelain, Harold knew he could hide himself
    among the students and drunks too busy gossiping and lying to each other to
    notice the likes of him.

    Slipping through the narrow front
    entrance the thick, stifling air which hit him upon passing neath the threshold
    felt oppressive, contrasting greatly even with the unusually humid night air.  His eyes scanned the room inspecting the
    situation carefully.  Harold felt
    uncomfortable already and now from the bar in the back he spotted someone who
    began waving to him and excitedly calling out across the racket from atop
    strained toes.

    Harold couldn’t imagine himself
    interacting with anybody and in fact felt quite sickened at the thought.  He quickly made his way toward the door and
    left the unsettling situation and oppressive atmosphere.  The street wasn’t much cooler, but Harold
    felt much more at ease.  A sudden sharp
    pain shot up his back and to the top of his head.  His eyes watered and he felt disoriented.  He rubbed his eyes, pacing quickly away from
    the noisy crowd loitering outside.  The
    oak trees lining the sidewalk around Harold began to grow many times taller
    before him.  More than the solid black, somewhat
    shiny, smooth and thinly twigged oak trees they were characterized by sleek,
    round lobed, simply bladed evergreen colored leaves they began to resemble grotesque
    and fleshy reflections of their former selves. 
    Reaching high above the low rise buildings of the crummy district the
    monstrous oaks, charred and flame-darkened, too lurched atop Harold.  The streets fell silent and there was not a
    single person around.  Harold nervously rubbed
    his eyes and ran his fingers through his hair. 
    With his glasses back on he recalled how his vision had been blurry back
    in his flat and wondered now why it was still the case.  Hanging his head he had been overcome by a
    heightened sense of misdirection.  Harold
    was alarmed when a hand was firmly placed on his shoulder.  Startled, Harold pushed himself back against
    the brick building before the sidewalk and found his surroundings were reset to
    be as they should have been.  Harold
    faced his dearest, oldest friend, Oliver who was smiling widely at the sight of
    his face, a smile which Harold recognized turned quickly from a smile of
    delight to a look of concern.

    “Man, you peered right at me as I was
    calling for you back there.  Where have
    you been?” Oliver said.

    “Summer’s over.  There’s a full moon, and I’m getting older,” Harold
    muttered coldly, moving away from Oliver.

    “What’s the matter with you!  I don’t think you’re well, and I think you
    know that too!  You don’t look right,
    Harold.  You’re out of focus.”

    As Harold quickly made off away from
    Oliver his last words left Harold feeling lousy.  Harold felt despondent, hopeless, and tired.  He confusedly wandered across the city again.  He was deeply distressed when he arrived back
    at his building where he had started out not more than an hour ago.  The thought of ascending the four flights of
    to his tiny, empty, desolate bedroom triggered a recollection of memories he’d
    rather not have recalled.  He and Lucy would
    race drunkenly up to their apartment in the middle of night, amused at the fact
    they were avoiding their nagging land lady. 
    Rent had not been paid, but it would be. 
    Lois, the stark black and lightly speckled sheppard mutt wagged her tail
    and riggled anxiously behind the door awaiting their appearance.

    The last two years had come and gone
    and Harold had not a single new thing to show for it.  He slouched heavily as he made his way up to
    his forsaken, empty room.  It was a great
    trouble for him to carry himself, and so he stepped slowly.  Following his hand along the banister he
    longed for her touch.  He imagined the
    warmth of her breath on his lips.  He
    wanted the delicate, prickly whispering of her voice in his ear.  He longed for Lucy and he yearned desperately
    for the women he loved and hated to admit he would not hold again.  He despised himself for being the pathetic
    louse he was that drove her off.

    Reaching the landing at the fourth
    floor he found the door to his room open.  
    He thought it may have been ransacked and his possessions robbed, but
    couldn’t have cared any less if that was the case.  On the floor he was rather more disappointed
    to find the house pooch splayed out among his prescribed medication and shoes now
    torn and tattered.  He sat beside the
    wretched little mutt, stroking its matted, filthy fur, and it sadly reminded
    him of his old pal Lois.

    “You have no idea what you’re doing,
    do you, you little idiot?”  Harold asked
    the poor beast wagging its tail at the sound of his voice.  Harold stretched himself out on the floor
    among the orange plastic canisters and scattered oblong pills.  “You have no clue what you’re doing,” he
    sighed closing his eyes.

    He thought about Lucy some more.  He closed his eyes and imagined holding her close
    on the hardwood floor among crumbled slips of paper, bread crumbs, empty
    bottles and assorted pieces of cutlery and dishware.  The fist-sized hole in the wall by the door
    mocked him.  He felt depressed.  The hole was a haunting reminder of the bitter
    ending endured by their relationship.  He
    had thought about filling it in and painting it over, but that would have been
    a painful experience in itself.  Besides,
    allowing it to remain was a punishment and the pain was satisfying to him.

    Harold just didn’t know what he wanted
    anymore.  He thought he could be almost
    sure of all that he didn’t want, but what would knowing what you didn’t want
    get you?  What was it to want anyway?  He couldn’t make the distinction or come to
    any real conclusion.  What was the
    difference between what you do and don’t want? 
    No matter what it’s always the same sad ending.  He felt as though he was neither here nor
    there and he felt very alone.  He lived
    alone and he would surely die alone.  He
    faced mounting debts in need of repayment and was met with uncertainty by almost
    every aspect of his life.  All of these
    things would consistently continue to bring an even greater amount of sorrow to
    bear down upon him.

    He cleared his throat and ran his
    fingers through his hair.  He stroked his
    head in desperation, wishing he would think of something he didn’t think of
    before.  He moved his tongue across lips
    attempting to moisten his dried out mouth. 
    Propping himself against the clothes dresser behind him he became
    envious of the dog’s simple existence. 
    Watching the wretched little mutt unknowingly consuming its way closer
    to overdose in the middle of the room Harold wondered what it really was that
    set them apart.  The dog and him, any
    animal and any man.  He wondered why it
    was so hard to experience true joy.  He
    snatched up an empty beer bottle and put it to his lips.  He swished the sour, warm liquid around in
    his mouth.  He spit it out and whistled
    sad, and soft, and quiet.  For a few
    moments Harold whistled as he watched the dog finish up the last of his
    medication.  Then suddenly frustration
    seized Harold. 

    “Why, god damn it!” He spat and kicked
    the bottles near his feet, sending them clanking across the wood floor.  The mutt leaped up and left.  “Why is it so hard for me to commit to
    anything?   Why can’t I ever love for a
    lasting period of time?”  Harold stood to
    his feet and began pacing the room.  “Maybe
    it’s precisely that which I am lacking that’s causing me to worry so often,
    almost to the point some would call obsession.  What’s out of my range of influence and out of
    my god damned control is just that!  But
    what am I missing?”

    It was then that the solution, an all
    too familiar idea, struck Harold harder than it ever had before.  His throat swelled up and he didn’t want that
    any longer.  He didn’t want to experience
    the misery and sinking sensation he felt in his gut every time he turned away
    from the ones who cared for him.  But what
    could he do for them?  To begin with, he
    couldn’t do a thing for himself.  He
    didn’t want to have this debate any longer. 

    “Why should I feel so miserable about
    avoiding these people?” He thought.  “Why
    should I subject myself any longer to the debasement of self consciousness and
    incessant self criticism?  Why deal with
    the frustration any longer that’s sure to follow attempts at articulating the
    deep pain within my gut, the sorrow in my heart, my lack of direction, the
    loneliness I feel from being alive?  Why?
     If it’s
    inevitably going to come along at some point anyway, why not get on with it?”

    *        *       
    *        *        *       
    *        *        *

    In the bathroom Harold thought his
    face seemed atrophied.  His character was
    prone to harsh, excessive self criticism, but this time there could be no
    denying the fact that his face did seem greatly troubled and unable to any
    longer withstand the weight of some immense burden.   He had changed in to a clean, white and ironed
    button up shirt, black slacks and black jacket. 
    He thought he looked rather handsome for such an occasion and considering
    the circumstances.  It was a pity no one
    could see him.  He checked his teeth in
    his reflection and buffed them with his finger. 
    He cupped his hands beneath the sink and rinsed his face.  He spit water over the mirror and in the
    distorted reflection bitterly decided he looked better that way.

    Harold hated the way the light from
    the setting sun accentuated the pale appearance of his skin.  He hated how it illuminated the imprinted
    impression of sadness on his brow.  He
    hated most of all, despite the beauty he found in his eyes, how the god damned sun
    couldn’t help him feel anything more beyond that about himself.  He pressed his forehead firmly against the
    mirror.  Gritting his teeth he growled an
    angry, disgusted, vengeful, sick sounding guttural growl.  He pulled his head back and lunged across the
    bathroom sink slamming the underside of his fist against the mirror of the
    medicine chest.  The walls shuddered and
    creaked.  The mirror shattered with an
    explosion of glass all around him gashing his hand, blood smearing about the
    frame.  In one sweep of his arms he flung
    everything lining the sink against the wall and in to the bath tub.  He rammed his foot in to the latrine behind
    him, forcing it out of the floor, linoleum tearing, porcelain cracking,
    floorboards snapping.  He spun around and
    pressed his fists and forehead against the wall with the release of a great
    sigh. 

    He breathed deeply and evenly.  He rested in this way a moment.  Calmly he turned once more to face himself in
    the mirror’s shattered reflection.  The
    new tiny red cuts on his face seemed to emphasize his dissatisfaction and the
    distortion he had become.

    “I guess we’ll meet again.” His
    reflection resolved.  Time slowed to a
    halt.  He saw his mother’s small body,
    her arms wrapping around his waist.  He
    felt her absolute love, unwavering trust, her pure certainty fill his being and
    his chin began to quiver, his stomach sank. 
    He imagined his father’s face.  His
    laugh, the signs of age cutting around his eyes, his determination and
    strength, tough and joy never wavering. 
    His throat swelled up tight, and tears welled up in his eyes.  He wiped the tears away with the back of his
    hand and raised the cold steel gun to the underside of his chin, sweat and
    water and tears running down his face.

    “Still my lover won’t return to me.”
    He drawled to a tune, the gun trembling in his hand.  “Wild parsnips they still scald my lungs
    while thistles still burn my feet.”

    His vision blurred.  His feet ached.  He felt dizzy. 
    Harold had been over it several times. 
    The problem in his heart had not been solved, and if the answer could
    not be affirmative it could never be negative either.  His hands trembled and his head perspired.  The gun glided gently over Harold’s dampened skin
    underneath his neck.  He took a sharp
    deep breath and everything went black.

    Harold half considered again whether this
    was the true solution, and then he considered whether he was even alive at that
    instant and what that might have even meant. 
    And then he heard the click of the trigger, and the release of the
    hammer, and the big bang that would serve as the beginning of fall.

     

    II:

    Winter
    Buries Deep

    Harold lay motionless and face down on
    the bathroom floor, the filthy gray tile grout rubbing against his skin.  A warm breeze blew gently through the broken bathroom
    window pane causing the thin and frayed fading blue curtains to flutter in the
    wind.  The air blowing over his sweat
    soaked head awoke him.  His head throbbed
    and his eyes ached with tremendous pressure. 
    He moaned, shielding his eyes from the white light reflecting from the
    ceiling off the grimy white walls.

    “Ooo-umm-uhh,” Harold grumbled.  “Take these broken wings and learn to fly me
    to the moon.” He muttered.

    Harold opened his eyes and was sure he
    hadn’t killed himself.  He sat up
    propping himself against the half broken and crooked toilet which hissed,
    spraying a delicate mist about the bathroom and in to Harold’s face.  He could hear the commotion growing
    downstairs and sensed the urgency in fleeing. 
    Frantically he began fumbling at his feet for the gun.  The bathroom window pane had taken the shot
    meant for him and he tossed it down in to the open dumpster below.  He crept clumsily for the door oblivious of
    the mess he made of the room.  Harold was
    in a daze and the shampoo bottles scattered about the floor wouldn’t let him
    leave so easily.  They tripped him and he
    groped for the shower curtain, tearing it down and crashing loudly in to the
    bathtub.

    “God damn it!” Harold struggled,
    wrapped within the plastic curtain.  He
    threw his arms about to uncover himself. 
    Climbing from the tub he felt his eyeglasses under his foot and they cracked
    beneath his weight.  Gripping them in his
    hand he pressed his shoulder firmly against the threshold of the bathroom.  He cracked the door open and listened to the
    commotion of voices, a mixture of excitement and concern, rising up from
    beneath him.  Without a second thought he
    threw the door open and ran down the single flight, jumping down the last
    several steps to the landing before his flat. 
    He burst through his bedroom door, and shooing away the scraps of food,
    plates, and bottles littering his desk he climbed upon it and unlocked the
    window.  He climbed out feet first and sat
    at the edge of the sill peering down the forty feet to the ground below.  His heart pounded in his chest and his
    insides shuttered.  Harold hastily
    grabbed the iron bars of the window adjacent his and began making his way to ground
    level.  He reached the first floor face
    of the building lacking windows, and where the gutter broke off he let go,
    fell, and collapsed on the gravel below. 
    His ankles stung and bits of pavement and pebble dug into his palms and
    knees.

    He was delirious.  His mind raced.  He was horrified and embarrassed.  Nervously and repeatedly Harold ran his
    fingers through his hair wandering the upper west side for hours.  He paid no attention to those passing by him
    as he made his way across town, east towards the river.  He cleared his throat and muttered things to
    himself.  Following the cracks in the
    concrete until one ended and another began Harold moved across town.  By the river the sidewalks were much more heavily
    populated and he seemed to have his own private lane when moving amongst the
    people.  Wherever he went he stuck out as
    very strange and everyone being much more aware than Harold sure to move out of
    the way.  The frenzied heart beat pulse
    of upright and electric bass could be heard coming from the jazz bars all along
    the water and Harold was filled with a terrible sense of anxiety.

    Harold was beginning to have a more difficult
    time seeing.  He rubbed his eyes and
    cleaned his glasses with his shirt.  He
    felt like he wanted so many different things the moment he decided what he
    really needed was a place to sit.  He
    walked down the dead end street of Clarence Avenue allowing the chatter of the crowds,
    the lights, and the jazz music to fade behind him.  He stepped over the waist high ledge at the
    end of the street and sat down.  On such
    still winded and warm nights the reflective black waters of the river Neda
    represent the star littered night sky precisely.  And the night Harold sat at the shoreline of
    her bay its waters lay so still people watched stars shooting across the
    heavens without looking up. 

    Harold kicked off his shoes and dug
    his toes in the sand.  The delicate
    lapping of the gentle waves at the shore and the bay breeze were almost all
    there was to hear.  He looked out across
    the bay, at the moon reflecting off its shiny black surface, and the lights
    from the homes at the other end.  He
    sighed and pressed his forehead in to his hand.

    Something had gone wrong back at his
    flat.  He couldn’t even control the one
    thing he was certain he actually had control over.  He knew why Lucy had left him and was sure
    she would never come back.  Why would
    anyone stick around with such a louse that couldn’t stick around with himself?  Why would anyone stick around with a louse in
    the first place?  As he was finding out,
    no one would.  Harold wondered whether he
    actually even cared, or whether it was just his own misdirection that made it
    seem as though he needed her or anyone at all.  He wondered about his mother and father under
    the same starry night sky, under the same big white moon.  He knelt at the water’s edge and couldn’t
    make himself out in the reflection.  He
    submerged his face under the water and blew air out his mouth creating bubbles,
    blubbering in the water.  The water was
    refreshing and the sonorous bumbling soothing.

    A horrible sudden shriek sounded and
    Harold lifted his head.  He surveyed the
    dark beach alert, water running down his head, dripping off his chin.  He wasn’t sure if he had actually heard
    anything at all and then he could hear what sounded to be the exasperated
    grunting of a man, or maybe two, and a woman hollering a ways off.  Harold stood, and grabbing his sneakers he
    made off running down the beach toward the commotion. 

    Harold came to two men rolling in the
    sand and exchanging sharp blows to one another. 
    The woman stood about fifteen feet off from them.  She would cover her mouth with her hand, gesticulating
    wildly, shrieking and crying, and then shout for the men to stop.  She was visibly drunk as she kept raising her
    hands to her head and staggering where she stood.  Covered by the darkness, Harold stood no more
    than fifty feet from them watching the scene.

    The men grunted and gasped heavily, rolling
    in the sand, delivering menacing blows to one another’s face.  They were wild with rage and certainly poised
    to kill the other.  One of the men was noticeably
    larger with wide biceps and broad shoulders. 
    The other was smaller and at this point receiving the bitter end of the
    bargain.  The large man knocked the
    smaller man down and mounting him at the waist continued to deliver a series of
    brutal blows to his face.  On to the side
    of his head in to his ears and directly downward on to his nose and mouth the
    large man pummeled the smaller helpless man. 
    In the moonlight Harold could make out that the smaller man’s face was
    becoming blood covered and horribly bruised. 
    It was a nasty scene and Harold debated whether or not he should
    intervene.  After a while the small man
    ceased to struggle, and eventually ceased to resist at all.  The large man came to his feet.  His large chest heaved, panting like a beast,
    fists clenched at his sides.

    The woman held a pair of heeled shoes
    and wore a tight, silver-sparkly gold dress. 
    Her lips were painted red and in the moonlight it seemed her makeup was smeared
    a great deal.  The large man’s hair was
    greased and came to a flip at the front. 
    Harold caught the overbearing pungent scent of his cologne in the warm breeze.  He wore a white tank top underneath a tan
    button up collared shirt.  Around his
    neck he wore several chains.  Harold was
    well aware of these sorts of people.  He
    despised them.  Each Friday and Saturday night
    they come to the east end of town in great numbers.  Until three, sometimes four in the morning
    they fill the streets, shouting, howling, screaming, and fighting.  The men and women become intoxicated and
    belligerent and litter the streets with paper plates, empty packs of
    cigarettes, plastic cups, and refused pizza. 
    Many found it amusing to view these people from afar.  Harold could see what was amusing, but it
    wasn’t funny.  It made him sad, and he
    thought they were foul.  They made it
    easy for Harold not to get involved.

    The large man strode up to the woman as
    she tried to make off and grabbed her by the hair, yanking violently.  The man dragged her away from Harold as she
    shrieked and cried.  They made off at a
    rapid pace and Harold cautiously followed behind.  He came to the smaller man lying on the beach
    who was unconscious but still breathing, and whose face was cut deeply and
    marked by large red and black bruises. 
    The swine threw the woman down on the sand and mounted her at the waist
    as he had the smaller man and put both his hands around her neck.  It was decided then before Harold knew what
    he was doing that he must intervene.  Harold
    was overcome with rage and dropped his shoes beside the man unconscious.  He hastily searched the dunes for something
    large and thick and quickly succeeded in pulling a rigid and heavy piece of
    drift wood from the sand.  He removed his
    jacket, dropping it on the beach.  He
    made a quick dash for the couple and the patter of his feet alerted the brute
    who turned and began to rise.  It was too
    late for him as Harold wound the drift wood back under-hand.  He swung up fiercely the splintering hunk of
    wood directly into the man’s chin with tremendous force.  The rigid wood tore in to his face peeling
    back deep, white and red, fleshy gashes in his skin.  Blood spattered across his face and he fell
    on to his back moaning and muttering incoherently, writhing in the sand.  The woman shrieked and howled terribly.  Raising to her feet she made an attempt to
    run off, stumbled, and fell.  She lay
    there trembling with her hands over her head in the fetal position, obviously
    too terrified and perhaps too drunk to make off.

    The man moaned pathetically on his
    back, fists half clenched and sobbing.  Harold
    was surprised when he began pulling himself to his feet.  Harold wound back the drift wood again to
    deliver a second blow to the side of the man’s head which must have terrified
    him.  Suddenly the man raised his hands,
    made no sound, spun around, and fell face first in to the sand.  Harold prodded the unconscious man with the
    drift wood.  He dropped on to his
    backside and laid the wood beside him. 

    Harold looked over at the women who
    was staring at him and breathing heavily. He walked over to where he dropped
    his coat and then approached her.

    “Get away!” She screamed.

    “Be quiet, god damn it.  Be quiet.” Harold said to the woman,
    disgusted, and frustrated.  “Let’s get
    you a police officer, all right?  What
    were these men trying to do to you? 
    You’re drunk aren’t you?  So are
    they.  What are you involving yourself
    with these animals for?”  Harold said.  The woman panted frantically, blubbering and
    scooting away from Harold. 

    “God damn you, will you calm down!” Harold
    reached for the woman’s arm and she lashed out at him.  Her long nails stung as they gashed his arm
    and Harold backed off. 

    “Oh, to hell with you!” Harold
    screamed at the woman turning away, leaving her weeping in the sand, and the
    men sprawled out on the beach behind her.

    Covering the scratches on his arm with
    his hand Harold came to the bustling night life again.  He put his jacket back on to cover the blood
    bleeding through his shirt.  The jazz
    music was still beating and there were more people out now than before.  The lights were bright and Harold had to
    squint as he fumbled through the crowd out of the darkness.  He approached an officer strolling along the
    sidewalk. 

    “Officer.” He called.

    “Yes?” the officer returned without
    breaking stride.

    “There are two men having it out on
    the beach there just before Clarence Avenue. 
    There’s a women too, and the big man was brutalizing her, hoping to have
    his way.”

    “Goodness, man.”  The officer turned, hurrying in the direction
    of the bay.

    Harold looked about him and found that
    he stood before Wise’s Drugstore, showered beneath the fluorescent lighting of the
    brightly illuminated red and white and black plastic sign of the shop.  The clean white and black speckled counter
    tops and old fashioned soda fountain bar stools had always pleased Harold since
    he was a boy.  He pulled from his pocket
    a crumpled pack of cigarettes and from his jacket an old book of safety
    matches.  Harold placed one of his two
    remaining cigarettes in his mouth and struck a match.  He raised the crackling match too quickly to
    the end of the cigarette and inhaled its sulfuric fumes through his nose and
    mouth.  He gagged and coughed and the
    cigarette fell.  He tore another match
    from the book and picked up the cigarette. 
    Again he struck the match and too quickly raised it to his cigarette, this
    time extinguishing the flame before he could get a light.  Leaning his back against the large front
    window pane of the drugstore he sighed and closed his eyes, the cigarette
    hanging loosely from his mouth.

    “You need a lesson, kid.” Someone said
    as the cigarette was snatched from Harold’s mouth.

    Standing before Harold was a tall and
    sharply dressed man who was perhaps a foot and a half taller than Harold
    himself.  The man swayed gently, waving
    his arms around at his sides, softly singing some tune.  Harold watched him carefully as he raised the
    cigarette to his mouth and closed his eyes. 
    He snapped his fingers and shifted about, dancing before Harold. 

    “You got to take control of the fire.”
    He said.  “Let me see them matches.”

    Harold handed the man the book of
    matches which he took ingerly between his pointer finger and thumb.  He tore a match and struck it against the red
    strip of flint on the back immediately using his free hand to shield it from
    breeze. 

    He sang to an improvised tune the
    words inscribed on the backside of Harold’s book of matches.  “Winter buries deep.” The cigarette hung
    loosely from his lips and he watched the tiny flame dance and the sulfur
    dissipate in the air.

    “You got to give a damn, you see.  Give it time to calm down.  Take care of it.” He said out of the corner
    crack of his mouth, glancing at Harold, and then back at the flame, the
    cigarette flapping between his lips as he spoke.  “It wants to burn you before you can make use
    of it.” He moved the match closer to the cigarette, and stopped.  He angled the match a bit upside down.  “You got to hold it like this, let it crawl
    to you.”

    He sucked in gently lighting the
    cigarette and turned from Harold. 
    “Thanks for the smoke.” He said walking away.  He shook the match and tossed it in to the
    street.

    He stopped and faced Harold.  He flicked the pack of matches with his thumb
    in to the air and Harold caught them.  “Whatever
    it is you’re after, let it burn it’s way to you.”  He turned and danced away down the sidewalk.

    Harold lit his last cigarette and
    propped himself again against the front window of the drugstore.  Jazz music was all around him and Harold
    puffed on his cigarette.  It was
    beginning to cool off a bit as the sun was just about set, but Harold loosened
    his tie nevertheless and felt much more comfortable.  Harold smoked slowly, enjoying the unusual
    delight.

    At the corner heading from the beach
    at the bay a large crowd was rapidly beginning to form.  The two men from the beach were being led by
    several police officers and the woman shouted hysterically as she was led in to
    the back of the police cruiser.  The
    large man was hollering, and fighting to free himself from the restraint of the
    officers.  Harold approached the mob and
    was stopped by the officer he had alerted earlier.

    “Sir,” the officer said, “We can’t
    tell what was going on there, but lucky you found us when you did or these men
    might have killed one another.”

    The mob that had formed around the
    scene was great.  The other drunks
    gathered around to watch the unfolding events with that strange inner feeling
    of satisfaction that may be observed in the course of a sudden accident.  To witness the misery of the unfortunate was
    the end of their night long quest for excitement and it was met with great
    delight.  Harold was repulsed by the
    show.

    “Oh, why don’t you just let them at
    each other!” Harold shouted.  “To hell
    with them!  Let them kill each other if
    that’s what they want, good riddance!”

    The officer looked at Harold with a
    perplexed expression.  “Head home, my
    man.  These people have upset you
    dearly.”

    Harold left the depressing scene and
    stopped before Wise’s.  He hesitated a
    moment and then dropped his cigarette and smothered it with his toe.  The old establishment was empty when Harold
    stepped inside.  He strolled slowly along
    the tall rows of old canvas books filling the shelves along the western wall of
    the shop.  He ran his fingers across them,
    occasionally removing some ancient publication and checking the copyright.  Harold was fascinated by the maturity of many
    of the books, some having been published as far back as the early 1900’s.  He found solace in wondering how far they’ve
    come and gone, whose hands they had been held in, where they may have been lost
    for decades and then later found.  He
    closed his eyes and imagined he was a wealthy gentleman.  The year was 1933 and Harold wore a brown
    suit with thin, light white stripes, a red tie hung from around his neck and a
    matching brown felt hat.  Times were
    hard, but times were simple he thought, and Wise’s Drugstore was true.  The old pharmacy had remained just as it had
    been since Mr. Wise first opened its doors. 
    Outside the world was going to shit, Harold thought, the faint commotion
    of the drunks a testament to that, but inside old Mr. Wise’s drugstore it was
    but a trifle concern.

     “Oh, hello.” 
    Harold heard the old man’s voice and was awakened from his
    daydream.  “Good evening,” he said.

    Harold recognized the voice as Mr.
    Wise’s and made his way to the counter. 

    “Mr. Wise, its Harold.”

    “Oh, Harold.” Mr. Wise was endeared by
    Harold’s presence.  Harold had often come
    to Wise’s with his mother and brothers on weekends when they were
    children.  Mr. Wise had always held a
    deep affection for Harold and was confident Harold would someday become a very honest
    and upstanding man.  It had been several
    years now since Harold had been inside the old man’s shop. 

    “Harold, what’s the matter?  I can’t make you out.  You know my eyes…” the old man said, rummaging
    through the shelves behind the counter.

    “Mr. Wise, you’re wearing your
    glasses.” Harold said smiling, taking a seat at the bar.

    “Oh, I am.” Mr. Wise chuckled,
    removing them from his face.  “Do I see
    you are without shoes, Harold?” He said buffing his spectacles on the white
    apron he wore around his neck. 

    It hadn’t even occurred to Harold
    until that moment that he was in fact barefoot. 
    “I left them on the beach.” He said.

    “Well, it’s no good for a man to
    wander about every day in the same old pair of shoes, anyhow.” He said smiling,
    returning his lenses to his face.  “Goodness,
    Harold, how are you?  It’s been some time,
    hasn’t’ it?”

    “It has, Mr. Wise.  But I just don’t know.  I just don’t.” Harold said, hanging his head.

    “My sweet boy.  Look at me, Harold.” Mr. Wise said dryly.

    Harold looked up at Mr. Wise.  Harold’s eye lids were heavy, and darkly
    lined.  The blood from the scratches on
    his forearm had run and dried on his hand. 
    Mr. Wise carefully examined Harold’s face.  It was hard for him to make out most of
    Harold’s features.  Moving his glasses
    out of the way he peered over them at Harold and then returned them back to
    their position. 

    “Harold,” the old man said, “You’re
    glasses are broken, aren’t they?  You’re
    filthy too.” He paused, examining the poor boy.  “Harold,” Mr. Wise said pausing with
    hesitation and then continued, “You’re out of focus.”

    Harold felt nauseas. “That’s not the
    first time I’ve heard that today, Mr. Wise.” Harold said, leaning his elbows on
    the countertop and cupping his chin in his hands. 

    “I’m not surprised, my boy.”  Mr. Wise said fixing Harold a cold glass of
    iced tea.  “I suppose there are a few
    things you can do about that, not to worry.”

    “Oh, but I just don’t know what to do
    about anything.  I don’t know what I know.”
    Harold said pouring sugar in to his glass. 
    “I don’t know what I don’t
    know even!”

    “Well, Harold, you’ve lost focus, and
    that’s not something that can’t be fixed. 
    We wear eyeglasses for a reason, don’t we?  Could we work out a way for everyone else to
    adjust to your lack of clarity?  I
    suppose we could, but that wouldn’t really do much for you, would it?”

    “Yeah,” Harold said shaking his head.  He looked up at Mr. Wise.  “I’m just so struck with fear, Mr. Wise.  I feel so immobile and I’m afraid of myself
    and the whole world, like nothing I do will make a difference.  It’s so hard to live with myself.  I am afraid to die, Mr. Wise, but I can’t
    take being alive.”

    “That’s fine, Harold.  Anyone who hasn’t thought about dying hasn’t
    really lived in the first place.  And life
    is a scary thing and it is only temporary. 
    But what can you do?  We die
    alone, but we live among men.  You’ve got
    to work with what you’ve got.” Mr. Wise said standing up from leaning on the
    bar. 

    The old man began fiddling with the
    record player and albums behind the counter. 
    He delicately removed an old 78rpm Louis Armstrong record from its
    browned, tattered, and delicate sleeve setting it gently on the turntable.  The crackling of the needle on the black vinyl
    record chilled Harold and goose bumps spread across his skin.

     

    III:

    O
    Spring, Which in Full Choir Hails Thy Approach

    “It’s funny, Mr. Wise, when you’re a
    kid you don’t think like that, ya know? 
    If you do you tell yourself that’s not how you’re going out.  You say you’re going out with a bang or
    something.  I feel like I was going out
    with a bang once, but that was before, that was before I was just two decades
    old which seems like such a long time ago. 
    Where did that bang ever go?  I’ve
    been wondering since I was twenty where did I
    ever go, under what rock did I bury my heart in my sleep, when will I ever find
    it again, if ever! ” Harold ended practically out of breath.

    “Harold, Harold, Harold.  You think too much and don’t live nearly
    enough.  Ya know, life is a choice, and
    everything in life is a choice.  It
    wouldn’t be life if it and everything else wasn’t
    a choice.  That’s a chilling realization
    I’d say, Harold.  You know this.” Mr.
    Wise peered over his glasses examining the television remote control in his
    hand and Harold traced outlines in spilled sugar on the counter in front of
    him, his cheek resting on his hand.

    “But sometimes,” Mr. Wise continued,
    “the good lord gets a little excitement out of throwing you a bone and all you
    need to be is a victim of your heart.” 
    The room was filled with the familiar trumpeting Harold knew very well
    as that of old Satchmo. 

    Mr. Wise danced with an invisible
    figure, dipping and spinning.  He pressed
    a few buttons on the remote control and the television came to life.  The jazz rhythm guided Mr. Wise and his
    invisible partner and it made Harold sad. 
    And he felt tired.  The black and
    white credits rolled on the screen behind the counter, the volume muted but the
    film accompanied by the energetic jazz music of the 1940s.  Harold was comforted when Stan Laurel and
    Oliver Hardy appeared on the screen lying side by side in bed sleeping, their
    breath blowing a lone, small white feather up and down from one of them and
    then to the other.  Harold had not seen
    this movie in many years, and it began to bring an old joy and comfort back to
    him.

    “When I was first going with Emily,
    Harold, my wife,” Mr. Wise said, “I was going with one other girl too.  Oh, we were kids then, and this girl was a
    true knock out, she was.  Her name was
    Betty.  She was a real good looking
    girl.” Excitement flashed in the old man’s eyes, and a smirk spread across his
    face.  “She would do anything I asked of
    her, Betty would.  She wouldn’t do much
    of anything else, that’s for sure, she wasn’t the brightest girl, but she’d
    surely do whatever I wanted.”

    Harold allowed the jazz rhythm to
    surround him, and bring him to a place he hadn’t been in a very long time.  He rested his head on his arm at the
    countertop, watching Stan and Oliver blow the feather back and forth in their
    sleep, comforted by the old man’s soothing voice.

    “And then there was Emily.  Always with her nose in her textbooks.  She’d run straight home to get her homework
    done every evening after classes,” Mr. Wise paused with a dreamy expression on
    his face, and it was a moment before he continued, “But not without the
    sweetest, most tender kiss for me before she went.” The old man said smiling.  “She’d glance back at me and her eyes would
    steal a little more of my heart each time. 
    She knew that I knew my heart didn’t belong to me anymore, and she knew
    I had her too.”

    “She sounds sweet, Mr. Wise.”

    “Oh, she was.” Mr. Wise said softly.  “She was.” 

    “Where’s the excitement though if your
    life is already pre-planned?” Harold said.

    “You’re right, almost nothing sounds
    less fun than having your choices already made for you.  But, you see, Harold, sometimes men have to
    make the choice, and sometimes they’re blessed with already having the choice made
    for them, and that’s usually when we end up most joyful.”

    Harold sat up and cried out in
    amusement when Stan yawned and inhaled the feather. 

    “I love this movie, Mr. Wise.  Every Christmas when I was a child my mother
    would play it from VHS for my brothers and me.” Harold said excitedly.  “Ya know, it just doesn’t make sense for
    people to think of killing themselves.  I
    mean, it’s so stupid, isn’t it?  What if
    our existence is only temporary, what if there’s really no god?  What if that’s it.  Don’t you just want to be part of the
    experience?”

    “You know, Harold, what the hell, it’s
    not all a drag.” Mr. Wise smiled.

    “I’m thinking I should stop ruining my
    life.  Look at Laurel and Hardy, they’re
    real funny, and so what if the worst is true. 
    I’d like to say I took the damn trip. 
    I’m constantly searching for answers I’m just never going to get.”

    “Let it go, enjoy it while it lasts.  Maybe there is something, maybe not, and
    sure, maybe is a slim reed to hang your whole life on, but it’s the best we’ve
    got.” Mr. Wise said lowering the blinds of the large store-front windows and
    shutting the overheard fluorescent lighting.

    Harold sat back and actually began to
    enjoy himself.  Mr. Wise and Harold spoke
    enthusiastically through the night.  Mr.
    Wise kept the music constant, replacing one record with another when each one
    ended, and it was daybreak by the time Harold and Mr. Wise said goodnight.  The morning sun shone golden rays of light
    through the slats of the closed store-front blinds.  Harold had to shield his eyes, squinting as
    Mr. Wise led him out of the store, and it was then that Harold had noticed the
    clear reflection staring back at him in the large glass window pane of the
    shop’s front door entrance.

    When Harold stepped out into the
    bright sunlight from the darkness of Wise’s Drugstore he had only two things on
    his mind: finding a new pair of shoes and his way home.

     

    The End

    #449

    TanvirBD
    Participant

    Nice one.

    Thanks for shareLaugh

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