by William C. Burns, Jr.
It was late summer, a time of colossal thunderstorms and splendid burgundy crimson sunsets. The twilight lingered as the night was taking its own sweet time in coming. There was no air conditioning and the overhead Casablanca fans did little to take the edge off of the sweltering summer humidity that wafted through the open windows of the little coffee shop/bar. Still it was home to me.
She came through the garden gate that opens onto Water street. I saw her through the window, her red/blonde hair brushed by the evening breeze. I recognized her. Sylvia. I wanted to throw back my chair and rush out the door, but I couldn't. Lightning does that to me.
There was a tall man in what appeared to be a very expensive suit, holding a newspaper leaning against the ante of the door, waiting for someone. Please God let it not be for her. Then it occurred to me. I could not let her see me like this. The years haven't been kind to me. I stepped out of sight into the convenient shadows.
She pushed through the crotchety old door and looked around the shop clearly not finding the someone she sought. I wondered how she had found this place, but then her instincts had always been good.
She fidgeted by the cash register while the young man, Jeremy, performed the stainless-steel ritual of preparing her coffee. The small stack of turquoise colored chapbooks caught her attention.
"Oh, who's this?"
"Some local poet. We've sold a few of his chapbooks. Actually I've talked with him and he writes kinda neat stuff. You want a copy?"
"OK, yes, thank you."
I gave him a sign and he nodded. Bright kid really.
"How much do I owe you?" she asked.
"No charge on that ma'am, courtesy of the house." He made it look like we gave books away all the time. Nice tip tonight.
"Never heard . . ."
"Standing orders, first one's free. Now don't forget your book." And then he made himself scarce, very bright kid.
She sighed and looked once again around the shop. She moved to my favorite table by the window where you can see the college library. My dead heart found new ways to break. "I'm going to sit here and read this." She noticed her hand shaking as she opened the cover.
The title of the book is Reflections. I know because I wrote it, wrote it for her. I didn't know it at the time but I have been writing for her ever since the day . . . . Enough of that.
I watched her eyes as closely as I could, eyes the color of poetry. She read each line like she was walking through a park or a graveyard, reading the monuments. About halfway through the fourth poem a spasm of realization made her jump. She knocked her cup to the floor. Jeremy materialized as if by magic and helped clean up the mess. She fought to regain her composure while he went for another cup.
"Jeremy, you said that you have met the man who wrote this?"
"Yeah, his name is Largo, he's here all the time. A bit eccentric really, but not in any negative way."
"Did he ever mention who he wrote this . . . for?"
He looked straight at me. "I'm not really at liberty to say." At this point his voice raised ever so slightly and I knew he was challenging me. "Maybe you can ask him yourself, if he shows up." Then he walked away.
I couldn't stay in the shadows any longer. She was reading as I came close. She looked up with a start. For just a moment I wonder if she recognizes or fears me.
"Please, please, I didn't mean to startle you, miss. She does not answer. "The book of poetry? That's my work, I wrote that. Jeremy will tell you I'm harmless." Still nothing. I can't tell if she is being shy or angry. "I'm so sorry, please . . . I'll go now."
"You wrote this?"
"Well . . . May I sit with you?"
"I have no idea who you are."
"Do you like the poetry?"
"Well, yes. I love the poetry."
"Love the poetry, love the man. I mean you no harm."
"I'm sorry. I'm not usually so harsh, but you've written some things in here," she held up the chapbook, "that have hit me . . . personally. I feel a little vulnerable. I sometimes get a little aggressive under such circumstances." Classic, exactly the way I remember her. "Please Mister Largo, sit down."
Jeremy brings me the usual and a smile. He knows.
"About this poem right here. . . Alien Playground, I would swear I've been there. And this one, Drowsy Repose, what were you thinking when . . ." And it went on like that all night. We could always talk like that. No effort, really just a river of conversation that never went dry. Jeremy left around midnight but that was no problem and I promised to keep an eye on things. He locked the door on his way out.
I don't know exactly when she realized that we had been lovers long ago only blocks from this very spot, but she did. She placed her hand on mine and it was just so natural for it to be there. The night passed in a moment.
I noticed the sun peeking through the eastern window and cursed.
"That wasn't very gentlemanly."
"I'm not certain gentlemanly is a word."
"When did you change your name to Largo?"
"It's my middle name, I just started going by it after the accident.
"The sun is coming."
"I know, we only have a few moments left."
"I wish . . "
"I wish you didn't have to go." She smiled, kissed me, called me by my real name and ever so gently dissolved in the grainy light of morning. She might have been saying that she loved me.
I stared down at the table, drawing circles with the water from my tears. Jeremy would say that the problem with demons and angels is that all their thoughts are one thought. Same goes for ghosts. I guess we just can't seem to let go.
I dissolved as the day shift guy pushed through the crotchety old door. He had never seen me and I was really in no condition for making new acquaintances.
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"Encounter on Water Street" ©2000 William C. Burns,
Jr. Used by permission of the author.
Raven Electrick ©2000 Karen A. Romanko. Clipart by Corel®.