1024 Words

A Psalm for Emily

Glynn Sharpe

He would write at night before the drunken men would stagger back to the Mission and before the fighting would start. Hunched over the commons room table, he would write his story until his shaking hands were lost to the numbness of age and fatigue. His uneven scrawl crammed every line of the page, front and back. Wave after wave of blue letters crashed off the paper from the well of his memories. This was his story.

A voice, one he recognized, made its way into the dimly lit room. "Lights out guy."

"Okay" he said, as he folded his work and put it into his pant pocket.

It was hot.

Most of the men would sleep in the parks or alley ways or they would walk the streets all night looking for something that they could never possibly find. He enjoyed the solitude and relative calm of summer. Winter was the brother of violence and uncertainty. Men gambled with their lives in the streets when the cold stalked. His life clung to his leg as he made his way up the stairs and into his room.

He clung to it.

He found the morning most difficult. It was too bright. He felt naked and susceptible to his demons. Sometimes the drink would whisper to him in the morning. It could take him by the throat and suck the life out of him until he found himself half out of his mind, covered in his own filth and blood and shame. In the confusion of morning, he would often rifle through his coat looking for the story. It wasn't always there. He could remember burning it and urinating on it in a rocking stupor, laughing at his own stupidity for trying to write such a story. Who did he think he was? He was nothing. He was a nobody. Who would want to read his story? It was a broken man's story.

He peeled the moist pages from his pocket, unfolded it from its paper coffin, and realized for the first time that it was complete. He didn't like the feeling of being finished because he wasn't sure what to do with it next. He was tempted to throw it away like he threw so much of his life away.

He put the story back into his pocket and went down the stairs for his coffee.

He took to the streets. Like all men, he was a creature of habit and routine. He had walked this route countless times before through the ice, rain, and choking heat. The sounds and smells of the city were familiar friends. They would greet and embrace him like family. He gave more of himself to them than to anyone else. They asked for nothing more from him than his quiet company. The wafting scent of fresh bread from the bakery would bring him back to Newfoundland. As a boy, he would pinch a fresh molasses cookie from his mother's pantry and race towards the docks where the fishing boats departed every morning before sunrise. He would watch them in the half light from his wooden perch as they scoured the banks for cod. He could smell and taste the blood of their success in the wind. The black carpet of water gently rocked and caressed the boat's hull. Her horn would reach out to him with the deafening cry of triumph and freedom. The men, in their black slicks, would throw him their lines and he would pull with all his might to rope them in. He too would have a boat of his own, a lifetime ago.

He felt most at home on this street with the open air cafes and the crumbling rooming houses. The kids, with their pierced ears and darkened features, gave him the respect he wanted by ignoring him. He was haunted this second life by frozen glances and wide births on the sidewalks he navigated. He would leave the change that was dropped at his feet, where he rested, by fat women with painted faces who shopped for men that never really loved them. He would no more beg for money than he would beg for his next breath of life. These kids were different though. Desperation screamed loudest for those who were truly listening.

The sunlight skipped off the glossy covered books and held his gaze. There were books on display in the window show case. Books about other worlds, angels, mystery books with black covers, and books about terrific serial killers stood like obedient soldiers in their Cathedral.

One book, the size of a family Bible, was about great Canadians. Its cover was filled with grainy black and white photographs of smartly dressed men, with full beards, meeting on a section of railway; there were fiercely determined politicians with confident eyes, and robust women who trail blazed their way into Canadian history.

He stepped into the store. A gust of frigid conditioned air pushed on him with all its force.

He was an oddity there. Eyes, trained on the pages they were reading, curled to watch him walk by. He strolled to the magazine rack and picked up the first one within his reach. It was a collection of poetry and short stories written by university English students, drunk on their own depth and self importance. He put it back and moved on.

A woman, with the vacant eyes of a midnight shift nurse, smiled broadly at him like she would a child who was lost from his frantic mother. He looked past her. The book was there. He lifted it off the shelf. It smelled of freshly cut birch and deceit. Its weight held the stories of the men and women who shaped his country. The heroes they sang about and lionized.

He rested the book on his chest with his left hand and took the story from his trouser pocket. He placed it somewhere in the heart of the book and shut it loudly.

A voice, one he had heard a thousand, thousand times before, asked him if he needed any assistance. He didn't answer as he walked out the door and into the beckoning sunlight.

Copyright ©1998 Glynn Sharpe. All Rights Reserved.

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Story Bytes


October, 1998
Issue #30

1024 Words