This story started out as a challenge to write a fiction piece without dialogue. As I got into the story, however, I found that I really wanted to use verbal communication in a few instances. I settled for using words (haha, words, of course I used words. Okay, what I meant was, I used a wee bit of dialogue), but without quotes and only to convey what I needed to. It’s a bit of a sad piece I’ll warn you, but I hope you enjoy it.
Staring Across the Street
by Kate Buckley
He somehow reminded me of my own Dad, but he was much older as he stood on the corner of the street, just staring across it. I could see him outside of the coffee shop window as I started my first day making latte art and pouring coffee. I was curious about who he was and what he was doing, but it was the time of the typical morning rush as students dragged themselves to class and business owners power walked to their offices. I was swept away and forgot about the little old man as I tried to keep up.
My new job at the coffee shop was one that I didn’t necessarily need. My husband worked, and I had an online editorial job, but I wanted the distraction and as I worked I found that even after a long day, I didn’t want to return home to him.
Around eleven I finally had a moment to observe my surroundings again, and he still stood there, his grey white hair wafting up every time a car sped by. I watched as I poured coffee for a man in a suit, impatient to be on his way. I could only see the side of the little old man’s face from where I stood, and it was pale and wrinkly around the eyes. He looked very well dressed for a lonely man standing on a street corner, wearing a rusty red sweater and well-polished shoes. One hand hung limp at his side, and the other slouched in his pocket. I wondered what he was thinking, what he felt, as he stood rather dejectedly, sadly. I cursed and dropped the coffee cup I was filling as it overflowed onto my hands. The businessman glared at me, reminding me of my husband. I avoided eye contact and filled another cup.
Over the next few weeks I kept seeing this elderly man every morning I worked, always in the same spot, always staring across the street. I had never been to the other side of the street, but it wasn’t anything exciting, just more business buildings and scraggly maple trees. I had no idea what he was staring at. Sometimes I wondered if he was some weird statue, but he was never there when I came in to work in the morning and he was always gone when I left. Sometimes he’d shift his weight from one foot to the other, or take his hand out of his pocket to smooth down the wisps of his hair.
One morning I was working with my favorite coworker, Jess. She asked me how I got the bruise on my arm. I told her I fell and then I asked her about the old man, what she thought about his strange vigil. She said she’d never noticed him. I pointed outside, then several customers walked in and our conversation died. The morning was busy and when it finally calmed down my boss disappeared for a smoke break. I smiled gratefully to Jess when she indicated I should do the same, but instead of going out the back door I grabbed a cup and filled it with the house brew.
I stood next to the man, offering the cup of coffee, and he turned to me. The sorrow I had seen in his posture was even more evident in his eyes. They were a familiar crystal clear blue, and as he accepted the cup a tear welled in the corner. I tried to ask him what was wrong, but he only said that he was grateful for the coffee and that he was sorry. I wondered what for and followed his gaze as it returned to across the street. Then I saw it. I saw what he was looking at. It wasn’t the business buildings or the scraggly maple trees. It was my past. It was when my Dad set me up with his colleague’s son, when my Dad told me that the son was wonderful, and that I didn’t really deserve him. I saw our first date and when he asked me to marry him. The events were revealed in segments, pieces of my not so far away past that made me forget I was standing on a street corner. I watched myself marry the son. I watched my happy face, when we stood on the beach together during our honeymoon, when we decorated our apartment and we laughed together. I watched him hit me for the first time. I watched as I buried myself in work. Did I really look that haggard? Were the bruises really that noticeable? Then I realized it wasn’t memory anymore. I was working more jobs; I had more bruises. Then across the street was a graveyard, a stony faced widower, and my Dad who didn’t realize what he’d done.
I turned to the older version of my Dad, tears in my eyes. This was where my path was leading. He mouthed another apology and I only cried harder.
A hand touched my shoulder. I wiped my eyes. It was Jess. My Dad was gone. She looked at me with concern. She asked me what was wrong. I can’t go home to him I sobbed and she enveloped me in her arms.
Thank you, Dad.