Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Day 365 - Final Story

Final Story
Matthew Ryan Fischer

His feet hurt; his feet always hurt. Marvin had been walking for so long and had traveled so far. But the road stretched out so far ahead and it seemed as if it would be forevermore.
The sign hanging in the window read ‘Always Open’ in faded red neon letters. Marvin wondered if the restaurant really lived up to that promise. He imagined that sometimes on certain holidays they most certainly would have to be closed. Tonight though, he was glad to see the lights on inside, and wasn’t about to challenge their premise. He did however notice that the neon light in the sign was not actually turned on, even though the diner was in fact open for business.
It was called ‘The Perpetual Diner,’ and it looked like a railroad dining car from the front, but once inside, the room stretched on and was far deeper than any railroad car could possibly be. Still, it was quaint from the outside and it was quaint from the inside. It was a holdover from another time. The design was simple and retro, not in a gaudy or cartoonish way, but in a somewhat authentic attempt at recreating a particular mood sort of manner. There were red leather booths and tabletops with grooved aluminum edging. And chrome. There was a lot of chrome throughout the diner.
There was a handwritten sign taped on the door as he entered. It said they featured “A VERY GOOD cup of coffee. Some might say ‘a damn fine cup of coffee,’ but really that might be overstating things. This is just a roadside diner after all.” Marvin questioned some of their prose and the strange humor-humility to the sign. He would order a cup of the coffee though, and he would be the judge of it.
Marvin liked tables that had a half-booth, half-chair style of seating. He liked to sit on the booth side of things, not just for comfort, but also so that he could look out across the room. The lack of an opposite bench seat meant his view was unobstructed and he could see more of the room. He liked watching the room. He liked watching as people came and went.
The diner was understaffed. One of the waitresses, Charlotte, had called in sick. Andre, the cashier, was on the phone in between customers, calling and calling and calling, over and over and over, but she never answered. Business was slow. It didn’t seem like he was calling because he needed the assistance. Marvin figured that he wasn’t as concerned with finding out what happened to her, or getting her into work, as he was with annoying her.
Marvin looked out the window. He thought of the path his life had taken, the roads traveled, the journey he had made for himself. He thought of her. So much time and so many years and gone by. Yet it was only yesterday. A blink of an eye. It was like it had just happened. He remembered everything. He could never forget.
Marvin waited and waited. He looked out the window. He watched the people. He ordered coffee and food and waited more. He actually thought she would show up. He had to believe. It was all he had.
When he grew bored with waiting, he looked around the room at the other people and made private little predictions as to who they were and what they were doing there. They all had special stories; it was up to him to guess what they were.
A man in the booth next to him was reading a book. The book was old, the dust cover cracked and worn. The man looked like a librarian. He had no awareness of the people around him or what was happening in the diner. He was absorbed in what he read. He had a highlighter and a spare notebook where he wrote down particular points of interest. Marvin wanted to believe he was a man deciphering some long lost secret. Perhaps it was a bit of hidden history, or a clue to man’s purpose in life or their place in the universe. Maybe the man was the carrier of secret information and it was his job to get it from one place to another and here he was stealing scraps and transcribing them for himself.
When the man went to the restroom, Marvin leaned over and read the title of the book – “Rites, Rituals and Ruins: An account of the travels of Mortimer Thornewill.” Marvin had never heard of the book or the man it was about.
Meanwhile, Andre the cashier was still on the phone. A cat could be seen sleeping down by his feet. Maybe it was Andre’s. Or maybe the cat belonged to the owner of the diner. Perhaps it was his beloved pet that he let run around in the back. Maybe it killed rodents. Or maybe it was actually self-aware and was in charge of the owner and the restaurant. Whatever the case, it couldn’t possibly be sanitary having it here in the restaurant, thought Marvin.
Two old men sat in a booth in the back corner of the room. If Marvin strained he could hear their conversation. They talked about life and love over a pot of coffee. Marvin didn’t hear the beginning, but he could make out parts of it now.   
“What have you been doing?” asked one of the men.
“Just watching the waves.”
“I heard they gave you a watch.”
“Yeah. Kind of nice I guess. Reminds me that I have too much time on my hands.”
Over at another table, two women talked. A kid sat on the floor next to his mother, playing with a red toy race car. As he leaned over, something else fell out of his pocket. Marvin couldn’t see what it was. The kid didn’t seem to notice or care, so Martin didn’t either.
Marvin noticed that someone had left 17 cents on the table. Perhaps it was a tip. Or an insult to denote bad service. Or maybe the person that sat here before him didn’t like carrying pocket change.
Marvin picked it up and looked at it and was quite shocked to see what he saw. The pennies and nickel were quite ordinary. But the dime wasn’t ordinary at all. It was quite special – an 1894-s Barber Dime. Marvin knew enough to know that was worth a great deal of money. Marvin took it and put it in his pocket and didn’t think twice about it.
In the men’s room, the bathroom mirrors were cracked and one had been totally broken. They reflected so many things, but none of them correctly. Marvin looked at his fractured self and thought about all the possibilities of who he could have been. He always liked to imagine his other self in the mirror was somehow part of another universe, with another life. The fractured mirror gave him so many glimpses of who he could have been. He got to take so many journeys.
When he got back, he saw there was a cup of coffee waiting for him on the table. The waitress had come by while he was gone. This was a moment. It would be a moment he would remember. He always judged a restaurant by its coffee. The aroma was fine, but nothing special. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Flavored coffees were a turnoff and Marvin was in no mood for something that was trying to be more than it really was. He took a sip – no sugar or cream yet. If it was good coffee, he wouldn’t need them. If it was bad, he would make his way through it, he hardly ever left a cup unfinished, but he would need help.
He sipped the coffee. It was dark, bitter and strong. He smiled. The sign was right – it really was a ‘very good cup of coffee.’
Marvin looked across the room to his waitress and gave her the thumbs up signal. When she came back around with his food he would tell her that he would need the cup refilled as often and as quickly as she could. He would give her little trouble other than that, and always promised to tip well for prompt service.
It seemed as if she was never going to arrive. Marvin wasn’t sure how long he would wait. He would wait a little longer. He had to do that. He had to give it enough of a chance. His food hadn’t come yet – certainly he could wait for that. He was here after all and he didn’t feel like walking again quite yet.
Things should have been easier, but that wasn’t the case. Communication was everywhere, in everything. There shouldn’t ever be any missed opportunities anymore. Except that all that communication relied upon the people actually communicating. No technology could replace that.
He had abandoned much of modern convenience in a misguided attempt to forge some semblance of privacy. He couldn’t be easily found, and that of course meant he couldn’t find anyone either. He missed her. He was sure she missed him. If he thought of her daily, there had to be some small chance that she thought of him from time to time.
Marvin was sure she would have been there. It was so hard to tell. Signals weren’t always signals and it was easy to flirt, but harder to commit. Perhaps she never felt what he felt. Perhaps she never believed what he believed. He didn’t think that was true. Maybe there should have been a simple lost and found for lovers. That couldn’t be misunderstood.
Marvin leaned back against the seat and sipped his coffee and let his mind wander and his imagination take him off to another place where other things could happen. Wherever she was, whatever was keeping her, he was convinced that it was what was supposed to be happening. Everything that was happening had happened before or would happen again, and in the end it would all work out the way it was supposed to work out. The road was long and winding. He had been taught that when he was young. He just wished it was shorter sometimes and didn’t take as long as it did to get to where it was going.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Day 364 - Penultimate Story

Penultimate Story
Matthew Ryan Fischer

The old man lay on his deathbed, in a pale and lonely room, in a pale and lonely hospital. It was snowing outside. Winter had come and brought with it his end. It was only a matter of time now. He could feel it in his body and bones, both aching and arthritic.
There was a deep and foreboding silence that came along with the snow of winter. Everything was dampened. Everything was slower. The world was calm. The wildlife was gone, hidden away. The Earth rested, locked in frozen slumber. The bright white snow created the illusion of a mint and pristine world. The barren shrubbery and missing wildlife cast an appropriate association with death.
He had expected more. He wasn’t sure what though. Certainly not some grandiose fanfare, but something. He thought death would be preceded with some sort of harbinger. Maybe that was what the snow had been. The world was dead. The world was at peace. Covered in bright white snow. 
 In that context, the bright white of the snow was a perfectly fitting symbol. He didn’t know if he would see a white light or not when the time came, but perhaps the snow was an indication of things to come.
His son wasn’t there, but his grandson was. Time and tribulations had pulled the family apart. The fact that his grandson was there was purely accidental. Coincidentally, his grandson happened to be traveling nearby when the attack occurred. Still, he was glad someone from the family was with him and that he wasn’t alone. He hoped somehow he could hold on long enough to give his son a chance to arrive.
The night continued. The minutes crept by. The hours seemed to drag on and on, impossibly long. Perhaps his perception of time was the first thing to go. The last seconds were an eternity. For that he supposed he should be grateful. If life was going to end, if this was his last chance to have anything, experience anything, if nothing else, he was getting a lot of it. Or at least it seemed that way. Seconds were still seconds and there really weren’t any extra. But he liked the feeling that he was getting more, getting a life in those few seconds that was longer than all that had come before.
The old man wished things could have been different. He thought of what he should have done or could have done. Would any of them have made a difference? He didn’t know. Maybe somewhere another life had been lived where he had done things right or at least done them better. He hoped that were true.
The old man tried to impart some wisdom. He had learned so much. He wanted it to mean something, for it all to count in some grand way. He had no time left; there would be no memories or philosophy to be written down. He wanted his life to matter and wanted to make someone else understand. He wanted something lasting, something better that would make up for all the mistakes made. He had an audience of one. An audience of one would have to do.
He tried to tell his grandson all the things he knew, all the things that a man should know, all the things that could make a life a better thing than it really was.

“Life is waiting, but time slides by, faster. Always faster. You wait and you watch it slip away with no ability to stop it. Grab it. Grab hold and try. Or at least hold on as best you can. Let it take you for a ride.
I have always been waiting. Waiting for something more. Waiting for something better. That never came. It never comes. You can’t wait. Waiting will never make it come.
Don’t wait. Life is waiting. There is never a better time than now. There is only one time. Now. The past and future are untouchable. To think otherwise is folly. Do everything you can in every moment.
Love. Love freely. Love easily. Love perfectly. Forgive. Be at peace and forgive all that you can. Find love and give love and fill the world with love. Life is too cruel and too harsh and you will need all the love you can get. Make sure you never forget that. Even when there is no love to be had, make some. You’ll be glad you did. Alone and lonely is no way to live. Sorrow and regrets are no way to live. Let them all go if you can.
I have lived and lived and lived. I have seen so many things. You wouldn’t believe. I have been and not been. I have dreamed awake and slept reality. I have traveled. Across lands and across times. I have done anything and everything.
Do more than I have. I have done nothing. Do everything you can.
Please hear me. Hear me. Do you hear me? Do you see me? Please tell me you hear me. Tell me something. Tell me you understand. Tell me you will live a better life than me.”

The young man turned to look at his grandfather. His grandfather seemed to be smiling. Maybe he finally found peace, thought the young man. The previous few years had not been kind. Heart problems. The death of friends. The death of loved ones. They had all hit him hard. The most recent stroke had hit him worst of all. There wasn’t much left of the man he had been. There was just a dying old man trapped in a bed. The grandson felt sorry for his grandfather.
It was sad. The things he didn’t know. The things he could never know, never ask. His grandfather seemed like a wise and interesting man. He hadn’t taken the time to find out or get to know him. He could have, but he was young and self-absorbed like young people tend to be. He hadn’t been interested, but at least he had realized he might someday be. He had told himself there would always be time. He could always find these things out later. Except there wasn’t always time. At least not here and now there wasn’t. Time had run out. Time had expired. There was just an empty body where a man had been.
Outside the snow began again.
The grandson looked out the window and watched the falling snow. He always loved the bright white snow. He was mesmerized by the serenity that came with the peacefulness of it all.
His father would be there soon. He would wait. His father should hear the news from him. His father would always regret that he wasn’t there in the end, but maybe he would find some solace in the fact that his son was. The grandson hoped that was true. He hoped that he had brought some comfort to his grandfather as well.
Outside, the light reflecting from the streetlamps lit up the fresh snow and made for a beautiful sight.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Day 363 - Retirement Story

Retirement Story
Matthew Ryan Fischer

“Every man for himself and the Devil take the hindmost” – early 16th century proverb.

The wood creaked as he sat down. He leaned back and pushed up, using only the tips of his toes, and he let the weight of his body fall backwards. He rocked in the rocking chair, while looking out across the lake. The cabin was his, by God. She may have gotten just about everything else, but the cabin was his. He hadn’t made a great deal. He hadn’t wanted a great deal, he had wanted this view. So that was what he got, and he was happy enough to have what he had. It was a short list of simple pleasures and that one was very high on it.
It was a peaceful and relaxing day, as if someone had made it especially for him. The water was calm and the wind was light and the temperature was mild. It was a perfect day to sit back and relax and let time slip away. In a few weeks, or maybe even a few days, he might have to put on a sweater. He laughed – he couldn’t remember the last time he wore a sweater. He certainly hadn’t needed it when he was working. It had been so long since he had been at the cabin during winter. So long. Too long. It would be getting colder from here on out for the remainder of the year. It might even snow soon. Snow. It had been years since he had dealt with snow. That would be a change he’d have to get used to.
It had been so long since he was able to sit and relax and just sit and relax and not think of all the things he should be doing. It seemed like he had been working his entire life. He never took a break. No vacations. No holidays. No days off. Certainly that wasn’t entirely true, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember the last time he hadn’t been working.
He didn’t really mind that though. He wasn’t a workaholic, but he had no problem with putting in more than his fair share. He liked to have purpose. He liked having something to push him. He liked being busy. He took great pride in what he did and he did it well.
This might be the biggest change of them all. He welcomed the coming of new events and the evolution he would be forced to make.
No job lasts forever. Not even his. He realized that. He knew that going in. That was part of the agreed-upon deal. Still, he hadn’t seen the end coming. It was still a surprise, even if the writing had been on the proverbial wall. If anybody had job security, he thought it would be him.
He thought there should have been more warning, more time for him to prepare. At the exit interview they asked him about what he thought he got right and where he thought he failed. No one wants to fail. He wasn’t sure he had. He had a lot to think about. He wasn’t sure what they would do without him. They didn’t seem to listen to that part.
He had been given a pocket watch with an inscription. He had heard about that in stories, but didn’t realize people actually did things like that. The inscription read “Hell of a good job.” It was nice., direct and to the point. They weren’t even trying to be subtle.
He had thought of quitting. He had thought of that many times. To have a nice and quiet life free from responsibility, from notoriety. But he made a deal. He signed the paperwork. A deal was a deal. He had agreed to it. And he liked it. He wanted it. He needed it. It was a part of him. It was him. His future, his past, his destiny, his fate.
What was he going to do now? The future – that was the question. That was always the question. What is the future? What does it hold? What does it mean? He used to see the future. He used to know the future. He could create the future. He saw everything all the way up until the end. But what came after the end? That was the kicker. That was what he didn’t know. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He wasn’t sure it involved sitting on his back porch and looking at the lake all day. He wasn’t sure it didn’t.
He liked having a quiet place for once. Everything else had always been so loud. So busy. It was new and different, but that didn’t mean this was bad. Quiet and slow had its merits. He was free from responsibility. He was free from contracts. He was free from deals and negotiations and plans and plots and all of that. He was free.
Sure he had freedom now, but he didn’t have much else. He wondered about her. He wondered if she was happy with what she had or if she had something figured out to do. He wasn’t sure if things would be harder on him or on her. The way things used to be, he’d be okay, and it would be her that would struggle. But the world had changed, life had changed. Now he was the one sitting on a porch and thinking. She was probably out doing something, creating something new. She would probably run the world and he would still be sitting in his rocking chair. He would have to figure out something to do – he knew what they said about idle hands and all that.
Maybe he could fall in love and live out the golden years with someone. When he was working he never really had much time to focus on that. He had seen plenty of love come and go and had never taken it too seriously. He had enjoyed the company of women, probably too many women. But that wasn’t love. He wasn’t sure what he believed in. It just seemed like something that the young and the foolish jumped into and those that didn’t have it waxed poetically about. He didn’t really know where he stood on the whole thing. And besides, he was old and retired now. Older, but not any wiser. What did he have to offer? And he knew what the world said about old men and younger women. He couldn’t see himself wanting that sort of retirement.
He was sure he felt the capacity to love before. He was sure he could feel it again. He didn’t know if anyone could ever love him again. He wasn’t sure anyone should. He had done so many things, he didn’t know what he deserved now.
After the divorce he wanted a quiet place to live, and that was what he got – the lake house. The cabin was his. For better or worse, it was his. And unfortunately, so was the quiet soul-searching that came along with it.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Day 362 - NYE Story

NYE Story
Matthew Ryan Fischer

Sally sat on the kitchen counter; Joe leaned back against the refrigerator.
“What I need,” Sally slurred, “is a good swift drink.”
“I think you’ve had plenty to drunk.”
“Yes. You’ve had plenty. I’ve had plenty. We’ve both had plenty.”
“To drink. I agree. But that wasn’t the drink I meant.”
Joe stared at her, confused. He was plenty drunk as were the other people at the party, and he was pretty sure that none of them would need another drink for a very long time.
Joe and Sally were old friends. They had met during graduate school at SDSU. They were part of a large group of friends and at the time Sally was dating a friend of a friend that Joe knew. They had met casually at parties and then had some classes together and soon they were hanging out without the others around. They were good friends. They had years of support and helping each other out. Even as the numbers in their group dwindled, they stayed close.
“I need something sweet and cheap. I need a good drink drink...”
A drink of course didn’t always mean a drink. Joe and Sally had many slang terms and a whole system worked out for what they could mean. A drink could be anything from a date to a boyfriend to a perfect mate, but a drink drink that was short and sweet would only mean one thing – someone that was good for one thing and usually for one night only.
Joe looked at her and realized what she meant. She smiled. It was New Year’s after all – why not celebrate? Joe understood the urge. He didn’t usually go after that in the same way, but he could certainly understand the urge to have a good time.
They had begun drinking at noon because they could. It didn’t matter that it was noon – it was midnight somewhere else on the planet. Somewhere, someone was celebrating the new year. Those people were probably in Russia or the Middle East, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that halfway around the world, people needed an excuse to start drinking early. And having twelve chances to celebrate the new year seemed like a good enough reason. It was New Year’s Eve after all, people didn’t need a very good excuse, they just needed an excuse.
At noon they raised their first glass and cheered with the crowd. They drank their beer and then they drank their water. It was a long way until midnight and they had agreed to pace themselves and help the other make it until midnight, their midnight. They had a long way to go.
Joe checked his watch and suggested they walk to the next bar. There were at least nine other locations they were going to try to get to before heading to a friend’s house for the actual hour of celebration.
They had found a German bar for three and an Irish Pub to drink at when four o’clock rolled around. There was a restaurant serving frozen drinks which would be fitting to represent Greenland at five o’clock. Then they were going to take a break and down lots and lots of water. It would be six and they would be hovering somewhere out in the Atlantic Ocean. Water seemed like the wise and proper choice.
It was somewhere around eight that they realized they hadn’t stuck to their schedule at all and were just drinking too much. They couldn’t remember if they had stopped to eat and Joe wasn’t sure what bar they were at or what part of town they were in. Sally laughed, but realized that neither did she.
The hours blurred and somehow they ended up together at their friend’s house, waiting for the final midnight countdown. Sally and Joe were both full-blown drunk by then and the hours of the night were just mixing into one big mess.
“Grape juice is not out there.”
Long ago the ultimate drink was determined to be grape juice. Grape juice was the perfect – a balance of great taste, it was sweet and healthy and it seemed like it was a little more exciting and exotic than the regular run-of-the-mill morning cup of orange juice.
“What if it is?”
“What if it isn’t?”
“Ooh, deep. So we’re all doomed to—“
“— drink Snapple…”
Snapple was the ultimate of average and boring. It was dependably consistent, you could find it anywhere, but it was never anyone’s first choice.
“And nobody wants to drink Snapple,” Sally continued.
“Who needs it?”
“Not me. That’s who.”
“Not me either,” Joe agreed.
“Nobody,” she affirmed.
“Nobody,” Joe concurred.
Joe and Sally had identified Snapple when they were still in college together. They would talk about breakups and hookups and first dates and compare notes. There were plenty of potentially average and ordinary people out there, but no one that was truly special or worth fighting for. They decided that the plain and average would be forever known as Snapple. That was what they wanted to avoid. They should aspire to greatness, not compromise. They had of course had many many bottles of Snapple in their day, but that shouldn’t ever be the goal.
They had developed many other less than satisfactory alternatives. Joe was a soda drinker – he went after the sweet and sugary romance, but in the end it always turned out bad for him. Sally waffled back and forth, she either settled for Snapple or she dove into spiked punch. Neither ever got satisfactory results.
“You’re drunk,” Joe pointed out.
“So are you.”
“You need to drink some water.”
“Yeah but who wants to drink water.”
“No, I mean you should probably drink some water. Actual water.”
Joe got her a glass of water. He handed her the glass but remained close to her, standing there between her legs as she sat on the counter. Neither of them registered how close they were to each other.
Sally took a gulp from the glass and paused to consider the water.
Water was healthy and perfect, and never did anybody wrong. But it never got things right either. There was no taste, no excitement. Water was just a nice time, a first date, a casual conversation. But nobody ever fell in love with water. Water was too boring, too safe.
“Nobody ever thinks about water,” Sally continued their drinking game. “It’s too boring to notice.”
“Water is your friend.”
“Exactly. That’s why no one thinks about it. It’s just there. You never think to date your friend.” She paused momentarily, thinking. “Why are so many drinks so boring? Why am I always looking for something new, something different?”
“Why am I always chasing soda?”
“At least yours tastes good after.”
“Not always.”
“You have good memories. Be glad for that.”
“I don’t know. Why don’t we change drinks?”
“I don’t know if I can.”
“You ever think grape juice isn’t grape juice. Maybe it’s something else and looks and tastes different and then it becomes grape juice.”
“Things don’t change.”
“Maybe. You could give it a try.”
“And drink water?”
“If only it wasn’t safe.”
“Or tasteless.”
She leaned in and kissed him.
“That wasn’t tasteless,” she proclaimed.
Joe nodded in agreement.
“Is it midnight yet? It’s got to be midnight somewhere, right?”
Joe didn’t know. He looked at his watch, but it was a blur.
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“We need a drink. You need a drink? I need a drink. I need to go find a drink.”
Sally leaped down from the counter and began to walk out of the kitchen, seemingly unaware of everything that had just been happening. Then she turned around.
“Hey, come find me at midnight. Everybody deserves a kiss at midnight, right? Come find me at midnight.”
Then she did walk away, as if everything was casual and nonchalant and unimportant. Joe watched her walk away. He was good at that. He was also good at getting hung up on the wrong ones. Still, he was going to keep a focused eye on the time and take whatever the night was willing to give him.