“Excuse me, sorry to bother you, are you from around here?”
I looked up from my notebook, still lost in thought. The fine glaze of fresh tears blurred my eyes, and I wiped them until the face before me swam into focus. He was wearing a bow tie, which caught attention instantly with its mustard yellow hue. He was middle-aged, and wore a beige flannel shirt. His eyes were translucent, but rock steady, boring into mine. His hair and beard were a weak orange; faded, like an old pair of jeans that needed to be replaced. I started writing this down without answering him. I’m sometimes like that. I guess I’m a bit aloof.
“Excuse me. Are. You. From. Around. HERE.” He was enunciating his words and loudly and slowly, like I couldn’t hear him. He was actually waving his hands in my face, long freckled arms with thin orange hairs on them. I wrote this down as well, and then I addressed him.
“Yes. I am from around HERE,” I said, mimicking his voice, and gesturing around the coffee shop as if I lived there. His face broke into a wide grin, though his lips remained shut. It reminded me of the Joker.
“Great! I’m Sal, by the way.” He extended his hand for me to shake. I stared at it like something grossly fascinating until he dropped it at his side, but he didn’t seem deterred. He helped himself to the seat next to me, “Mind if I sit here?”, and started messing with the napkins I always leave next to me to discourage people from sitting precisely where he was. Naturally, I wrote this down too.
“I just came up to visit for the weekend, and I didn’t really have anything planned to visit yet, do you think the sea is nice, even though there’s no sandy beaches this far north, and the water is too cold – gotta love the Atlantic – but those rocks though, and the trees on the cliffs, oh what a great place this is, you’re so lucky for living here…”
Oh, yeah. Lucky is what I am. I’m so randomly fortunate to have this crazy man just plant himself down at my table, where I do my writing, where I pour out the dark secrets of my heart for hours every day, every week in this miserable little town. I’d call that rotten luck, if luck is what it is.
“…and last week, Meg – that’s my daughter – she told me, ‘Hey Dad, wanna learn to scuba dive?’ Turns out they teach classes for only $500, even for old farts like me. Of course, I’m happy I had all my years of experience under my diving belt, because the sights under the water are just incredible, phenomenal. Unbelievable. Have you ever done scuba diving before? Man, I tell you it is something else, like visiting Australia for the first time and realizing that there’s a whole other world out there. Pink fish, yellow fish, coral. And then there was this shark, and I lost my head. Of course, the guide rescued me when he saw a mushroom cloud of bubbles coming out of my mask, and I will be forever grateful to him for saving my life. Meg told me later – she’s my daughter – that the shark was only two feet long. Harmless little bugger…”
He dissolved into laughter, throwing his head back and howling, actually slapping the table with his skeletal palms. The girl at the counter (she gives me free drinks sometimes) called out that a drink was ready, and Sal or whoever the hell he wiped his watery eyes with my napkin and ended his laughter with an amused sigh, like a balloon wheezing at the end of its flight. He got up and headed to the counter.
God, I hoped he would take the hint and trip down a flight of stairs. I saw him pay for his drink and head to the sugar and milk stand. I tried to concentrate on my notebook again: “…The full moon is/the harbinger of doom…” “Nobody cares about me; they would rather drink my blood from a crystal goblet than invite me to a movie…” But my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I was distracted, and the reason for that was now sauntering cheerfully towards me.
He plopped his cup down on the table. The massive tower of foam and cream at the top of his fruity drink tilted dangerously to the side and started dripping down the edge. He saw me staring.
“Oh, that? Don’t worry, ‘s nothing that can’t be cleaned up with a few napkins, you know that’s why they invented coffee coasters, am I right? Of course, I like my coffee nice and creamy, rather than brown and runny. Too strong, you know what I mean?”
He was grinning. I couldn’t let that go. “Are you calling that cup of crap ‘coffee’? That’s a freakin’ TRAVESTY.”
His smile weakened, but hung in there. To hell with his smile. “To each their own, you know that saying–”
I interrupted, “No! I don’t know that goddamn saying! I’m sick of your rambling. I don’t even know who you are, and I don’t want to. And I definitely don’t want to talk to you! Get a life!”
With each word I said, his face fell even more, and he raised his arm pathetically, almost to ward off the verbal blows. I grabbed my notebook to scribble that down, then stalked away from the table angrily, vindictively. I was leaving.
I heard him call out from behind me, “Wait, you still haven’t told me where to visit! I just wanted to tour the area-”
“Shut up! Just shut up!”
I could see the future words soon to be scrawled on paper: “And the tinkling of the bell on the way out was the harbinger of doom/but for the terrible denizens of the tavern…”
No, that wasn’t quite right. I would have to work on that one.