Last night I didn’t keep a revolving appointment. It was simply our weekly coffee get away. A tradition that we kept through thick and thin. A tradition that probably kept our relationship alive. At the last moment, I found myself somewhere else completely.
It was an odd sensation being in a part of town I had not often frequent. It was a bohemian sort of family orientated, blue-collar sort of place. Small front yards with bright, primary-colored plastic toys and large trees shading the uneven sidewalks. There were a few dilapidated unloved houses here and there but for the most part refurbished rambling old homes with attic apartments, to help finance the restoration, sat about in reminiscent glory. Small factory woodshops and little Italian restaurants were tucked in here and there and on one corner an Irish pub with window boxes full of bright salmon-colored impatients shone almost fluorescently against the kelly-green of the shutters and awnings. Next door to the pub was a well-kept little boarding house that allowed dogs, cats and curious, peering little cockatiels. The evidence of the liberal pet policy was evident in the open windows; a large tabby cat was wedged up against the screen of an open window and two stories up the cockatiels whistled and gyrated as if performing for the people walking by on the sidewalk. I didn’t see a dog but somewhere within the old, square, brown brick building, I heard the yap of a ferocious little dog who probably thought himself at least a Great Dane.
I parked my car in a small lot beside the used book store. The bookstore had been there for years and when I was younger I would come often and grab a read on the cheap. I would take the time to walk the neighborhood and wonder if I could find a house and rebuild it to its former glory while taking my kids down to the small park or making them sit up straight in the little Italian restaurant when it was all you could eat spaghetti night.
During our last coffee appointment, I had mentioned my desire to visit again the neighborhood and you said I should go when I had time. I was embarrassed, not sure if you thought I was trying to cajole you into some sort of proposal by showing you how families lived or if you thought my old habits droll.
I Mechanically dug into my narrow but deep purse that you brought back for me from Ecuador. The vibrant hand dyed colors and the texture of the hand-woven material enamored you to my heart. We were early in our relationship then and the purse retained its shape and vibrant colors and I never tired of it. I found my “smart phone; a small, glowing box that contained all my vital work and social appointments and I knew I’d be lost without it.
I muted the phone, got out of my car and walked toward the bookstore.
The bookstore was in a tall, thin looking building with narrow windows displaying all sorts of used and new books interspersed with board games, and wooden toys. I realized that the building was built and intended for a retail store. I glanced up and saw that the upstairs apartment was probably one of those high ceiling places with windows that allowed only so much sunlight in and an abundance of shade in high angles all day long.
I walked in and the smell of old books confirmed to my wondering mind why I had driven in the opposite direction of my appointment and left my coffee to cool and my usual seat empty.
Books take my mind off of all my preoccupations, you often have stated that once I begin to read nothing disturbs me. When words don’t go right or a ridiculous annoyance comes up between you and me, I pick up a book. Time and distance help smooth over the rumbling disturbance and we can look good together for a little while longer.
My first stop was history and the section on the U.S. Civil War. I picked out the books and felt the weight of those tomes that had well-creased bindings and dog-eared pages. I felt a vibration on my hip. I knew then I had muted the damned thing rather than turned it off just to know I was annoying you.
Pathetic. Standing in the midst of the burning of Atlanta, the March to the Sea and turning of a page in US history, I realized that I was pathetic. I looked around for a quick distraction and found a brilliant display of old coffee table books. I immediately felt the burn of tears.
The sight of the coffee table books saddened me and angered me. My grandmother always had coffee table books. Coffee table books were a sign of past times when people still wanted to see the world and was content to see it in brilliant colored photographs on high-quality paper. They didn’t rush, for example off to Ecuador and prove to the natives that US citizens could live without ice cubes.
I didn’t have a coffee table and felt void, even bereft. I had taken your advice to spare the room, don’t allow clutter, bookshelves were signs of a cluttered mind. Instead, I had a very large modern art watercolor with brilliant colors offset by dark grays, not quite black. Black shouldn’t be used by a true artist you always say. Thinking of that piece of art while standing amongst all those books made me think of upscale hotels and high-priced prostitutes.
So, I moved quickly to the do it yourself, help yourself, forget yourself and there goes the vibrating smartphone again.
No, self-help was going too far and I was too old. I realized I could make a change but I couldn’t go back. I didn’t want a large house to refurbish but an old brick apartment with some bearded hippy, sporting a man bun stopping by installing quality bookshelves in every corner.
I stepped quickly to the classics, skipping the mysteries and the romance books in cheap yellowing splendor. I picked up Middlemarch and let the pages fan my face. The letters on the broad white pages danced in confusion, just before my eyes. How I struggled through that book and how I wondered at its popularity when there was Jane Eyre or even Wuthering Heights. While smelling the old cloth covered classics I couldn’t deny that some time while driving away from our usual appointment I had some sort of epiphany.
The phone vibrated again and mechanically, yet without dread, I dug it out of my narrow brightly colored reminder of you.
“You running late?”
“Where are you?”
“Are we breaking up again?”