by Melodie Johnson Howe
I met my friend, Kathleen, for coffee and to exchange books. She’s a nonfiction writer who is published in major newspapers, magazines and has written two books. She’s interested in writing fiction now, possibly a mystery. We tried Starbucks first but there was no place to sit so we went to Boarders. It too was packed but we squeezed in at small table.
Maybe I just don’t get out enough, but I was overwhelmed by the mass of people jamming themselves into this small area of the store. There were local university students peering into their laptops or studying huge textbooks. One young girl was sound asleep using her tome for a pillow. There was a group of aging Asian women laughing and chatting. One clung to a small plastic Christmas tree. A middle aged woman with dirty feet had her shoes off and legs propped up on a chair, reading a book and drinking coffee. She was oblivious that others were waiting for places to sit. Young mothers were gossiping and wiping their children’s faces. There was a line at the counter and people yelling orders for drinks and sweets. Adding to this was a young man singing bad Bob Dylan rip-offs. He had a mike set up, his guitar and two small amps. His few fans applauded wildly when he finished one of his endless songs. The other people acted as if they couldn’t hear him, as if he didn’t exist. Over the din of conversation and the nasal singer, the espresso machine growled and fumed loudly. A homeless man sat in a leather chair that looked as if it were designed for a posh English men’s club. He didn’t bother with a book. In fact he and I had the same expression on our faces. The one that says, “How did we end up here?”
Kathleen and I tried to talk. Our conversation consisted of:
“I … pretentious.”
“ … story.”
In the midst of this chaotic asylum sat a father and a son. The son was about four, the father in his early thirties. They sat at table across from one another. The little boy’s feet dangled from his chair. He wore red sneakers. They didn’t talk to one another; they sipped their drinks and read their books. The little boy had a picture book with words written in bold letters. He read it carefully, turning each page slowly. He had the concentration of someone on a discovery. He didn’t fidget, he didn’t yawn in theatrical boredom. The father studied what appeared to be a book on stamps. He too perused it carefully, turning each page slowly. Every now and then he would look up at his son and then back down at his book.
Watching these two I realized how different men and women are. A woman would be fussing, asking the little boy if he was okay, if he wanted something else to drink, or have him tell her what he was reading. She would even be reading it to him.
I assumed this was a father and son on a Saturday outing. It was their time to be together. They weren’t playing little league, or soccer, they weren’t at the movies, they were reading together. Each in his own world with his own book. The singer didn’t annoy them, or the woman with dirty feet. The father was allowing his son to discover and experience a story. In their mutual silence was respect for each other and books.
I found myself smiling. As a writer this madhouse gave me hope.