Monday, August 12, 2019

Fade to Black

Is there a patron saint for writers?

I pondered the question as I took another sip of my pint. The patio area outside our favorite pub was roughly half-full, and I’d managed to commandeer a table in the back corner, nestled against the pub’s turn-of-the-century brick façade.

The breeze rustled the nearest trees, sending a dappled kaleidoscope of light-and-shadow patterns across the patio. It was a perfect mid-summer’s evening.

The Catholic mystic, Francis de Sales, is traditionally recognized as the patron saint of writers and journalists. But for aspiring writers of my generation—carving out our first literary creations on manual carriage-and-ink-ribbon typewriters—the venerable Snoopy, perched atop his doghouse in defiance of the law of gravity, was the more obvious choice.

A shadow loomed over my table, and I glanced up to see the mischievous face of the Younger, shoulder-to-shoulder with the Barista from the Genesis Café. The Elder peeked from behind them, waving a friendly greeting.

“The patio—always my favorite.” The Elder’s enthusiasm was evident as he shouldered past his companions to seat himself beside me. He folded his hands on the table, beaming a delighted smile.

The Younger assisted the Barista into her chair, and plunked himself down opposite me. “Parking’s a lot easier in the winter,” he commented ruefully. “But once you’ve found the best pub in town. . .”

“Aye, there’s a wee lad who knows wot’s wot.” The Barkeep sidled over to our table, slinging his bar-cloth over his shoulder. “What bevvies can I bring the lot of ye?”
Elder (looking confused, as if there could be only one rational answer): “Guinness.”

Younger (loftily): “Double IPA.”

Barista (shuddering at the Younger’s choice): “Hard apple cider, please.”

Me (hoisting my nearly-empty glass): “More of the same.”

Barkeep: mutters under his breath and retreats into the pub.
“Is it true what I’ve heard?” The Elder leaned forward, addressing the Barista. “You’ve quit your job at the Café?”

The Barista grinned brightly at him. “Today was my last shift. In two weeks, we’re moving to the Centre of the Universe. I’ll be doing my BFA at Ryerson.”

“Bachelor of Fine Arts,” the Younger stage-whispered, translating for the Elder’s benefit.

The Barista continued as if she hadn’t heard the Younger’s comment. “I’ve been picking away at photography classes at college, but my husband and I—we decided it’s taking too long. So, we’re just going to dive in, head first. He’s an I.T. guy. Finding work won’t be hard for him while I’m in school full-time.”

“That’s very wise. You’ve obviously given this a great deal of thought,” the Elder replied, nodding. His words sounded like a benediction. “Although, I have to say: I’ll be sorry to see you go. The Genesis Café won’t be the same without you.”

“Aw, thanks.” The Barista’s expression turned serious for a moment, but her infectious grin won out. “It's been a great place to work, but that season’s over. ‘You can’t live in the past,’ or so everyone tells me. It’s time for the next chapter.”

The Barkeep reappeared with a dramatic flourish, distributing our drinks around the table. He tucked the serving tray under his arm and sketched an awkward salute at the Younger and Elder. “This round’s on the house, gents. Just a way for me and the missus to say thanks for your patronage.”

“Yours, too, young lady,” he hastened to add, nodding at the Barista. He waved a hand at the Elder, stopping him before he could speak. “Naw, don’t say nuthin’. It’s the least we could do for two men o’ the cloth, especially since you're no bringin' weapons wit' ye anymore.”

And with that, he spun on his heel and disappeared into the pub.

“And what about you, Robby?” The Younger rounded on me before the door finished closing. I noticed neither he nor the Elder seemed inclined to respond to the Barkeeps cryptic weapons reference. “What’s all this about your new writing adventures?”

“It’s like our creative colleague just said.” I nodded at the Barista, who returned my look with a playful shrug. “It’s a new season—a transitional interlude between one writing genre and the next.”

“That’s a fancy way of saying you’re moving on,” the Younger countered. He toyed with his drink, running a finger absentmindedly around the rim of the glass. “After sixteen years—you’re actually going to pull the plug.”

“A time to write, and a time to write something completely different.” I knew it was a lame joke even as I said it, and I hesitated, not knowing how to adequately express my thoughts.

Not surprisingly, it was the Elder who came to my rescue. “There are times and seasons, my friends. Remember Jesus’ words? ‘The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’ (John 3:8) I believe this is one of those times.”

The Younger leaned back in his chair, uncharacteristically subdued. He locked eyes with me, and I’m certain he looked a little misty.

“Thank you for giving us a voice,” he said at last, his voice cracking. He took a deep breath, glancing at his companions. “Thanks for giving each of us a voice.”

It took me a moment to collect myself. “It’s been my pleasure, and an honour. I’m going to miss you guys.”

The Barista stirred, wiping away a tear, and managed a watery grin. “Give my regards to Deven.”

I stood, reaching for my writer’s notebook. “I will. And—there’s no good segue for this—I think it’s time for me to be on my way.”

I gestured at my notebook. “I’ve got a first draft in desperate need of editing, and a writer’s conference next weekend…”

The Elder held his Guinness aloft, a nostalgic twinkle in his eye. “To the King and His Kingdom.”

The rest of our little group clinked glasses with him, accompanied by a ragged echo of his words. “To the King and His Kingdom.”

Each of us drained our drink in a prolonged swallow. The Younger gestured at me with his empty glass, his facetious humour resurfacing. “You sure you want to drive after pounding that back?”

I laughed as I gingerly replaced the glass on the tabletop. “Actually, I think I’d like to take one last walk along the waterfront. I’ll be fine.”

I looked around the circle of faces. “And you?”

There was a moment’s hesitation as the Barista, the Younger, and the Elder exchanged glances. As if by unspoken consent, the Elder spoke on their behalf.

“We thought we’d go inside for one last round of curry fries, for old time’s sake.” He tipped an imaginary hat at me. “Drive friendly.”

I nodded, returning his gesture with my own nonexistent hat. I shook hands with the Barista and the Younger, and set off down the sidewalk.

I’d gone perhaps half a block when I found my steps slowing in the early dusk. I came to a complete standstill, my eyes roving over the quiet street, the placid lake to my right, and the empty boardwalk.

I glanced over my shoulder in time to see the Younger—silhouetted in the entryway—as he gallantly held the door open for the Barista and the Elder. They made a show of accepting his magnanimous gesture as they entered the pub, and I could only imagine the clever one-liners they traded back and forth.

The door swung shut behind them, and the light was abruptly cut off.
To the King and His Kingdom.
The Elder’s words echoed in my mind as I rounded the corner, and the pub disappeared from view.

I quickened my pace as a moon-less night descended, cloaking the street in darkness. The evening chill brought with it a ground-level fog, blurring the outlines of the buildings. Streetlights—glowing sentinels spaced at regular intervals—provided scant illumination.

I halted as two figures emerged from an alley just ahead. A young man, probably in his late-twenties, shadowed by a younger female companion. His clothing was dark and sturdy; she wore threadbare jeans and an over-sized hoodie.

“Can I help you?” I asked, uncertain what this chance meeting might mean.

They came closer, and I could see them clearly, confirming my first impression of their ages. Their faces reflected an unsettling urgency, coupled with exhaustion. Or perhaps fear.

“I’m Amos, and this is Aubrey.” The young man’s voice was raspy, and his eyes darted back and forth, scanning the street as if he feared we were under surveillance.

Aubrey stepped into the streetlight’s circle of radiance, her dark eyes haunted.

“We’ve got a story to tell,” she said, brushing a strand of hair from her face with a fire-scarred hand . . .

(fade to black)