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Inspirational Reads

The Photograph - Part Three

June 1, 2012

In case you missed the first couple of installations of this story, you can find them here:

Part One
Part Two

I awoke to a cold drizzle dribbling down through the blackened, predawn skies. During the night, rain had moved in from off the coast, chilling the air and cancelling sunrise. I sat in the cottage and watched as the world lightened, but saw no true dawn. The coffee I drank was little compensation for the distance I had driven only to be preempted by the rains.

Truthfully, I had forgotten that I was not as young as I once was. Sitting in the car had taken its toll, and while lying in bed during the predawn darkness and listening to the rain, I felt the aches in my joints and my muscles more than I heard the call of the mountain. Facing the ceiling, I listened to the rain falling outside my open window until the morning light shifted from black to dull gray. I rolled over, conceded defeat, and slept for another couple of hours until I could no longer ignore the birdsong trilling in the bushes outside my windows.

The rain fell, calmly but relentlessly, throughout the morning, bringing with it a chill to the air that seemed out of place in the middle of the summer. I spent much of the morning staring out from the porch of the cottage across the buildings of the town and toward the sliver of the bay afforded by the closeness of the trees and buildings. Where the water was a bright crystalline blue and bustling with sailboats and smaller craft the day before, it was now slate gray and abandoned. The clouds matched the water: a uniform gray that leaked water from the monochromatic dome.

I stood leaning against a support column on the front of the porch, sipping coffee and watching the town sleepily stir, though the bustle from the previous day was gone. I pulled a final drag from a cigarette and tossed the butt on the path leading to the front of the porch. Staring down at it, the spent reminder of a bad habit seemed so out of place in this humble and almost perfectly-manicured town that I stepped into the mist and retrieved it. Crushing the butt against the column, I carried it inside and left it in the sink while I prepared to explore the town anew. Boredom was driving me forward and hunger was forcing me out of lethargic inactivity.

As I had noted from the front porch, the town was still mostly asleep as I wandered through it, my only protection against the elements a hooded sweatshirt from my college days that seemed to absorb more of the rain than deflect it. The shirt still fit and was in mostly good shape, despite the faded "Saint Alban's College" written across the front in what had once been navy blue. It was the most comfortable article of clothing I owned.

I found a small family-run restaurant just off the main part of the renovated downtown that could best be--and probably only be--described as a "dive". It was the sort of place that felt as if the rest of the town had been built up around it, and the aroma of the ghosts of ten thousand hamburgers hung in the air. One could tell right away that it was a place visited by "regulars", but the kind that would welcome anyone new into the fold, as a lost sheep that had wandered away from the herd. Entering the diner, I felt the eyes of strangers weighing on me, deciding I was not a risk, and returning to conversations about the weather, aches and pains, and begonias.

The most convenient available seat was a stool next to the counter, and I sat down next to an old man with hunched shoulders wearing a flannel shirt and a hat pulled down so far over his face it seemed he had no neck. His ears stood out from his head, and the bottom part of the hat pushed them out at ninety-degree angles from his skull. The waitress--a girl probably a decade my junior, pretty, perky and smiling--stepped over to see what I wanted while the cook bellowed relayed orders in the kitchen. Staring through the window at him, I strongly considered finding a new place to eat; my stomach refused to allow my legs to move, so I asked for a coffee and what the menu called "The Breakfast Beast". Against my better judgment, I decided that a burger with a fried egg, sausage patty and two slices of bacon was a good substitute for skipping breakfast. Plus, it would go well with my coffee.

"Where the hell is Saint Alban's?" I turned to find the neckless old man next to me studying my shirt the way I had studied the ass of the waitress as she handed my order through the window.

"What? Oh. It's a little school in a town just west of Pittsburgh. Maybe thirty miles or so out from there."

"So, you from Pissburgh?" At first, I thought the old man was trying to goad me into an argument and then I suddenly realized that it was simply his way of talking. The old Down East accent hung on every abbreviated syllable that came out of his mouth. After a moment or two, it suddenly became endearing.

"Ohio, originally. My parents moved to Pittsburgh when I was high school, so I found a school that wasn't too far from home, but far enough away that I could find an excuse not to drive home on weekends."

"And what did you study there, titties?" It was joke he had obviously been sitting on for a while.

I laughed with a smirk. "Only one pair."

"Ah, a good Catholic boy, huh?" he grinned. Despite the sideways insults, I was beginning to like the old bastard.

"Drinking, smoking and lots of premarital sex with my girlfriend," I said, winking as the waitress topped off my coffee cup and set the massive, heart-stopping cathedral of cholesterol before me. For a second I stared at the monstrosity of the burger and decided to pick at the tater tots added on the side while my neighbor felt talkative.

He pointedly looked at my left hand while I fiddled with the tater tots. I popped one in my mouth expecting the next question, but it never came. Instead, my chatty companion fell silent for a second, nodding his head sagely while a brooding silence seemed to encapsulate us. Looking down at his cup, he swirled his coffee around, the black mud clinging to the sides for a moment before returning to the puddle at the bottom.

"You on vacation up here?" he finally asked, shooting me a quizzical eye.

"I needed to get away for a while is all," I said nodding. I finally taking a bite of my burger. Chewing it, I stared into an untold distance. "I've always wanted to visit Maine. Thought I'd come up and check out Cadillac before exploring the rest of the state a bit more."

"If you want to see the first sunrise, Cadillac ain't the place this time of year," the old man stated with a half-grin. "You'll have to head up to Mars Hill."

"No shit?" I asked, setting the burger down. "How far of a drive is that? Few minutes?"

The old man laughed. "Yep, you're not from around here. Mars Hill's up north, son. Couple of hours, if you don't get lost. If you do, you'll run out of gas before you find the hill."

"Well, damn," I said. I stared down into the depths of my coffee cup, suddenly deflated. I couldn't believe that Gene Forrester had led me astray.

"Still, there's a helluva view up there," the old man said, as if trying to lift my spirits. He finished off his cup of coffee and stood, laying a couple of dollars down on the counter next to his empty mug. "Helluva good place to sort things out, too, where it's you, the mountain and God." He slapped me on the back and headed out the door.

I sat for a while and pushed my tater tots around on my plate before paying the bill and heading back to the cottage where I could wait out the rest of the rain and hope that tomorrow would bring me sunnier skies and a clearer view of everything.

∞ ∞ ∞


Anonymous said...

I like that old man.