Tag Archives: character

Helen’s Scene

Helen came bouncing through the glass doors, overcoated by brilliant frosty air. She was big, gray and nested comfortably in life like an old cat on an overstuffed chair.

In a second of bad news, Helen’s buoyant face with all its oak-bark creases could drop to a taut mask of fear and vulnerability that made her look young and heartbroken.  Most of the time, though, her cheeks and wide mouth and bubble chin lifted high and hugged together in a great warm smile.  Standing before that smile was like standing before a great oven moments before fresh bread came out to cool.

Flighty and breathless, Helen never settled on a table or chair.  In her daily hours spent at the shop she would rise half a dozen times from one perch to flap quickly to a new decided-on roost.  An hour might be spent humming long, tuneless notes watching carefully out of a picture window onto the empty street.  Sudden as the wind, she would change to a conspicuous seat at the large central table, bowed in fierce concentration over old puzzles in old newspapers.  When a friend pushed quietly into the shop, Helen would bowl aside young laptoppers in their private worlds to make room.

As the sun descended over the town on its way to new westward purchases, Helen left as quickly and decisively as she did anything.  In the middle of a puzzle, conversation or observation, she glanced up as if called, excused herself with a hearty throat-clearing, and floated out the door to drift like a dandelion down the windy street.

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Observation

“No,” he thinks.

“Yes,” he says.

He keeps a nervous eye toward the paneled glass door.  An unkind face could lock eyes with him through the vestibule at any second.  A sense of shame sticks somewhere between his Adam’s apple and his sternum.  It hovers in the hollow of his chest like a cold sludge.  But the man behind the bar has been moving all this time, and he slides a cardboard circle over like a paycheck, and he crowns it with a glass of something cool and dark.

Our man pulls the glass to his lips.  He takes the liquid just like a shot in the vein, mainlining the comfort of ale to the heart of his shame.  The sludge softens, and the shy coat of his guts takes it on for armor.  It won’t dissolve him from the oppressive crowd, but it might submerge him to a matchable depth.

A dead-eyed man rolls unhurried through the vestibule’s airlock, back from a mid-lager smoke.  His aura is ash and hollow plastic lighters.  His heavy eyelids will only fall with age.  His shirt is clean.

The man’s cough is deposits of brown stained phlegm.   They stick and quiver against choking lung sacs, reverberating and rattling up through a tortured esophagus and into the cracked desert of his closed fist.  He is not asking any questions or making friendly sallies.  Inside, he is a tin-metal wind-up toy, jerking and starting in a locked pattern of gears, a simple and useless machine with a painted metal smell. The smoke and eyes and slime and metal and well-bottom isolation of a man in his self-imposed and inescapable hell.

The smoke works its way through his pipes and valves.  He  takes a moment to close his eyes.  In the glow of alcohol, light like the fire of smokestacks rolls from his arms and shoulders.

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Marack Friesach

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