As he settled near me on the park bench, I caught his scent: whisky, unbrushed teeth and unwashed clothes. Dirty nails poked through the frayed fingers of his wool gloves. At first he just sat there, happy for the company, enjoying the muffled sound of foghorns in the distance and the rhythmic music of waves hitting the seawall below. “Snow’s coming,” Charlie said, more to himself then me. He freed a bottle from his jacket pocket, opened it and drank. Except for knowing it wasn’t good for him, I didn’t mind his drinking. Charlie was my friend.
He asked what I was reading. It was part of our ritual. I pulled the book from my schoolbag. I thought it was just a girls’ book, but he’d read it too. That was Charlie. Was there anything he hadn’t read? I wondered. He quizzed me, another part of our ritual. “What does Johnny’s singing represent? Why was reading and writing important to Francie?” Charlie would go on and on like that with a cascade of questions about every book.
“Now you want to be a writer,” Charlie said one day, in affirmation not question. It was huge that I could talk with Charlie about my big dream, something I would never dare share with my parents. My mom and dad said they wanted “stable” careers for their kids. I was sure that writing wasn’t stable and that stable meant boring. Writing seemed to hold the promise of freeform and full of surprises. Besides, there’s nothing better than a good story.
Whenever I was with Charlie I lost track of time but as the chill in the air deepened and the sky began to go dark, I realized it was getting late. It was Friday and my mom thought I was at the library, which closed at four-thirty on Fridays. “Don’t worry your mom and dad,” Charlie said, suggesting that I leave for home. As I left the park I turned to look back at him. He was watching me. He smiled and I smiled and waved. A wash of sadness passed through me. I shrugged it off to the cold air whispering of transitions. Summer over. Fall passing through. Winter on its way.
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