"Sing to me; sing sweet songs of bitter loyalty"


He walks the mile to the bookstore each morning, and takes down the Closed sign before the first cock even thinks of stirring and ruffling vain feathers. Pulling back the shades, he lets the light settle against the darkness (permission is needed here), and notices each time the ensuing battle of light and dark; smiles to himself and the cat that pauses beside his open door. They are precious moments, those minutes of calm darkness and frail light.

And he stands still, clutching the tassel, and gazes out at the street that has changed little since the war. Cobblestones and brick stare back at him; the hint of a blue sky above the colored rooftops peers down and into the shop, pockets of color lighting the avenue. The shops across from his are also greeting the dawn, and the yawns and the the disjointed whistles call out to him, though he pretends they don't. The shop's books are old, and fill the rooms with a bittersweet scent; a scent that he has learned to live with. He waters the creeping spider plant, and fixes a lone picture frame before counting the money. It does not occur to him that he will be the shop's only victim this day, as is the case every day.

He sits behind the counter, and though each morning he gets himself a paper, he never opens it, choosing instead to thumb it as the day grows warm. At night it is tossed into a pile behind the shop: the carcass of another day removed effortlessly; forgotten.

He cares little for reading, and can't remember the last time he cracked open one of the many volumes that spill over each other upon the sagging shelves. The books are there as scenery, as background fixtures on a set that are only there to give the audience an idea of where they are; of what they should be seeing.

He sits there, and he does not deny it: he is waiting.

He's been here some fourteen years, in the little store, and he's still waiting. Waiting and watching, and heaven nor hell can tell him for what, though he thinks he can give God and the Saints a bit of his mind; if of course, they exist, as his mother claims they do, on a cloud where the keys are given freely to all who inquire (hardly fair, he thinks).

His mother lives in the country, away from the memories and the cobblestones. She counts the eggs each morning, and she too, remembers his voice. She pleads with him, her only son, to join her, so that she will not have to face the echoes by herself. He, however, cares little for the hills and the red scarf she wears about her dark hair. It does not suit her, and he returns home eagerly each time.

He knows, upon coming home, that it is the waiting that gives him life, for without it, he does not know where he would be. It is a frail trickling thought, and it evades him as he sits behind the counter, paper in hand. He wonders at times where he would be, if it were not for the shop:

-In Venice, studying with the other aging students; trying to understand the followed Master; wondering why some men can breathe life into a piece of canvas, while others cannot? What makes them so sure that art is so fluid and knowable; what makes a man great?

-In Tuscany, where the grapes are strangely sweet and play upon your tongue like the childish drummers he once heard at a circus; the rythm and textures embedding themselves with sinewy hands in his mind and through his gangly fingers?

-Or maybe in France, where he has long heard that the city's dirt can hide many a wandering soul?

... No, it is here, in the little store, where he belongs.

He peers out through the blinds again, then lets them fall down; goes to prop the door open with a cracked urn. Already, the sounds of morning are creeping through the streets, shaking anyone lazy enough awake, awake.

And so he sits, in his father's chair, behind his father's counter; behind his father's books. They clothe him, the books, and he is aware of his ability to hide behind them, for he has seen customers look up in shock at being spoken to; he's seen the squint when they at last lay eyes on him. The books: he hides them and before them, and they still have years to go of companionable silence.

And he waits; waits for a father he remembers little of to return with a laugh and a hop and a smile. Though it's been now almost twenty years; fourteen in the store; twenty since time began and ended in a merry round, he still waits.

He does not mind. Such is the case of loyalty.