Town Square

Town Square

A Story by AlaForniaGirl
"

This came from a very basic idea I'd had for years. I had the idea of someone who flew below the radar suddenly becoming the center of attention, and the rest came along as I wrote it.

"

            He was one of those people that everyone knew and no one thought of. You went to school with him, played tee-ball with him, sang in the choir at church with him. He lived next door to your sister, your grandmother, your parent’s best friends. He worked at the hardware store, drove a delivery truck, ran a lawn service. You would exchange polite hellos in passing as you picked out produce at the Piggly Wiggly, throw your hand up in a brief wave as you biked past his house, remember him taking your sister to the Fall Festival but could never quite conjure up his name.

              After years of having been in just the right place, noticed enough to be familiar, but not remarkable enough to have been paid much attention, that became the position to which he was relegated: the borderline. And it wasn’t like he did much to change this perception, this near-negation of his existence. He dressed plainly, white oxfords and khakis, University t-shirts and jeans, loafers or Chucks. No trendy hair styles, no rebellious piercings or tattoos. He never played a sport or an instrument, was not on the honor roll but wasn’t a poor student or troublemaker. Some said he dated that British girl, who was only in town that one summer and was from Liverpool and supposedly a distant cousin of John Lennon. Others said that was just a rumor that started because they were seen sitting side-by-side at the Jukebox Diner, the only ones left at the counter after the lunch crowd cleared away.

            His parents moved to the coast not long after he graduated high school. They retired early and he chose to stay behind and live in the family home that had been passed down through several generations. It was a nice enough house, just past the county line. A three bed, two bath American Craftsman-style, smaller than most of the houses nearby, but he seemed happy to stay in town and keep the place up.  Every few years, when summer finally broke and being outdoors was no longer intolerable, he would scrape off peeling paint and repaint the entire house, always the same Cape Cod Grey with black trim and a Venetian Red front door. He spent the fall raking the leaves from the oaks and magnolias that marked the property lines, the spring working in the flower beds that wrapped from the front door around to the side porch, and the summers walking behind a push-mower, though he could afford a riding mower.

            She knew him as the guy she always sat behind in high school homerooms, because they had similar last names and were therefore always assigned the same homeroom teachers. When people talked about him later, she made a point to stick up for him, to say nice things, call up kind memories. Like the morning her dog had been hit by a car, and she had to go to school anyway because she had that midterm she had spent three nights preparing for. She had not done a great job of holding it together, and he quietly turned around and smiled and laid a wiggly-eyed pencil topper on her desk.

            Or the time senior year when she was walking through the cafeteria and a freshman cheerleader ran into her, spilling fruit punch down the front of her shirt, and ten minutes later, he returned, wearing his CHS gym t-shirt, and handed her the white button-down he had worn that day.

            She had even tried to bring him out of his solitude once, inviting him to her family’s annual end-of-summer cookout on Labor Day, but he had chosen to stay home and help his father screen in the porch. And from then on, he averted his eyes whenever they crossed paths. Not in a rude way, but in a way that led her to believe he was not interested in or concerned with joining any social ranks. All the same, she held the belief that he was not like the average person, but not in a way that was concerning.

 

**    

 

It was an unseasonably beautiful Saturday. The highs never reached past the low 80’s and the humidity level was surprisingly low for late June. People were thrilled at the prospect of another day that could be spent outside and enjoyed, and the stores overflowed with shoppers and dawdlers, the diners and café doors standing open with lines of people waiting for a table or seat at the bars and lunch counters. The sound of children’s squeals floated around as they played on the school playground, the thwack of wooden bats cracked on balls as players practiced at the park, and kites could be seen hovering over rooftops nearby. Families picnicked on the courthouse lawn and couples strolled lazily along the sidewalks, window shopping, a feeling akin to festivity in the air.

His day began much like any other. Fruit and a bagel for breakfast, coffee (black) and a quick read through the local paper, a few miles on the treadmill, and then a shower.  The postman’s route started at the county line and went further away from town, so usually the mail was delivered by mid-morning. He walked out to the mailbox, a Victorian style that did not fit the house but had been chosen by his grandmother and therefore never replaced.

He stopped on the way back into the house and picked a few gardenias, a smell that reminded him of his childhood and one flower that he always kept in the garden. When he was indoors, he dropped the mail on the seat of the hall tree and carried his mother’s crystal vase into the kitchen, poured out the old water and discarded the old flowers, then refilled the vase and settled the newly picked blooms down inside. He returned the vase to its place near the entryway, and picked up the mail and took a seat in the worn hand-hewn rocker out on the side porch.

As he flipped through the stack, he found a magazine, a few circulars, the light bill and a postcard reminder to Re-elect Sheriff Judson, and a letter with the return address he had long ago memorized. Before he opened it, he went inside and fixed a glass of sweet tea, then returned to his favorite spot in the morning shade of the west-facing porch.

He always loved getting her letters. Few people actually sent letters anymore, preferring instead to rely on the expediency of email. But there was something traditional in their nature, his and hers, and this made the exchange of letters all the more reasonable. And the process added something to the give-and-take of information that emails could not match. He enjoyed waiting for her replies, wondering what she would have to say, what stationery she would use, if she would enclose a photo or trinket of some sort. And similarly, he enjoyed the idea of her anticipating his responses, sometimes sent on his personal letterhead, sometimes written on the backs of event flyers, his way of keeping her posted on what was happening around town. Usually when he included a photo it was one he had taken while on a walk or when he had gone for a drive in the surrounding counties, rarely one that showed his face or some part of his regular life. And the items he occasionally enclosed were generally of little significance, just something he thought might make her chuckle or that she might use in one of her scrapbooks: a ticket stub from a local play, a photo of a neighborhood child flinging freshly-raked leaves into the air, a bottle cap from a Southern Pecan beer.

As he opened the envelope, he found she had used a single sheet of plain white paper, nothing fancy or of particular import. Breaking with tradition, he realized, she had typed this letter, rather than her usual hand-written missives. He placed the insert aside, reading and re-reading the brief letter, before turning his attention to the item enclosed. A casual observer would have paid no attention to him; his expression did not belie his reaction to the words before him. Never one given to histrionics, he folded the letter, returned it and the insert into the envelope, and took it and his tea back inside the house.

 

**    

 

She had decided this would be the Summer of the American Classics, the summer that she would read all the books she ‘should have read’ and never did. Her list included The Sound and the Fury, The Grapes of Wrath, The Optimist’s Daughter, The Great Gatsby, and The Member of the Wedding. And she figured she would throw in a re-reading of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Color Purple just on principle. On that day, she had just become engrossed in Frankie Addams’s world when her attention was yanked in another direction. The flash of red at the edge of her vision registered in her subconscious as somehow being out of place, and she turned towards it. Seeing others looking in the same direction, she absently laid her book down without marking her place, and stood at the window.

Across the street, she saw a figure in costume scaling the wall of the old courthouse. Sure this was a teenager’s idea of a fun prank, she grinned and wandered through the open door and out onto the sidewalk. As he reached the top of the ladder, he walked across the roof and stood near the eaves, looking down on the crowd below. Some on the town square were aware of his presence, no doubt having made a similar assumption and waiting to see what this prankster would attempt before the police intervened.

Her eyes shielded with her hand, she let her vision adjust to the sunlight as she looked up to the person now towering five storeys above. He wore a blue t-shirt, with the vintage ‘S’ logo and a red cape was tied around his neck. Oddly, he wore a black mask over his eyes, something he might have picked up at a costume shop for a few dollars. She knew the mask did not fit the Superman ensemble, and it caused an uneasy feeling to form in the center of her chest.

Once her vision focused, some trick of memory allowed her mind’s eye to remove the mask and know instantly that that was no teenager standing on the roof, but the guy from homeroom…what was his name again? Something in the back of her mind knew she was too late, knew there was nothing she or anyone could do, and yet she instinctively darted across the street and towards the crowd on the lawn, not even looking for oncoming traffic.

Her instincts were soon proven true. As she got her footing on the grass, arms waving with a frantic hopefulness that he would see her and stop, he did it. Like a scene out of a B-movie, he raised the cape out behind him with either arm and swan-dived down onto the marble steps below. Those who had witnessed this act let out cries of terror and panicked disbelief, and parents tried to divert their children’s attention from the horror that had become a public display. Emergency rescue persons were called, though it was too late, and it was said to be the single event that held the town record for the most calls to the local 911 switchboard.

 

**    

 

Speculations went wilder than anything the rumor mill had ever cranked out before, and days passed before official information was released. The local police contacted the sheriff’s department in the coastal town to which his parents had retired, who were immediately dispatched to break the news. Amazingly, those who knew the family had been respectful enough (or possibly in too strong a state of shock) to leave this to law enforcement, as many came to know when his parent’s told their version of the story in the weeks that followed.

As it turned out, nothing the rumor mill created had any bearing on the reality of the situation. Once his body was loaded into an ambulance and driven to the morgue, law enforcement officials let themselves into his home to begin searching for clues as to what had set the events of the day into motion, what had caused this quiet man to end his life in so dramatic a fashion.

At first, no obvious clues were available. Then a small closet was unlocked, and in it they found a narrow desk, upon which sat stacks of letters and photos, and some funny looking tchotchkes. Some pictures had been slid under the crossed ribbons of a photo board that hung above the desk, as well as a postcard that bore the image of the famous self-portrait sketch of John Lennon. The photos were of the same woman, gradually aging as the photos moved in succession. Laying alone in the center of the desk was a large rectangular envelope, on top of a folded, single sheet of paper and a simple yet elegant wedding announcement, postmarked Liverpool, England.

 

**


© 2013 AlaForniaGirl



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Added on May 29, 2011
Last Updated on May 22, 2013

Author

AlaForniaGirl
AlaForniaGirl

CA



About
I'm from Alabama and am now living in NorCal. Have also lived in VA and MS, but will always be a Bama girl no matter where I live! I'm a librarian by trade, a born writer, and hopeful of one day being.. more..

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