Thursday, September 29, 2016

at the end of the sea: an analogy of life, companionship, faith, the end of all things

At the End of the Sea

A sailor stood in a little white ship. He stared up at a never ending canopy of stars, all scattered against deep blues and rich violets. They spread as far as he could see, to every horizon and beyond, and the waveless water reflected them back up. He glided on a mirror, with no sunlight or moonlight at all, only the ripples of stars cast in the wake of the white boat. 
His name was Ted. There was a sail in the boat, folded up beside a mast, and a pair of oars beside that. But the sailor did not know where he was, or even where to begin to find out. There were no maps or charts, and for a while he decided to just sit down and watch. The water was black, and there was nothing to see through it, other than reflections. The stars, overhead, wheeled so slowly that he could hardly distinguish their movement. 
Before long, however, he began to see other boats. Some were a great distance off, but some appeared very quickly beside him. Some slowed and spoke to him as they passed, while others blazed by in a mighty wake with their oars whirring or their sails pulled taut. Ted watched them pass with an intrigue and a jealousy, a longing to travel like that. But he had no idea where to go. No matter where he looked, there was nothing but the water and the stars. 
In moments when the waves were incredibly still and he could stand on the curved hull of the boat without the slightest rocking, he could almost imagine a place. He could almost imagine land, even though he had never actually seen it or walked on it. 
He paddled with the oars, finally. He felt as though he made good distance at first, even passing some other boats, which only sat and watched him go by. Still others were faster than him, and passed him on the left or the right, or crossed right before him. None of them were going the same way. 
One day, a boat came nearby. It drifted slowly, and the sailor at its prow shouted to him—
“Friend! Hold your oars! Rest a moment and hear what I have to say!” So Ted stopped, and lowered his oars. The new sailor in his new boat told him all about a great place on the far horizon, about a great lamp hung in the sky to draw the travelers in. “That's where you should aim yourself,” said the newcomer. He pointed at a star, a great and bright star that hung just above the water on the far horizon. It was brighter than the stars around it, but hardly seemed the brightest star in the sky. Nevertheless the young sailor heard these words with determination. He began to paddle eagerly, and before long there were other boats close around him, all seeming to go the same way. 
‘What's waiting there under the light?” The sailor heard one ask to another. But it was clear that none of them knew, for certain. They knew only a rumor of great things. 
The sailor had been rowing for what felt like ages when a passing voice cried out: “Friend, rest your oars. Run up your mast! The master of the Place has promised us good winds!” This new sailor was young, like Ted. His sail was wide and pulled tight by a wind that the sailor could not feel, from where he sat. 
“What do you mean he has promised?” He asked. 
“The Lord of the Place,” said the man with the sail. “Why, don't you know where we're going?”
“No,” said Ted. “Not really. Only that we're going to a place.”
“To the Place! The only place that matters, really. The Lord of that place has built a lighthouse—you see it, don't you? Just there?”
“Yes,” Ted replied. “I'm headed there already.”
But the new sailor laughed. “You'll never reach it that way,” he said. “There are currents and storms and you’ll never keep straight. Besides, soon you will grow too tired and give up and you’ll turn aside at the nearest place. But run up your mast, there—hang your sail! The Lord of that Place has promised us good wind! If we only trust it, it shall bear us to his very feet!”
At this entreaty, Ted put down his oars and followed his new friend's instructions. He fixed the mast in the center of the ship and raised the sail and tied the ropes where his friend instructed, and immediately he felt the boat lurch beneath him. The wind filled the sails and dragged the ship forward, glassy water splitting away against the hull. The sailor rushed to the front of the boat with a rising joy as he felt the air against his face and set his eyes on the distant light. 
Together the two sailors sped along, and soon they were joined by more boats with their own sails raised and the wind driving them on. But as time passed, and the young sailor looked around, he saw that some people were turning their ships away, sideways against the wind. Some lowered their sails completely, and took up their oars again, or just idled, coasting to a slow stop. 
On and on the sailor traveled. Time passed, moment after moment, hour after hour, until the wind started to slow. 
Once, while the sailor slept in the belly of the hull, the boat went still. When he awoke and looked up, it was as if the wind had gone out. He was alone, on the sea, with no other craft in sight. He took up his oars, terrified of holding still, and began to paddle, doing his best to keep his eyes on that star. For the first time since he had first heard of the Place, he wondered if maybe the other sailors had been wrong. Maybe the star was nothing more than a star. Or maybe it was the wrong star, in the end. After all, it hardly seemed brighter than the others. 
For some time he sat, until even his oars had stopped. He looked up at the sky, and he wondered if that Place could even be real, or if the Lord of it could really have built that lighthouse he’d heard about. It seemed ludicrous to believe that anyone in any place could be master of the wind. 
It was while he yet lay, looking up at the stars, that something struck his ship. The vessel jumped and rocked, and for a moment he was afraid that it would tip over. He sat up, and saw that to his great surprise, another boat, very white like his own, had drifted right into him. Another sailor sat at the front of this ship, with her eyes so fixed on the horizon that she hadn’t even seen his ship. Her sail was hung, like his, but full of a wind that made his stomach jump. 
“I'm sorry!” She cried, rushing to the side of her ship and looking over. 
(Neither sailor noticed, but the bump of one into the other had straightened both courses.)
“Where are you heading?” Asked the new sailor, and for a moment Ted felt ashamed. 
“I'm heading there,” he said, and pointed. “For that star.” He told her why, and as he spoke he wondered how the joy of the words he spoke could ever have left him with any doubts at all. (As he spoke, he did not realize that the wind had filled his sail again.) He told her of the Lord of the Place, and a light came across her face.
“I have always known that the wind bore us that way,” she said, “though I've never known why!” 
Her name was Lily. Side by side the two ships traveled, and as they cut through the water, they talked ceaselessly about what awaited them at the end of the sea. As they talked, the new sailor told the first of how far she had come, already, of the idle ships that she had left behind, though for a long time she had sat idle with them, before the longing drove her to leave them, to hoist her mast and see where she might go. 
They talked about the star and about the Place underneath it, about whether it was truly a lighthouse or truly a lamp, or truly like none of those things at al, and about what the Lord of the Place might be like, whether he was really good or really powerful, whether the wind that moved them was really his. They talked, and the wind carried them on, with one wake behind them.
Eventually, they tied the two ships together, so that neither one could drift off in the night, or so that if the wind failed in one sail, the other might still drag it along. They tied themselves together, and they sailed. 
Other ships came into view again, and those who sailed the same way came alongside them, and they shouted joyfully over—“Are you heading for the Place?” 
“Yes!” They shouted back. 
“Do you know the Lord of the Place?”
“I have been told great things about him! I have been told that the place is on a great hill—a great mound, like a ship, but that does not rock or stir. I’ve heard that it towers up against the stars and that there are no shadows, there!” 
Other ships they passed were idling, or rowed themselves in silly circles, and they would call out—“Friends! Have you no mast in your boat? Raise your sail! Set your eyes on that star, and the Lord of the Place will bring you to him!” 
Sometimes, they stopped and helped a sailor to run up his mast and string his sail, but more often than not, they continued to sail their own way and gave no heed to the word of the Place. The sailors, in their bound ships, would grow discouraged, at times. Each time, one or the other of them would feel the wind on their face, and look up at the two great sails, still full and still pressing forward, and would remind the other to look out to the star, to see if it didn’t grow brighter, the nearer they got? If it didn’t rise higher, as though soon they would approach the very foot of it and it would sit directly above them. 
Sometimes, they were passed by sailors who crossed the path before them, going to one side or the other—their sails were hung, but there was no breath in them. “How do they move so quickly, with no wind?” Asked Lily. 
“There is a current, see?” Ted answered. “Friend!” He cried to the passing ship, “To where are you headed?” 
“To the place,” he declared proudly, “the place where the truly wise know to go.” 
“What place is that?” Asked Ted. 
“Why, to the only real place! The place where we shall have no need of boats, no need of wind or oars—the enlightened place!” 
The sailors looked to each other in confusion, and called back—“Is the Lord of that Place good?” 
“Why,” laughed the passerby, “Where I go, every man is lord of his own place! Come along and see!” 
But the sailors shook their heads. “We can’t,” they cried. “We are going toward the light. The Lord of that Place has sent the wind to bring us home.” 
The man in the ship laughed at them, and away he sailed. 
As time went on, and more and more distance was traveled, the sailors began to pass the same sorts of people—people who had taken down their sails, or else forgot to trim them properly, and had resorted to rowing themselves toward the distant star. “Friends,” they would cry, “why don’t you hang your sail? You’ll never reach the Place that way!” 
“The wind failed me,” they would often respond. “It left my sail, and I have been stranded since. If I am to reach that place, I must reach it myself.” 
But to Lily and Ted, with their prows pointed at the star, it was clear that the boat had only tilted sideways, and if the sailor would only straighten out the prow, and fix his eyes on the light, the wind would rush into the sail again. 
They traveled on, and sometimes the wind in one sail, or the other, would start to die. The ship would start to lean away, until the ropes caught it, and drew the crafts together again. Always one sailor would say to the other, “Only fix your eyes to the star, the Lord of the Wind will draw us home!” 
On occasion, when one sail was empty, the sailor of the vessel would sit down and put their head in their hands, crying, “Oh, we’ll never make it so far,” or “How could the Lord of that Place be good? Why would he put that Place so far away?” 
Sometimes it would take the encouragement of another ship, or a pair of ships, passing by, to lift their spirits. Words like, “take heart, my friends! I have heard that we grow ever nearer! Does not the star look brighter, from here, than it did not long ago?” or they would say, “Is not the wind hastening? I can feel it now, that we are moving much faster than we used to! It won’t be too long, now!” They spoke of a thirst and a hunger, of a longing that would soon be satisfied, and always the wind was faithful to bear them on. 
Not long after, they passed by a peculiar sight—Here, they saw many ships turning away, for in the near distance, black against the stars, like a great smear of true darkness, an object lunged from the sea. “It is an island,” said one of the travelers, who had been beside the two for some time. “I have passed them, before.” 
“Why do so many boats turn aside?” Asked the sailors. 
“Because they have been rowing for many years, and their arms are tired. Or because they have come to believe that this is the place itself, or perhaps connected to it. That maybe they can stop here, for a bit, and then journey on again.” 
“Do they ever leave?” Asked the other. 
“Sometimes,” replied the old traveler. “But most do not, I have heard. There are currents—you must be watchful of them now, as we pass—that draw in, but do not let out, for any amount of rowing. Only those who turn their sails to the wind can escape, but once lost on land for so long, few remember the wind at all. Most remain there forever, until their ships decay or are broken. I have even heard stories that horrible creatures live on the islands. We must ever be vigilant, for how could any shadowy place be the real Place? Does not the real Place dwell in endless light, beneath that faithful star?”
Though their eyes were sharp, the current caught hold of the ships, far stronger than they expected. It began to draw them away, almost until their sails and turned away from the wind, when the old sailor called out to them. They caught the ropes that he threw, and before too long, he had pulled them free. 
On, past the islands and the currents they went, treading carefully every step, until ahead of them, rising from the water, there grew a great darkness, swallowing up the stars. Thunder rumbled from within the cloud, and the wind swirled around them terribly, a cold wind that whipped up from the water. As they entered the fog, the sailors nearly lost sight of one another. The wind howled and a cold rain pounded down on them. Once, Ted shouted aloud: “The star is gone! I can’t see the star!” 
But Lily peered through the cloud, and though all other stars were hidden, the star over that Place still burned. The sailor pointed and shouted, “It’s there! At the end of my finger, the star has not moved! And the fog can’t hide it, not truly!” 
For long days, the rain and the cold remained. But the wind continued to fill the sails, until at last the cloud was behind them. The starlight dried them slowly, and the wind was warmer, on this side, healing the ache in their bodies. The sailors saw each other again, and they looked at the ships, and saw that the sail of Ted's ship had torn, when they had been in the thickest fog. And so they tied each the ships even closer together, and repaired the sail where they were able. The wind carried them onward, and the wake that they left behind was gentler and ever, as though the waves here were not ridges to plow through, but seemed like gentle hands, passing along the prows, gently pushing them onward. 
Now that they could see clearly, and the fog was behind them, it seemed that the star was brighter than ever. There was no denying it now, that it hung higher than it had before—that they had drawn nearer, after all, and they watched it almost without ceasing, now. Other ships passed, and the sailors in those ships looked the same—their eyes were wide, and their heads tilted back. They wondered and talked together about what they would find, in that place, and how much longer the journey would be. They asked if all of the other sailors had passed through the storm as well, and many had. Some had avoided it, and some had experienced different struggles. Some ran aground, against some hidden spine of sand. Some had been attacked, by men in ships sailing the opposite way. Some had even landed on islands, and though they had wasted much time, they had finally escaped the trap of the currents. 
One night, as the sailors sat together, Lily thought back to the island and the storm, and all the people they had passed who sailed the wrong current, or who drifted away. “The Lord of the Place really is a good Lord, isn’t he?” 
“Yes,” said Ted. 
“He has carried us very far, hasn’t he?” 
“He has,” said Ted. 
And as they always did, nestled in the prow of the ships, the sailors drifted off to sleep together. When Ted woke, and sat up, his heart plummeted within him—The ship, still tied beside him, was empty. He cried out, at first, he shouted Lily's name, but she did not answer him. Finally, he looked up—the great star seemed to hang directly over his head. “Where did she go?” He cried aloud. “Did you take her, Lord?” 
The wind filled his sail again, and it was the same wind that he had felt after the storm. Though his sail was torn, he untied the empty ship, and legit drift away. He sailed on, and the wind carried him. For a while, it seemed that the star was gone—it was hidden from his eyes, and he nearly traveled entirely in darkness. But the wind was not gone. He passed another ship, maybe even two, and to each one he cried out—“We’re almost there, aren’t we?” 
“Yes, brother,” they cried back. 
“Do you think that she’s there, already?” He’d ask. 
“Most surely,” they’d reply. 
“Most surely,” he would say to himself as he went. “Most surely.” Alone, for the first time in many ages, he sat in his boat. He watched the star and he wondered how much longer the wind would carry him along. For a moment, when he heard the sound of the wind flapping through the hole in his sail, he wondered if this was all some very cruel joke, if perhaps there was no Place, and there was no Lord, if the wind simply blew where it wanted. It was harder to remember the storm, now that he was alone. It was harder to remember the time that followed it, and the warm wind. But he looked back up, and there hung the star, faithfully over him, and he said aloud—
“I know that you are a good Lord,” he said. “I know that you have carried me very far. Very far indeed.” 
He fell asleep, in the prow of the boat. 

What Lily Woke To: 
When the two ships were yet tied together, when happy sleep settled over them, they had not been asleep long when Lily woke. Her ship had been jostled, but gently, and she sat up. She saw the great star first, and it seemed to hang directly over her head. She looked down, beyond the prow, and saw that the crystal surface of the water lapped gently against sand—she looked up, beyond, and saw that the surface around her was hard, not smooth and rippled. The wind made a strange, whistling sound, and it was the sound of the wind through grass, though she didn’t know it. 
She looked around—Ted was still asleep in his ship, still tied to hers. “Look!” She called, and her heart jumped into her throat as she jumped from the ship. “Look! Look! We made it!” 
Her feet touched the sand, and immediately everything around her changed—for a moment she was too stunned to speak, for the stars rolled back, except for that great one. The sky was no longer dark and distant, but bright and golden and it blinded her, but with ever moment her blindness became a different sort of sight. Her eyes changed, and she took her first steps through sand and seaside grass, with warm air all around her. 
She had not taken more than a single step when she turned back to Ted, her mouth open to call after him. 
But his ship had drifted away from the edge of the land. He drifted along beside it, still asleep. She took a breath, to shout for him to wake up, but a hand touched her shoulder. She looked up, and saw the Lord of the Place, smiling down at her. 
With nothing but his smile, her anxious sorrow was gone. In his eyes, she saw the warmth of that wind, the faithfulness with which it had carried them so far. In his face, she saw the glow, as of that great star itself. “Welcome home, little Lily,” he said, and he took her hand, and indeed she was nothing but a child here. She hung onto his hand with both of her little ones, and he walked beside her, in the sand. She could see the water now, and that it was truly light and blue, and that the sand was white and soft and warm. She could see the sailor in his little ship, waking up. She saw him looking for her, and it made her heart cry—but he did look silly, at once, looking about. He could not see her, though she walked only a few feet away. She saw her own ship, from a distance, and she thought that it looked strange, in this light. 
“Come,” said the Lord of the Place, “we shall follow along, and welcome him when he lands. His journey is nearly over.” 
Lily saw then that the Place was a strangely shaped one—its sandy arms reached out, to gather in the ships as they came, but not all landed at the same time. Holding onto the Lord’s hand, she ran along the beach—she’d never run before, but her legs seemed made for it. He’d never felt sand before, but her toes seemed made to run along it. Her hands brushed the grass, and her smile was like it had never been, as she watched the sailor approach. She watched the sadness on his face, and every moment grew more eager for his happiness to be like hers, for his sadness to be taken away. The Lord ran quickly, and he laughed to see her smile, as she waved and called to Ted, "You’re almost there! Look, only a few yards more!” 
Finally, the ship brushed up against the sand. The sailor, with his tired eyes looked up, over the edge. He climbed out of the ship, and Lily knew that he saw what she had seen—the tiredness fell off of him, as though a splash of cold water had waken him from a long sleep. His body was different, in the light of the Place, as different as a body in a dream from a body awake. He was younger and he seemed smaller, even as she did. He looked up, and saw that the darkness through which he had passed was nothing more than the shadows of great white cliffs, that towered above him. He saw that the Great Star shone from he highest tower of a great, white-and-gold city. He saw the Lord of the place coming toward him, yet holding the hand of she that he had loved so long. He ran—such a strange feeling, and on such strange ground—to meet them, and the light of the Lord of the Place swallowed him up. 
“Come,” said the Lord of the Place, “Let’s go welcome the others, for there will be a feast soon, and the travelers are hungry. They have come from very far away. And at last, home.” 
And at last, thought Lily, home. 
And at last, thought Ted, holding her hand, home. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

here // now

Some of you are probably aware by now that I recently underwent the brief and permanent procedure of adding decorations to this pasty white little body of mine. 
And to those of you who have asked, I have given a hasty and possibly incomplete explanation of what, exactly, they mean. But I felt it was time to explain them more fully here, where the English language is on my side. 

Two simple words, in my own simple handwriting: 
Here. Now. 

Contrary to immediate surmissions, this is neither my homage to paganism nor my pledge of newfound fidelity to hedonism. This is not Yolo. I apologize for the confusion. As my brother and a good friend both said, "Here Now? Don't you mean 'Heaven Later?" 
And they're not wrong. My hope is not here, though I keep it here with me. My treasure and my reward is somewhere ahead of me, I know not how far off. 

But my calling is here. It is now. It is in no other place, and at no other time.

Because this is exactly where I'm supposed to be, whether I know it or not, whether I see it or not. This place is where my story is. Here I speak; here I scramble (feebly) to share His love, with these hands and this tongue. No longer asking that the Lord send someone, but that he send me; not that he sends someone more able, but that he uses my inability for his name's sake. 

Because there is no other time. Because this is the moment I am given to shine His light. Because this is the time to look and act and speak and be. For as long as we're given, in every moment we have, because souls are dying and I have been given the saving story. 

Here. Now. No matter where, no matter when, be there. This is my reminder to do my best. Not to wait, and do it later. To spill out my energy in its entirety and lean on a strength that can fill me up again. 

In the words of Jim Eliot: "Wherever you are, be all there." 

In the words of Teddy Roosevelt: "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are." 

In the words of Andrew Peterson: "Abide in me, let your Branches bear your fruit; remove in me the Branch that bears no fruit--and move in me, as I abide in You." 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Human Café: A Brand New Pledge Option!

Hey guys! I am super excited to announce some brand new pledge options ready for you to freak out about (like I am). 

Thanks to the amazing efforts by my great friend Aaron, we have finally managed to get some Art Options up. 
There are PLENTY more designs coming, so if none of the ones below seem like your thing, don't worry, there will be tons more in a range of subjects! For all of those who pledge to receive a poster, you'll get to choose from the whole array! 

For $15 (a new and theoretically convenient amount) you can get a poster of your choice, while for $50 dollars you can now get a copy of the book AS WELL AS a poster. 

Already gave $50 or more and want a poster? Considering staging a mutiny against the system? Already rehearsing choruses from Les Miserables? Well fear not. For anyone who already pledged $50 and now wants a poster, you will definitely have the chance to get one at the end of the Campaign! 

Without further Adieu, here are the first few designs for you! 

Click through to the Kickstarter Page to make your pledge! 

The Stranger

The Life and Death of John Trudor 

Through the Kaleidoscope 

Curiosity is my Curse 

The Room was a Mouth 

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Human Cafe: Chapter 3

3. the place where i was me
Lana was on vacation. It was an annual event, one that I tried to talk her out of hating every time it rolled around. I had not yet succeeded. I don’t know why she disliked leaving so much, but she always did. Caesar’s situation was not much better.
“It’s so stupid,” he had announced to us. “My stupid cousins are coming over. Which means that mom will make me wear that stupid freaking mask, so I don’t get sick.” He had kicked the foot of the locker as he said it. We should have been hurrying off to class, but we were lingering in the hallway trying to wish away third period. “I hate that mask,” he’d growled.
I had seen him wear the mask before; it was like putting on a lead jacket. It dragged his soul into the ground, even as it pulled his thin eyebrows into a scowl. The elastic straps made his ears stick out even more than usual. I suppose it was his version of Lana’s rain, but as he said, “At least rain doesn’t make her look like a chimpanzee.”
“It’s better than getting sick,” Lana said, when we got to the café.
“Sure,” he replied, “remind me of that the six-millionth time my cousin asks me why I’m wearing it.” He kicked the locker again. “It’s just…”
“Stupid?” I suggested.
He nodded. “Yeah.”
I nudged him. “You’ll be fine. I can come over and play God of Conquest if you want. I’ll even wear a mask.”
In light of this, Lana had not complained much, about her own predicament. I only hoped that, wherever she might be, just then, it was not raining like it was here. The rain had not let up since the last time we had sat together at the booth, which I now occupied alone.
The smiley face on the window had been wiped away long ago I noticed as I sat staring through the window it had once decorated. The protocol, I decided, did not apply, when I was the only one present, as I was that day. My notebook was still sitting in front of me, patient as always. But so were a stack of other books, all tapping their metaphorical feet and wondering how long they’d have to wait their turn. I was in no real hurry.
A coffee cup snared my attention back to the real world as it slid across the table in front of me.
“Hey there, Champ.” My mom slipped into the booth across from me. The blue of her little dress nearly matched the blue the seat behind her. In some bygone age, they probably would have been exactly the same. I accepted the coffee happily and she stared out the window with me, and I wondered what she saw there. I wondered whether her eyes and mind settled in the same places as mine, or if we were both just restless.
“How was your day?” She asked. Her breaks were never long, but she always made the best of them now. Three years ago she’d begun to trade a cigarette and a half, behind the building, for ten minutes with me.
One of many things she had traded, over the years.
I think that’s why I started coming here first. But now it was because I belonged in that booth, and the whole world knew it. That spot, in that place, was everything that I ever could have called home: the tear in the padding beside my leg with the yellow foam oozing out and the initials (RD), carved into the tabletop by someone’s fingernail. (We’d once spent a solid month trying to discover whose initials they were. But they might as well have been mine, now.)
There, in the flickering shadow of the neon light, where the air smelled like safety—and coffee—and the world was securely on the other side of the glass—this was where I belonged. 
The place where I was me.
I shrugged in response to her aging question. “Yours?”
She returned the gesture identically but bobbed her eyebrows in that way I knew. “Tips are good.” She winked over a mug of her own, as I smiled.
“Did you write another one?” She asked.
“No,” I shook my head. “I can’t decide what to write. And it’s not as fun alone.”
“Well you’re not alone now,” she said, and then frowned. “I should tell you, though; Angelina’s called in sick and I grabbed her shift. It’ll be good for us, but I won’t be done until late tonight.”
“No worries,” I said. This made little change to my day.
“Want me to swing you by Caesar’s later?” She asked. “I could take you on my lunch break if you want.”
I shrugged again, but chuckled. “He’s not answering my texts. Which probably means his mom took his phone to make him play with his cousins.”
My mom had known Caesar practically as long as I had, and this just made her smile. There was a little, birdish laugh that I’d observed before, sometimes stuck in my mother’s throat; it chirped out, alongside or between her words, . I suspected that it was shaking itself awake now. Coffee always seemed to bring it out. And I suppose I did, as well.
“When did Lana say she would be back?” she asked.
“A week, I think. Maybe longer. It depends.”
“Well I hope she comes back soon,” she said, and there was the little laugh I’d expected. “You boys always fall apart without her.”
For a few moments we enjoyed the comfort of the silence, easily as worn and familiar as the cushions, before she checked her watch, sighed slightly, and slid out of the booth. “Are you hungry for anything?” She asked.
“No,” I shook my head. “But thanks for the coffee.”
“You bet, Champ.” She gave another wink and tossed her curly hair back over her shoulders.
“Any ideas what I should write?”  I mumbled. 
“You could write about this place,” she replied, straightening her nametag and smoothing her apron. “See you soon, Honey.”
I watched her leave and then returned my attention to the window and beyond. But the nametag remained at the forefront of my mind.
It was my mother’s name. A very old, dusty name, handed down in lieu of any actual inheritance. She had never been fond of it, but it grew on her, very slowly.
Like this place.
Like black coffee.
I sipped again and cracked open the notebook. The blankness in my mind snapped with it, and I felt that I could breathe a little more easily. The words bled out black and natural, like a sigh spilled into the afternoon.

the society of esthers
In another time, she might have made an excellent Viking. In another, an excellent sort of nursemaid for unruly young boys, a drill-sergeant for cats. Her yellow coat, the color and smell of apricot marmalade, she wore like armor. Her black umbrella she carried something like a sword, with which she seemed more likely to threaten away the raindrops, than shield herself from them. 
She was, at barely over five feet, not the most impressive figure. But whatever she lacked in height, she made up for with her wardrobe shoulders and the flat-lined mouth that she kept tightly closed, even when she smiled—which she didn’t very often. And yet, despite the collective ferocity of her countenance, it was a somewhat understated one. When she approached the Café, it was in a quiet way. She did not stand out with her steel gray hair and her sturdy chin.
The café was tiny from the outside. She could only assume that it was just as tiny within. The aging, flickering sign, traded winks with the throbbing yellow traffic-light across the road; they had been flirting in the same manner for years.
It was a humble little place, she thought. A ridiculous little place that, even from a distance, smelled like unbearably cheap coffee and ketchup and grease. But there was the smell of pie, too. And for pie, many unbearable things could be endured.
She enjoyed the rain as much as a household cat, and as she stepped inside the café, the bell on the door yelled a greeting in her ears. A little brown-haired woman in a little blue dress wiped off a table and smiled over at her. “Good mornin’,” she said.
The woman grunted. She scanned the café briefly, taking in all the smells and sights that indicated life, in any of its numerous forms. An old man was sitting in one corner, armed with a newspaper and a veteran’s hat and facing an oversized cinnamon roll. A pitiful variety of cacti decorated the counter (dreaming of dust and heatstroke). Apart from these and the little bustle she sensed from behind the kitchen door, the whole place seemed empty.
She made her way to the first booth beneath the window with the painted letters and sat down. This was a matter of ritual—with no room for deviation—as the woman propped her umbrella up beside her. From her great coat with its many pockets, she drew out a very severe-looking pen, a pair of ancient spectacles, which she perched with both hands upon the tip of her nose, a pocket-watch roughly the shape and weight of a doorknob, and a small notebook, very black and very square.
Each of these she laid in its intended place all squared to one another before she took a deep breath (for which she opened her mouth a small, catfish amount) and opened the notebook delicately. The words on the page looked back at her without blinking, and she read them over again. This was the page that had brought her here, with its scribbled address, and the very bold name:
Esther Hollens. Waitress/Cook.
She closed the notebook and set her spectacles down with the utmost care.
So she had come for a pancake-flipper, a coffee-pourer. A floor-sweeper. She may as well have been dressed in rags and sporting a pair of shackles. But this was of little consequence really, and no real inconvenience; the name may as well have read Cinderella. And the woman in the marmalade jacket may as well have been a Brick-Shaped Fairy-Godmother. She felt rather like one, and she rather liked the feeling (though she allowed no indication).
So this was the palace of Esther Hollens. The woman looked up at the roof. 
The radio was about fifty years behind the times. Posters of assorted celebrities were looking at her over microphones or automobiles or sports equipment, with a dusty lack of interest. Most of them—if not all—were dead by now. But the notebook had brought her here, to this little place that time forgot. This dustbin.
A roadside museum curated by the lonely.
It took only a few moments for the dark-haired waitress to trickle over to her table, all dimples and cheap hairspray and re-hemmed uniform. Her nametag said Katie. “Good mornin’ Shugga,” she said, in an accent so thick that the woman was almost surprised that it made it all the way out of her throat. “What’re we havin’ today?”
“Tea,” said the woman stiffly, “with lemon, an egg, fried, and pie.” She sniffed deeply. “Blackberry?”
“You bet, Shugga,” Katie nodded, still smiling. 
“The whole pie, if you don’t mind.” The woman looked the waitress in the face. “Are the berries fresh?”
“Fresh delivered,” Katie said. The order of the pie had rattled her; it had stopped her pencil, on its pad, but it took to moving again.
The woman in marmalade returned her eyes to the roof. “They will suffice,” she said. “Tea first.”
“You bet, Shugga,” Katie continued to nod. “Anything else for ya?”
“Is there a woman here by the name of Esther Hollens?”
The incessant nod. The woman wondered if Katie might not actually be a bobble-headed ornament tossed from some trucker’s dashboard. “Oh yes ma’am, she’s just in the back. You a relative a’hers or somethin?”
“Yes,” she replied. “I hoped I might have a word.”
“You bet, Shugga. I’ll send her right out.”
The woman looked back down at the little notebook and twitched her nose. Secretly, she was beyond glad that the nametag had said Katie rather than Esther. She might not have survived an entire day of nodding and Shugga. Of course, women like herself tended to curb the enthusiasm of whimsical youth.
She could only hope that Esther Hollens was a more sensible creature.
Cinderella. She entertained the thought again.
Soon, her tea and egg came to keep her company. The tea was weak, the lemon old, and the egg more scrambled than fried. But she pushed them each away only after she’d finished them, and waited with her hands folded for her pie to arrive.
For something so bright and yellow to devour so much of something so dark purple, without slowly turning to some shade of green, was remarkable. For the woman had nearly finished the entire pie when the bouncing curls and serious blue eyes of Esther Hollens presented themselves.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” she said. “Katie said you wanted to speak with me?” She held out her hand. “My name is Esther.” She was perfectly and delightfully devoid of any kind of ridiculous accent. This pleased the woman very much. For the first time, she produced a smile, dabbing at her square mouth with a napkin before speaking.
“Yes,” she said. “The baker of pies.”
“Yes ma’am,” said the young woman, her smile quiet.
“Your pie is excellent.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” And then, more hesitantly, “Katie said that we were relatives…?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes,” said the woman. She offered her hand. “I am Esther Mae Melbourne.”
The young Esther, looking somewhat uncertain, took the hand that was offered to her. It was warm, but oaky, and made its up-and-down bob almost mechanically. “Pleased to meet you,” said the young waitress. There were no dimples, here; but there was a crease, across her nose, that appeared when she smiled. The older Esther quite liked it.
“I don’t meet many people with my name,” said the younger.
The older looked woefully at the sky. “Indeed. The greater generation is behind us. A dying breed, but faithful.”
She reached into her jacket pocket and drew out a single rectangle of paper, crisp and sharp as metal. She looked the young Esther in the eyes and handed it to her. “I have come a long way to meet you,” she said.
A line formed on the young Esther’s forehead. It was nothing a little discipline couldn’t iron out. “Not just to eat my pie, I hope,” she chuckled.
Esther Mae smiled very faintly. There were certainly no dimples here; only creases of concentration, like slips from a chisel. “We Esthers need to stick together,” she said. “There are more of us than you might think. But less than there once were.”
Esther Hollens took the card with a very confused expression. When she looked back up, the confusion had settled into her voice. “Is…is this a business card?” She asked.
The other Esther smiled again. “An invitation.”
The young waitress said goodbye, very briefly, and slipped back behind the counter. Miss Melbourne finished her pie and pushed the plate away. She clicked the doorknob watch open, examined it for a moment, and then tucked it back into her breast pocket. The spectacles went back around her neck; the notebook and pen to her thigh. The umbrella was sheathed under her arm as she stiffened and walked back out into a world too gray to fully support her coat’s choice of shade. 
On the other side of the road, at a ruin of a bus-stop, not far from the winking traffic-light, Esther Mae sat down beside a very tall woman with hair the texture and shape of cotton candy and the definition of periwinkle. Her lips were ridiculously red, and her dress—and shirt, and stockings—a ridiculous clash of plaid.
“Good day, Esther,” said the tall, thin woman.
“Good day, Esther,” said the woman who was brick-shaped.
“Will she join us?” Asked the woman with the blue hair.
“Not yet,” replied the one with the steel. “But we shall see. In time, when she realizes that she has nowhere else to go, perhaps we may make the acquaintance of young Lady Hollens once again. Desperation shall, as ever, be our ally.”
The bus trundled in. And the bus trundled out. And the town was two Esthers less.