City Lights

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March 21, 2021 by The Citron Review

by Mark Cassidy

 

We were on vacation, would have been the summer of ’76 or ’77, and we went in there. And sure enough, we walked into the store, there was an old man standing at the counter, tending the till. He was tall, he had a beard, he looked suitably disheveled and that was good enough for me. I nudged my wife.

Go on, I said.

Go on what?

Ask him.

Ask him what?

She was looking around. She didn’t appear to be impressed. She would rather have been in a craft store buying candles, or down at the water taking pictures of marinas and bridges.

We talked about this and it’s him, I’m sure it’s him.

Who?

Don’t do this.

Do what?

Just ask him.

But she wouldn’t do it. I wheedled and pleaded but she was having none of it. I begged. She shrugged.

Why do I have to ask him?

You said you would do this for me.

If he’s your hero you ask him.

She wondered if they sold pottery.

It’s a book store. It’s the book store. You said that you would help me and now you’re backing out.

A lot of book stores sell other stuff besides books you know, especially in a tourist type of place.

This is City Lights.

Why do I always have to do the asking?

You don’t!

Yes I do. I’m always the one has to ask directions while you just stand there. Or sit there, if we’re in the car.

She nodded past me.

Anyway, look. He’s leaving.

Which, when I turned round, he wasn’t. She laughed. She thought the whole thing was funny.

You just don’t want to look uncool.

That’s not it.

Yes it is. It’s ok for me to look dopey but not you. What if he asks me something?

Something what?

What if he asks me which of his poems I like best? Then I’ll look dumb. Ask him yourself. And if it really is him, whoever he is, so what?

What does that mean, So what?

Well it’s what he wrote that counts isn’t it? What he looks like, or smells like, doesn’t matter. He could be a creep.

He’s not a creep.

How do you know? You know him? If you know him go and say Hi.

Stop it.

Maybe he takes drugs and beats his wife.

That’s enough.

Or maybe he torments his wife to ask silly things for him when they go on holidays.

You don’t understand.

She was drifting away towards the back of the store. She waved a hand.

What don’t I understand? You want to touch the hem of his coat? You think some magic poetry dust is gonna rub off on your fingers, is that it?

That’s not…Stop it. I just…

And then she lost interest and wanted to get going. She wanted to go to Fisherman’s Wharf while the sun was still high up.

It puts a different light on the water. You going to buy something? Let’s go. Buy a book of his poems. Maybe he’ll autograph it for you, you ask him nicely. And don’t forget we have tickets for The Fantasticks at Ghirardelli Square. It’s the early show. And I want to get there in plenty of time to buy chocolate.

I bought Coney Island, a copy of which I already owned, so that I could at least have a store bag with the logo. I still have the bag, folded nicely between Ann Charter’s biography of Kerouac and a copy of The Dangerous Game, on a shelf in the den. I no longer have my wife. She’s folded nicely between the sheets with my used to be best buddy across town. After I paid, without a word, without even looking up at his face, and we were out on the street, she remembered that she’d left her scarf in the store, on a chair at the end of an aisle where she’d finally sat down to wait for me to stop fussing. Long scarves were big back then. She knitted her own. She actually sold a few. When she came back out onto the sidewalk, into the sunshine, and we started walking, me with my precious bag, she draping the scarf round her neck, she said, I asked him.

No you didn’t.

I did.

What’d he say?

It’s not him. Just some guy works there afternoons, filling in.

She was smiling though.

 

Mark Cassidy was born in the UK, in Glasgow, and grew up near Teesside in the northeast of England. After his schooling was finished he emigrated to Canada (Alberta) and from there worked all round the world. At present he lives in south Texas. He has had many short stories published, both in the UK and the US, as well as in Canada.

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