Short Story: “A Hole in Page Ten”

by Reid Barbier

They sit at their little scuffed up table in the corner, and drown in the silence. Four old hands, scuffed up and wrinkled and spotted, a pair set down in a lap, the other pair in air, the world stretched out between them, headlines screeching into the quiet of their lives.

Suicide Bomb Kills a Hundred: Parents Mourn.

Tornado Wipes Out Town: Rescuers Search For Bodies.

Celebrity Singer Found Dead in Apartment: Pill Overdose.

          All the loudness and explosive power of the world condensed to meaningless words at a dead little corner of a dead little coffee shop. They’ve been here forever. I can only see the man through a little rent in the back of his paper, like somebody tore a few lines out, didn’t want the whole thing, just a sound bite. His beard is grey and white, and his frown is fierce, his face, what I can see of it anyway, lined and wrinkled. Sometimes I see him peer out through the opening, glance at the huddled figure sitting across from him, look nervous, and return to the pages. I imagine he’s racking his brain for something to say, something new to fill the silence when everything interesting has already been ground into the dust of a million conversations. I have trouble finding things to say on a third date, let alone a thousandth. It’s strange to think of them this way, to compare them to two nervous teenagers, but then they can’t really be that different. They want to be interested by new things; they want to feel wanted and not just part of the scenery. Maybe he still wants to engage, and not just settle into the doldrums of life, maybe she’s given up. He walks the empty halls all day, there’s nothing on T.V., and he sleeps in a cold bed. Or maybe I’m all wrong, sitting here with my hot chocolate because I don’t like coffee, flannel and faded jeans, high-minded because I’m in a writing class. Maybe he cheated on her, and she never forgave him, and he’s been sitting at the same damned table the rest of his life thinking of a way to make it up. Maybe he gambled away all their money, and she lives in poverty because of him. Or maybe, just maybe, they’re the happiest damn couple in the world, and he just looks through the hole in the world so much because he thinks she’s the prettiest thing he’s ever seen.

The door flies open, two college kids practically fall through, all wrapped up in each other, laughing. The room gets three times smaller; the walls seem to close in. They breathlessly order the same coffee, and melt into a bench seat, shoulders bumping. My heart jumps, because the girl is like an echo. She looks at me, still laughing. I feel visible, drink dry, pen in hand. There is a fear for the observer in being found out, of wild imaginings being thrown into the light, of baseless conjecture exposed as falsehood. I stand to leave into the cold when I catch a glimpse of the couple in the corner, frozen in time. One figure frowns slightly, more at the noise interrupting thoughts of who-knows-where than anything else. Through a hole in the world, a nostalgic little smile plays out, and a mouth moves, though I can’t hear sound over laughter. Another smile greets it, surprised, a forgotten scene from a long ago dream. The screen of words comes down but I turn away. A smile’s enough, words imagined better than words heard, eyes glimpsed kinder than eyes seen. A walk home is not so cold, and a dark corner not so dark.

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