“For a pack of smokes and a few bucks, I’ll give you the whole book.”
I stopped, frozen, afraid to turn around.
“The notebook, coupla’ bucks and some cigs, it’s yours.”
My feet turned me around and walked my body back to the spot where the bum on the bench sat. Head swimming, throat dry, palms sweaty, I scanned my entire vocabulary for an introduction. Once a week, for almost a year, I walked past this man when I could, wanting to know what mysteries his notebook held. I watched him from afar as he sat on a bench in Congress Square doodling, writing and sketching. Now my chance to satisfy that curiosity had finally came to be.
People would always walk past him in his dirty, ragged clothing, with unkept hair and beard. Unaware of the beauty he would create. Sometimes, a random do-gooder would offer him money or part of a sandwich, partially because of the guilt felt for eating it in front of him. He always politely declined any type of charity, no matter how well-intentioned it was.
He handed me the book, perhaps it was to force me into making the choice that benefitted him, perhaps he just wanted to show me either way.
I stood silently to consider the deal. I wanted the contents for me alone, to examine, to ponder, to keep as my little secret. Sadness and disappointment struck as I realized it wouldn’t be right take his creations away and keep them to myself.
“Tell you what; you’ll get your cigs and money if you let me buy you dinner. In return, I see the notebook.” Without opening it, I handed the book back. I stuck my hands in my pockets
He accepted the terms with a slight nod of the head and a quick wink of the eye.
We sat awkwardly in our booth, stared at menus, ordered our food as the waitress gave us a side-way glance. We sat in painful silence waiting for the food. Silverware clinked on plates, glasses tinkled together, people murmured with heads low as they motioned toward us. After the table was cleared and coffee was poured, I swallowed hard and made myself ask.
“May I see your notebook?”
Without hesitation, he reached into a grocery bag and pulled out an old, beat up leather-bound hardcover sketchbook with dog-eared pages. As I opened the cover my senses exploded, getting lost in my own mind’s eye, I struggled to grasp my own thoughts. A wild, uncontrollable vortex of emotions rampaged through my brain. As I watched the endless beauty unfold on each aged page, my eternal being restarted at the sight of each new image. I closed the book, then gently placed it on the table as though it were a priceless piece of porcelain. A wrinkled, aged hand, fifty years my senior, reached over to withdraw it back across the table as I came back to the earthly plane.
Once again, painful silence, then soothing conversation. All at once, the world made sense, every cloud found its silver lining and my soul had found its mate. I would never be sad again. I soon realized that the magic of the sketchbook didn’t come from the pages, but from the creator. It was a magic that could never be explained or understood. I had met a man who in a different time could have been my one true love. A fairytale for the ages that it was never meant to be. Instead, we settled on the love of each other’s company, the love of our many, many in-depth conversations, and the love of each other’s soul. I never asked to see the book again. Time disappeared, took its toll. The end began with a familiar silent meal.
“Disease and age is poised to claim victory, the battle honorable, the fight fair. Before I forfeit this life of mine a favor must be asked.” His wise old steel green eyes told the whole story.
I agreed. Sadness surreptitiously crept in, begging to be let back into my soul. My senses threatened to be blackened by painful silence once again. After so much time desiring the dog-eared sketch pad, I no longer wanted to accept it. To do so would be to admit the truth, I was going to be alone again.
“A gift with a request.” He handed me the book, beautifully wrapped and tucked into a magnificent leather pouch for protection. With a burdened heart, I accepted the gift and agreed to the favor.
It was cancer, inoperable, body ravaging, soul defeating cancer that received the forfeit. Sadness thrust itself into my soul as I looked into his steel green eyes for a final gaze. We sat, in silence, as we did many times since that first awkward meal. Yet, it was raw, we ended where we began. An unfamiliar place, surrounded by strangers, not knowing what to say. Nurses gave us side-ways glances, medical equipment beeped, and instruments tinkled together, Doctors murmured in low voices while they motioned towards us with sympathetic eyes.
Leaving the necropolis, I toyed with the sleeve on the sketch pad, pondering its contents. Would I be strong enough to experience its magic once again without the creator? After a great of time, I found myself finally sitting at my desk, I looked at the notebook cover. Opening it would be accepting the truth of the end, but I had a wish to fulfill. The words were faded, the pages yellow and aged, some torn out, gifts to those deemed worthy. Untarnished colors grabbed for my attention, the images danced as if they were illustrated just moments before. I studied each page, looking for some secret knowledge that would heal my emotional collapse.
I have found that time only heals sadness partially. In the beloved pages I did discover what does heal in full capacity. I could share my findings with the reader, but to do so would deny them the journey.
I finished my task; I now pass the words given to me on to the world. I understood their meanings, but would others? Would they be affected as I was? Would souls be mended, hearts healed, common sense restored? One can only hope.