Token

I was hoping to develop a wildly entertaining story for you, but I’m afraid this time I’m going to fall short. I was going to create a narrative of how I was stuck in Fort Wayne, Indiana, seated outside a cafe called Fortezza. My wife and child would be with me one moment, and in the next moment I would decide to make them vanish into thin air. They would just go POOF. Gone. They would be transported two hours west to our home in Northwest Indiana. 

I’d start off the story talking about my father— how he once dated a girl who lived here in Fort Wayne. I’d mention how I could go on and on giving unnecessary details, describing this girl's beauty, because that’s what writers do: they flex their ability to use the English language well, they spit out the full spectrum of words they’ve learned to impress readers; they do what I’m not going to do, and perhaps that makes me a lazy writer. I just don’t care who this girl was or is. I don’t care what she looked like. 

After my family disappears and I’m seated all alone at Fortezza, I’d mention how the strangest things happen to me when I’m alone. 

An old woman in her 70’s would walk past me, cross the street, and enter a bar I visited a year prior on a business trip here in Fort Wayne. I’d talk all about how uncomfortable I felt being on that trip; I’d tell you how stupid I felt when my superiors and other co-workers were seated around a table at that bar, enjoying drinks, and nobody bothered to invite me. I’d feel terrible while retelling the story; I’d remember an older fellow and how he bought me a drink because maybe he knew I’d be left out. Maybe he didn’t. I’ll never really know. I’d explain how I walked into the bar as everyone was paying their bills. Soon, they’d be gone and I’d be sitting there alone getting drunk. I’d talk to the bartender. She was a girl around my age. 

Back to me sitting in front of Fortezza. I’d be all alone, feeling sorry for myself. I’d wallow in my regret because I’m good at it, and before I know it that old woman is walking out of the bar. She’s drunk and stumbling like a fool. It’s the middle of the day. Families, and bikers, and school children on summer break, and cats on leashes are sprinkled up and down these Fort Wayne streets— all are watching as this old woman stumbles down the bar steps, nearly tripping face-first into the pavement. She moseys her way into a mural’d alleyway next to the bar; she walks through this alley about half a city block and then leans back against a blue dumpster. She slides down it slowly and throws up on herself once her butt is planted firmly the ground. No one cares enough to help her. Hell, no one even really sees her anymore once she’s on the ground against that dumpster. Except me. I see her.

I would tell my readers while running across the street to check on her about how it was my intention in this story to explain why exactly I’m in Fort Wayne. I would explain how this was the last city I visited, and how I’m following my own rules. I’m the editor of a small press magazine. I told my readers the theme of this issue is ‘Token’. I asked them if they were stuck in the last city they visited and could take anything from HOME with them, what would they bring? HOME to most of them is Northwest Indiana. Their token could be as large as a brick-and-mortar business or as tiny as a family heirloom. Whatever they love about Northwest Indiana, they can bring it with them.

So I’m following my own rules, and I’d like to note that this isn’t always easy. I don’t particularly enjoy taking my own medicine. I can’t say I know a whole lot of people who do. I’m a rebel when it’s convenient for me; I’m a rule follower when I’m interested in the rules. Right now, I’m not too interested.

Back to the alleyway. I’m kneeling next to the old woman. I’m asking her her name. She says it’s Margaret. When asking her if she needs help she tells me to fuck off, and so, me not knowing what to do in a situation like this, I stand up. I back up and lean against the empty wall across from her as she looks around with this stupid, eye-rolling look on her face. 

Early on in this story I would’ve mentioned how it was a nice Fall day. Nice and cool outside with a soft wind. I’m wearing a green coat and I place my hands in its pockets, waiting for her to come to her senses, waiting to think of what I should do in a circumstance like this. I feel convicted. I’m convinced should something terrible happen to this woman, it’s on my conscience. I can’t just leave her here, all covered in puke against this dumpster in the mural’d alleyway. I’d call the police if I had my phone on me; my phone was in my wife’s purse, and I sent her away already. POOF. No phone. 

I jog down the alleyway, walk up the steps of the bar and enter it. The same nice girl who I’d met a year ago on that business trip is bartending. I ask her if I can use her phone to call the police about a drunk woman in the alleyway. She lets me use her phone. I notify the police and they tell me they’re on their way. Upon handing the phone back to the girl, she asks me if I’ve been to Fort Wayne before. She tells me I look familiar, but I’m not interested in having a conversation with her. As nice as she is, Margaret needs my help. 

Before leaving the bar, the girl confesses that Margaret is her mother. They have a strained relationship and Margaret is always looking to speak with her daughter, except her daughter isn’t interested in having a conversation. Margaret didn’t raise her daughter. Margaret’s sister raised her daughter. Margaret makes it a habit to come to her daughter’s work, and, when things don’t pan out for her as she hoped, she gets drunk. She causes a scene. The daughter doesn’t care if the police arrest her mother for public intoxication. Margaret is an embarrassment. 

I leave the bar, run down the steps, quickly pace down the alleyway, and return to Margaret. She’s still laying on the ground; she’s knocked out cold. 

So I wait for the authorities, but they never come. I’m in Fort Wayne, sitting on the ground, letting the myriad of murals along the alley wall in front of me fill my field of vision. I’m going to wait for Margaret to wake up. I’ve got nothing better going on. I’ll spend my life waiting. 

It’s around this time in the story where I’d talk about how I can feel the token I brought with me from Northwest Indiana. It’s tucked in the inside breast-pocket of my jacket. It’s a piece of folded-up paper. I slide my fingers along its crease, but before pulling it from my pocket to examine it, Margaret begins to move. It’s been a little over three hours since she passed out. 

“Where am I?” she asks. I tell her she’s in the alleyway outside the bar where her daughter works. I offer her my arm and she slowly stands up. She stinks, covered in all that vomit, but what’s worse is watching her cry and cry as she apologizes for her embarrassing behavior.

“Where do you live?” I ask her. She tells me she’s staying at her friend’s apartment about four blocks away. It’s located above a laundromat. So I offer to walk her home. Her weak, wobbly legs move in the direction I lead her. 

“I met your daughter,” I say, “she’s very kind.” 

Margaret cries all the more as we walk, so I decide to change the subject. 

“I’m stuck in Fort Wayne.” I tell her, “and I can’t go home until I’m done telling this story.” 

“What story?” she asks while wiping her tears and sniffling up her snot.

“It’s a long story.” I say. 

“Where are you from?” she asks. 

“Northwest Indiana.” I say. 

“I’ve never been.” she says.

We walk the rest of those four blocks in silence. She watches the passing cars, and I watch her watch them. Her face has this weathered appearance. She looks sick of life. 

When we reach the laundromat, I ask Margaret if she’d like help ascending the staircase along the side of the building that leads to her apartment door. She tells me no. I respect her decision. As I’m walking away from her she yells out to me. 

“The only man I ever loved lived in Northwest Indiana.”

I stop in my tracks and turn to face her, because I know what she’s going to say. I know what she’s going to say because the damnedest things happen to me when I’m alone. 

“Was his last name Villarreal?” 

Her eyes widen and fill with more tears.

“Yes,” admits Margaret, “it was.” 

This is where I tell the reader that my father dated Margaret, and that Margaret bore his child— a child he never knew. The kind girl from the bar is my half sister— a girl I will never see again. I’m debating on whether or not I’m going to make myself disclose what’s written in the folded-up note from the inside-breast-pocket of my jacket. 

I sit at my desk, typing away, wondering what it is I’m going to do next. And then it hits me: I’m going to make myself hand my token to Margaret before I go POOF and return to my family. She is going to say absolutely nothing to me when I hand her this note because I tell her to say absolutely nothing to me until she’s safely inside her apartment. She clutches the folded-up piece of paper in her hand, enters her apartment, locks the door behind her, and saunters over to her couch, where she sits and thinks about her old lover. She carefully unfolds the note, and due to poor eyesight she’s not able to read the short, handwritten sentence in the center of the page. Reaching towards the end table next to her, she retrieves her specs and puts them on. Finally she can read. 

As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man.

@Alchemy & Elegy 2020