This story is a re-write of the first short story that I wrote. I tried developing the character a bit more and also fleshed it out (a lot more). At almost 2000 words, this is the longest anything that I’ve written to date. It could use more polishing (and I’ve done some this morning), but I wanted to post it today as it is slightly Christmasy (ever so slightly). I wrote it as a story about hope and the impact that we have on each other’s lives. I hope you enjoy it, and welcome any criticism you can throw at me!!!
The dingy fabric walls of his cubicle felt like they were closing in on him as he struggled to keep his mind on the endless pile of paperwork. Peter stared blankly at the paper in front of him, trying to comprehend what was written, but the words blurred in and out of focus. Hoping to find solace, at least for a moment, he looked up from his desk to the photographs pinned to the wall in front of him. None came.
The ringing of the phone penetrated the fog in his head. "Hello... oh, hi Mom… no, I'm fine. Don't worry." and hung up the phone with a heavy sigh before trying to get back to work.
A co-worker stuck his head through the doorway asking for the results of yesterday's drudgery. Peter handed him a packet and sighed at the sight of the receding back of his co-worker rushing away. He couldn't get the feeling out of his head that he was slowly turning invisible and at times wished that he was. He reached into the drawer beside him for a few cookies. The surge of sugar lifted his spirits for only a moment before dropping him back down into the fog that was threatening to engulf him.
Peter swept the crumbs into the garbage bin, his eyes briefly resting on the photos again. He hadn't answered his phone at home for days and wondered if it had been his mother trying to call, that would explain the unusual call at work. He shook his head and reached for the next pile of papers. Hunching over them, he tried to keep going, but all he could do was read the same paragraph over and over, comprehension failing him. The rest of the day dragged by, each moment seeming to last an eternity; he desperately wanted to curl into a ball under his desk and disappear from his office, no, disappear from life. No one came into his office to relieve the tedium of his dark thoughts and he wasn't sure if that was good or bad.
When he could stand it no more, he slipped out of the office, sure that no one would miss him. Hanging tightly to the overhead rail on the bus, he tried to make eye contact with a fellow traveller but when the woman turned away, his felt himself shrivel. Getting off the bus his feet felt encased in cement, and the all too familiar grey fog reached out to suffocate him as he trudged down the crumbling sidewalk to his apartment.
He set his keys down and leaned back against the closed door. He wanted to collapse on the spot, but conjured up the will to keep moving. One foot after the other, he moved through his apartment, first stopping to turn on the stereo with his favourite music. He waited for the music to uplift him. It didn't. He delusory tried singing along but it seemed like too much effort so he switched it off. And made up his mind.
Head down and shoulders slumped he walked into the bathroom and flipped on the light. Harsh light illuminated the stark room. With his hands on both sides of the sink he studied himself in the mirror. I can't do this anymore, I just can't go on, he said to himself, and opened the medicine cabinet. Reaching inside he pulled out a bottle of pills and was surprised to see a book of matches fall from the shelf, he couldn't remember keeping matches there. When he picked them up to put them back, he saw they were from Casa Musica, the restaurant that was once his second home.
Peter stood stock still, looking from the pills to the matchbook.
"Yes. One last time then." he murmured to himself, setting the pills on the edge of the sink and stuffing the matchbook into his pocket.
Breathing deeply to gather his nerve, he sat in his car staring at the front door of the restaurant. The effort seemed too great. Finally, with a great heave of will power, he climbed out of the car and started walking to the restaurant. His limbs felt heavy with the burden of his depression, but Peter kept his eye on the door and kept moving until he was inside.
He stood for a moment while his eyes adjusted to the light, and didn't have to wait long for the waitress to see him.
"Welcome! We haven't seen you for a while. I'll sit you right here in the thick of things.", and she bustled away, the cheerful greeting leaving him feeling slightly out of balance.
He seated himself and started looking around. It was busy and there seemed to be something happening on the patio. He heard music and thought he could detect the sound of people singing. A slight smile caressed his lips as the waitress brought his meal. It was as good as he remembered causing him to wonder why he hadn't returned for so long.
Leaning back in his chair, he wiped the last of his meal from his lips. He had been watching the party on the patio through the window and thought he would take a peek through the door.
"Is this a private party?" he queried the red-haired woman who had just stepped past him.
She turned and looked at him with a cheerful smile. "No. Come on out, it's lots of fun".
His breath caught in his throat, it was the first friendly thing he'd heard in ages. He stepped through the door and turned toward the people in charge of the karaoke machine. Tentatively, he asked if he might have a go. The two men conferred and handed him a paper to write down his name and music choice.
He didn't even have to think about it, and wrote down "Come Sail Away" by Styx. It was like an anthem to him with its chorus of ‘carrying on’.
Standing by the wall waiting his turn he wondered if he was crazy for even trying. He'd always wanted to be a performer, it was his dream, but he'd never had the nerve. Tonight was different. He felt this was his last chance at life.
He stepped up to the mike and looked around. Everyone was turned away, talking and eating. As long as they don't laugh, I'll be okay, he thought to himself. As the first bars of the song rang out, he closed his eyes and sang, with all the feeling he could muster.
"I'm sailing away, set an open course for the virgin sea I've got to be free, free to face the life that's ahead of me On board, I'm the captain, so climb aboard We'll search for tomorrow on every shore And I'll try, oh Lord, I'll try to carry on"
As the last notes were sung, he opened his eyes, not expecting to see peoples faces smiling back at him. Putting the mike down, blinked his eyes a few time to make sure it was real - each smile seemed like a life preserver thrown to him just as he was about to go under. With a flicker of hope rising in his chest he choked back emotion he made his way to the door, and as he passed the red-haired woman she said she hoped he'd come back again, and that maybe next time they could talk. He smiled back at her and nodded his head, not trusting his voice. His steps seemed lighter as he walked to his car, a faint glimmer of a smile flirting with his lips.
With the door to his apartment safely closed behind him, he walking straight to the bathroom and picked up the pill bottle that was still sitting on the side of the sink - with shaking hands he put it back into the cabinet and turned back to the living room. As he sat down on the sofa he felt the matchbook in his pocket and stood back up to remove it; as he was putting the talisman down on the bookshelf, the sensuous curves of his guitar caught his eye. He picked it up, savouring the feel of weight and warm wood in his hands and tentatively strummed a chord, he took a breath and let the music rise from within. "Do not forsake me, my love" he sang, tears streaming down his face as the renewal of life took hold. Holding the instrument close, a smile crept over his face - he was alive and was going to be okay. His fingers started moving more quickly over the strings, gaining confidence with each note.
Every day the guitar was embraced and he practiced and practiced until the music seemed a part of him. The fog was at bay, replaced by a joyful hope for a new future.
Carefully packing the guitar into its case for his audition at the restaurant, he felt as ready as he'd ever been. Cradling the guitar in his arms, he slipped through the door into Casa Musica and waited for the owner to notice him. With excitement rising in his voice he offered to entertain her dinner guests - would she like to hear him play? His fingers shook as he clutched the familiar instrument to his chest and started strumming his offering. She nodded her head and flipped through her calendar. With the date settled, the combination of relief and excitement had him almost skipping to his car for the drive home.
Nervous anticipation nipped at his heels until the day finally arrived for him to make his debut.
Peter stuck his tongue out to catch a big snowflake and smiled at himself for being such an excited kid. He grabbed the guitar case from the back seat of his car and made his way to the front door of the restaurant, careful not to fall with his precious cargo. This was it. He was surprised that he felt right at home sitting on the stool with the mike in front of him and looked around at the people scattered throughout the restaurant. With a deep breath, he bent his head and started playing. He could feel his joy intertwine with the notes of each song that he sang. He was exhilarated. Each time the audience clapped he felt a thrill of excitement energize him. Part way through the first set the red-haired woman, who had invited him to sing karaoke so many months ago, passed by and he wondered if she remembered him.
He played song after song, barely stopping to take a sip of water. He didn't want the evening to end, and thought back to the night, so many months ago, when he wanted everything to end. He wanted to laugh out loud with joy.
During a short break the owner of Casa Musica passed by to tell him that he was a big hit, and that she hoped he'd do a regular performance. Jumping up to embrace her, he wondered if she knew that Casa Musica had given him his life back when he was at his darkest moment.
The red-haired woman sat at a table watching him play and remembered how grey and fragile he looked when she'd first seen him. It was quite a transformation, she thought to herself. As she left the restaurant she smiled at him, nodding her head in recognition. He was singing "Need a Little Christmas" and as the door was closing behind her, the words "Happy ever after" caught her ear and hung in the air like a promise.