Comments: Love the way you set the scene. Put me right there by the beach. Also, masterful ending. Excellent the way you created the tension with the knife.
The newsvendor looked at the world through sightless eyes, enjoying the warm breeze and salt tinged air. The gulls mewed loudly overhead and the ship horns blared in the distance. He could tell by the angle of the sunlight warming his face that it had to be about 4:00. She’d be here soon.
He bantered casually with his regular customers, they were always amazed that he could remember the smallest details, even ones they couldn’t remember sharing with him in the past. He loved to explain that when life takes away one of its gifts, it gives you another. He smiled that these faceless, formless people bought into that. The truth was that he had a photographic memory before the accident and now that there was nothing to see, he’d switched it to audio.
Well, he smiled, today was the day and if all went as planned, tomorrow would bring him another notch. Lissa had been coming to his stand daily for about a year. She was fresh out of college and working here in San Francisco at her first job. She was so young, so fresh, so innocent, and so perfect for tonight.
He heard her melodic voice next to him, “Afternoon Henry.”
“Good afternoon to you, Lissa. Beautiful day, betcha the sky is blue and cloudless.” He loved adding comments like that because it seemed to make some of the customers feel superior toward him and that added to his day. He’d adjusted to being blind, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t angry about it. He’d lost his entire lifestyle, and he’d had to create new forms of entertainment for himself.
“Got the new Astrology Today Magazine?” she asked.
They were under the counter where he’d shoved them when they came in. “No, sorry Lissa”
“Darn,” she muttered. “I wanted to know how to plan the month. Now I’ll have to go get my cards read.”
He smiled at her, “I can tell you your horoscope, you will have a wonderful evening full of love and will never have to worry about tomorrow.”
She gushed, “Oh Henry, how sweet, hmmm, an evening full of love. Sounds great.” She handed him exact change and said, “For the paper. See you tomorrow.”
His smile turned into a sad one, a skill he had spend hours working on. He turned his head away after waiting just long enough to make sure she had seen it.
“Henry what’s wrong?”
“No, I can tell, something is wrong.”
He said, “I don’t want to ruin your night… especially this night.”
He figured she frowned, turning down those young, pretty lips that someone had described to him as her best feature. “Oh, all right, then maybe we can talk about it tomorrow. See you then.”
Still smiling that practiced smile of regret, he replied, “No, no you won’t…”
She grasped his hands, “Henry, what’s the matter? Why won’t I see you tomorrow?”
“Well, Lissa, I really really like you.”
“I like you too, Henry.”
“Well, you know there is a newly discovered prediction by the ancient Sumerians that almost matches the Mayan calendar that predicts the end of world as we know it. The discovery was just was announced this afternoon that the experts all agree both cultures actually meant tonight not 2012. I’m sorry Lissa, we are all going to die.”
She gasped and he heard a sob. “Really? Are you sure?”
He nodded. “Lissa, would you consider spending our last night on Earth having dinner with me. I really regret never getting to know you better.”
He waited a beat, and when she didn’t answer added. “In friendship, I know I’m just a blind, lonely, old man, but Lissa, I have always felt nothing but the highest respect for you. Please, if you don’t have anyone else special in your life, spend this evening with me. I don’t want to die alone.”
She touched his face, “I have no one either. No family, no boyfriend, not even any girlfriends worth calling. Oh Henry,” her voice caught, “yes, let’s go get some dinner.”
He smiled and told her to pick the restaurant, go there and get a table and he’d follow.
After she left he called his wife and said, “Don’t come get me tonight, I’ll stay in town at the motel.”
Then he called the motel and said, “It’s Henry, set up the usual room, I’ll be in with a guest.”
Later that night, after dinner and a long walk on the wharf, as she softly sobbed on his shoulder, he whispered, “Don’t cry, I know you are too young to die, but so am I. I’m only 53 and I’m just as scared as you. Let me get you a cab so you can go home.”
Right on cue she lifted her head and kissed him on the lips. “I… I don’t want to be alone. Henry, take me home with you.”
He returned the kiss. “All right.”
As dawn broke, Henry tiptoed into the kitchenette. Taking a sharp knife out of the drawer, he went to the bed and stood by where she slept. He nodded to himself thinking, I didn’t really lie, at least not all that much. After this, you will never come to see me again.
Then he raised the knife with one hand and with the other fingered the cuts in the wooden bedpost. Finding a clear spot, he took the blade and carved another notch. Leaving her sleeping in the motel room, he went to open the newsstand.