Let A Little Light Through

Photo Source: Meredith Kleiber

“Cold one today, ain’t it, Dolly!”

Buddy came in at the same time with the same greeting every day, except in the summer, when he changed it to “Hot one today, ain’t it, Dolly!” He always got the same table, back to the wall, facing the door, and settled in, paper spread out in front of him like the morning. Dolly always teased Buddy to take off his coat and stay a while, but Buddy always kept it on, even during the hottest summer days. “Don’t want to catch cold!” he would laugh and wink as he settled into the booth.

Dolly always had a hot cup and a paper ready. She mostly let him be, coming over just often enough to pour a top-off and ask, “So what do you know today?” But she always came over to Buddy’s table during her fifteen-minute break, and they exchanged small talk. Or sometimes they just sat there. Buddy wasn’t much for talking. Even still, he loved having a pretty lady to sit with.

It was the same routine daily, predictable as the clock on the wall. They never saw each other outside the coffee shop, and never on weekends. But they knew each other, just the same.

Dolly knew that Buddy was out of work, that he got lost in the numbers after twenty years when they brought the big machines in on the line. He was too ashamed to tell his wife, but Dolly knew that.

And Buddy knew every time Dolly’s husband went off and hit her or stepped off on her. He didn’t like that, not one bit. But her secret was as shameful as his, so there wasn’t anything they could do.

They both hurt, but for fifteen minutes now and then, they both hurt together and a little less.

They probably both noticed the sadness just below the surface. Maybe that’s what drew Buddy into the coffee shop in the first place, and what let him feel he could linger there a little bit. And maybe that’s why Dolly felt like she could talk a little extra to Buddy, even though he never said much. They were both married, mostly happily. But they hadn’t found their kindred spirits, or didn’t realize that they hadn’t. Maybe that’s what it was…

It wasn’t much, what they had. Just an hour or so daily at a coffee shop, customer and waitress. But for Buddy and Dolly, it was the best part of their days of silent hurt. And that was more than enough to let a little light through and carry a little bit of hope into the next day.

  1. this is a wonderfully heartwarming story, brian. i’m so happy you wanted to use my image to accompany it. love it! thanks!

    • You capture the beauty in the marginalized in images. I try to do it in words.

    • i love the picture, meredith. i know i read too much into things at times, but the juxtaposition of the lonely man and garbage cans with thank yous that won’t come from another person added to the sense of loneliness.

  2. that was wonderful, brian! written simply and poignantly.

    i was just wondering. do you find a picture and write a story around it, or do you write a story and then look for a picture?

    • Man, did I ever luck out having Meredith’s work here, right?

      Great question, Nonnie. Short answer long, yes, but mostly the former. My doppelganger Jess (www.jessicabeebe.com) and I conceived of what would become my page in January. We both love the abandoned, the slightly worn, neon vs. LED, tail fins vs. Hybrids, etc., and we both wanted to give a voice to the past.

      Every post from “The Bandstand” through “Dairy Corner” we originally published as Phantomas, first on Typepad, then on Tumblr. Her photos, my words. Mostly she would snap and I would write whatever. Sometimes Jess had a vague idea (for “Bog Man” it was “maybe some creepy guy overseeing his bog”, and that reminded me of the protagonist, who actually exists, except on a lake: for “A Curious Discovery” it was “do something paranormal-y”), but mostly it was here’s a picture, do whatever.

      In September Jess, understandably, pulled out to focus on her photography full-time. So, since then, it’s me looking around for images and seeing what speaks to me. I’m studying up on the masters and I have a reserve of websites to peruse.

      Most of the work is fairly fly-by-my-pants. “Getting There” wrote itself and I found those great images while writing it late Thanksgiving day, but mostly it’s find an image that starts whispering to me. For instance “Let A Little Light Through”, I was originally going to do another of Meredith’s pics, but then I saw “thank you” on Wednesday night and it wrote itself in about an hour (after veering past two quite different incarnations of Buddy). Right now, Saturday morning, I have two pictures in mind that are sort of whispering to me. We’ll see where that ends up on Monday morning, I guess…

  3. Wow, poignant passage and picture. It really paints a vivid picture 🙂

    • It helps to have good inspiration. 😉

  4. I’m not much of a reader though when I do, the first paragraph has to grab my attention to make me read more. Your story did this and it was so moving. Very well written.

    • David, thank you so much: that really means a lot. I hope you’ll come on back and tell everyone you’ve ever known! New stories every Monday and Thursday…

  5. I’m following. Love the post.

    • Thank you so much! Great to have you on board.

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