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General Art The Bird That Sings

Majora's Cat

How about that
Sep 3, 2010
Today I'm weaving you all a tale of emotion and true beauty. It's a one-shot story and I encourage anyone and everyone to read it. Even those who are not so much into reading, I hope you can take into consideration read this.

As a few of you know, my fan fics Twin Chronicles and Descent Into Madness are "dead". To replace the both of them, I will now give to you one of my greatest literary pieces. Enjoy.

The Bird That Sings


The tale that I shall weave for you is one of deep inspiration. Over the years, nothing has moved me in such a way than an old man reaching the last of his days. I still remember when I was in the prime of my youth with my whole life ahead of me. Now that I’ve grown weary of life itself (and only at age 32), I find no reason to keep my heart beating except my lifelong passion and my wife and kids. Actually, I have a lot to live for. I find myself drawn to life, the way flies are drawn to light. Seeing as how my days are far stretching, why not tell the story of the old coot who changed my life?

But all things considered, I am still willing to live a little longer to spread the knowledge I have gained over the years. My name is Cedric Klaus, and this is the story of a great man and a wonderful woman.

. . .​

Tumbling Down the Roller Coaster of Life

The time is autumn and I’m wasting my life away. Never went to college, and at 25 I’m not getting much younger. Living in New Jersey was pretty boring. Speculation indicated that although Jersey was a wealthy state, it was indeed boring. But that wasn’t the case in the city. I sat on a cushioned chair in my drab apartment with a cheap bottle of Vodka in my right hand. Head tilted to one side, I attempted to grab that elusive newspaper. Time usually slipped by in a flurry for me. Time was wasted. Time was slipping past my reach. Time was never a concern for me. Being unemployed barely even bothered me. Working at that old coffee shop never brought me any joy. They say that men and women at my age should be living it up. This is as good as gets. What a joke.

. . .​

My life’s miserable. On even the most gorgeous days of each year I spend my time caged inside the confines of my apartment. Happiness is beyond me. I reached for newspaper one last time with my free hand. My long, bony hands stretched and stretched, but alas, I could not grab hold of the newspaper. That was it. I got up reluctantly and walked to the door. I rolled up my sleeves and checked the time on my watch.

“Dang. Quarter to three. I’m screwed,” I mumbled under my breath. If I were to reach the shop in time, I’d have to make haste.

Quickly and sloppily I slapped on my work clothes - everything from that damn hat to the apron with the coffee cup on it. Sprinting down the sidewalk, I panted heavily and constantly glanced at my watch to make sure I would make it in time. If not, then the boss man would really let me hear it. The shriveled brown leaves fell from the wispy trees as I kept running toward the end of the street. The once-golden leaves crunches beneath my feet as I rounded the street corner and headed toward Main Street.

“Late again, I see?”

“Boss man, wait. I was real rushed today. I had tons of things to-“

“Shut your traphole, Klaus. I’ve had enough of your deal. You either get in on time or you get the hell out of this shop. We clear?”

I nodded my head and gave the boss man an angry stare. His name was Rob Schlesinger, but the employees call him Fat Bob. The man was like the jolly fat man himself. I would’ve mistaken him for Santy Claus anytime back in the day. He does look like the time that would break into your house and eat your cookies, after all.

I worked hastily today. More and more customers poured into the shop, all waiting anxiously and grumpily for their cups of joe. I could not have cared less, and those snobby customers... they had me on edge. If it weren’t for the meager payday that I got every Tuesday, I wouldn’t be in this dump working my butt off. At the end of the work day, Fat Bob approached me with a flare in his eyes. Excellent. He’s quite the effervescent character, isn’t he?

“Come ‘ere, Klaus,” he boomed. “Get your butt in ‘ere right now.”

I did as he said, walking behind the counter after the customers left. The filthy stains of spilled cappuccinos and such littered the ground and some of the cheap wooden tables.

“Whatcha want, Mr. Schlesinger?”

Fat Bob rubbed his eyes and stared straight at my face in displeasure. His eyes glowed with the wrath of a thousand needles. He was about to drop the bomb right on my effing head. “See all this, Klaus?” he took a deep breath in, and then continued. “See this? See everything? What in God’s name are you doing here? Are you just waiting to be fired? Huh?”

I took a long look around the shop once again. The yellow interior was covered in filth and the place smelled of a day’s work. As usual, there were quite a few empty coffee cups thrown off to the side. What was wrong?

“Mr. Schlesinger, hold up a minute,” I tried to reason with the boss man. “What in the hell are you talking about? I’m doing an adequate job.”

The boss man rubbed his eyes again, and then he pressed his greasy nose right up to mine. He pointed his stubby finger to my chest and growled like a beast. “You. Are. Fired. Comprende, friendo?”

Of course the boss man doesn’t know proper Spanish. The man barely knew anything for that matter. His head was as hollow as a drum. Anything and everything could weasel by his train of thought, for the jolly fat man must be dim-witted as well, right?

“Fine. Screw you. Screw this whole damn coffee shop.” I unstrapped the belt around my apron and through it into the boss man’s gorilla arms. Walking out on Fat Bob was no easy task - the man would hold it against me the rest of my life, but it felt good.

As I finally closed the door on the boss man I remembered one important subject of business. “Hey fatso!” I called to Fat Bob. “Take your stupid hat, too.”
I flung the hat that smelled strongly of coffee at the boss man and shut the door dramatically behind me. The sound of the bell rang in my ears as I closed it behind me. I had created enough ruckus for the day. Being laid off was a mammoth relief. The weight of a go-nowhere job had finally been lifted from my broad shoulders. No use in turning back now. I had spoken my mind and stuck by my decision.

. . .​

A cold breeze chilled me to the bone - no, wait. That’s impossible. Rather, it only chilled my outside flesh. Winter was approaching, and fast. Having been out a job, I’ve had to live on the waste movie-goers and such threw to the side of the street. Popcorn, sodas, whatever. As long as something didn’t go to the trash, it went to me. I was quite literally a human garbage disposal, a living trash can, whatever the hell people called me when they saw me feasting on their leftovers on Main Street.

I scowled at them. I did not pity myself. Instead I pitied the ones who simply passed by me, offering no bit of warmth. No reassurance that my life was in order. No hope. Damn them all. Nothing hurt me more than knowing that the people that walk the streets could offer some sort of sympathy, a gesture of kindness perhaps? But no, they have to look onward and scoff in disgust.

The lights of the sidewalk switched on. A bright yellow light illuminated the shop windows and cold faces of the pedestrians making their way toward some destination. Like I care what they think. Rolexes and fancy Mercedes-Benz cars I can life without, but the snide expression on a wealthy man’s face just makes me want to hurl chunks.

I opened my ears to try to make out what “they” were saying.

“I like your cashmere sweater, Sasha! Where the H did you get it?”

“Forget about him. His breath smells, anyway.”

“I don’t care, Francis. Get the effing Premium Package.”

But none of these conversations interested me. Then one bout of chit-chat caught my attention.

“Whoa. Look at that homeless guy. He looks so creepy. What’s he doing, staring at us?”

“Don’t mock him! Can you imagine what it’s like to be homeless?”

“Shut up, Kate. He’s a creep. Just ignore him.”

“No. I’m going to go talk to him.”

The girl approached me. She sported smooth brown hair, a Prada bag, stiletto heels and a smile that could light up the world. At first I was baffled by her actions. Could it be that there is a single human in this crowd of heartless creatures?

“Hi, I’m Kate. Do you... have a place to stay tonight?” she asked, her winning smile still spread across her face.

I remained silent. Maybe I should’ve said something, but for now I was silent. What could I have said? It didn’t seem normal to just move in with a stranger, but the promise of a good home was almost enough in itself to win me over. But instead I kept my mouth shut.

“Well do you?” she asked again. “C’mon. Don’t play dumb with me.”

I couldn’t form any words. Whatever feeling washed over me, I’ll never know. Not a single muscle in my frail body would move. Kate sighed and extended her arm. “Fine. Can I at least help you up and off your bum?”

I muttered some incomprehensible gibberish. Would she ever take it as an answer? I wouldn’t bet on it, not in my life. Finally I gathered up my courage and extended my arm out. She grasped my clammy, filthy hands and pulled me upright.

“So what’s your name?”
It took a moment for me to answer, but when I did it came in a quick whisper. “Cedric. Cedric Klaus.”

“Now was that so hard?” she flashed her brilliant smile once again. That very smile was contagious, and I caught on to it.

I smiled sheepishly in return and then quickly crawled away, crunched up in a defensive ball. What am I doing? I’ve become a freak, that’s what, but a gentle soul had just caressed me and made me feel like I belong somewhere. Anywhere. Still, the busy civilians shuffled on without noticing me or the young girl. Her friends waited impatiently behind her, tapping their feet and texting on their phones.

“Let me repeat myself. You have a place to stay tonight?” she asked gently.

I didn’t answer once again and slumped against the cold stone wall of the general store. Minutes passed without either of speaking a word. Finally, she gave up and bent down next to me. “I’ll come back here later to see you. Can’t just leave you out here like this, you poor thing.”

Those being her final words, she walked off with her entourage of cronies and they pressed on, blending into the large crowds. I sat alone once again, watching the flurry of movement on the streets.

. . .​

The days become colder and more unforgiving. Looks like Mother Nature hates me after all. A blizzard had terrorized the area just yesterday and the fallen snow had iced over during the night. My fragile buttocks were becoming frostbitten and Kate had not kept her promise. She was still nowhere to be found. My heart sank at the very thought of her absence. It was strange, as I’d only known her for little more than five minutes. Still, she was definitely cemented in my grey little heart. Somewhere in there, I knew.

Back slouched and eyes squinting; I picked up a newspaper on the side of the street. I called it my “corner” now. No one dared ever approach me, and it felt kind of nice. I finally felt as if I had an established territory for once (an eight square foot territory that is). No matter, the corner was still my home. Though home it may be, it’s still far from comforting. A gang of shady characters bunked out nearby. I suspected that they were drug dealers in the underworld, but what did I care?

I blew on my hands to keep them warm and watched those stupid happy people move about. Damn them all. Jealousy overcame me - all I could think about all day were those stupid businessman suits they wore and the briefcases they carried. Typical American pigs.

The headline on the front page of the news read “Lawson to be tried in Court of Law”. The date read “Dec. 20, 2015”. As I drifted in and out of the article, I noticed the voice of a few giggling girls. I quickly looked up but didn’t recognize any of them to be Kate. It was just a group of schoolgirls laughing at me. Pigs. I would’ve liked to bash their heads in, but unfortunately that would put me in an even direr situation than I was already in.

. . .​

A typical day again. Perusing the old newspapers, eating whatever filth I could find and looking about for Kate. It felt like an eternity that I had been propped against the wall of the store. It was high time I got off my butt and stretched my wings.

“Hey you.”
I searched around frantically for the voice that had called me. “Who, me?”

“Yes you. Come ‘ere real quick.” A man emerged from the shadows, his face looked aged far beyond his years. He wore a worn-out old hoodie and smelled of cigarette smoke.

“What do you want? I’m busy,” I replied hastily. I looked at the man and he looked back, then his face become shrewd and he burst out in laughter.
“You? Busy? Kid, if I didn’t know any better, you’re a bum. I’ve seen you sitting in that corner all day and night for a week. But I know what can ease your pain. You feel me?”

The man had a point. There was really no point in my existence. If there was such a thing as God, he obviously wasn’t rearing his face around these parts. I decided to answer (as there was nothing better to do). “I guess I feel you. What in the world are you talking ‘bout, though?”

“I’m talking about the one thing that can make all of your worries fade away, kid,” the shady man whispered. “Jus’ try some. I promise you’ll like it.”
“Well, things really haven’t been great for me,” I replied. “Can’t say that these have been the best few days of my life, can I?”

“Exactly. Kid, the perfect remedy for you is some of this.” He held out his hand. There was something familiar about the spiky green leaves in the palm of his hand.

“You wouldn’t mean-“ I gasped in shock. What he held in his hand was far too much for my feeble brain. “That’s...”

The man looked at me and flipped the hoodie off. “Look kid. I thought you wanted to forget all your troubles. The answer, buddy, is in the palm of my freakin’ hand.”

I didn’t need a reminder to remember how crummy I’d been feeling recently. What in the world could be worse that suffering through the winter homeless without even a blanket to cover your body? Couldn’t get worse than this, and why not spoil my health with marijuana? I’d have a blasted good time anyway.

. . .​

Time now flowed by slowly. I guess that tends to happen when the fumes of marijuana are filling up your nostrils. No longer was the “corner” my home. I had to find a safe sanctuary to enjoy myself, away from the hustle and bustle of the streets, away from the cops, away from everything. This was my “me” time - time to enjoy what little I had left before I realized what a wreck I had become. Wait, scratch that. I realize that I’m already a wreck. The bitterly cold afternoons zipped by. I never really felt very conscious during these times. In fact, it was quite hard to keep track of the date. Only discarded newspapers let me know what day it was and what was going on in the world around me.

I’d have gotten off my bum and looked for Kate everyday if I could. Problem was, I was usually too busy getting stoned to even notice what was happening and what I actually had to do. My daily trips to the man’s “workplace” were trips of joy. His name was Allen, it seemed, and he made a living servicing those on the streets with products of interest. I was simply a light customer, per se. I’d only purchased his least addictive product and had not moved onto the heavy stuff (being heroine, meth, LSD, etc.). I had lost faith in Kate. Her unfulfilled promise was the only cause of hatred in my heart. My previous job at the coffee shop and my dispute with Fat Bob had been long forgotten, even though it had only been a short time since then.

“What do you have in store for me today?” I asked Allen. My eyes were crazed; crazed for a cheap high.

A few large plastic bags were filled different types of pot. The bags were labeled “Purple Avalanche”, “Alabama Kush”, “Sour Diesel” and “Blueberry.” Oh, how I’d have loved to try them all. Even though I had quit my job many, many days earlier, I still had a plentiful amount of cash on my body - enough to purchase some pot, that is. I had never dared to spend any money at stores or eateries. Being more of the conservative type, I never really spent money unless I was one of two things: a) really needed this item as if my life depended on it and b) addicted to drugs. This, of course, would be the latter.

“Having trouble deciding what you want today?” asked Allen, his voice shaky. “I advocate the “Blueberry” flavor if you haven’t tried it already.”

I simply nodded and put forth a minute heap of cash. We quickly conducted the exchange and I rushed into the alleyway for a taste. It was about right after I took my first few huffs and puffs did I realize what the hell I was doing.

. . .​

Back slouched against the general store wall, I watched the regular morning’s frantic running and hurrying. I’d been trying to curb my addiction to marijuana, but there was no luck so far. Just about every minute I longed to see Allen again - to see his wrinkled face, to see the ornery customers that came in and out, purchasing his finest concoctions and imports. On a day like any other, Kate would finally come into my sight once again.

It was a glorious day indeed. We had not spoken for a good two weeks and it was fast becoming January. There was only one thing that had changed, though. I was a druggie. Plain and simple. A junkie. A stoner. A bum. Whatever should be the proper term of what best defines me. She separated from her group of friends and walked up to me, her stilettos making a clicking sound as she strutted across the sidewalk.

“How are you doing, Cedric? Long time no see, eh?” she said cheerfully, not a worry in the world. “Are you considering coming home with me?”

Unlike the last time we met, I had stirred up the courage to actually speak with Kate. “Perhaps. Depends on whether you really want me in your home. I mean, I’m a hobo for God’s sake.”


“You’re not the least bit bothered by that? At all?” I tilted my head sideways and glared into her beautiful blue eyes. “Remember. I’m. A. Filthy. Hobo. Are you reconsidering now, Kate?”

She giggled and flipped her hair. “Are you serious? Of course I’d let you in. I couldn’t just leave you out here to die, right?”

I scoffed and turned in the opposite direction, sitting cross-legged and facing the wall. “You’re a stupid girl, know that? But you’re also human. Probably the only human I’ve seen in days. Usually all I see around me are pigs.”

Kate guffawed at my witty remark and smiled her precious smile. “You’re not at all like the last time I saw you. What’s changed?”

I sighed and shut my eyes. I stared at my own shadow against the wall and scratched my head. A blizzard of dandruff rain down on my lap and spoke quietly. “Lots of thing, Kate. Lots of things.”

. . .​


Things had started looking up for me. Days felt shorter; shorter but sweeter. Settling in a real home felt grand compared to sitting out on the side of the street getting stoned. Nothing pleased me more than to come back to the apartment every day, carrying the usual bric-a-brac and groceries. Everyday life with quite was rather unexciting but still more comfortable than sitting on ma sharp pebble but being too unaware to even notice my butt aching. Damn, those were hard days.

Kate was helping me get sober, both from marijuana and alcohol. I, in a way, finally felt appreciated. There was no mistaking that. But something about living with a stranger and mooching off of her felt wrong - oh yes, very wrong. But sometimes a desperate man must go the distance to subsist, and mooching off of others was unquestionably my style. I never felt obliged to ask her if she was in the slightest bit annoyed by my staying here, but I felt that she was really that willing. After all, she was human.

“Hey. Ced, could you get the newspaper?” Kate asked.

I didn’t reply and instead went straight to the door. The door opened with a faint “creak”. Damn. The hinges need to be oiled. These days, I would do any busywork to get my mind off marijuana. Self-rehabilitation was definitely the most strenuous task I had ever had to accomplish, and every minute of it was a living hell. Of course, Kate knew nothing of my previous habits or of the crap that was in my bloodstream. Plus, talking to Kate and pretending like everything was fine proved to be much of a chore. Her frequent “How are you?”s and “You good today?”s were some of the most irritating phrases that could ever be spoken to me. Considering I felt just about as good as a butchered cow, it was quite frustrating to look her in the eyes and say “I’m fine”.

“So, how are you?” she asked. “Did you have a nice day today?”

Dammit. That woman’s going to drive me crazy. All I could do was bite my lips and answer through clenched teeth. “I’m fine. You?”

“Nothing much is happening. The girls and I went shopping for some new clothes today. Want to take a look?”

I want to say “Hell no”, but for her consideration I told her it was fine. For twenty long minutes I listened to her grating chatter and looked around the room. Pink curtains draped the smoggy windows and the ceiling was plastered with ribbons from who-knows-what. There was a quaint little coffee maker on the kitchen table along with a single dirty plate. A striped table cloth covered the table but was not of ample length and width to cover the whole thing. Once her mouth stopped running I turned my attention back to her. She probably wouldn’t have noticed that my eyes were not directed at her because she was too busy marveling at her new heels.

“Hey! Are you even paying attention?” she snapped her fingers and gave me a questioning look. “Well, are you?”

I stuttered and mumbled to myself, then finally answered. “Um... yes?”

“Welly-well-well. Tell me, Ced. What kind of fabric is my new sweater made of?”

I was stumped. If there was a test on clothing back in high school, I would have failed for sure. “It’s made of soft fabric,” I quickly replied. “Yes, that’s it. Soft fabric.”

“Good guess,” she said as she stifled a laugh. “You crack me up, Ced. C’mon. Why don’t you go and look for a job? I’m sure you can do something.”

“Me? Do something? You must have me confused with someone who isn’t a failure.”

“You’re not a failure. I have faith in you,” she comforted me with gleaming eyes. “Don’t look down on yourself. You’ll eventually find your way. There has to be some place that will accept your job application, right?”

I couldn’t bear to tell her that she was wrong. Not a single fast food restaurant or gas station wanted to hire me. Maybe being homeless contributed to my repeated failures? Who knew if I could ever get a real job? It made me weep on the inside to see her expectant eyes, her foolish smile and her faith in me. Damn, if she really wanted to help me, she would be leaving me alone and letting me do whatever I want. But I guess not having a job would cause me to crash at her place a while longer, and she probably wasn’t amused at the thought of such a prospect. No matter, I would cling to her as long as necessary or as long as she didn’t kick my butt out. But then again, who would leave a bum like me back in the bitter cold of the winter? Certainly not anyone that was the slightest bit humane.

I finally mustered up the courage to tell her the truth. “No. I haven’t been hired by anyone yet. No one wants to hire me. I’m a nobody, remember? If I can’t even handle being jobless, how the hell could I handle actually having a job?”

“Dang it, Ced. You’re just being too negative,” she said in retaliation.

“Negative shmegative. That’s life. You’ve got to learn to love disappointment.”

“Love disappointment? So that means you’re loving all this, huh? Are you loving your life, Ced? Because if I were you, I sure as hell wouldn’t!”

After she spoke these words I couldn’t move. Not a single muscle in my body budged. She was right. I hate admitting I’m wrong, but she was right. Still, I was too much of a coward to tell her. A coward, yes. I was a bum, a failure, a coward, a nobody. Just a few more things to add to my list of descriptors. So being as the coward I was, I kept quiet and walked out the door.

“Where are you going?” Kate demanded.

“For a walk,” I replied. “I just need some space right now.”

. . .​

The day was finally here. The day where I became myself again: a healthy young man dressed in clean clothes and nice-looking gelled hair. Ever since living as a hobo, I had learned a few things. First of all, hygiene becomes a huge issue. It was nearly impossible to breathe because my breath smelled so damn terrible. Secondly, you make do with what you have. I was even able to make a makeshift razor with a used toothbrush and a discarded pair of scissors. Granted, shaving my beard was incredibly painful, but hey. Maybe one day if I become homeless again, I’ll know exactly how to make a razor. Oh, and perhaps learning these skills would help me figure out ways to save money and make more out of my buck when I start making a plentiful amount of money, but whatever. The first example seemed more likely to happen anyway.

“Ready, Ced?”

I hated it when she called me that, but I kept my mouth shut. Who knows what might set her off? I quickly got dressed in her brother’s old business suit (and oh, how I hated business suits) and walked out the door with Kate, closing it behind me. She was driving, of course. She turned her unlocked her silver Subaru with the car key and opened the door. I opened the side door and stepped into the car. The dashboard was black and a sticker was pasted on the windshield. It was the pink ribbon for fighting breast cancer. The car smelled of perfume and there were two bottles of empty soda in each cup holder.

The car ride seemed like an eternity. I had been longing for new clothes forever. Besides, the business suit was started to cut off the circulation of blood to my head. That thing was so tight that even skinny jeans couldn’t compare.

We finally reached the store. I pressed my face against the window and sighed. “Finally. Clothes.”

Kate chuckled and filled up a vacant spot in the parking lot. She unlocked the doors and exited the Subaru. I remained inside, my nose flattened against the cold window. My breath condensed on the window and I wiped it off. I never realized how splendidly striking the clothing store was.

Through the protection of the car I heard Kate’s muffled voice. “C’mon! Get out of the car!”

“Coming.” I opened the car door with a “click”. The phrase that best describes me right now is “overly jubilant”. I was never this excited when my favorite team won the Super Bowl. I was never this excited when the results for my mom’s cancer test came back negative. I was never this excited when the first black man to become president was sworn in, but goddammit, I was excited now.

Prancing around like a happy-go-lucky Smurf, Kate and I made our way in the direction of the store. Once inside, a gallery of wonders opened up before my eyes. There were jeans, T-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, and my God - there were even sweat pants. I was like a kid in a candy shop (or rather a grown man in a clothing store). I hugged the life out of Kate and giggled uncontrollably.

“Dang it, Ced. Stop acting like a freak. People. Are. Staring,” Kate said through clenched teeth, seething with embarrassment.

I lollygagged and ran through the interior of the store, blocking out Kate’s annoying voice. “La-di-da-di-da!”

Men and women of all ages began raising their brows and shaking their heads as I continued my silly dance. I ignored their glares and laughter. Maybe, just maybe I should’ve stopped. But it wasn’t until Kate grabbed me by the arm and dug her nails into my skin that I halted. “Dammit! That hurts, Kate!”

“Yeah. It should. Stop messing around. We’re here to buy some effing clothes, no make a fool of ourselves. Now c’mon!” she dragged me by my arm and straight into the “Men’s Wear” section.

“Alright. I stopped. Happy now?”

“Very. Now let’s get a move on.”

. . .​

Yesterday had flashed by. I could say that I went on a bit of a shopping spree. Everything from graphics tees to baggy jeans and sunglasses were now in my possession. Yes, I felt guilty for wasting so much of Kate’s money, but ultimately I needed all of these clothes - no, I deserved all these clothes. After all, doesn’t being homeless automatically make me eligible for a little reward? What were a few dollars worth of clothes compared to the harsh of winter? Well, that’s the way I saw it. Can’t say that Kate agreed with me.

“What the heck? You blew so much of my cash. I hardly have enough to pay this month’s rent!” Kate screamed at the top of her lungs. “You have any idea how hard it’ll be to make enough money to make up for how much you spent yesterday?”

My face turned bright red. “Sorry ‘bout that. But, uh, let me remind you. Previously homeless, hardship, cold, winter... do all these words mean something to you? Don’t I deserve a few clothes after putting up with that crap?”

She sure could argue with my actions, but undeniably not with my logic. I wasn’t very proud of what I had just said, but if it would keep me around for a bit longer, I would do anything. Still, I could not make Kate too angry. I wanted to be on her good side. Plus, she still had that winning smile and that beautiful hair and those calm eyes that made me goggle. Though naggy and somewhat like a mother to me, Kate still had a place in my heart as something else.

Kate sighed and rubbed her eyes. Her eyeliner got smeared on her fingers. “Fine. I won’t complain about it anymore. But promise me you won’t act like such a fool in public, ‘kay?”

“Sure,” I replied. We pinkie swore, and that was that.

. . .​

A few weeks had passed since I started calling Kate’s apartment my home. Although we did have a few fights here and there, we always settled our differences and hate a quick sip of wine after all was said and done. Kate should’ve felt like a mother to me, a caretaker, a guardian. But no. To me, she felt like the one I needed in my life. But I knew that she could care less if I got ran over by a bus. Each and every day I wondered why the heck she was letting me leech off of her hard-earned money. Psh. Women. Never knew what to expect from them. Like other men I didn’t understand them much, either. But I did try my best to make something of Kate’s irrelevant and uninteresting chatter. Maybe I should’ve just been glad that she was kind enough to take me in, but as I said before, I’m a nobody. And being a nobody, I cared about nothing. Not even the words of the kind woman who saved me from an impending doom in the streets.

“Ced! Could you go out and get some Chinese? I’m starving. And I’ll pay,” she called from her room (rather small and unorganized, I might add).
“Alright! Be back on a sec!” I hollered back.

I pushed my legs into some baggy jeans and slipped into a comfortable T-shirt and a winter jacket. I walked to the dinner table and brewed up some coffee. After taking a long whiff of the bitter scent of hazelnut, I filled up my container with some and left the apartment. I strolled down the sidewalk, looking around for the coffee shop that I had once worked at. The Chinese take-out place would be just around the corner. As I neared “China Wok”, I caught the sight of my old hangout. My “corner”, if you will. All I could think about was Allen - how was he faring? I shook my head from side to side and pinched my cheek. I shouldn’t be thinking about a no-good drug dealer. Who the heck cares what happens to him?

The strong odor of chicken and broccoli filled my nostrils as I opened the eatery door. A small line of men and women waited to order their food. Great. Another busy day. Days like these were ones I dreaded. As long as I remained inside the building, the smell of Chinese food would cling to my clothing for the rest of the day.

I sighed heavily and tapped my foot. Tick tick tick, tick tick tick, time was ticking away. What I hated most about busy work days was that service was horrendous. The owners of the place could barely keep up with the amount of orders placed. I swear that the phone rang every minute. The poor kid - he worked with his mom here and helped out with jotting down phone orders and even assisted with some cooking. If I’d have worked half that hard at the coffee shop I probably would’ve been able to keep my job.

“Nesh ordah number feefteen!”

I could barely hear what the lady was saying. Her words were drowned out by the sound of sizzling beef in the kitchen behind her. The line was shortening and I took a few paces forward. The pungent smell of Chinese food became ever more potent as I neared the counter. The line finally started shortening and I took a few paces forward. The sweet aroma of General Tsao’s Chicken drifted in my direction and filled up my nostrils with fatty oils.

“Nesh!” the lady yelled.

That would mean me. I placed my elbows on the counter and smiled. “I’ll have... an order of chicken with broccoli and hot and sour soup.”
“Oh yesh, good choice. Eet come with free soda. For here or to go?”

“To go, please,” I hollered quite loudly (hoping my voice would reach her over of the constant droning of people’s voices and the stove).

Tapping my finger on the counter rather impatiently, I waited. And waited. And waited even longer. Not so long after I ordered, the child came up to the counter, one hand clutching the phone and one hand my order in a brown paper bag. The oils and fluids leaked a little onto the bottom of the paper bag, causing it to look like it had soiled itself. I opened the door and walked outside into the bitter cold. A few snowflakes were floating gently to the ground. A blew into my hands to warm them a little. My lips were severely chapped (so chapped indeed that I felt that my skin could freeze completely and fall right off my lip).

I walked past a familiar area on my way back to Kate’s apartment. A place that haunted me so. I never told Kate of the dreams I had every night of that very place. I was slowly recovering from my substance addiction, and as a result of my withdrawal I began having strange yet horrifying dreams. Allen’s voice called me. His voice echoed through the empty hallways of my heart. “Come on, Ced. Just another smoke for old time’s sake, huh?”

Sometimes I’d nearly succumbed to his powerful voice and walked right back to the alley. But I wouldn’t. Kate’s smile wouldn’t let me. As troubled as I was, I kept fighting. Fighting, fighting, fighting to keep the sweet embrace of pot off my mind. Usually I was strong like a bull. I was usually able to curve even the deepest temptations. But today was different. For some stupid reason today was different. It was deemed ludicrous for me to return to Allen’s “office” for another purchase, but somehow I felt entitled to give him one last visit. I didn’t need to associate myself with such a man, but he and I had a bond - a bond between dealer and buyer.

Kate’s apartment was to the right of the traffic light and Allen’s humble abode was to the left. I turned the corner and took a few steps to the right, then stopped right in my tracks. Dang it. For some nonsensical reason I turned around 180 degrees and started walking to the left. My mind wasn’t turned on properly. My legs moved in the direction of Allen but my mind was somewhere else. At last I reached the alley. It was dark and mysterious (probably the perfect place for a drug lord to set up shop).

“Allen?” I called.

“I recognize that voice. You’re ‘ere, aren’t you, Ced?”

I took a step forward and halted. “Yeah it’s me. Look. I didn’t come back to these parts to buy any crap from you. I just wanted to say hello.”

“Say hello? To me? I’m flattered. Usually people come around ‘ere and then try to get out of ‘ere as fast as they can,” Allen said, chuckling.

“Yeah. I would assume so.”

“So. Ced... I wanted to ask you a favor.”

I tilted my head to one side and raised my left brow in suspicion. “Whatcha want?”

“Look, man. Sales have been falling down the tubes. Without you, my pot sales are going way down. And I haven’t sold a single acid blotter in weeks. It seems as if Felix the Cat ain’t popular no more. It was more of ‘60s thing anyway.”

I shook my head and walked away. “Allen, don’t try to mess with me. I’m clean now, alright?”

“No! Wait, man! You’ve gotta help me out ‘ere. Look at me, dammit! I’m your bud, man! Remember? You made a promise with me right when you started buying my product. You swore that you’d be loyal to me. You swore!”

I had to admit, Allen had me there, right around my neck like a boa constrictor. Hook, line and sinker. I had indeed made a commitment to him. It was street law. The bond between the dealer and the buyer could never be severed and if one did try to break the bond, the other had a right to… to do whatever. Shoot him, knife him, whatever. On the streets, anything could be law. I sighed and hung my head. “Fine.”

“That’s a good boy,” Allen said with a sinister smile. “So, what do you want today? I suggest you stray from your normal appetite. Why not try an LSD blotter, hmm?”

“I-I can’t do it. I just can’t,” I mumbled, feet glued to the ground. I couldn’t much a muscle. His penetrating glare stabbed straight into my soul and held me captive. A bead of sweat rolled down my cheek. “Please, Allen. I-I’m clean now.”

Allen inched his fingers toward his back pocket. I knew what was in there. His fingers touched the cold metal of his handgun and he smiled evilly. “So, what’s it gonna be? You’re not gonna break our bond, right? It’d be a shame if I had to take care of you.”

“No. I can’t. I just can’t.”

“Oh boy, that’s a freakin’ shame,” Allen quickly pulled out his handgun and held me at gunpoint. “Now don’t make me repeat myself. Care for a blotter, Ced?”
I sighed and cried softly. “Yes. I’d… I’d love one.”

“That’s right,” he spoke triumphantly. What a twisted man.

I forked over the cash and took my blotters. One had an image of a cartoon cat, the other a dog. As I stuffed them in my pocket and walked out of the alleyway, Allen’s voice caught my attention once again. I turned around and saw him glaring at me; giving me the hairy eyeball. “What is it? I did what you wanted.”

“Ced. I won’t know that you tried the product unless I see you do it. What if you just throw it away? 100 percent customer satisfaction, right, Ced?” He held his gun and pointed it right at my head.

I reluctantly peeled the blotter and stared at the silly cat. LSD couldn’t be all bad, right? Anyway, I was about to find out. I stuck the blotter on my tongue and waited for the sensation to wash over me. It hadn’t come. “Hey, Allen, did you trick m-“

The alley became bright with vivid colors. The sound of Allen’s voice became distorted and his smoky voice became a blurred grey hue, moving around like a ribbon. Flowers floating past the streets and the usually bland buildings lit on fire. The fire danced and consumed all, and all I could do was run around the streets, dancing along with the fire. People were standing around me, then they started being sucked into a vacuum of colors. Swirling and swirling, their faces and clothes were being formed into a beautiful spiral of happiness.

. . .​

I had betrayed myself. I just couldn’t believe that I had fallen for Allen’s dirty trick. Perhaps it would’ve been better to just have been shot than living with the guilt. Being around Kate was a living nightmare. I had dreams about her angry stare, ashamed of me. Her size was always magnified. She always loomed over me with flames bursting out from the side. A result of the acid? Maybe. I didn’t have the gull to look her straight in the eyes. I was afraid to see a look of disappointment, of failure. But that look was never there. The poor fool - she had such blind faith in me.

I still had a single blotter in my pocket. Although acid was not an addictive substance, for some reason I felt an urge to take it out of the small hole in my new jeans. No. I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t let Kate down (even though she was unaware that I ever got high in the first place). On the other hand, she wasn’t home. Much to me despair, I reached into my pocket and held the blotter between my index finger and thumb.

I held to close to the tongue when I heard a thump on the door. I tried to shove the blotter back into my pocket but it was too late - Kate had emerged and stood at the door. She was carrying a bag full of groceries. Carrots and celery stalks were sticking out of the top of the bag. Her eyes widened and she stared in bewilderment. The bag dropped to the ground with a thump and Kate took a step backward. “What? What is this?”

“It’s not what it looks like!” I said in a panic.

“it is indeed what it looks like! Ced, what the hell are you doing? Do you want me to kick your ****ing ***, Ced? DO YOU?!” Kate was seething with anger. I could almost hear the sound of a tea kettle whistling and steam coming out of her ears.

I dropped the blotter on the ground and dreamed up a quick fib. “It’s for a friend! He’s an addict and needed me to hide his LSD for him! I swear!”
“Are you freakin’ kidding, Ced? Really? That’s the best you can come up with? Knowing you, I thought you would’ve made up a better lie. But wait - I forgot - YOU’RE TOO FREAKIN’ STONED TO LIE ANY BETTER!”

“I mean it! It’s for a friend!” I pleaded, trying to win her over with my terrible lie.

“For a friend? Goddammit, Ced, you don’t have any friends!”

Her words stung me. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. I stared at the carpet and hung my head. “I-it wasn’t my fault! Allen, we made a deal earlier when I was a druggie-“

Kate cut me off with an even more furious look. Her face was bright red. “You were a stoner? Why didn’t you tell me? So many lies! How would I know you’re who you say you are? How would I know if you aren’t Osama Bin Laden? How would I know if you’re even a man?!”
“I’m sorry, Kate. But he was going to shoot me!” I tried to reason with her and tell her the whole story, but she was far too furious to listen to what I had to say.

“Stop lying! God, your lies are terrible! Get that through your stoned head!”

I was silent. Not a single word could be formed by my lips. None.

“Just get out, Ced. Get the hell out.”

. . .​

Home 2.0

They say that a man should never cry. It’s a sign of weakness. I must be weak then, because I weeped and weeped all week long. The sour tears strolled down my rosy cheeks and dripped onto the ground. Little teardrops were visible on the sidewalk. I’d completely blocked Allen out of my mind. Kate was all I thought about now. Right back to square one. Homeless. Hungry. Cold. And above all else, I had no willpower. No strength and no hope. I’d like to think of myself as a dried up empty sack of human flesh. I should be trying to find a new home. I should be trying to find a job. I should be living. What’s that you say? I’m already living? No I’m not. I’m as good as dead. I wouldn’t consider what I’m doing as living.

Those American pigs walked by in a flash. So it came back to this: sitting slouched against the general store wall and staring at those who passed by. Back to this. Back to hell. The nights were unbearable. I tried stopping myself from falling asleep because I was afraid of having my crazy dreams. Kate staring down on me and Allen’s haunting voice. I didn’t want to experience all that again. Dreamland was an escape from reality for some - a safe and comfortable haven that protected them from the real world. But falling sound asleep had a different meaning for me. It was complete and utter pain.

. . .​

I awoke from a sound sleep. There were no dreams of Kate looming over me and Allen’s haunting voice. The night before was serene. Maybe it was a sign that these things were behind me? Maybe today was my lucky day at last. Feeding off my positive energy, I stood up and stretch out my arms. Today is going to be a grand day. Today is going to be a grand day. Today is going to be a grand day. I kept on repeating the phrase in my head to keep my spirits up.
It was just about time to search for a comfortable home - a new home. The closest thing to a home for the homeless around these parts was an old nursing home. I winced at the thought of staying at a nursing home, but it was my only shot. It was quite embarrassing to walk to the nursing home, yes, but a desperate man must do desperate things to stay alive. I looked around me, making sure no one was present to witness my shameful act. I ran to the nursing home (to the best of my ability, anyway), my abnormally skinny arms flailing I ran like strips of paper in the wind.

I knew I had found the nursing home when I read the sign: “Riverside Retirement Home”. The snow on the lawn was sparkling. The dazzling white snow was only the slightest bit tainted by yellow. I assumed that a dog (or an elderly person) had done his/her business there. That spot of yellow snow did not belong with its more pristine brother and sister snowflakes. Just like how I did not belong on society.

I opened the door and heard a jingle. A short woman with shiny red hair wearing half-moon spectacles sat at the front desk. “How may I help you? You don’t look like one of the elderly.”

I shook the snow off my torn shoes and sighed. “No, I’m not an elderly person. But I’m homeless.”

“Yeah, yeah, bub. I get it. You expect me to have some sympathy for you, right? Cold, harsh winter? No food? Spare me your crap. Just about you and every other homeless person in this town want in on the Riverside Retirement Home,” the woman said scornfully. “Get lost. We don’t have any vacant rooms either.”
“Oh. I see,” I grumbled under my breath and began walking out of the retirement home.

“Wait, Sharon. I’ll bet this boy here is going through a lot these days. Why not offer him some hospitality?” a raspy old voice spoke from behind me.
“Still, there’s not vacant rooms, Frank,” the woman at the counter replied.

I turned around to see who exactly this Frank was. He was an old man. His hair was as white as the snow on the ground outside and he, too, wore half-moon spectacles. His shoes looked awfully expensive and he wore a warm wool sweater (that was decorated with Christmas tree patterns, I might add). Although Christmas was long over, the man still happily wore his Christmas sweater as if it was still the holiday season. He looked like a friendly enough man.

“Doesn’t matter, Sharon. I’ll let him share my room,” Frank replied. His raspy voice sounded warm and caring. If only he could’ve been my father.

“Oh, fine. But you know how I feel about letting homeless people into a retirement home, right?” Sharon said as she adjusted her specs. “Never again will this happen. Okay?”

“Right as sunshine, Sharon. Now you, young man. How ‘bout you come with me? I’ll show you your new pad.” Frank flashed me a cozy smile and walked up the stairs.

After the first few steps Frank took he became exhausted. He looked as pale as can be. “Hey sonny, mind helping an old man up the stairs?”

I tried not to let the smell of medicine and cornmeal get to me as I grabbed his hand and led him up the long spiral stairs. I looked into his dull eyes and smiled. There was just something about this old coot that made me warm and fuzzy inside. It could be his infectious smile, his kindness or even that Christmas sweater. Whatever it was, Frank had won me over. “Frank… thanks back there. You know, for letting me stay in here.”

“Oh, my pleasure. Who wouldn’t have done it? You’d truly have to be a pig not to do so.”

I laughed heartily and smiled even wider. This man understood me. He probably had psychic powers and read my mind. “I guess so. Only a human could ever do something of this nature. You’re one of the only two humans I know.”

Frank gleamed at me and laughed as well. “Looks like you and I have got a lot in common, huh? I could get real used to you… wait. My apologies, son. What’s your name?”

“Cedric Klaus,” I replied. “May we continue this conversation when we get to your room?”

“Nuh-uh-uh. Not so fast, Cedric. It’s not my room anymore. It’s our room,” Frank said. He put his hand on my shoulder. “Son, your shoulder’s freezing! You must really want to feel some nice heating, huh?”

His hand was warm. It felt comforting like a cup of hot chocolate. “Yeah. I suppose. Though I have gotten used to the cold. After all, I was out there a long time.”

“Heck, kid. For someone so young you’ve got lots of problems,” said Frank. “Oh, wait. I shouldn’t have said that.”

I burst out into laughter (that could’ve shaken the entire retirement home) and stopped abruptly. “No, I agree. I’ve got a pretty big chip on my shoulder right now.”

If only he knew, if only. I was able to tell him of the fruits of my struggles and the enthralling tale that was my life. For him, I would imagine it was like seeing the life of a young, struggling man unravel. After what I told him, he probably thought that every man at 25 was going through this. I made casual talk out of it. Frank seemed to understand every word I spoke and nodded his head accordingly. Days went on like this. We talked over cups of tea about my toils, the economy, and most of all, we talked about the Beatles. He says that he still recalls the days where they were on top of the world and wouldn’t be dethroned anytime soon. Of course, the fab four were never dethroned. Frank would weave countless tales of his childhood and how he loved playing stickball on the streets. His life was fascinating, much more than mine.

“Frank, you’re like a real father to me. I mean it,” I said. This was the first time I had ever said such a thing to the old man, but I meant it. The words came from the very bottom of heart.

Frank teared up and squeezed me like a pillow. His salty tears flowed from his eyes like a stream. Never had I ever thought that a man as old as he would have such incredible strength. I was close to Frank, much closer to him than I had ever been to Kate. I longed to embrace her, but she had never thought to do the same. But Frank was different - he embraced me without complain. He embraced me without embarrassment. He always told me that hugs were a good thing. He ranted about how individuals today saw two men hugging as “homosexual” and about similar subjects. To him, hugging another man was a beautiful thing. A sign of companionship. All those mushy things that guys usually didn’t want to talk about. But he had me convinced and I hung on every word he spoke.

. . .​

As time passed, my bond with Frank strengthened more and more. Each passing day brought along new stories of the olden days, of stick ball, of Mickey Mantle, of Stalin and Lenin, and of course of the Beatles. It was like being pulled into a vortex, straight into the 50s and 60s. And Frank was my ticket to exploring the strange world of olden America. A blast to the past, if you will. What shocked me even more was that he was able to recall all of these things. The man had a sharp memory, no doubt about that.

“Say, Ced, I ever tell you about old man Himmler?” Frank would say.

All his stories would start with “Say, Ced” and he would tell me the most fascinating tales. I could never tell if they were fictitious or not. Familiar names would be tossed around, but these were some of the strangest stories I had ever heard. I certainly never heard about most of the things that came from his mouth, the poor man. He was either of such old age that he could not distinguish between reality and fantasy or he was just a brilliant storyteller. I preferred to think of him as the latter. The retirement home had also started acting kinder towards me. The lady at the front desk (I believe her name was Sharon?) was a great deal softer and her eyes now felt warm and comforting whenever I strolled by the front area. “Hi there Ced”s and “How are you doing, Ced?”s became customary and routine in my daily life at the Riverside Retirement Home. Better yet, I was getting well acquainted with some of the other elderly men and women that lived here.

Life was simple day in and day out. The schedule would go something like this: breakfast, nap, lunch, board games, leisure time, dinner, Wheel of Fortune, lights out. I never knew how spectacular a boring day at the retirement home was. Spending nights on the streets was certainly a far cry from spending nights in a comfy retirement home with heating and a wise old man telling wonderful stories. It was starting to feel a bit like Christmas - the fireplace was crackling, hot chocolate was brewing, and delicious pastries were baked. Their sweet aroma often floated into the room, making me all the more eager to shove my face in. Looking back on Christmas day, I realized that on the most celebrated day of the year I was slouched over, head rested against the general store, dozing (snow had accumulated on my face). By the time I woke up I could barely feel my nose.

But that was the depiction of a previous life. Most wouldn’t believe it, but I’ve changed a whole lot recently. I guess drugs and homelessness do that to you. Frank’s withered arms rested on his comfortable armrests. “You know, Ced, I haven’t much life left in me.”

“Don’t say that, Frank. You’re not that old yet,” I reassured him. Truth was he wasn’t that old.

“That is true. But I can feel the terminal cancer eating away at my insides. I feel rather unfortunate to have cancer in the Pancreas at such a young age,” Frank sighed and grasped the arms of his armchair.

“Young? Frank, you’re hardly young. But still too young to-” I bit my lip and said no more. I didn’t want to even think about such a caring old man dying.

“Eh, you’ll grow weary of me. My fits of coughing’ll eventually drive you away, sonny.”

“But you’re not going to let death get the best of you, right?” I asked eagerly. I felt like such a faithful little child sitting at his father’s lap. I would have hoped that such a man would not give up so easily, but Frank turned his head and sighed.

He picked up his withered hand and placed it gently on my shoulder. “Listen here. Everyone has to die eventually. I don’t really care much if I die. It’s happening to everyone. Plus, who wants to live to 80 or 90 anyway? You’re just a sack of dough from that point onward.”

He tried to lift my spirits with his satirical words, but still I felt for the man. Although I hadn’t known him long, but something clicked between the two of us. He understood me, and vice versa. Frank would continue on with his stories, trying to hold in his fits of coughing but in vain. He would always try to reassure me and tell me that it’s normal for a man of his age. What a terrible fib. Such a disease should not have the right to claim the life of such a wonderful geezer. If I could, I would wave my magic wand and make his cancer vanish. Damn disease.

“Come on, Frank. At least you’ll get to breathe the fresh air a while longer. Won’t you ever miss the world?” I asked him, a quizzical expression spread across my face.

“Yes, that had come to mind. But why don’t you think of it this way? We’re all but pawns in the majesty of the vast and expansive universe. Our affairs are only a product of the brains in our heads and the oxygen we breathe. In reality, we humans and animals are only bodies and consciences, wandering aimlessly throughout the Earth. But life does not become so aimless when you find something to live for. These things we occupy our time with could be dancing, writing, acting and so on. All these inventions of man are to give us a purpose so that we may use the few years of life to make something of it. Make something of our existence. No one wants to be a simple krill in the ocean, floating around with barely a conscience. We humans are something more with minds of our own. These minds are what fuel our drive to “succeed” in life - to succeed in whatever humanity has dreamed up. In a way, we are defying the universe itself. We won’t stand to be a simple-minded as crustaceans or fish, brainlessly feeding off the land as was intended by the great universe. Human emotions and the process of thought get in the way of that. It’s all quite amazing, the way the universe is beautiful without knowing it is beautiful. The way the universe lives and breathes without living or breathing. How could we ever live with being the pawns in the universe? I’ve made something of my life already and I’m content with how it has been. That’s why I won’t miss the world,” Frank breathed slowly, in and out. “Because the universe won’t miss me. Do you understand, Cedric?”

The usual chatter of the elderly died down and the room became deadly silent. I heard faint clapping, then a smattering of claps. Soon the room was filled with smiles and clap, all directed towards Frank. Soon the applause died down and I turned my attention back to Frank. “That’s... just beautiful.”
“You know things when you’re old, Ced. You’ll see, too. One day when you’re old, you’ll be as wise as me.”

“I wouldn’t count on it.”

“Well, I would count on it. You’re a smart kid,” said Frank. He could not be more wrong. But I didn’t dare to speak a word. He continued. “You’ve got a bright future. I’m almost positive.”

His words amused me. A bright future? What future was there in store for me? Apart from some light sketching back in my high school art class, I really had no special talents. Ha. What a bunch of bull. If I had a nickel for every class I failed back in high school, I’d actually have enough money to buy something at the convenience store. “You’ve got too much faith in me. I’m a good-for-nothing little-”

“DON’T YOU EVER TALK LIKE THAT.” Frank’s words deeply disturbed me. After all, he was the person who said that success in human life was irrelevant when it came to the universe as a whole. But Frank only showed me a look of great disappointment. “No matter what, everybody has a talent. You do, too. We strive for success to please ourselves, to give us a reason to live. If you can’t find success, what life will you live? You’ll be as purposeless as a sea urchin. You’re not going to be a little sea urchin and live in the dark forever, are you?”

I sighed. He was dead on. I didn’t matter how long I tried to evade my own failure. It didn’t matter how I tried to ignore Frank’s powerful words - those words still pierced me like a javelin through the heart. It was high time that I found out what indeed my purpose was. I had to find a purpose to make myself happy or else my life would just be like some others: wasted, meaningless. I wasn’t going to be an empty shell of a human being... not just yet, anyway. I reluctantly said “no”.

“Thattaboy, Ced. Now how about we take a stroll outside? It’s not snowing anymore… and after all, it’s a nice day.”

. . .​

Strolls in the park with Frank were my favorite activities during the day. Since spring had come, the days were warmer and much livelier. It had been quite a while since I’d taken such a leisurely and laid-back walk through a park. After camping out in the streets, I had almost forgotten what it meant to see fresh fields of grass stretching far and wide. The chirps of birds suited the peaceful and tranquil landscape very nicely. Frank’s breathing was steady today, something that made me a bit more cheerful. The moderately warm rays of the sun shined down on the park and cast long shadows of the trees. For a while, the both of us walked quietly without uttering a word. Just enjoying the scenery and breathing in the fresh air,. I suppose. After a lengthy amount of time, he finally spoke (and quietly, too). “Let’s stop by that tree. There’s a bench there.”

The prospect of the cool shade was comforting. We both sat down on the bench, directly under the gaze of an old oak tree. Very rarely was there a day as beautiful as this. New Jersey was quite a wonderful place to live in if one wished for peace and quiet. And that’s what we got: peace and quiet. The wind blew softly and ruffled the leaves of the large trees. The cool breeze blew across my face as I sat, one leg on top of the other on the bench with both eyes closed. I heard Frank’s raspy voice and opened one eye. “Say, Ced, see that bird up there?”

I looked up and about, but did not see the bird in which Frank was speaking of. “Bird?”

“Yes. That bird perched up in that tree,” he explained. I saw it now. “You know, that bird makes quite a wonderful sound. Don’t you think so?”

I heard its majestic chirping and nodded. “Yes, it’s pretty wonderful, I guess.”

“You know, that bird is a little like you. What do you think birds live for, Cedric?”

I really didn’t know. The only answer I could muster was “I dunno.”

“I’ll tell you what - other than protecting the chicks, feeding off the land and finding mates, I’d say birds are pretty pointless. Lots of animals in the world wander aimlessly, just like many human beings. Like yourself. Do you understand? But then we hear them sing. We hear their beautiful voices. And you know what? They’re pretty damn good at singing. That beautiful sound is really something. It proves that they can do something. Birds can sing, and other animals can do other things. We all have something that we can do inside of us - something that distinguishes us from others.” His words were potent and poignant. Frank took in a deep breath and continued. “And you have something that you can do. No matter how much of a failure you think you are, remember that bird perched up in that tree. That bird that sings in the springtime. Remember that you will find a purpose to walk this Earth. Just believe.”

A moment of silence followed. Somehow we communicated without speaking. Telepathically or just by understanding each other very well, the two of us needed only to stay silent to understand one another. It truly was a magical moment. Together we both sat on the bench with our eyes closed in a cool breeze blowing gently against our faces.

. . .​

His words that day swirled around in my head. I could find a future. All I had to do was look deep within myself and grab hold of destiny, grab hold of my inner talent, grab hold of my purpose in life. But unfortunately I could not find what I was looking for. I couldn’t recall any earlier talents. Most of my high school years were wasted and I was an incredibly stupid student. No real promise to speak of; I was a real lost cause.

Frank and I were sitting in his room. The lights were off because the day was so swelteringly hot. A small ray of sunlight shone into the room from the window. The rest of the room looked of a blue tinge. Frank sat in his comfortable armchair while I lay on the ground, hands under my head.

“How about sports? Were you any good at ‘em?” Frank asked.

“Kind of. But I’d never make it to the pros,” I replied.

“You have to find something. Was there anything that you were relatively good at? Anything?” he asked eagerly. Frank seemed determined to give me a future. How thoughtful of a man he was.

He would always ask me about such things. Quite honestly, my memory of high school was pretty vague and it was hard to dig up certain activities I was relatively good at because high school seemed like such a long time ago. Nevertheless, Frank still tried to jog my memory. Suddenly I remembered that I had been pretty exceptional at art. Painting and sketching was my muse at the time. Perhaps it was the only thing that allowed me to graduate from high school. I quickly told Frank about it. “I was rather good at painting and drawing.”

“Excellent! Excellent! We can start there! Now, do you think you can make a living out of it?” Frank’s question had seemed so sudden and uncalled for. A living?

“Uh… I don’t really know. I was thinking more along the lines of a more conventional job? Like maybe an accountant?” I said in retaliation. “There’s really no need to become a painter, don’t you think? Plus, it wouldn’t make me that much money…”

“Ced, you’re thinking the wrong way! Remember what I said before? About the universe and the bird? You must find your calling. You must find your purpose. Would you say that being an accountant is as distinguished as being a painter? How could you possibly strive to be like everyone else when you can be so much more? You could be an individual.”

“I guess. But wouldn’t it be easier to go the path of an ordinary person?” I reasoned.

Frank shook his head and stared at me in disbelief. “You should hear yourself. After all I’ve told you, you still want to be like everyone else. And even if you really want to get a computer job, you haven’t nearly an impressive enough resume for it! What would be on your damn resume, huh? You graduated high school, worked at a coffee shop and then lived on the streets and get addicted to pot? I certainly wouldn’t give you such important responsibilities in an office.”

His words stunned me. Rarely was Frank so riled up. I was paralyzed from head to toe and then sighed. “I suppose so. I guess I’ll take a shot at this whole artist thing.”

. . .​

And So the Future Unravels

Living had never felt so good. Preparing for art school was quite a thrill. I had finally rediscovered the thing I was once good at: painting. Beautiful oil canvas pieces sprung to life with every stroke of my brush. Frank always complimented me on my artwork, though I didn’t know if he was just doing it to be polite or if his words were true. I am a rather fastidious person, therefore I even complained about my own artwork. Perhaps I used too much cobalt blue on the right side? Or maybe I layered too heavily over here or over there? My mind was constantly wrapped around perfecting whatever painting I had just produced. Call me a perfectionist, whatever, but I liked to make sure everything in my paintings were well-balanced and that the paintings represented the flow of art. It was always hard to tell what my paintings actually represented. I guess that was the splendor and majesty of it all.

Oftentimes Frank would ask me questions like “What the heck is that?”. My answer would always be “It’s art!”. And indeed it was. My art always depicted the flow of nature rather than expressing the stillness of life like so many artists had done before. I showed my artwork to the residents of the retirement home. They seemed to be rather pleased with it, and even the usually grumpy Mrs. Krum on the second floor flashed a toothless grin when her eyes came upon my works. Maybe there was indeed something in the world that I could do. I just couldn’t believe it took my nearly three decades to figure out what it was.

. . .​

Finally, the blessed day had come. Today was the day that I would receive the results for my application for the art school in the mail. I walked to and fro, never minding to calm down or stay unmoving. Of course, I was too nervous yet ecstatic to simply sit down and have a cup of tea like a stereotypical Englishman. That was beyond me. I tried to do whatever I could to release my pent up energy: jogging, walking, talking, eating, nothing seemed to help rid myself of the elation. Time seemed to be moving ever so slowly.





The sounding of the wooden grandfather clock’s ticking began reverberating through my head, bouncing off the chasms of the inside of my skull. The sound boomed louder and louder! It was absolutely maddening. On and on the clocked ticked, seconds became minutes, and minutes hours. My perception of time became fogged and no longer could I tell apart the seconds from the hours. It became quite difficult to bear it any longer. If I had the choice, I would’ve hurled myself right out the window and ran to the post office. But then I would need to pay for the repairs of the window, and I don’t have that kind of dough.
Finally the time came. I peeked through the window of the front lobby and noticed a red and white mail truck pulling up towards the mailbox. Should I say excitement got the best of me when I threw open the door and ran straight to the mailbox before the mailman finished his delivery? Perhaps. But at the moment I was bursting with energy, spring-loaded with it. I jumped up and down in glee and even gave the mailman a tremendous squeeze. Startled by the embrace, he withdrew and could only stare at me in disbelief. “What’s your problem?”

No problems here. Only joy. I wish I could tell him that, but there was no way he would understand. After sorting through the usual rubbish that was the Riverside Retirement Home’s daily mail, I finally grabbed hold of my golden ticket. It came in a tightly sealed brown envelope with a red sticker binding it. My hearted thumped and thumped, nearly popping out of the left side of my chest and spurting ruby blood all over the ground. A single bead of sweat dribbled down my left cheek as I opened it, awaiting the results. The results of my future…

. . .​

Thanks to Frank’s sound advice, I had finally been able to get back on my feet. As I had expected, the art school accepted me and I became the teacher’s star pupil. Did things turn out all right? I guess you could say so. My teacher at the school was a just fantastic. Wonky, maybe, but that’s why all the students preferred him over the more serious art teachers. His name was, funny enough, Frank. Talk about coincidences. Just like the other Frank, I got along with my art teacher quite well. He was rather pleased with my art and never passed on an opportunity to throw in a compliment here and there.

Outside of my art school, I was becoming a rather well-known artist in the area. My paintings and sketches were selling for a good sum of money. Everything seemed so sudden. The climax of my life practically flashed by in an instant. But what did I learn? Will these experiences be relevant to my future success? Who knows? I don’t have a clue what life has in store for me. There were probably a thousand doors in which I could’ve opened and found a life in, but I know that nine-hundred and ninety-nine of those are not desirable. And maybe, just maybe, I’ve found that one door. My door.

. . .​


A bright golden light shone through the window. It cast a shadow of the window on the burgundy rug near the newly-polished fireplace. Kate smiled at me as we watched our two children, Randy, who is five, and Ramona, at three, frolicking with each other. A wonderland of white crystals rested outside the foggy windows. The fireplace crackled and the flames and smoke rose up and out of the chimney. This year was going to be a time of celebration. Unlike seven years ago, the Christmas spirit was in me, and I finally had something to be thankful for.

How did things turn out so well? I only have Frank to thank. Unfortunately, the poor old man had died only a few months after I had been accepted into the art school. His terminal cancer finally got the best of him, but the man fought like a bull against it. It was near the beginning of summer that same year when I gazed into his blank face. He was rather like a shell of his former self, a living corpse. Matted gray hair and sullen eyes, wrinkles on his face and bags below his eyes far beyond his years, the old coot was surely in grave danger of perishing. And yes, he did perish before my eyes. Family and friends gathered around him as he spoke his final words. “Remember… the bird.”

To my surprise, his last words were for me and no one else. The room erupted in confusion; the only one not being completely confounded was me. Perhaps it was his death that fueled my engine to succeed. My drive. My will. I couldn’t let the man down after all he had done for me. His dying words were not put to waste. Oh, how he would have been proud of me today and what a slap on the back I could’ve received if he was still sitting comfortably in his armchair at the retirement home.

The old man change my life for sure. And now, seven years from that accursed period of my life, I live happily. Art has become my muse and I’m now teaching at the very art school that I had been accepted in seven years ago. Finally I’m being recognized as a somebody; as a successful man with a successful life. I’ve created multiple paintings that have all been highly praised and loved in the art world. They say that I’m as classy as Monet and as brilliant as Picasso. Flattery, maybe, but I take their words in my heart and put my own self-esteem in their love for my artwork.

And yet of all the paintings I’ve crafted, there is only one in which I value the most. Only one that goes deeper than the flow of life - something personal. Inscribed on that oil canvas is a small bird of white and blue, perched atop a thin tree branch with the sun shining in the background. Its beak is open; the bird is singing its swan song to the world. Do you know what I named it? The Bird That Sings.
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Jun 29, 2010
That story of yours is so heart-warming... And MC, YOU'RE BACK!!! I was wondering about you returning. I,too, am also touched by an old man at the last of his days. and again, your tale was AMAZING.

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