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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A group of college students become obsessed with a 92 year-old running man.
They arrange to meet him and his wife in hopes of hearing some tips for a long and happy married life. But . . .

Submitted: September 01, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: September 01, 2016




A Short Story in Chapters

Nicholas Cochran

Chapter Six


Heavy clouds with black bottoms were being pushed across the murky sky by a nasty blast from the North.

Veronica was eyeing the changing weather form the living room window.

“These are excellent questions darling, really thoughtful; what an idea. I think they’ll not only be surprised but also relieved, as everyone is, when they get to talk about themselves.”
“Glad you like them sweetie; not too probing, are they?”

Quickly, “in what way?”

“Well . . . the whole group—I think they said twelve, including themselves—some of these topics could be embarrassing, don’t you think?”

“Possibly; but you’ll be able to gauge their mood, and if it’s an appropriate time and mood, then okay; otherwise, go to the next one. Will you have to memorize these, or will you just have a cheat sheet you can look at?”

“I’ll try both; but I think I’ll be able to sense the proper time to ask some of these. He looked thoughtfully at the list and decided that he would be all right with both the number and the quality of the basic questions.

*  *  *

When we met again for the reading of the questions and the comments of the other eleven, we—the TM group—we were inside The Pantry this time.

A damn cold wind was raking Oxford Street. Today it was coffee and hot chocolate, with a few plates of pastries and donuts. Definitely not a day to start a diet.

I offered to go first but Johnnie pleaded, “Aw, c’mon Marsh; you always go first; let me for once, man; okay?”

I though he might cry if I didn’t sit down and give him the floor; so I did.

His questions got a lot of bogus applause but a lot of the real kind too, as well as some good laughs. We even managed to laugh at the right times.

He was damn near blushing when he finished but I think it was because he was happy; in a really good way; the applause and the laughter seemed to be telling him he ws a good guy and like we respect you, man. It was a fine moment—for all of us.

I was going to go second but something just held me back. I needed to think some more about my questions; and the questions the others might have had.

It was very spooky; like something I couldn’t see was telling me to cool it, and to listen to the other questions because . . .? ; because . . .?

At that point I hit pause and listened to Nick’s questions. Then to Geoff’s, Jewel’s and Mark’s. By the time they got to Janice, I had forged something in my mind; I just didn’t know quite how to express it. It was like a barrier in my brain; no; a barrier across some line. Like my questions were not those to ask TM. And then it hit me.

Just as Penny got up following Janice, I broke in.

“Hey, Pen; hey; sorry; guys; everyone. I got to say something. I really have to say something.”

I guess it sounded like I had told them I had to go to the bathroom; excuse myself; or even, go to the bathroom right there behind the coffee stand.

When I looked around at everyone’s’ face, I remember I counted all eleven, and all were stone still; almost like they were hypnotized. 

All the other people in the Pantry just chilled. 

It was so quiet. As I said, spooky; my thoughts; but now the setting was very weird as well. 

I felt after a bit, couple of seconds; maybe ten, I heard myself speaking.

Only the sound of the espresso machine dribbled into my quiet zone.

It began to rain. I could see the first drops bounce against the big bay window that looks out onto Oxford Street. 

The sky had darkened to where it looked like a dull day in February. 

Through the window, I couldn’t see one person. I imagine they all went for cover.

The rain had to be freezing. I felt as though I was off to the side and up a few feet in the air watching all the others; and myself.

I felt a chill. At the time, I thought it was from some cold air sneaking in under the front door; or maybe the summer sun had warped part of the window frame and some cold air was whistling through there. But later, I realized that it was damn  hot in the Pantry and the chills were from inside me; coming from somewhere inside me.

“Guys . . . guys. What are we doing here? Let’s think about this for a sec; all of us.

“We all heard the reports from Penny and Jan and in great detail.” Nobody moved, not one person blinked. I began to wonder if I this was all part of a dream; was this really happening? Anyway, I kept going. 

“It was when Pen and Jan began hitting all the details about TM’s home life; and Veronica; and the cat. Anyway, I got a feeling that we shouldn’t ask all these questions. 

We have Wikipedia and we know he has read that. I bet he hasn’t sent in anything or like that. He’s obviously not that kind of a guy. But he has read it. 

"He also knows that we have all read it. 

“Then Mark dug up pages of stuff about TM in the old Cal and Stanford yearbooks  and other places. 

"Sandy has copies of his Birth Certificate for crissakes. I mean, we know all the answers to all the questions we’ve been going over. And too, there’s always the chance that we’ll get something wrong and somehow piss him off. Or, like make him wish he hadn’t met us. We outnumber him twelve to one. A lot of these questions, I think, would isolate him even more.” I stopped and looked into each face again.

“Well,” I sighed, “that’s what I think.” And I sat down between Jan and Penny. Then it was real quiet. Still.

I began to wonder if I had put a spell on them, or something like that.

“Hey man, I think you may be right," It was Johnnie, “maybe overwhelming him with all of us and the noise and beer and stuff, might not be the right atmosphere; you know, like the right vibe in which to meet and talk with TM. Is that what you were sayin’ Marsh?”,

I nodded, “Yup Johnnie; that’s what I was thinking; but you put it into words; the words I couldn’t dig out. Hey, that’s why you’re an English major, right?”

All the others laughed and the somber mood was cracked wide open and we began to talk among ourselves, trying to talk out . . .or is it talk through;  . . .whatever. We spent the next hour talking with each other about how best to set the table for our talk with TM.

At some point, Nick spoke up. “Are we really sure now that we want to talk to TM at all; are we sure that we want to crack the mystique around this guy? I mean, let’s face it gang, between all the Wikipedia stuff and all the other stuff from all over that you guys have collected, just what the hell is there to ask TM; about himself, at least?”

“Well, yeah,” began Jewel, “we do have damn near every year of this guys life covered somewhere in our accumulations of research as well as all the stuff on the net about him, sure; but is that the only reason we want to talk with TM; to rehash his life?  

"And at the same time be so careful to avoid touchy subjects? I mean, who knows what his skeletons are. We know everyone has them in their closet—or however that saying goes.

“We admire the guy so much as it is that maybe there’s nowhere for our admiration of him and his wife and all his accomplishments and charity and all to go, but down. Isn’t that some kind of law or principle?”

“Hell, no Jewel, it’s Rich Delgado’s Law; you know, the great cross-country runner: What goes down must go up.”

All the guys laughed, especially Jewel and Mark, the runners who knew Delgado’s Law all too well.

“Hey, guys,” Penny brushed past me as she stood up, “we’ve all had a chance to talk about this with each other for—Jeeez; has it really been two hours?”

Then there was another spooky silence while we all tried to remember where that extra hour went.

“Hey guys, not it be a dork, but does anyone remember where about one hour went. I distinctly remember hammering my Timex at around two thirty and then again a few minutes ago and only an hour had gone by on my watch. But now that I look at it closely, it’s been two hours. Sorry; I guess I need glasses, eh?”

But nobody was laughing. 

I figured someone would go and ask Betty or Roger up at the counter what time it was and if  they had noticed anything odd about us or our tables or, well, anything.

But nobody did.

I know for sure that I didn’t want to know if we were all off in la la land for an hour and if we were, what did it all mean? And then it hit me again.

“Guys,  . . heyguys. You know that all this weird shit only started to happen when we were talking all about TM. Questions for him. Is this a sign that we should forget the whole idea; and us meeting him? Or is it some sign that we definitely should meet him, but maybe not at LaVal’s?”
“I agree with Marsh,” Jack, the pysch, nodded, “I think he’s right on. It’s where we meet TM and are there other questions that we can ask him that would not make us seem like either worshipers or wimps?”

A lot of applause followed that one. Good old Jack. Penny really has a keeper there.

Jan stood up. “I think we should meet both Mr. and Mrs. TM at a place of their choosing;  and that all our questions should have little or no direct link to any specific thing that has happened to either of them in their lives; unless they bring up the topic first.”

Everyone was silent while they thought about locations that Mr.and Mrs. TM might choose and then about questions that were general, or as Missy said, “universal” or “ eternal”.

“Okay, guys,” I was trying to find some way to close this meeting and wondered about another date and another meeting or should we just call each other after we’d had time to think up some real doosies for the TMs, “What about another meeting or should we just call  or send a note or whatever to TM and ask him and Mrs. TM about a place where they would like to meet, and do they have any questions for us before that. What say?”

Both Jan and Penny quickly spoke up and said that they would send a note thanking TM and Veronica for their tour and their hospitality and then ask them where they would like  to meet and when.

Everyone agreed but we all said we wanted to do this soon. Finals weren’t that far off and our obsession here was just that, and we better scratch the itch right away or forget it. Something like that. 

The rain had stopped but no sun, just a dismal grey arc from one side of the sky to the other.

Oh, I almost forgot; I asked Betty and Roger about our group and the hour we thought we’d lost. Roger didn’t know what I was talking about, but Betty said that she thought we were all listening to something or watching something because there wasn’t a sound from the guys; any of us, for about one hour.  

 **  *

“Look, darling, here’s a note for you from Penny and Janice, the two gir . . . young women, well, you know.” And she handed her husband the plain white envelope with typed name and address and a sender sticker of both Penny and Janice.

“I haven’t mailed those questions of yours yet, darling. In fact I’m still not sure if you wanted to send them ahead of your meeting or take them with you as you first planned. "Anyway, if you wanted to send them to the group, I was going to just give them to the mailman today. Maybe there’s something in here that we should know before we send those.”

TM opened the letter with some care as though any improper movement might disturb—even rearrange the words inside.

“Look at this honey; what do you think of that?”

Veronica took the note and read it where she stood, in front of the office window.

“Well that is extremely mature, don’t you think?”

“Very. I am impressed. I must say that trying to communicate with anyone at LaVal’s  after six o’clock would be a total—and annoying—waste of time.”

He sighed, as though he had been brooding over the locale of the meeting, and now that annoyance had been removed.

“But where do you think you’d like to –us , to meet them?”

“Well, my first thought was here but there are too many to get all in one room . . . or even two; comfortably. Plus, I think the territory should be neutral, what do you think?”

“I’m wondering if this is just becoming a magnificent obsession with no true resolution at the end of the day, as it were.”

TM pursed his lips, rose and joined his wife and the note at the window. It was another perfect October day. The blue sky had endless depth. The sun was of a gentle nature, and there was barely a breeze to bother a yellowing leaf.

“I suppose we should meet inside rather than at a spot in Tilden or Strawberry Canyon,” pausing, “I’m so glad they invited you as well darling; anything I could say, you’ve probably thought of before and there I d’ be: alone and without my source by my side.” He hugged her strongly.

“So it’s the two of us again, darling, as always,” hugging her tighter, “what ‘s your thought?”

“I’ll have to think sweetie. I must say that after reading this note I definitely had not thought about how important the setting for your—our meeting is. It is very important, don’t you think?”

“ I do sweetheart; I definitely do. Okay. So now, where’s it going to be?”

He looked out the window, and, after a moment.

“I have just the place. It’s perfect.”

End of Chapter Six

© Copyright 2018 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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