All Stories, General Fiction

At a Loss for Words by Tom Sheehan

An athletic-looking man, late 30s, tall, long legs spilled at seating but signifying comfort, unmindful of the mass of traffic from all corners of the world marking the Bean Pot City as a current center of international traffic, reads a soft-bound book amid the jet-setting hustle and bustle of Boston’s Logan Airport. Some of the world’s movement flows clearly past his interest in the printed, still word held in hand, taking his mind to another location, another setting, other personalities as alive as those flowing about him, queries, demands, exclamations and greetings in the order of the day.

The reader does not know that earlier an older, distinguished looking man across a wide space of constant movement had spotted him being intense in his reading despite the pronounced distractions all around. The older man marvels at the younger man’s reading habit, as though the reader is an odd visitor to this place … in the midst of constant distractions in the busy area holding the coming and the going from the world over. Among them are a host of people never known to each other, never to be seen again by him, faces lost forever in a crowd, and most surely not even to be known as well as the characters he’d acknowledge, find, salute one way or another on the printed pages, and not as quickly forgotten. He’d bet on that; all his silver and then some paper added.

They, these book people, are the people that can’t say hello to him, but do.

Their language is a silence-loaded weapon pointed directly at his retention center, that place suspected to be an unseen but vast place between familiarity and his brain.

With him, these people of silent thunder, memorial bursts of further silence, speak with fucked tongues so that their memories are not just loud but wrangled and copiously strangled; it is that awed lot looking for listeners, for “word people,” for huntsmen of sentences, paragraphs, exotic byplays plying his own mind.

They stick with him fast as gum.

For the moment the older man is just a man with a briefcase, an observer of the passing scene; there could be dozens of him thereabout, attracted to or by the commotion, the release of surprise, lost faces found anew, connections abounding with grace or that awfully strange face looking back at him from a sudden appearance, sudden passage, sudden disappearance, dark as a night passerby.

The area, like most places celebrating outbound travel and arrival, bristles with people, bars, food concerns, rest areas, benches and chairs and a host of spots to drop one’s body to rest, ready to make connections with old friends and new places. Variety leaps with universal attractions; noise signals such existence, plus hope, expectation, extremes of social interaction. The lay of the land could be walking by right now!

The older man pays attention to announcements while watching the younger man read. He hears one announcement with interest and stands, seemingly ready to greet someone … and discovers the young reader has disappeared, leaving the book he was reading on the seat where he sat. Its cover has no color, no title readable as a billboard. It might be a book of nothing, a broken promise, a worn platitude gone down for the count. He walks over, picks up the book without drawing any attention to his act, and puts it in his briefcase, promising himself that he will determine what kept the young reader at his task in the tumult of world adventurers. He knows an immediate weight increase in the gripping hand. When he attaches his second hand to the grip of the case, several men look at him as if he might be carrying gold, gold dust, or an unmentionable drug with one of the new names he cannot remember by syllable or even spell. He could be an object of suspicion, a notation to accompany a captured image, an imposing question mark.

A disturbing impatience gives him a workout. It’s pleasurable at first, a warm wave from nowhere, and works its energy into a secure place. Curiosity, impatience, join their own hands, and he looks forward to an evening of surprise, fulfillment, even enterprise in his imagination. It runs ahead of his own presence, sets a pace for curiosity.

At home that evening, a full day near completion, he’s surprised the book is a collection of western short stories, and it’s been a long time since he read a cowboy story, though the genre was his favorite as a youngster. Interest widens, collects pieces of old favor, knows authors’ names, characters’ names, marking known villains by face, gunmanship, disdain for others, tenderness for their horse; a minute sense of goodness hangs around for discovery, application, employment in the day at hand.

Comes to fore the repeating name of a favorite horse in a favorite scene. He’s not sure if the scene is from a movie, a comic book, from a western splendor of no name; more like his mind trying to say “a place once visited.”

On finishing the third story his nod says he is reading a solidly good writer at an old craft, and is drawn back of a sudden to the first page with an extracted promise to start reading again, his mind, and his attention therefore searching for, reaching for, another level of appreciation. At reserve in the back of his mind lies possible assistance from his own special talents in the entertainment industry, his myriad connections on and about in the world, his world of promoting the promotable, the worthy opportunities of that deemed promotable.

From the book introduction he knows who the writer is, what has spun from his mind in other publications, but beyond a handwritten inscription to someone named Mark Webber by the author, with this day’s date, he has no idea who Mark Webber is, the intent reader who has forgotten, or lost, his reading matter.

Mystery develops for him, questions forming quickly, answers being supposed at first, acknowledged at second thoughts, pushed deeper into inquiry. He is determined to find information about him, how and why he reads so deliberately, so desperately intense, as if the lives in the book touch him with real sensitivity, come alive the way his own childhood heroes did; ride with the wind, shoot or be killed, clear obstacles to growth, prairie towns leaping in early formation near water sources, protective measures and assurances, a stable, a saloon, a general store, an early bank of sorts, a relay station at reach, miles of grass to raise cattle, horses, more towns on more routes north, south or further west.

None yet show the way back East, from whence the West expanded.

Explosion itself, but with contrast: as though he dropped the book by accident, or left it behind purposely, or, indeed, settled it in place for the next reader.

Perhaps more than one story declares itself to him; intrigue often fills his day.

There is one way to advise the author… go through Mark Webber as the informer of new assistance. new enterprise.

Two new movie titles have already rung his mind awake, spurred attention, caught the slash of the whip the way a maestro might deliver timing.

In the early hours of a new day, he knows the splatter and color of new enterprise, and he has not yet met the author or his intent reader who must be wondering where the book has gone, where it went, where it flew free of his grasp…

That reader of the first order has no idea; he’s at a loss for words, for images of the trade, for the innards of promotions yet to come from an as yet unknown hand, from a secret reader of the book left behind.

He has no vision of the title spread out on a high screen, that lost book in a found movie, reverent, irreverent, spun of mysteries from its very beginning.


Tom Sheehan

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