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| A MEETING IN OLDE TOWNE
By Joseph Rubas
It was one of those glorious early spring days so common and revered in
central Virginia: The sun sat high and emperor like in the endless crystal
sky, closely overseeing the budding, green rebirth of the recently barren
land, and the brisk breezes from the east smelt of blossoming wild flowers.
The heart of Old Towne Fredericksburg, the site of General Burnside's
Waterloo in the winter of 1862, glistened breathtakingly between two
beautiful and ancient wings, hidden within the bustling modern outgrowth like
a sparkling gem in a pile of cow manure. On the left of Caroline Street,
beyond the low two story buildings, roared the mighty Rappahannock, which
twisted and snaked through miles of countryside, many small towns, and
under countless highway bridges and disused railroad trestles. And to the
right, along tilted Princess Ann Street, there reposed in splendor massively
imposing ivy-and-moss encased Colonial Period churches hiding shady,
charming wrought iron gated cemeteries dating back to the 1700s.
Caroline Street, which cleaved through Olde Towne like a faded scar, was it
usual jovial April self, that is to say busy. The sidewalks running before the
wise brick facades of the ancient shops swarmed with a babbling crush of
brightly dressed walkers basking in the warming sun and the overwhelming
history of the region. Young lovers strolled hand-in-hand past the skeletal
trees thrust up through the long suffering bricked sidewalk; mothers in loud
tops pushed strollers occupied by wonder-eyed children with red faces; and
elderly couples inched along, content to be in the warming midst of another
As was my custom during this radiant time of year, I restlessly haunted the
historic section between the old train station on horizontal Lafayette
Boulevard and the stately public library marking the shady edge of that
antiquated section of town. Loathe to waste such a beautiful day in my dark
little hovel of a rented room on distant Wolfe Street, a shady suburban lane
of turn-of-the-century homes rising back from the walk, I had already
covered the same ground several times, letting myself be carried languidly
on by the streaming rivers of humanity. I occasionally stepped out of the
flow and through an open, inviting shop door to pass a few moments
scanning antiques and records in dusty cardboard boxes, but my heart was
on the gay promenade, and I each time quickly fled the cool confines of
I wasn't able to enjoy much of the awe-inspiring beauty though, for I was
sunk fast in a quagmire of thought, contemplating and constructing. Several
times I nearly tripped over or knocked into something as I puttered
robotically on, my mind deep awash in the usually unfriendly sea of words.
So lost in thought was I that I would occasionally come out of my near trance
and find myself much farther into my round than I had thought. Once, when
coming up for mental air, I became aware of my Sahara throat's imploring.
At the end of the street, which flowed liquidly into Lafayette, sat a small
Compton-like corner market owned by a Muslim family from Kuwait. I hastily
entered and rescued a Coca Cola from the freezer along the wall. A
dull-eyed American boy of about seventeen with a crop of nasty pimples
drooped between the counter and a rack of cigarettes and condoms, lazily
paging through an issue of Playboy. He lethargically rang up my purchases,
not even feeling shame enough to conceal his literature, while my eyes crept
to the plate-glass window overlooking the bright street.
The boy finally handed me my drink along with the wrong amount of
change. I didn't push the subject; what's fifty cents lost?
I left the store and, still in the seemingly door-less threshold, unscrewed the
cap and drank deeply of the bracing liquid, bathing my sandpaper throat.
With a stage-sigh of satiation, I returned the cap to its rightful place and
turned north toward the library, a simple lunch at Goodricke's Old Time
Pharmacy caressing my mind. But in my withdrawn haste, my left shoulder
connected with the abdomen of a tall man who was passing; he seemed to
be hurriedly rushing toward the small slum neighborhood across the tracks.
"Excuse me, sir," I said automatically.
"Watch where you're going," replied this man around a sunny grin. Taken
aback, I looked up and studied his long, angular face covered with tiny
pepper flecks below two sparkling eyes, sure that I must know him.
Recognition soon dawned on me, and I began to smile myself. He wore his
customary plaid lumberjack button-up and a black T-shirt beneath.
"Hey," I greeted happily, "how are you?"
Still smiling warmly, Mark Calvin shrugged one scrawny shoulder, "As good
as can be, under the circumstances."
As high school students at Walker-Grant across town, I and Mark Calvin
had been an inseparable gruesome twosome distained by the arrogant jocks
and the promiscuous cheerleaders, and by the bookish faculty at large. Like
me, Mark was a poet and a Bohemian who admired the art and culture of the
last sixty years. He dropped out of high school in our senior year to play
husband to Sondra Lunsford, a rather homely artist who shared several of
our classes. Since then they had moved to Culpepper to be closer to
Sondra's grandmother (and no doubt to her financial support), and had had
a son. Save for twice when I happened to be up that way, I had not seen
Mark in ten years.
"What circumstances?" I asked worriedly.
"Oh," he dismissed, "same old thing; money problems and all that jazz.
How're things with you?"
"Well," I proudly beamed, "I've a book of poetry coming out in June, and
Weird Tales has just bought a vampire story I forced out."
"Impressive," Mark marveled, though his tone sounded to my sensitively
paranoid ears like that of an adult forcedly preening over a child's
deplorable scribbling. "I haven't done anything recently myself, but I'd really
like to get back."
"You should; the literature world needs as much help as it can get!"
We shared a hearty laugh, drawling puzzled glances from the walkers
passing on either side of us.
"So, how's...Bobby?" I asked, unsure if that was the boy's name or not.
With a father's smile, Mark replied reverently, "You should see him, he's so
big now. He plays Little League and he's the best one on his team."
Looking into Mark's moist eyes, I faltered and glanced away from his raw
"Hey, look; it's been good seeing you, but I gotta get going," Mark said.
"Yeah," I sighed, not wanting to end the brief yet warm reunion, "I'd best get
back to my rambles, I suppose."
"Here, I want you to send this to Sondra and Bobby," Mark said handing me
a crumpled envelope addressed in his unmistakably beautiful hand. I took
the envelope, fluttering in the wind, and looked a bit bemusedly at it for a
moment. I raised my head to ask Mark about his bizarre request, but beheld
an empty street.
An electric shockwave of terror swept through me as I stared up the street,
my vision blurring. I began to sway on my feet and nearly sank to gelatin
knees, but luckily there was a lamppost nearby, and I surrenderingly threw
my arms around it as if I were a jovial drunk greeting his foulest enemy, my
heart crashing wildly and my lungs refusing to function.
Deep in thought and warm enjoyment of the day, I had forgotten the letter
that I had received in the mail six months before, and how I was unable to
fulfill its request, though my entire being yearned to heed its beck-and-call. I
had forgotten the letter; I had forgotten its contents. I had totally forgotten
that Mark Calvin was dead.