They raised the street a story, those builders, those dreamers, facing a new century with hope. Anything could be done with hewn limestone in the hands of an Irish mason. Build walls, fill them in. A high road, and the second floor becomes the first.
But the old room is down here, for those who take the steep steps. It calls them. It hums. Time pools in the deep corners.
She chooses the deepest corner, where the stone walls join. This is where she comes when she needs to repoint her defenses. She sits here to shore up her senses, starting with the way her lower lip slides around the thick rim of the mug, straight from a ’50s cafe, where she was a little girl, her feet not touching the floor, and marshmallows melted in real hot chocolate.
But today, it’s coffee. And she folds her hands around the mug, slightly curved in the middle to welcome them. How many hands, she wonders, have done just this, day after day? What spirits have been raised, what sorrows have been comforted, by this tiny, timeless gesture?
She loves that it’s a tourist town. That day after day, a parade of soles wears the limestone sidewalks even smoother. It’s not a global view. She knows that. There is little hunger here and no war. But there is death. The sense of its impending arrival is evident in the scarf-shrouded heads, the canes and walkers, unwise on these uneven sidewalks. And yet, how intrepid is a human being? What a brave gesture, what a sneer. “I shall ignore you, Death. I shall go shopping.”
The couples cling to one another, or walk apart, one slightly ahead, one’s face closed in boredom, in anger. It hurts her to see the women try so hard, with forced, breathless joy. Important realizations happen here, away from home’s demanding routine. Marriages begin here. And separations.
The lucky tourists find their way to this burrow, where the server has just brought her one of the day’s two muffin choices. She separates it with the fork to let the steam escape. She sits with her back to the room, to face the wall. The walls, the hewn stairs, the sidewalks are the skeleton around which the town constantly renews itself. She touches a stone beside her. Was he Irish? Was he homesick or is he buried in Odd Fellow’s cemetary? Did he leave some heart broken or did his sons lay later walls? As he changed the courses of stone and water, how did he alter history?
Good questions, but oversimplified. A historical marker does not record the shivers that passed through his soul. How he dove deep into cold streams and floated up, his eyes open, toward the blurry light. When the stars were bright and sharp, did he know himself to be tiny, and yet more?
That is the true vortex here, she thinks. The energy left by so many souls passing through, staying a weekend or a lifetime, either way, a brief time. This is the perspective that she comes here to get, along with the coffee and the muffin. That she is caught in the stream of time, and that however hard she swims, she will still be washed on to the next shore.
But now, it is her time. And today’s muffin is Lemon Blueberry.