Crofton looked out beyond the shattered window cracked by trails of New York rain slithering to the concrete sidewalk outside the café. Thunder bellowed in the distance, and a taxi trudged down the avenue as water pelted the hood. A red neon sign flickered with dull life across the street above a sleeping Chinese deli.
It was a Sunday morning. Crofton had spent the night at the bar adjacent, and awoke to find himself in the café, a coffee mug in his hands, his face planted on last week’s newspaper. When a confused leer pounced upon his face, he attempted to take a sip of the coffee, but the stale, cold taste made his throat swell and eyes bulge in revulsion. He shook his head and tried to cleanse his eyes of sleepiness with his trembling hands, but it was no use. He had insomnia. Alcoholism. Depression. A victim of all.
***About midday Crofton had gathered enough strength to leave the café. The rain had slackened to a steady sprinkle, and the cloud cover had lightened to pale silver. The streets of downtown were flooded and busses and taxis skid over the water like boats through narrow canals. His Cardigan jacket hugged his body, hid his body, giving feigned safety and reassurance…Confidence to walk in a world so cruel.
When Crofton finally reached his apartment, he collapsed on the davenport and let out a tremendous sigh. The pressure was too great. Too heavy. The weight on his shoulders was pulling him to the ground; by his judgment, he had already fallen to his knees. In a world engulfed in fire, can a man survive the flame? No, Crofton thought, like everyone else, I will burn and turn to ash. Crumble. Dissolve. Turn to memories and colorless dreams; haunt the ones still fighting the fire climbing their legs.
Crofton sat up and took his jacket off, ran his hand through his gritty hair, and started the answering machine. Several apologetic rants, some business messages, and then, finally, the unexpected voice of Atkins. He paused, standing over the table, listening to his editor’s voice.
“Mr. Landon…I um… I heard about the incident. I never realized…I—I’m so sorry…” Atkins gave a sigh, and Crofton simpered. The radio continued, “And I’ve been considering…Listen…You’ve got a lot on your plate. The novels due in two months, and with the fiasco that just occurred, I’m sure you’re very distraught. How about take a break? Don’t your parents live in Maine, is it? It’s quite beautiful up there, and inspiration, I imagine, will follow suit.” Atkins paused. It seemed he didn’t know how to end. Apologetic? Sympathetic? Or completely ignore the event? Finally the editor spoke, softly, lightly, sincere, “I know you, Crofton, and it wasn’t your fault. Don’t continue life burdened by the past… Call me when you can.”
A tear found the corner of Crofton’s cerulean eye. He winced. But Atkins was probably right in his sense of a therapeutic retreat, and Crofton couldn’t deny the fact that Moosehead Lake was a scenic paradise and a haven of childhood memories, and for a moment he caught himself considering it. He spun backward and turned the television on, dropping back onto the davenport. Absurd, it was, to travel to northern Maine eight weeks before a proof is due. But, then again, the last time he spent Thanksgiving with his parents was five years ago… Crofton heaved a yawn and laced his fingers above him, cradling his head as his thought’s clockwork slowed. “The stress should be saved for the week,” His father would always state. And with that, and the gentle putter of rain tapping the window, his mind slowed and thickened, his eyelids drooped, and soon sleep fell upon his body as it hadn’t done for several weeks.