Larry French ~ The Only Source of Light

Each motel room had a set of French doors fac­ing the ocean and out­side the doors was a wood­en board­walk paint­ed gray. The man paid for one of these rooms for three nights in advance. He said he might stay longer and the desk clerk said that would not be a prob­lem since the fall was a slow peri­od for them. The clerk then warned him that six times a day a train went by just one hun­dred feet from the man’s back door and he hoped it would not both­er him. The man just smiled and said that in fact he was very fond of trains.

The first day in his room he arranged his clothes, put his toi­let arti­cles away and began to dust. He dust­ed the lit­tle desk, the van­i­ty and the mir­ror and then he laid down on the bed and lis­tened to the sound of the ocean. He was half asleep when he heard the first train com­ing. By the time he got out the door and across the park­ing lot he had missed the engine but stood and watched the rest of the train go by.

The hotel had placed an old din­ing car in an open area near the tracks and con­vert­ed it into a cof­fee shop. The man began hav­ing his lunch there dai­ly. He liked to watch the trains go by while he sat in one him­self. Sometimes he felt like his din­ing car was mov­ing and the train going by out­side was sit­ting still.

Here he comes,” said one of the wait­ress­es work­ing in the din­ing car.

It’s over a week now,” said the oth­er. “No one ever stays here that long. There’s some­thing fun­ny going on with that one.”

And did you see that jack­et he wears? And the car he dri­ves? That one’s not hurt­ing for money.”

They were fin­ish­ing the set-ups for lunch when the man walked in. He stood for a moment inside the door and read the dai­ly spe­cials on the chalkboard.

Good morn­ing, ladies,” he said.

Just bare­ly,” said one of the wait­ress­es glanc­ing at her watch.

Say, mis­ter,” said the oth­er one hand­ing him a menu. “You hav­ing a good stay here? You about the clos­est thing we got to a regular.”

The man ran his fin­ger down the menu stop­ping at the bread­ed veal cutlet.

There it is,” he said. “You ladies do that one real well. I’ll have that and a cof­fee. I don’t know why I’m still here. I’m think­ing about writ­ing a book.”

The wait­ress wrote down his order and went to get his water. When she came back she asked him, “A book. Hey, that’s all right. You write very many books before?”

Never,” he said. “If I do, though, I’m going to per­son­al­ly come back here and give you an auto­graphed copy.”

The wait­ress smiled and went to take care of the oth­er cus­tomers. She came back to fill his cof­fee cup.

What’s it gonna be about?”

Well,” he said, “I’m still decid­ing that, but I’m going to put the trains in it and the ocean and per­haps some cra­zies, too!”

Why cra­zies?”

Crazies are always good,” he said. “You don’t have to wor­ry about get­ting the cra­zies right. Anything they do is all right because they’re crazy.”

That makes some kind of sense, I guess. What else are you gonna put in that book?”

Weather,” he said. “I fig­ure a lit­tle weath­er about every ten pages.”

That’s a nice touch,” she said. “Hell, ain’t nobody not inter­est­ed in weath­er. It’s nice you ain’t get­ting too high­brow. Probably sell more copies that way.”

She left the man and went to the rear of the din­ing car. She made two trips with dish­es to the win­dow and slid them out onto the cart. The dish­es were washed in the main restau­rant. The lunch hour was near­ly over and most peo­ple were in the process of set­tling their checks and leav­ing. After a while the man saw the wait­ress com­ing towards him and the oth­er one right behind her. The first wait­ress looked embarrassed.

I told her about you writ­ing a book. She wants to ask you something.”

The oth­er wait­ress looked down at her feet then out past the man to the rail­road tracks outside.

Well,” she began, “if you are still writ­ing on that book that means you ain’t got it fin­ished yet, right?”

The man nod­ded his head.

Well, I was just won­der­ing if you could put us in there? In that book?”

I could do that,” he said, “but I’d have to dis­guise you.”

Why’s that?”

You could sue me. Happens all the time.”

Why’d I do that for?”

Maybe you would­n’t like what I said about you. You’d just pick up the phone, call a lawyer and there goes my mon­ey. No, I’ll do it, but I’ll have to dis­guise you.”

The two women slid into the booth across from the man. One of them opened some cig­a­rettes and passed them around. The one that asked to be in the book blew a smoke ring and stared into it for a minute.

Make it so we can tell though,” she said. “As long as we know, that’s enough.”

No prob­lem,” he said. “You’ll just be read­ing along, then sud­den­ly there you’ll be, clear as day.”

One of the women went to get more cof­fee and filled all the cups. The man stood up. He fished some bills out of his pock­et and laid them on the table.

I’m going to miss you ladies,” he said. “Just remem­ber I’m com­ing back here and give each of you an auto­graphed copy, and that’s a promise.”

The man walked out of the din­er and across the tracks to his room. They watched him until his door closed behind him.

The two women worked through the after­noon and into the evening until the din­er closed for the night. It was a full moon when they left the din­er and start­ed towards the park­ing lot and their cars. The lights of the din­er and the park­ing lot had been turned off and the moon was the only source of light. It shone on the sur­face of the twin bare met­al tracks of the rail­road and on the faces of the women as they walked to their cars. One of the women had tears run­ning down her cheeks and the light of the moon shone on these also and made them glis­ten in the night.

Why, hon­ey, what’s wrong with you?”

Oh, damn,” said the woman. “Oh, damn, damn, damn.”

The woman who was cry­ing stopped in the park­ing lot and the oth­er put her arm around her and held her close.

I ain’t nev­er seen you like this. What’s got­ten into you? Is Henry act­ing up again?”

She shook her head no and began moaning.

Oh, my Jesus,” she said. “Oh, my good sweet Jesus.”

The air was wet and mois­ture stood on the roofs of the cars and on the wide green leaves of the palm trees and every­where the mois­ture set­tled the moon reflect­ed and shone and gath­ered it’s light in those places.


Larry French’s work has appeared in Ascent, the New Orleans Review, and else­where, and has been anthol­o­gized in the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. This piece is reprint­ed from April 2010 NWW.