THE BROKEN HEART CHAIR

Every writer has a piece he/she believes is the best thing they ever wrote. This is mine, and it obviously isn’t a poem. I suppose it doesn’t belong here in my Cop Out section, because it isn’t from my police days. It is pure fiction.

You find it here today because a friend posted a piece on his blog yesterday http://sadlywaiting.wordpress.com/2011/06/06/untitled-wordle-7/, written from a woman’s point of view, and it reminded me of The Broken Heart Chair. While not written from a female point of view, but it is written primarily for a female audience.

I did not intend to post this in my blog. I always hoped to have it published in a women’s magazine. So far, I have not found that magazine, and thus, it has languished in my computer, dreaming of a home. If, after reading this, you think it is magazine worthy, I would love any suggestions on where to submit it. I would especially welcome any suggestions on how to improve it.

One caveat: Because this started as a practice piece on writing dialog, there are many paragraphs, and WordPress doesn’t allow for indenting. Instead each paragraph is double spaced. It makes this piece look much longer than it is.

THE BROKEN HEART CHAIR
by
Mike Patrick

It was about 3:30 in the afternoon when he came into the bar. He stood out as soon as he came through the door. It would have been hard not to stand out; he was the only customer in the place. The regular crowd wouldn’t start coming in until after 4:00 when the window factory across the street closed. This guy wasn’t from the factory—he wasn’t dressed right—and he was a stranger. Not many strangers came in.

He stood just inside the door until his eyes had adjusted to the dim interior light, then walked straight over to the small table in the corner with the single chair. He pulled the chair out and sat down facing the door.

This guy might be a cop, Charley thought as he came out from behind the bar. Cops always place their backs to a wall and face the door.

“Howdy,” Charley said with a friendly grin. “Be glad to get you anything you want. The cocktail waitress won’t be in until around 4 o’clock.

“Uh, but just as kind of a warning, you might not want to sit in that chair—not that there’s anything wrong with sitting there. You just might have the regular crowd looking at you kind of strange.”

“Oh? Why is that?” the stranger asked with puzzled expression.

“Well, it’s rather a long story. We call that chair the broken heart chair.”

The stranger smiled and said, “This I gotta hear. Why don’t you draw me a Bud Light and tell me about it. If it’s allowed, you can get yourself one too.”

Charley drew two beers and brought them to the table. He placed one on a coaster in front of the stranger and held on to the other while he pulled a chair over from another table and sat down. He went right to the point.

“There was a guy that came in here a little over six months ago. Matter of fact, he came in about this time of day. Although he was a decent lookin’ fellow, ‘ruggedly handsome’ is what Donna called him—she’s the cocktail waitress—I don’t reckon I ever saw anyone who looked quite as sad as he did.

“As a bartender, I try to figure strangers out. It’s a game Donna and I play. We try to guess what part of the town, or even what part of the country, they come from, what they do for a living, whether they are married or not. Stuff like that. Well, this guy’s hands were big and callused. He was dressed in well-worn jeans, a work shirt, and leather boots, but they were clean. It didn’t look like he had just come from work. Of course there are lots of people who change clothes after they get off. I figured he might be in the trades, maybe a carpenter or a bricklayer. Sometimes they start work early and get off around three.

“Anyway, he ordered a double whisky. It was still pretty early in the afternoon for the hard stuff, but who am I to argue with a customer. As it says in the song, ‘It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.’

“I served him his double and he lets me know by his actions that he doesn’t feel like talking. Except when he paid me for the drink, he never looked up.

“When Donna came on duty at 4 o’clock, the regulars were coming in and she took over serving the tables. After 4:00 I just take care of the customers that sit at the bar. Now Donna is pretty. You’ll see her in a few minutes. When she saw this guy moping at one of her tables, she decided she would cheer him up. She swung a chair around from another table sat down across from him.

“I was too far away to really see or hear what happened. All I saw was Donna sit down, the guy looked up, and Donna jumped up and backed away like she had been slapped. I started to come around the bar, but Donna came over to me before I got too far.”

“My God!” she said. “Did you see those eyes? When I first sat down he looked up like he was on the Titanic and I was handing him the last life vest. But when he realized that he didn’t know me his face fell. It was as if something died inside. Those were the saddest eyes I ever saw. I couldn’t stand to look into them.”

“She served him those doubles the rest of the night, but he never looked up again. She didn’t try to cheer him up again either.

“At closing time I had to help him out. He was so smashed that he could barely walk. I offered to call him a cab but he just jerked away from me and walked south on Adams. When I saw he wasn’t driving I didn’t try to stop him.

“Figured I’d never see him again. I was wrong. He came back at about 3:30 the next day, sat in the same chair, and drank the same drinks.

“Sometime during the evening, he pulled out an ink pen and started writing on the tablecloth. Donna was going to read him the riot act for ruining a tablecloth, but when he looked up at her with those desperate eyes she backed off. After a few minutes, she went back into the office, brought out a stack of copy paper, put it on the table in front of him and said, ‘Here, write on this.’

“He sat there all night doodling, drinking and crying. After he left at closing time, Donna noticed that he left all the paper on the table. She started reading what he had written and we got our first clue about what made him tick. He had written ‘Six months’ over and over on one page. Then, on another page, he wrote ‘Six months to decide if she’ll take me back.’

“Anyway, after reading it all, Donna said that it looked like his girlfriend or wife had finally gotten tired of his crap and told him that she didn’t want to see him or hear from him for six months. At the end of that time, she would decide whether she felt there was enough between them to go on.

“It reminded me of a line in a song by Conway Twitty—it’s number B-23 in the Jukebox over there—‘This Time I Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me.’”

The stranger looked up at Charley and said, “Now that’s a strange story. I’m sure there’s more to it, but we are going to need another beer.

Charley laughed and went behind the bar. A glance at the clock told him Donna would be walking through the door in a few minutes. He drew two more beers and went back to the table.

“Well,” Charley said, “That was just the beginning. Buddy kept coming in every afternoon. Buddy was the name Donna and I gave him. He never told us his real name. And he always sat in the chair you’re in and poured out his heart on that copy paper. Donna started coming in early just to make sure there was fresh paper on the table when he came in. If anyone else even looked like they were going to sit in that chair, she would pitch a fit.

“His writing made me chuckle. Many of the people who come in here say they’re drinking to forget. Buddy drank to remember. After a few drinks he would start remembering what went wrong between him and Lucy. We called her Lucy because we never knew her name either. Then he would write down what they said. Each of these conversations would include something he said or did to hurt her. Sometimes he would write over and over, ‘I can change.’

“I guess it’s true, you never realize what you have until you lose it.”

“Did he always leave the paper on the table when he left?” the stranger asked.

“Always! Well . . . there was one time he didn’t, but that was a lot later.

“After closing each night, Donna collected every sheet, treating them like they were carved in stone and had been carried down from a mountain. She punched holes in them and put them in that red loose-leaf book behind the bar.

“When her female friends came in she would show it to them. They looked at Buddy like he was a God. Here was the one man in the universe who loved someone so much he tried to write down every word they had ever shared. More than that, a man who loved one woman so much that he wouldn’t even look at them.

“I’m telling you, if you ever want to meet women, that’s the way to do it. Act like they don’t exist. All those women, and most of them are married, took a stab at breaking through Buddy’s gloom by dazzling him with their beauty—and some of them are really good looking. They all fell flat on their faces. He would look up at them with those tragic eyes and they would back away wondering what kind of woman Lucy was and wishing they had that kind of power.

“Buddy became a local celebrity. Everyone knew his story. They watched him like he was some kind of circus freak. The regulars told their friends about him and business actually increased. And the whole time, Buddy didn’t know there was anybody in the bar but him.

“After a few weeks Buddy cut back some on his drinking. He only ordered beer and drank them slow. It happened after he filled out a sheet with kind of a self-evaluation. Apparently, Lucy had complained about his drinking but he ignored her. Along with problems like, ‘Showed her no respect, took her for granted, never bought her flowers,’ he wrote, ‘drank too much.’

“Reducing the drinking had a positive affect on his writing. It became more coherent—more organized. He began rewriting some of his earlier conversations in three forms. The first was what he said, the second was what he meant, and the third was what he should have said. For instance, Donna found what she thinks was the incident that caused Lucy to place him in the six-month time-out. It happened on Lucy’s birthday, and it went something like this.

“What I said: ‘Hurry up, Honey. The game starts in an hour and I don’t want to be late.’

“What I meant: ‘Honey, Bill gave me tickets to the ball game tonight and I’d really like to go. What do you think?’

“What I should have said: ‘Honey, last weekend we went where I wanted to go. This is your birthday and your weekend. I made dinner reservations, but what would you like to do?’

“He had totally forgotten about her birthday. No wonder she was so mad. My wife would have killed me. A page of, ‘Flowers, I should have gotten her flowers. She loves flowers,’ followed that line.

“A little after that he filled out several entire pages with, ‘I’m changing,’ written over and over again. Donna and I noticed the modification of his earlier, ‘I can change.’

“He also listed 100 things he wanted to say to her if she would only take him back. Stuff like, ‘I want to kiss you in the rain. Hell can not be worse than living without you.’ Most of it was pretty sappy, but some of it made Donna cry. It wasn’t so much that the guy had a gift for writing; rather that it came from the heart. It wasn’t contrived. You could feel the words.

“Buddy sat in that chair for over five months before he totally quit drinking booze. He would only order coffee. About then he composed four drafts of a please-take-me-back letter to Lucy, each a little better than the one before. He explained that he realized that he had made awful mistakes, unforgivable mistakes, but he had changed.

“You know . . . I don’t think he even noticed he had completed the transition from, ‘I can change,’ and ‘I’m changing,’ to ‘I have changed.’

“He finished up by telling her that the six months would be over on Friday, and he would be waiting here from 3:30 on. If she could see it in her heart to give him another chance she could stop by or call. He would meet her anywhere. At least that was what was in the drafts he left on the table. That night was the only time he took a sheet of that paper with him when he left.”

The door opened, startling Charley and the stranger. Donna came in. She stared at the man sitting in the broken heart chair until her eyes adjusted enough to see it wasn’t Buddy; then she glared at him as she walked to the back room for her apron.

The stranger looked from Donna back to Charley. “Well, what happened? Did she come in?”

“Yeah, she did. Buddy sat here from 3:30 until five o’clock. He had a single red rose on the table in front of him. Every time the door opened he would touch the rose and look up with so much hope in his eyes everyone in the bar just held their breath. Each time it wasn’t her, and he slumped back in that chair and hung his head again.

“At five this little brunette walked through the door. She was cute, but nothing spectacular. She was dressed in a simple skirt and blouse, something a woman would wear while working in an office. Buddy stood up slowly when he saw her and picked up that rose. His hand was trembling so bad a couple of petals shook off. No one else in the bar moved. Everyone was frozen. I can’t begin to describe the look in his eyes.

“I got your letter and the other eleven roses at the office today,” she said. “The flowers were a good touch, big boy. Let’s go home and put them in some water.”

“Buddy walked out with her while the whole bar gave them a standing ovation. He hasn’t been back. I guess everyone who ever saw him here hopes everything worked out. After they had gone, Donna said, ‘I wonder what would have happened if she hadn’t come in.’ I wonder too.”

“But in the end, he got his girl back?” the stranger asked.

“Yeah, at least it looks like it. He didn’t come back here. I take that as a good sign.

“And now you can understand why you might not want to sit in the broken heart chair,” Charley said as Donna came from the back room and walked over to the table.

Charley got up and began catching up on his duties behind the bar. Donna looked at the stranger for a long moment and said, “Can I get you another beer? Oh, and you might want to move to another table. The light isn’t very good here.”

The stranger said, “I believe this table is perfect. Fate dropped me right where I should be. I’ll have a double whisky—and if you could find some paper so that I can jot down some notes, I would really appreciate it.

“Oh yeah, here are some quarters. Would you mind dropping them in the Jukebox and playing B-23? I could use some music.” There was a sad look in his eyes—a very sad look.

9 Responses to THE BROKEN HEART CHAIR

  1. vivinfrance says:

    That is one helluva good story. I was gripped almost from the word go. Which tells me that perhaps the first paragraph may need a bit of a tweak it’s a bit too blatantly scene-setting IMHO. eg .Charlie the bartender,. – you could let that be discovered in contexzt, rather than telling us directly. But after that, I noticed nothing but the story – evidence that the writing was right!

    • Mike Patrick says:

      After rereading this for the hundredth time, I agree with you. I’m working on three entrance modifications now. Once I can get one of them to feel right, I’ll put it in. This is exactly the critique I was looking for. Thank you, Viv.

      By the way, in that reread, I found several other places for changes, mostly just extra adjectives, but worth correcting. Thanks again.

  2. Renee Espriu says:

    Never say a short story isn’t worth the time or that whatever else you write can’t compare. Your poems and your short story writing are two different things. You are good at both and both are simply different. I think you should keep writing more short stories, Mike. I’ve written three. They don’t come quite as easy as my prose but I like doing them. Well done.,

  3. pmwanken says:

    If I were so inclined, I’d say: pour me a double.
    Instead…I’ll just say: pass the paper.
    Great story, Mike!
    ~ Paula

  4. earlybird says:

    I really enjoyed this Mike. It’s a very good story. I agree with Viv about not needed you to tell us who Charley is in the first para and there was one para near the start (starting ‘As a bartender’) where I had a query in my mind as to whether Charley would really speak like that – it was when he was describing Buddy. Can’t quite put my finger on it but it sounded as if you were describing him straight in prose rather than speaking. But I didn’t get pulled up by any of the other dialogue so it must all fall into a rhythm. I assume you’ve said it all out loud?

    I have no idea about publication, I’m afraid. There are lots of competitions around, if that interests you. http://www.wbcompetition.com/ was one Viv sent to me.

    • Mike Patrick says:

      Thank you, Earlybird. You have given me another paragraph to focus on. It is difficult to read one’s own work with objectivity; in spite of that, I’m still finding places to improve. My editing copy has blue pencil marks (metaphorically) all over it. Harry would approve because some of those superfluous words he hates are being taken out–I’ll probably never find them all. To me, tight writing is an oxymoron.

  5. This was a fabulous read! Wow. I am impressed! I going to have a couple of friends to read this.

  6. Ekologist says:

    I really enjoyed this Mike. It’s a very good story. I agree with Viv about not needed you to tell us who Charley is in the first para and there was one para near the start (starting ‘As a bartender’) where I had a query in my mind as to whether Charley would really speak like that – it was when he was describing Buddy. Can’t quite put my finger on it but it sounded as if you were describing him straight in prose rather than speaking. But I didn’t get pulled up by any of the other dialogue so it must all fall into a rhythm. I assume you’ve said it all out loud?
    +1

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