The Important Questions
by S. Scott Bullock
WAS it obsession? Was it pathological? Was I a stalker for Pete’s sake? Or was it truly and simply, love at first sight. Love, that is, with a liberal tablespoon of lust tossed in. I fully believe that it was the latter, but who knows, I could be nuts. Many have said that I am ‘one pint short of a quart’.
But regardless of pathological obsession or simple love, this woman was beautiful. No. Beautiful does NOT cut it. She was all of the beauty in the world rolled up into a beautiful, woman-shaped package and topped with some beauty sprinkles and tied up in a beautiful, beauty bow. She was… well… you get the idea.
I first saw her on Monday the sixteenth. I was in my usual seat, way in the back of the ‘Your Morning Jolt’ coffee house. I liked it way in the back. Nobody was ever back there at my favorite table because it was right next to the little hallway that led to the restrooms and any time anybody went in or out of the toilets, especially the men’s, the stink would waft by a little. You know that smell. Pee, poop, urinal cakes and Pine Sol. It doesn’t make for an appetizing accompaniment to one’s morning coffee and sweet roll. But I put up with it because I love that table so much. Way back in the back, up against the wall and private. Plus there is an electrical outlet right below it and I could always plug my laptop in and not have to depend on the battery, and plus-plus, the bathrooms weren’t really used all that much so the odoriferous assaults were few and far between.
So, anyway, I first saw her when she came in Monday morning and went to the counter to order. She was juggling three or four books and she almost dropped them when she went into her purse for money. Some clown in a button-down oxford shirt and man bun jumped up to help her with the books, but she declined his aid. I was glad. It showed she had taste. Never accept help from a yuppie-hipster. That way lies madness.
She gathered up her books and her purse and headed to an empty table by the window. She sat down and I saw, for the first time, the true color of her hair. The sun was pouring through the window and it shattered her hair into a thousand facets of color. Red and gold and auburn and rust. Her hair was a crown of roses. And her face was a gift from God. (I don’t believe in God, but after seeing her face I began to question the possibility of his existence). And what shade was her skin? Alabaster? No. Milky? No. Creamy? No. What was that shade of skin? What was it? There wasn’t a word yet. There had not been a word invented that could describe the color of her skin. So I guess I’ll just have to call it pearl-white. Her skin was pearl-white. Iridescent white. I swear to you it looked like it glowed from the inside. I’d never seen anything like it. And then her body. Holy cow. She wasn’t one of those tuning-fork-legged, anorexic pool cues. Oh no. This one was round in all the right places with not a single hard angle to be found. Well… no hard angle on her anyway. But that’s being vulgar, and I may be MANY things, but vulgar is not one of them.
As you can tell I was smitten immediately. And that was even before I had seen her eyes. Because, when I finally saw her emerald green eyes, it was game over for this California transplanted Indiana farm boy. Smitten became ‘where have you been all my life’ and I knew then and there that this angelic creature was going to be with me for the rest of my life. I know it’s kind of girlie, but I swear when I first saw her eyes, I heard wedding bells and started planning the ceremony in my head!
But I’m ahead of myself. Before I saw those eyes, I just sat back at my favorite table and watched. For three days, each morning at 8:15 precisely, I watched her come into the coffee shop and go through the exact same procedure.
She’d go up the counter, place her order (a large Caffè Latte and a glass of water) fumble with the three or four books she was carrying while digging into her oversize purse for her wallet. She’d pull out the wallet, almost drop the books, recover, and then pay the barista. She’d then shuffle over to one of the tables by the window, drop her books on it and put her purse on the chair next to her, then she’d sit down and wait for her order to be called. Every morning. And every morning I became more and more enchanted with this angel on earth.
On the second day, Tuesday, as she went up to the counter to get her finished order, I got up from my seat and casually walked by her table. I acted as if I was looking for something or someone out the windows but I was really spying. I wanted to see what books she was reading and I saw that they were all books about Silent Movies and the Silent Era. When I saw what they were a rush of adrenaline coursed through me and made my head light and swoony for a second. I couldn’t believe my luck. She turned toward her table and me. I must have looked like a real dope, standing there with my mouth hanging open and my hand on my forehead. I regained some composure and pretended I was waving goodbye to someone outside the shop and I walked back to my table as she made her way back to hers.
I sat down feeling unbelievably happy. This was an incredible coincidence. I loved silent movies! I knew everything about them. And this was going to be the perfect way to strike up a conversation. I settled it in my head that, day after tomorrow, Thursday, would be the day that I would finally talk to her. I opened my laptop and began to refresh my memory about all things ‘Silent Movies’. I kept glancing up at her, I couldn’t help myself. She was sipping her coffee and reading her books. She was highlighting parts of them with a yellow highlight marker and making notes on a legal pad with an old fashioned, very fancy, fountain pen. It was hard for me to concentrate with her so near, but I kept at it. Then, she finished her coffee, closed her books, put her notepad and pen back in her purse, rose and left. My heart sank a little when she left. I had the fear that the next morning would come and she wouldn’t show up. But I put my fear aside and went back to my studies.
Wednesday morning was no different. I sat and watched as she came in at 8:15 and did her morning dance. I watched her read and write and highlight as I continued to brush up my knowledge. I watched her finish and leave and I felt that little sadness again. I went back to my laptop and tried not to think too much about the next morning.
Thursday morning came and I got to the coffee shop just before it opened. I waited for the manager to unlock the door and when she did I headed straight for my table. This was a new manager and she didn’t give me the normal greeting I was used to. She just smiled at me and said ‘good morning’. I smiled back as I made my way to my spot. I put my laptop down and went up to the counter. I ordered my double espresso and two chocolate biscotti. I picked up my order at 6:15 and returned to my seat. I opened my laptop and continued my studies. Two hours. I had to wait two hours before she came in.
8:15 came and 8:15 went. No beautiful angel. My heart not only sank this time, but fell out of my chest rolled across the linoleum floor and banged against the dirty wooden base board at the bottom of the far wall. Or so it felt. It was still in my chest, beating too fast. I can tell you this though, I have not felt such sorrow before or since.
But then the sorrow fell away and a great light, joy replaced it. At 8:23 she walked in the door, juggling her books and her purse and heading to the counter. I wanted to rush up to her, hug her and say ‘You’re Late!’, but I knew that would be weird to say the least. Instead I looked down at my open laptop and waited for her to settle in. After about fifteen minutes she was fully settled, sipping and reading, so I drew in a great breath and stood up.
“Buster Keaton was my favorite.” I said to her, my heart beating out of my chest. She looked up from her book.
“Sorry?” She asked.
“Silent film comedian.” I said. “Buster Keaton was my favorite.”
“You know Silent films?” She asked.
“I love them.” I said. “I’m somewhat of an expert on them too.”
She just stared at me then for what seemed like hours. She didn’t say anything. I was about to turn and walk away, my tail between my defeated and embarrassed legs, when she broke her silence.
“You’re not weird or crazy or an escaped lunatic or anything are you?” She asked me with no sign of a grin or sense of humor at all. I was a bit taken aback, but forged ahead. No turning back now.
“Um.” I stammered. “Um… no… holy cow no! I just really love old…” She cut me off.
“Good.” She said smiling. “Go get your coffee and come sit with me. I’ve been watching you over there watching me. I wondered how long it would take you to come over and say hello.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“You’re cute.” She said smiling. “But more importantly you are the only other person in our generation who even knows that movies were silent once. And that bugs the heck outta me.”
‘Heck’. How perfect that she didn’t say ‘hell’ or ‘shit’. She was a lady, in the truest sense of the word. I walked over to my table and retrieved my fourth coffee and laptop. I walked back to her table not feeling the floor. My stomach was alive with the biggest swarm of butterflies I had ever felt in my life. My mind was swirling and whirling with imagined possibilities. She moved her books and made room on the table for my stuff.
“So, are you really an expert?” She asked me holding up her ‘Stars Of The Silent Screen’ book.
“Maybe I should say that I’m well read on the subject rather than an expert.” I reached for the book and in the process spilled my coffee all over the table. She grabbed up her books and pad as quickly as she could and jumped up, but coffee still splattered them.
“OH SHIT!” I said. “I’m sorry. I’ll get some napkins. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay.” She said dabbing at her legal pad with her napkin. “No real damage. The books are mine, not the library’s, so you’ve not committed any crime. I’ll get some more napkins.” She walked towards the counter as the barista came over to the table with a bar towel and wiped up the mess I had made. So much coffee from such a little cup. It was everywhere.
“Thank you.” I said to him. “I’m a klutz.”
He winked at me then and said quietly enough for only me to hear.
“Don’t stop now, dude. You’ve almost got her. Whatever the cost. She’s worth it.”
And I knew what he meant. This girl, whose name I didn’t even know yet, this girl was worth any and all of it. She was the grand prize of all grand prizes. Just then she came back with a stack of napkins.
“Oh. It’s all cleaned up.” She said.
“John helped. The barista, John.” I said looking at my hands. “I’m sorry. It was an accident.”
“Oh Please.” She said smiling at me and taking my hand. “It’s no big deal at all.” Then with a great big grin. “I didn’t feel a thing. And even my note pad survived with only a few stains. I’m Katherine by the way.”
“Oh. Yeah. Zack.. I’m Zack.” I reached out my hand to shake hers. She had a hold of my other one and we laughed as she extricated one in order to shake the other.
“Lucky you don’t use a laptop or ipad or something electronic. I would have killed it with a single sweep of my clumsy hand!”
“I’ve got a desktop in my apartment.” She said sitting back down. “I transfer all my notes to it when I get home. I don’t like to study or do my reading there. I like it here. By the windows with a great cup of coffee. I can’t make coffee to save my life so I come here. Don’t you love their coffee? What’s your favorite Keaton silent?”
I was so enthralled by how she was speaking that I didn’t even hear what she was speaking about. I only noticed that all of a sudden she had stopped talking.
“Hello?” She said smiling. “You in there?”
“Oh. Sorry.” I stammered. “What did you ask me? Was it about coffee? I’m sorry I zoned out.” I attempted to cover my absolute enamor-induced brain fart with a stupid verbal dance. I think it worked though.
“Sometimes I talk too fast.” She said pointing at her mouth. “I asked if you loved the coffee here and also what your favorite Buster Keaton silent film is.”
“Oh. Yeah. I love the coffee and the one where the house falls on him.”
“You don’t know the name of it?” She asked. “I thought you were an expert!”
“Not an expert, just very well read, like I said, but my brain doesn’t seem to be functioning at full capacity today and I can’t remember the darn title.” I was still verbally tap-dancing.
“It’s called Steamboat Bill Jr., and was a 1928 feature-length comedy silent film starring Buster. Released by United Artists, the film is the last product of Keaton’s independent production team and set of gag writers. It was not a box-office success and proved to be the last picture Keaton would make for UA Keaton would end up moving to MGM where he would make one last film with his trademark style. Steamboat Bill Jr. was directed by Charles Reisner. How ’bout that for well read?”
“That,” I said grinning, “is WELL read.”
“It’s part of my Thesis.” She said. “The Continuing Influence Of Silent Cinema And Silent Screen Stars On The Modern Day Filmmaker.”
“Oh.” I managed. “Impressive.”
“And you want to hear an amazing coincidence?” She asked.
“What would that be?”
“Steamboat Bill Jr. is playing, this very afternoon, at The Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax Avenue. You wanna go see it?”
I was gobsmacked. Was she asking me on a date? Could it really be this…
“I need you to stop now, Zack.” Dr. Warren said firmly but with compassion. “You’ve gotten way off track.”
Zack stopped talking immediately and shifted his gaze toward the doctor.
“You were doing very well up to the time you walked over to Katherine’s table. Although you fudged a little about knowing anything about silent movies. You don’t really know that much about silent movies, do you Zack?”
“Why do we have to meet in here?” Zack asked with a tinge of anger. “I hate the florescent lights. They make you look green.”
“It’s the facility’s psych clinic, Zack. It’s my office and it’s where I hold my sessions. Now, please answer my question.”
“I don’t remember it.”
“Yes you do. But I’ll ask it again. You don’t really know that much about silent movies, do you Zack.?”
“I know the stuff I looked up on my laptop. After I saw her books. I know that stuff.”
“Okay.” Dr. Warren began. “We’re going to go over it again. We are going to start with the important questions I mentioned earlier. This time, however, I’m going to stop you if you stray from the truth and I’m going to pull you back on course. Okay?”
“Okay.” Zack said, crossing his arms and looking like a freshly scolded little boy.
“Put your arms down at your sides and relax, Zack. I only want to help you though this.”
“Fine.” Zack said flatly.
“First question, Zack. Was it obsession?”
“I don’t think it was ob…”
“Zack.” Dr. Warren interrupted. “Was it obsession?”
“Yes. Dr. Warren. Yes. It was obsession.”
“Second question, Zack. Was it pathological?”
“Yes. Dr. Warren. Yes. It was pathological.”
“Third question, Zack. Were you a stalker?”
“I really think th….”
“Zack. Were you a stalker?”
“Yes. Dr. Warren. Yes. I was a stalker.”
“Good.” Dr. Warren said. “Now. Tell me again what happened between you and the young lady at the coffee shop.
“I saw her come in on Monday. I fell in love at first…”
“Zack.” Dr. Warren said firmly.
“I became obsessed immediately. I found out what she was reading and did some research of my own. I watched her for three days and..”
“Zack.” The doctor repeated.
“I stalked her for three days and on the fourth day I went over to talk to her.”
“Then what happened?” Dr. Warren leaned forward and put his hand on Zack’s knee. “What happened then, Zack?”
“I went up to her table and said the thing about Buster Keaton.”
“And she asked me to sit…”
“Zack.” Warren said, cutting him off. “What happened when you said the thing about Buster Keaton?”
“She told me to ‘fuck off’.” Zack said flatly.
“And what happened next, Zack?”
“I turned around and walked back to…”
“I picked up her fancy fucking pen and I stabbed her in her fancy fucking throat!” Zack shouted.
“How many times, Zack.”
“I stabbed the bitch twenty-three times in her stupid, nasty-mouthed throat!” Tears began streaming down Zack’s cheeks and he wiped at them, swatting them away like annoying flies.
“Zack, I need you to tell me what happened next, but I also need you to calm down. Tell me calmly what happened next, okay?” Dr. Warren put his other hand on Zack’s other knee.
“Then, that stupid barista John came up and pulled me away from her and he said that I was killing her and that whatever she had done to me it wasn’t worth killing her over, and he pulled me away and pushed me down into a chair and took the pen away from me and got some towels and tried to stop her bleeding and the blood was everywhere and there was so much blood everywhere, I couldn’t understand how so much blood could come from such a small woman and then I went and sat down at my favorite table and I watched the police come in and the ambulance guys and other people all staring at me and coming for me and all the blood, and then I was here.” Zack stopped and tried to catch his breath. “I don’t know how I got here. But then I was here.”
“You still don’t remember your arrest?” Dr. Warren asked quietly. “Or your trial?”
“No.” Zack had calmed but tears still flowed from his reddened eyes.
“We’ll, work on all that, Zack.” Dr. Warren patted both Zack’s knees. “Well work on that. But that’s enough for today. You’ve done very well. I’ll call the orderly to take you back to your room. Zack, I’m very proud of you. You’ve truthfully answered the most important questions, now we just need to fill in the rest.
“She’s very beautiful.” Zack said.
“Who?” Dr. Warren asked.
“Your new assistant. She’s very beautiful. I can’t stop thinking about her.” Zack said as the orderly came into the room.