the woods at the end of town

From my view across the coffeehouse, what I noticed most though, were the dark tattoos covering his hands. They reminded me of the kind of runes that Queequeg might have worn aboard the Pequod. They were hard to see in the sea of black and grey hair on his arms.

He wore a red flannel jacket with the sleeves pulled up. It was the kind of ritual jacket that had fought all the wars alongside him. Buttoned up underneath, an unremarkable gray long john top like you’d expect to see on a grifter panning for gold in a California stream. A flat ribbon of the deepest blue had been braided in along with his greying beard in a simply but ornamental celtic braid.

“The ghost,” said the owner, bringing me hot water to refill my tea, “He appears in here on the Winter Solstice every year. We all have our stories about where he goes the other 11 months of the year. When my mother owned this place, she would tell stories about him. Of where he’d been the other 11 months of the year. I imagine that somewhere along the line life became too much and he simply retreats away from all of us somewhere.”

“I wonder what brings him back to this little town each year, ” I replied.

I finished my coffee and got on with my day. Like the shop owner and her mother, I started to tell myself stories about him.

I smiled being so inappropriately crushing on a man I knew nothing about. I guess it felt safe because, heck, who would know? I imagined him in a dark cabin somewhere with a bright fire to read by. It helped me keep my mind off the cold of the first few days of winter. I wondered to myself what he’d lost that he had disappeared to the edges, disappearing into a fog like Brigadoon as he reached the woods at the end of town.