Just My Type and Fontly Yours

The title of this post is made of two puns, so I’d say it’s off to a good start.

Today I want to talk about fonts. I know, I sound like Brick Heck from The Middle, but I strongly believe that fonts and type style are crucial to the success of a piece of writing.

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The other day, a friend of mine and I found ourselves in a heated debate over which font is better: Georgia or Helvetica. I argued that Georgia is whimsical yet still professional. He countered that Helvetica is simple and easy on the eye.

We did, however, find common ground in our preference for 12 point font and 1.5 line spacing, as well as our hatred of boring, old Times New Roman.

But why do we as writers feel so strongly toward one font and type setting over another?

To answer that, I am afraid I will have to get a bit philosophical. Writing is both an abstract and concrete art form; it is abstract in the ideas it presents to the reader’s imagination, but concrete in that it does so using visual cues- that is, written words. A book, then, is a concrete collection of the abstract thoughts. Good books are works of visual art that seek to give the reader an impression of something invisible; visible words communicate invisible ideas.

Most importantly, a book (or any piece of writing) must be well-written. The concrete words absorbed by the reader’s eyes must flow naturally, make sense, and be beautiful in their individual phrases in order to construct an abstract thought in his or her mind. Just as no poorly-made sculpture leaves a lasting mental impression, no poorly-written book will inspire great thoughts.

However, there is an element to this process of concrete-abstract in writing that goes beyond the skill of the author; if words are beads, no matter how eloquently the author strings them together, the chain upon which they are strung must also be a thing of artistic merit. This “chain” must complement the beads without overshadowing them.

Just so, fonts and type settings must complement and support the writing itself. You’ve doubtless been told to “never judge a book by its cover” and I’d agree. But perhaps there is some truth to judging a book by its font.

Consider the Harry Potter books. Being a giant nerd, I own both the American and British editions. And, while I prefer the British colloquial to the American “translations,” I always opt for reading the American prints because of- you guessed it- the font. Take a look for yourself!

IMG_4921First of all, notice the adorable illustration! I hold to the belief that one never outgrows books with pictures. Second, I challenge anyone to glance at the font of the chapter title and not immediately associate it with the whimsy and adventure of Harry Potter. The font of the text itself is legible, yet not as stiff as, say, the font you might choose for a thesis.

Now consider the spacing; the margins are wide enough for a child to hold the book by its edges and the space between lines is enough to prevent the reader from feeling overwhelmed.

However, the spacing is not as wide as in some children’s books, making it feel less condescending and as if it is also intended for older audiences. Similarly, had the font been Comic Sans or some other outlandish style, the book would have been less desirable to anyone aside from early readers.

Overall, I’d say the American editions of Harry Potter are an ideal example of font and spacing being used to not only attract the reader, but make the story more accessible. It is easy to “fall behind” the printed words into the story itself because the spaces leave enough of a hole to fall through and the font is easy on the eyes without being distracting. Beautiful.

IMG_4922Now, consider the British editions.  They’re more compact, first of all, so naturally “superfluous” illustrations must be forgotten to save space. The title is lovely and, of course, consists of the same words as its American counterpart, but it lacks the quirkiness the so perfectly parallels the story. No fancy letter “M” for the first word in this edition. No wide margins or extra space between lines, thank you very much. If the American edition wonderfully represents and facilitates the magic of Harry, the British edition is more characteristic of businesslike muggles.

The words (aside from a few candy names and the Philosopher-Sorcerer switch) are the same and the story is thus the same. However, with more crowded words and a more mechanical font/spacing, this edition is not as open to being read by all. I can hardly imagine a child being drawn to this edition, despite the story not being changed, because the words are so packed together and the margins are not friendly to a child’s clumsy grasp. Sure, maybe an adult would read these, but said grownup might not be drawn into the childlike wonder of the HP books as he might be by the visible whimsy of the American editions.

Font matters.

Spacing matters.

Writing is a visual art.

The best writing transcends visuals because it inspires imagining and ideas beyond the printed word; however, this transcendence can be bolstered by a wise choice of type style. Choose a font that reflects your writing’s ideas and, from the first page, the reader will fall more easily into the abstract world you create.

In painting, the better the work, the more it says. Another painter might be inspired to create something with the same message, but if he does not do it with excellent presentation, the viewer will not understand the idea behind the work as well as he might when looking at the first, better painting. The idea is the same, but the presentation makes all the difference.

It is the same with writing.

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Which one, to you, communicates the idea of a “beautiful day”? To me, the first is too stoic to truly represent the beauty of a sunshiny day. The second is more welcoming and expressive.

I’ll say it again: Font matters and spacing matters. Abstract themes are reflected in and enhanced by the visible art of words.

So what do you think? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this hypothesis. Do you  have a favorite font? Why Wing Dings? Why not Papyrus?

I look forward to hearing from you, readers!

Perhaps you’ll be more open to commenting, thought, if I write it this way:

I look forward to hearing from you, readers!

The Race to the Finish Line

Caption for the featured image: “I love writing, but it turned me into something escaped from Star Wars. #RememberMeAsIOnceWas”

I just finished the rough draft of what I suppose is my second novel, but is the first of what I hope to be a trilogy or series… And by “just finished” I mean I typed “THE END” not even twenty minutes ago before staring in exhausted disbelief at my laptop.

I had no motivation to put on real pants or leave my house today, so I decided to marathon to the end of my novel. I did not necessarily expect that to take nine hours of writing with only intermittent breaks for chocolate and coffee, but I am not complaining because, as tired as I am, it was one of the most fun days I’ve had this summer.

Weird, right?

But seriously, marathon writing was incredibly rewarding! Not only do I have a chunky novel draft to show for it (over 83,000 words and 375 pages woot woot!!!), I surprised myself with what I hope to be quotable lines, unique insights, character growth, and some google searches that might be a bit concerning should they ever be discovered… (Examples: “cat noses,” “Italian word for eyebrow,” and “Bacchic frenzy dance music”).

It was a long day of pajamas, chocolate anything, laughing at my own jokes, crying over my own adorable and flawed characters, texting my support group (aka, my poor best friends who have to deal with me on days like this), talking to my dog, avoiding my disheveled reflection, and praying my vision holds out until the end.

BUT I DID IT.

I’m sorry, but I need to take this moment to just celebrate.

My draft needs revision. It needs to be retyped. It probably needs to be restructured in places. But I finished it for now and that’s something to celebrate.

I complain about writer’s block, writer’s despair, and other #WriterProblems like inexplicably finding typewriter ink on my forehead despite writing with a Macbook, but I am overjoyed to announce that all of these make the Writer’s Victory even greater.

And with that, I am going to eat some well-deserved whipped cream and call it a night.

 

 

 

Writing a Child

I often refer to my novel as “my baby” and I know this is a tiny bit weird. But, being a writer, I really could not care less if I’m weird.

Still, I think I have a valid point when I call my novel a baby, as…

 

“Writing a Child”

 

It changes each chapter

and brings me to tears,

Especially now as it

becomes a two-year

old- it calls and it cries

for it’s always in need

to stuff it’s word-count

with research as feed.

Such tender affection

to nurture its plot;

for I joy when I’m writing

and guilt when I’m not.

It’s silly and moody

and can’t make up its mind

if it wants to be three books

or five of a kind.

I yearn for a day when

it’s finally grown

and publishing rights

are all of it I’ll own-

but then will I miss it?

A mother no more?

Or is being an author

much, much better for

My sleep-schedule, diet,

mental sanity…

Or will I be pacing

ever constantly

awaiting the critics

and readers reviews…

Oh! Poor baby novel,

how can I leave you?

I must make you stronger

to stand on the shelves

amidst the great classics

who fend for themselves.

My troublesome infant,

mind-born and ink-bred

please, please obey me,

as when sprung from my head-

for then you were simple

and naked and pure

and how to raise you

I felt so very sure…

Yet still I am patient

and faithful to thee

and will guide you until

in covers neatly,

we’ll bind up and copy-

swaddle and send you

to share your small story

with those we pray who

will adopt, read, and love

‘midst this wide-worded world

 

the novel in labor,

I’ve finally unfurled.

 

Writing Victories

Just had to brag a little bit:

Today marks the two-year birthday of my baby novel. On this day in 2014, I was inspired to write a book about a quirky little town that I stumbled upon and, to my delight, today I reached the word count required for my manuscript to qualify as a legitimate novel! And, to make matters even better (though admittedly a little bittersweet), I wrote my first death scene! This is quite a milestone in my life as a writer, so I thought I would write a little tribute here and publish one of my favorite scenes just to celebrate the occasion. Read on, if you’d like, to discover one chapter of Cobbly Nob.

 

Warning: the following chapter will be slightly confusing without any context, but nobody will probably read this far into this blog post anyway. (Let’s be honest.)

The Tea Scandal

Paige awoke to a light tapping on her bedroom door.

“Paige? You awake, honey?”

“Yes,” Paige croaked. She cleared her throat. “Yes, Mrs. Ellis!”

“We’re about to open for brunch; you’ve slept the morning away!”

“Oh!” Paige glanced at her phone. It was indeed past 10 o’clock. But if she had slept so long, why was her head pounding so mercilessly against her skull? Waking from a nightmare at the witching hour and banging her head on the ceiling had probably not done her any favors, but what she wanted more than anything was a strong cup of coffee.

“We saved you some breakfast, if you’d like!” continued Mrs. Ellis.

“And tea!” shouted Miss Linda from down the stairs in the kitchen.

“I’m up!” Paige sprung up, careful to mind her head, and promptly sat back down as the blood rushed from her head and her vision faded.

She threw on some clothes, tossed her hair up, and swiped some mascara on her pale lashes with the mechanical efficiency she had mastered during her senior year of high school during which she had had to get up at 5 o’clock and be at school within half an hour in order to take all of her electives.

She was greeted with “Good mornings” from Mrs. Ellis and Miss Linda, who she had taken to calling “the Hens” in her mind, as they fluttered about the kitchen. A plate of waffles waited at the counter for her, but she could hardly enjoy them in all of their syrupy, buttery goodness for the throbbing of her head.

“More tea, honey?” asked Miss Linda. Paige was not sure whether she was asking if she would like honey with her tea or whether the stiff “Grey Hen” was warming up to her enough to use a pet name.

“Yes, thank you.” Miss Linda poured her yet another – it was her third that morning alone- generous cup of tea and then allowed a thick stream of fresh honey to drip into it from the honeypot. So much for terms of endearment, thought Paige, sipping her tea and scalding her tongue.

Her head ached worse than it had only moments ago. Each morning at breakfast, one of the Hens would set a hearty plate of waffles or pancakes with bacon (or, more commonly in accordance with Southern hospitality and love of good vittles, both) and, with it, a steaming cup of tea. And Paige never seemed able to escape the humid kitchen, with its many delicious smells weaving together in a tapestry of scent she could feel on her skin, without having to swallow a second helping of some dish and at least two additional cups of tea. She suspected the Hens were trying to fatten her up, having overheard Mrs. Ellis worry that their guest was “as thin as a rail” although, despite being tall and lanky, she was quite average sized.

Despite these overwhelming servings of the best home-cooked meals she had ever eaten (she felt a bit like Scarlett O’Hara, enjoying the plenty of the Antebellum days), her head continued to throb with a pounding that crescendoed every moment. Four cups of tea and she was forced to recognize one undeniable truth: she needed coffee and only coffee. Strong, thick, black coffee bitter enough to jolt her awake and cure the throbbing.

“Coffee?” said Miss Linda when Paige mentioned it. Her angular face adopted an insulted look. “I’m afraid we do not have any.” She whisked away with her teapot with the same air of disappointment that Miss Dinah had displayed when she spoke of dog-people. Apparently to Miss Linda, coffee-drinkers were in the same category of offenders.

After that, Paige learned her lesson and for three more mornings did her best to savor the sweet tartness of the tea at breakfast and ignore the sharp ache in her skull throughout the rest of the day. She spent the afternoons of two of these days at the Blue Bookstore with Aunt Mary. However, sorting through the stuffy and poorly-lit aisles, filled with the wonder of books though they were, did nothing to help her plight. It was not until the fourth day- her fifth full day in Cobbly Nob- that Paige remembered the coffee shop, the Sock Monkey Cafe and Modern Art Gallery, that she had seen downtown. Henceforth it became her sole mission in life to visit that hallowed cafe and suddenly the cartoonish image of the Sock Monkey on the sign no longer seemed tacky but a sainted portrait.

“Morning! More tea?” a cheerful voice greeted her. Paige looked up from her book, Wuthering Heights, and was relieved to see Mrs. Ellis’s motherly face beaming down at her. How she was so energetic without coffee, Paige did not know, but she was glad at least that Miss Linda was not the one serving her breakfast this time, for it meant she could probably get away with only two cups of tea without upsetting her hosts.

She downed a plate of scrambled eggs so fluffy they were like pillows for the ham that nestled among them, flipped her book closed and tossed it into her messenger bag, and walked briskly out the door and down the road before the second kettle of tea could whistle at her to drink it.

Every two steps seemed to beat in time with her thoughts: “Cof-fee. Cof-fee.”

And then, there it was, in front of her, the cheesy red smile of the Sock Monkey on the sign. She pushed the door and prayed that it was open. It was. As she crossed the threshold, the dry, nutty scent of coffee grounds greeted her. She inhaled deeply- Oh, bliss! – and then marched up to the counter.

“A coffee please,” she said decisively, not even glancing at the menu and barely glancing at the barista. “Black.”

“Well you certainly know what you want,” laughed the employee behind the counter. He was the same young man who had said hello on her first day there, the day of her trip to Kat Kingdom. “You sure you don’t want some cream? Maybe make it a frappe?”

“No,” said Paige, annoyed. Honestly, just because she was a teenage girl did not mean she liked those frilly milkshakes wannabes. “Black.”

“Coming right up.” He did not dare laugh again, but Paige saw a twinkle in his eyes- which she also noticed were exceptionally brown…The color of a macchiato, she thought- as he took her money and handed her her fifteen cents change. She took a seat at the bar and withdrew Wuthering Heights from her bag.

“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same,” declared Catherine from the pages of the gothic novel. Paige, headache lulled to a dull groaning by the coffee-scented air, was captured by the passionate scene unfolding in the words of Emily Bronte. The decorations and sounds of the coffee shop, a quirky combination of Mardi-Gras and hipster chic, were forgotten.

“He does not know what being in love is?” wondered the hysterical heroine.

“No, he does not,” murmured Paige with a cynical smile. The love affair of Heathcliff and Catherine had never seemed to her as authentic as that of Anne and Gilbert, Elizabeth and Darcy, or even- reluctant as she was to admit it- Rhett and Scarlett. It was too…dramatic.

“Who does not what?” asked a tenor voice. She looked up and blinked, eyes adjusting from the black and white of the page to the reds and greens, golds and blues of the cafe. The boy from behind the counter slid a large mug, the face of the Sock Monkey printed on its side, under her nose.

“One moment,” she said. She lifted the mug to her lips and gulped at the coffee, wincing as she scalded her mouth, but swallowing anyway and sighing in satisfaction. “Bless coffee.”

The boy smiled at her, a silly half-grin that made his macchiato eyes light up. She was reminded of the twinkle lights she had seen him hanging the day before. “Who does not what?”

“Oh, sorry,” she looked down at her book. “I was talking to my book- I mean- myself.”

“What book?” Without waiting for her answer, he lifted the cover from the counter and scanned the title. He nodded. “Emily Bronte. Good choice.”

“You’ve read it?” she looked back up at him, more seriously now. After all, meeting someone who likes one of your favorite books is having a book recommend a person.

The boy nodded. “Literature course, senior year.”

“Nice,” Paige said. She took a more cautious sip of coffee and turned back to her novel.

“So who doesn’t what?” asked the young man.

“What?”

“You never answered my question except to say it was about your book.”

“Oh,” said Paige. “Heathcliff. He does not know how to love. His affair with Catherine is not love, but a futile passion as he projects his ideals of the perfect other onto her.”

“You sound just like my literature teacher.” The laughter was in his eyes again and Paige could not help watching it- it was so…she could not think of the word…refreshing? No. That wasn’t quite it. He noticed her gaze and she blinked, blushed, and tried once more to return to her book.

“So you agree with the teachers that Heathcliff was not really in love with Catherine?” he pressed.

“Yes,” she said, not allowing herself to look up again, her cheeks still hot, though she could not tell why exactly. Perhaps it was the coffee.

“Okay then…” he exaggerated a shrug and turned away. “Let me know if you need anything.”

Paige nodded, sipped her coffee, and reached blindly into her bag for a pen to highlight Catherine’s impassioned speech. Her fingers knew where to look: she always kept her favorite purple pen in the smallest inside pouch that was meant for a cell phone, but was rarely used for this purpose. Where was her phone anyway? Oh well. She’d find it later. Her hand found the pocket, stretched out from use, but it did not find the pen. She carefully lay the book face down with its covers splayed so her spot would not be lost, wincing as she did so at the crackling of its poor contorted spine. She looked in her bag. No pen.

“Stink it,” she muttered.

“Come again?” The boy looked up from where he was scribbling in a notepad the order of another customer.

“Nothing…actually, could I borrow a pen?” Paige asked, noticing the neat row of exactly eleven pens in his apron pocket.

“I’m afraid I don’t have an extra, but I can grab one from the kitchen.”

“Um…” said Paige, quirking an eyebrow at the collection neatly clipped into his apron.

“Oh these pens?” Mark followed her gaze. “These are mine, but I suppose I could lend one to you…”

“If you don’t mind terribly,” replied Paige with some sarcasm.

“Well I do mind, but not terribly I suppose.” He ran his finger along the tops of the pens, hovered over one in particular that to Paige was identical to the others, and carefully withdrew it without messing up the regimented lines of the others. He handed it to her and watched from across the counter as she drew a straight line underneath Catherine’s speech.

Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.

“Thanks,” he said as she handed back the pen after drawing a large, bold question mark beside the passage. “Why the question mark?”

“Because I don’t understand it. That’s the point of a question mark, isn’t it?”

“What don’t you understand?” he asked, ignoring her sarcasm.

“This quote, but I’ll figure it out if I keep reading.”

“Read this book before?”

“Once.”

“Depressing choice for a reread, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I like it,” Paige said, tilting her nose a tad higher and meeting his eyes.

“I didn’t say it wasn’t good,” the boy’s eyes stared back into hers and seemed to laugh at her. “Just so…Gothic.”

Paige blinked. “It isn’t as Gothic as Frankenstein.”

“It has all the elements.”

“Meh,” said Paige.

“He knows the elements of gothic literature? Who even is this guy?” she thought. “And does he look a bit like Josh Groban…focus, Paige.” She imagined Scarlett O’Hara rolling her eyes and forced herself to focus.

“The ghost?” continued the boy.

“A dream,” said Paige, bored.

“The castle?”

“Not actually a castle.”

“Alright then. I’ll agree that Frankenstein is more Gothic, and add that it is a better study than Emily Bronte’s replica.”

“Replica!” Paige nearly spit out her coffee and closed the book.

“Yeah,” he said, casually flicking away the dripped coffee with a rag. “Emily’s writing is almost indistinguishable from her sister’s. Slip a chapter of Jane Eyre into Wuthering Heights and I wouldn’t even notice the difference. The female authors of that era tend to be so…the same. Poorly-worded statement, perhaps, but I think I am justified in saying that Mary Shelley broke the standard, especially considering her writing predates the identical Bronte triplets…er…sisters.” He grinned mischievously and Paige could tell he was relishing annoying her. Well, she relished a debate too.

“There may a family resemblance between the writing styles. So what? They lived and wrote at the same time, in the same family! Emily, however, was a one-hit wonder and Wuthering Heights is far more profound than Jane Eyre.” (Sorry Jane, thought Paige, wincing as a beloved character blinked back imaginary tears in her mind.)

“Oh is it?”

“Yes. The resolution for Jane Eyre was too neat. Sure, Rochester lost an arm, but everything was too happy, too unrealistic. On the other hand, Emily’s novel ends ambiguously, which offers a much richer study on not only its story but the world beyond its covers.”

“Interesting, but I believe we were talking about Frankenstein-”

“Oh don’t even get me started on that book, with Victor’s trembling and fevers always ruining the action. The only character development was a worsening of nerves. Mrs. Bennet of Pride and Prejudice might as well have played the role.”

“Let’s not drag poor Mrs. Bennet into this,” laughed the boy. “You really have no mercy on her poor nerves.” He said this in his best imitation of the nagging woman. And then Paige found herself laughing too.

“Sorry, I get a little intense about books,” she said, taking a sip of her coffee and nearly choking again as she laughed.

“Clearly,” said the boy, but he was smiling. He held out a hand. “Mark Turner.”

“Paige O’Connor.”

“Paige,” he repeated. “Fitting name for a bookworm.”

“Indeed.” He was still holding her hand. Blushing, she pulled it away and they both turned to their tasks: her to her book and him to his cleaning. She was quickly immersed in the chapter again and when she finished her coffee and looked away from the page, Mark was gone, but beside her was a single pen resting on a napkin, which bore a note in cramped writing:

For your annotations. I’d like to hear what insights you come up with. Also, not all love (in literature) is fake; you just have to find it. -Mark.

Paige bit her lip in thought, but also to keep from smiling, and slipped the napkin and pen into her bag. When she reached the Wild Plum, her smile had not yet faded as she replayed the conversation with Mark in her mind. Why did she feel so silly? It was ridiculous, but she could see Scarlett smiling slyly in her mind… 

Her smile faded upon entering the tea house.

“You!” said Miss Linda, in what could only be considered an angry squawk. “Where were you? Is that…” she inhaled deeply “coffee that I smell?”

“Oh, yeah…” Paige said. “I stopped by the Sock Monkey for a cup.”

“Well I suppose you won’t be wanting any of the tea I just brewed then.” It was not a question, so Paige just stared back apologetically until Miss Linda clucked sorrowfully and retreated to the kitchen.

The next morning at breakfast, no tea was offered. Rather, Miss Linda, without a word, set down a tin cup of room-temperature water. Paige fought the urge to laugh and looked toward Mrs. Ellis, always such a cheerful sight in the morning as she fried bacon and picked lovingly on her husband’s manners, but caught herself at the equally serious expression on the “Red Hen’s” face. Suddenly her plans to return to the Sock Monkey, both with the purpose of finding coffee and meeting Mark again, were dismissed from her mind as impossible.

 

On the Platform

hebden-bridge-station-02

“Are you waiting for someone, miss?”

      “Yes.”

      “Would you prefer to sit in the waiting room?”

      “No thank you.”

      She had been sitting there for quite some time and the train station master was beginning to wonder if she was really waiting for anyone at all. She certainly appeared to be expecting someone, though. Her hair was immaculate despite the journey and several curls were pinned back in a simple yet fetching style. Her blouse and skirt were smoothly-pressed and not a stain in sight, as was her coat. Her pearl necklace and brooch were rather at odds with the costume-jewelry trends of modern fashion, but they became her and leant an attractive grace to her as she sat with head held high (but not to the point of being too high and thus prideful) and shoulders back. The only part of her appearance that did not seem to be well-groomed were her shoes. They must once have been as proper and pretty as the rest of her, but were now were scuffed and muddy as though she had marched through treacherous woodland trails rather than taken a train to London. But she paid no mind. Perhaps she had been through a difficult journey, but she had kept the rest of her personage neat and respectable and now she was waiting.

      And waiting.

      And waiting.

      Another hour passed and she had barely moved a muscle. The station master was beginning to be impatient for her and wondered how anyone could have the strength to sit so still for so long without so much as a word of complaint. His stomach growled and he checked his watch. It was lunchtime, but he could not leave her unattended. The rest of the passengers had vacated the platform long ago. If she would just go sit in the waiting room instead, he could go get a bite at the pub across the street. He could smell the aroma of frying fish and chips through the mixture of train steam and cheap coffee.  

      “Miss?” he asked.

      “Yes?” she turned to face him with a soft smile that almost concealed the wariness of her soul. So there was a weakness, he thought with surprise. His heart softened and he adopted a gentler tone.

      “It seems that whoever you are waiting for is late, so if you would care to follow me to-”

      “No, he isn’t,” she interrupted.

      “Pardon?”

      “He is not late. It simply appears that I am early.”

      “Early for what?”

      “An important meeting. You might say the most important meeting of my life and hopefully of his.” Her lips twitched in a humorous little grin before melting once more into her soft, vague smile.

      “Alright…” the station master’s stomach rumbled again. “Well, if you wouldn’t mind moving indoors, I need to clear the platform…”

      “You can go to lunch. I won’t do anything dreadful and I am quite safe here under this light.”

      It was as if she had read his mind. Or perhaps she had just heard the continued gurgling of his stomach. Was she hungry too? He wondered, but the lure of food pushed the thought from his mind.

      “Alright, well…I’ll be back soon.” He left with reluctance, hoping his manager would not realize his absence and her presence. He glanced back at her, but she was sitting facing forward as usual, focused on watching for whomever it was she was meeting.

      An hour later, the station master returned, but he had not been able to eat as much as he had expected. An inexplicable concern for the woman on the platform had dulled his appetite. He clutched a doggy bag in one hand.

      “Miss?”

      She turned to him once more, the soft smile seemed a little slow in coming to her mouth. Her eyes looked tired. Were those tears? Surely not. Just a trick of the light. “Yes?” There was a waver to her voice. Perhaps they were tears.

      “I thought perhaps you were hungry,” he said, offering the bag. He was baffled at himself for saying that. He had not intended to bring her food and it was only his leftovers that he held out to her.

      “Thank you,” she said. He thought he saw her eyes brighten a bit. “I was actually rather hungry.” She opened the bag and took a few dainty bites of the fish and chips, thanking him again.

      “No trouble at all,” he muttered, scooching back toward his post.

      “Would you like to sit?” she offered before he had made it far. She gestured to the empty space beside her, as hospitable as a queen in her palace though just a young woman at a train station.

      “Oh, sure,” he said with a shrug. He was not sure why he felt compelled to join her, just as he had not understood why he had given her the food, but he sat down as if automatically and mirrored her perfect posture.

      “I’m Leah,” she said, extending a hand.

      “Jake,” he said, taking it carefully. Her grip was unexpectedly firm as they shook hands and she looked him in the eye as she spoke. So there was a confidence beneath her soft appearance, he thought. Interesting.

      “So, Leah,” he said. He liked the way her name felt as he said it. It was like a breath of ocean air, fresh. As much at odds with their grimy and common surroundings as she was. “Who are you waiting for?”

      “I don’t know his name,” she said.

      “Oh,” he said, caught off guard. “What does he look like? I can at least keep an eye out for him.”

      “I don’t know that either, but I would like to think that he has kind eyes.” She glanced into his eyes and her cheeks blushed pastel as she returned to scanning the platform as another train zoomed to a halt and passengers gushed from its doors.

      “Kind eyes…that helps,” he said, thinking perhaps the woman did not have her wits completely about her.

      “I’m sorry,” she said. “I wish there was more I knew that I could tell you. I wish there was more I knew that I could tell myself.”

      “You know nothing of this man?”

      “I didn’t say that,” she said, starting and turning to face him once more. “I said I did not know his name or what he looked like, but I know about him. I know that he is strong and caring and smart and hard-working and hopefully has something of a sense of humor. And I know that eventually I will meet him. I just thought perhaps it would be here and perhaps it would be today. Maybe I was wrong about the time but I was not wrong about him. Wherever he is, he is all of those things and our journeys will reach their common end.”

      “Where did you come from?” the station master asked, ignoring the woman’s talk. He was not sure he understood it anyway. “You’re sitting at a train station, but-”

      “My shoes?” she finished. “Yes, they’re filthy and worn, but I had not the heart to change them. I felt I should be presentable with the rest of my appearance, but these shoes have been with me since the beginning of my journey here and I did not have the courage to change them and continue this path in different shoes since I did not know for certain if today would really be the end.”

      “Interesting,” he said. His mind was working to make sense of her statements, but while he did not grasp the full significance of her situation, he understood the sentiment behind it. After all, he’d been wearing the same shoes for years and they’d been second hand to begin with, but they had become part of his life of walking up and down the platform day after day. To change them would be to change that.

      Jake sat with Leah a few moments more as the crowd from the newly-arrived train thinned out. Then, saying he’d better get back to work, he returned to his post and pretended to look over some train schedules and ticket sales reports. But he could not stop himself from glancing up once in a while to check on that unusual woman who continued to sit and wait and wait and sit.

      The sun sank behind the buildings and then behind the horizon. Jake shivered, donning his coat and pulling it tight about him. Even in the summer, London nights were chilly and it had been a drizzling, gray kind of day to begin with. Across the platform, the small shoulders of Leah moved slightly. Was that a shudder? Did she have a coat? A few feet from his post, the coffee vendor began to pack up his cart. Jake set his papers aside and rushed over.

      “Two cappuccinos please, grande.”

     

Leah shivered again. She must have been wrong. What was she thinking? She mentally berated herself for being so silly. She had been waiting so long; what made her think today would be the day? And why here of all places? Stupid girl, she thought. She gathered her bag and stood to leave, sighing aloud in resignation. Trains to a new place had brought her no more luck than walking throughout the old. Besides, she thought with a glimmer of hope, she would be easier to find if she stayed put rather than speeding across the country.  But would she be found? Probably not, she realized with a sorrow beyond even a sigh. She was being absolutely ridiculous. Back to her house, back to her job, back to waiting in the old place. That was the sensible thing to do, after all.

      Her straight shoulders slumped for the first time. A curl fell free of its pins, limp in the drizzle that mirrored her mood. Sensible had grown so dull, so “stale and unprofitable” as she had heard said once in a play, but what else was there to do? She turned to go inside where it was warmer and where she could buy a ticket to return to her sensible life of waiting.

      “Miss?” It was Jake, that nice young stationmaster with the hair that needed a trim, the shirt that could use a running over with an iron, and the…kind eyes. She blinked.  He held out a steaming coffee cup and smiled gently. She shyly accepted the cup and murmured her thanks, looking down at the ground and their shoes. She noticed then that his were even muddier and more worn than hers and felt a strange urge to laugh, but instead she shivered.

      “Oh, here!” Jake spilled some of his cappuccino as he wiggled free of his jacket and clumsily tried to wrap it around her shoulders. He laughed, embarrassed and shrugged helplessly.

      “Thank you,” she said, laughing as the coat and heat of the coffee cup took away the sting of the cold.

      “Would you like to go inside? To the waiting room? I can take you there,” Jake said. He looked at her with concern in his eyes.

      “I would like to go inside, thank you,” replied Leah. “But I do not need the waiting room anymore.”

The Gardener

Their forks clicked in unison against the empty plates as they set them down, finished. The utensils were not the only things that had clicked. The meal had been delicious, the girl lovely, the man courteous, the conversation interesting and free of the awkward pauses generally ended by dull commentaries on the weather or the quality of the wine. Altogether, it had been a perfectly smooth first date. Too smooth, the young woman was thinking. Surely something uncomfortable had to occur. It was a first date, after all. That thought alone- that the evening had been unnaturally comfortable- made the girl uncomfortable. She toyed with her fork as the man continued to talk about his work.

“The kids are great- I love working with them, but I hope one day to be a professor at the collegiate level, more research than teaching, you know?”

She nodded, tuning back into the conversation. What was his job again? Oh, right. According to the friend (well, more of an acquaintance) who had introduced them, he was a history teacher at the local high school. She was beginning to shake the feeling of discomfit caused by the very lack of discomfort when the man asked her a question that caused her to miss this imaginary anxiety.

“So,” he said, looking at her over his glasses, which seemed oddly hipster for an adult. But then, they had not been adults for long. “What did you say you do?”

She hadn’t. In fact, she had purposely been avoiding talk of her career and had hoped that by listening to the man- Andrew the history teacher- talk of his work, she would not be asked to describe hers.

“Sorry, what?” she blinked up at him, pretending not to have heard over the din of fellow diners. This would have been easier had there been any fellow diners, but in the odd perfection of their evening, they had dragged their meal out beyond all except a few men lingering at the bar.

“Where do you work? What do you do?”

“Oh,” she said. “I’m…a gardener…of sorts.”

“A gardener of sorts?” his eyes twinkled in amusement behind his spectacles.

“Yes.”

“Okay, so tell me more! What sort of plants do you grow? Who are your clients?”

She wished he would stop, but the genuine tone to his voice coaxed her into giving somewhat of an answer. It was the best she could come up with, anyway.

“I don’t much grow plants so much as I do tend them and, after a bit, dispose of them.”

“You’re that bad of a gardener that you dispose of plants instead of growing them?” Her eyes widened, but he chuckled and winked. “I’m kidding. I’m sure you’re wonderful.”

She blushed and her skin was so pale, she knew he could see it, but she was pleased. As much as she was reluctant to talk about it, she did think her job wonderful and she knew she was good at it.

“Thanks,” she chuckled in reply, relaxing a bit. “I meant that I dispose of the plants left by others- bouquets mostly, and sometimes miniature Christmas trees or potted shrubs. The ones I tend are thriving, I assure you.”

“People leave plants?”

“Yes,” she replied, then hastened to add, “But I do other work too- trimming hedges and trees and such. Lots of outdoor work, but I enjoy the fresh air. It makes me feel more alive.”

“Outdoors? You’re not exactly tan…” another wink so she knew he meant no offense.

“Well I mostly work at night. People don’t like the sight and sounds of grounds keeping work when they visit.”
“Fair enough. Sounds like your clients are high maintenance though- making you clean up after them and work at night. Do you at least like the people you work with?”

“Oh yes!” she clasped her hands together and instantly regretted her excited reply. Would he understand? She wondered. Best not to tell too much. She carefully arranged her hands in her lap, attempting to veil her enthusiasm.

“Well, tell me about them.”

“Oh…um…they’re pretty quiet. I don’t actually know very much about them aside from their names and dates-”

“Dates?”

“I mean birthdays and- er- ages.”

“Got it.”

“Anyway, they’re quiet, but I like to imagine things about them. I like to guess at their personalities, their backgrounds, who they loved and where they were born. It fascinates me to read their names and try to fill in the blanks with possible life stories. I mean, who knows what amazing lives these people had, what adventures and romances and tragedies. I have so many questions about them that I’ll probably never know the answers to, so I make them up.”

“Fascinating.”

“It really is.” Did she say too much? She feared she did.

“Why don’t you just ask them? Then you could have the answers.”

“I suppose I could, but I doubt it would do much good,” she said, her eyes were twinkling too now.

“Alright then…why not?”

“No reason…” she fiddled with her fork again. He watched her until she could feel her cheeks burning. Maybe she should just tell…it was nothing to be ashamed of. It was just that all of the men before him had found it a little, well, unsavory that an educated, pretty, young woman would choose her line of work and enjoy it more than the countless dull desk jobs she had been offered. Well, she could survive another man not calling back. What she could not survive was another date of evading questions and vague answers. Her work kept her occupied in the evenings anyway.

“Fine,” she sighed. “I can’t ask them because…they’re dead.”

“Pardon?”

“I’m the sole groundskeeper of a graveyard. Two, actually. Olive Grove and St. George’s.”

She let her fork click down at the end of her sentence and refused to look up at him. She’d seen the mixture of surprise and distaste on enough faces and had no interest in seeing it replayed in the brown eyes behind their glasses.

“Well then,” he said after an eternal moment. “Who is your favorite person at work? Any particularly fascinating epitaphs? What’s the oldest date on any tombstone?”

She sneaked a peek up at this odd Andrew the aspiring history professor. As his eyes met hers, she saw that the spark of genuine interest had not died. She savored this moment, for all traces of discomfort had vanished, buried in the past. As he asked and she freely answered, neither had felt more alive.