November chill


Calista wanted so badly to be a writer; yet she was off to a horrible start, breaking one of the cardinal rules. To conjure up something brilliant, you need privacy but here she was with her laptop open on a cold Saturday in November at the most popular coffee house in town. You could tell it was freezing outside by the frost on the windows and the way people reacted when they swung open the door and got hit with the unforgiving autumn air.
Calista was sipping some kind of pumpkin spice drink. It was the special the barista had scribbled on the chalkboard hanging above the register—little too sweet for her taste but, still, it gave her something to hold while she contemplated how her story should begin. At the next table was an old man who looked like he fell out of a black and white movie. He wore a wool tweed coat, had the cap of an Irishman and some kind of old pipe that he liked to carry but rarely smoked. It seemed to give him comfort just to hold it. He had a kind face full of wrinkles, telling even the casual observer that this was a man who had lived a life and seen some things. He seemed to be waiting for something when his eyes rested on Calista’s open computer and the blank screen. “Writer’s block?” he asked her. Calista smiled and said, “Is it that obvious? Yes. I want to write a great love story but I’m not sure where to begin.” The old man nudged his chair closer and whispered, “Well you need two things—a hero and a woman worth fighting for.” Calista paused thoughtfully and then said, “And you know something about this hero business?” The old man smiled, “Oh child, I know everything.” Then he told her a story.
“I once knew a boy named Patrick Fitzgerald. He was a tough lad who loved work and sports but had no time for women. He’d see each of us fall for this girl or that one and tell us we were fools to fall in love.”
The old man continued: “Every year in the small town I’m from in Maine they had a carnival—you know, rides, games, cotton candy for the kids. Everyone went and that one particular summer evening I was with Patrick when I thought he was struck by a lightning. We were standing there, the bunch of us boys, when we saw a group of girls. But he wasn’t looking at them, he was looking at her.”
“Who was she?” Calista asked. “A beautiful woman with green eyes, hair black as a witch’s cat, wearing a long white scarf and a smile that could light the darkest night. We walked over and when she laid eyes on Patrick it was as if the rest of the world vanished. They talked for hours and later I saw them holding hands. They say there’s no such thing as love at first sight but don’t you believe it.”
“So they fell in love, that’s the story?” The old man laughed. “I didn’t get to the hero part yet, now did I?” He added, “Right before the carnival closed she wanted to go on the Ferris wheel so up they went. You could see the whole town when the wheel stopped on top. As the moonlight gleamed across her perfect face, he leaned in to kiss her but her scarf got in the way. She untied it from her neck when suddenly a gust of wind blew it from her hand. The scarf drifted down, coming to rest in a tree a good 30 feet off the ground.”
“He didn’t?” Calista asked. “Yep. Patrick could tell she loved that scarf so when they got off the ride he took off his jacket and climbed the tree to retrieve the scarf. The branch that was holding it was too thin for his weight but he shimmied out anyway, grabbed the scarf and said ‘I got it’ just as the tree snapped.”
“Was he OK?” she asked. “Well Patrick fell hard and broke his leg in three places. They say to this day he still doesn’t walk right. But he got the kiss, the scarf, and the girl and they lived happily ever after.”
Calista turned to her computer and said, “I think I know where to begin now. Thank you, sir.” Just then the bell over the door rang and a beautiful older woman appeared. “That’s my date,” the old man said with joy as he stood and slowly walked away. Calista was about to start typing when she heard a dragging sound, looked up and saw the old man walking with a very bad limp. She watched him hug the woman waiting at the door like it was the last hug they’d ever share and noticed she was wearing an elegant white scarf. As they went to leave, Calista shouted out, “Thank you, Patrick.” The old man turned and gave her a wink and the hero made his exit.
John Gray is weekly columnist for the Troy Record and the Saratogian newspapers and news anchor at ABC 10 and FOX 23. He can be reached at


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