Between The Tales

Listen. Can you hear them?

It’s like standing in a nighttime street, dark and getting darker as I look farther away. Brick walls, dimness, a drift of fog now and then, or a glimpse of the stars. People all around me, outside the cone of yellowish light, some in clumps, some wandering alone. Can’t see their faces clearly or hear what they’re saying very well.

But sometimes one of them will approach me. Some are shy, and don’t look me in the eye, and I can’t make out their faces. Some mutter what they want to say and it’s hard to hear, and chasing after them will only make them run away. Some speak up, loud and clear, and shake my hand, and I can sit down with these and hear their whole story. Some seem to drift off to sleep in mid-tale and lose the thread.

Others buttonhole me and insist I listen, words tripping over one another in their eagerness to escape, faces earnest and clear and close, voices loud and distinct. These will usually tell the whole tale, start to finish, though they may stammer and stutter in the middle part.

Right now I’m standing alone under the only streetlamp, watching the indistinct figures. I do my best to keep my expression welcoming, my hands in my pockets, unthreatening. I take a stance of interest, potential concern, and neutrality. It doesn’t matter what kind of atrocities they’ve committed, if only they’re willing to confess. It doesn’t matter how deep their feelings of passion and joy run, if only they will tell.

One of them has just finished telling me his story. His name is John. He has ceased to become an indistinct, potential figure and become John Butler, a man in his late twenties with dyed hair and plucked eyebrows. He’s at peace now, all this troubles left with me, and he’s walking away, down the road, out of the light, never to be seen again. He’s smiling. And now I’m waiting for someone else to speak up.

Come closer, someone. I’m listening. I am listening.

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