A penny for your thoughts

Neat rows of corn and tobacco plants flicker by the car window like the spokes of a wheel. Hours go by without a word spoken between us. Then my father’s voice breaks the silence as he pats my leg.

“A penny for your thoughts?”

There are complete conversations in my head, but I offer up “Nothing.”

“Must be awfully lonely in that head.”

He reaches out to pat my leg again, but misses as he looks at the road straight ahead. He smiles, lights another cigarette and exhales a curling snake of smoke.

“Yep, awfully lonely.”

I turn my head to look at the green fields of North Carolina stretching into a forest of trees on the horizon and wonder where they end.

Floating on my back in the frigid Maine Ocean water I find memories of my father caught in the hollow of the waves tumbling over and over again. I point my feet towards the shore and let the sun warm my face, wondering for a moment if I am still thirteen and have just dreamt the last thirty five years.

I stand up, turn around and see a single white sail leaning into the wind brilliant against the blue sky where it meets the water. Turning back toward shore I see Paul on the beach and breathe a sigh of relief.

I join him on the beach. We lie on our backs and let the sun dry us. An hour goes by before he turns toward me, opens one eye, squinting from the sun and points a finger at me. “What are you thinking about? Right now!” He says this in a quick way to signify that I cannot change my mind or interpret my thoughts.

“I was just thinking I wish I was a professional writer”

“But you are a professional writer.” He says

“Technically, I would have to be paid.”

“Well, I could pay you.” He says

“You wouldn’t be paying me for my writing. That might make me a prostitute, but not a professional writer.”

“We have college bills to pay; maybe prostitution is the way to go.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a man approaching four hundred pounds in a thong swimsuit walk towards the ocean.

“I’ll keep on writing.” I say.

The day stretches into evening as we join our friends on the front porch of the Inn while a full moon floats over the pine trees. Paul is recounting a story from his trip to Wells to buy cheese.

“It’s a good day to be Irish. Do you know what we’re talking about?” Paul is quoting the shop owner.


“We’re talking about the English; they all want to be Irish.” There is disdain in the shopkeeper’s voice.

“Well, I must be conflicted, because my mother is Irish Catholic and my father is English Protestant.” Paul says

“Well at least you’re not one of those queers!” The shopkeeper says.

“Actually, I am.” Paul says as he grabs the cheese and walks out.

We are dumbfounded as we look at the wedge of brie sitting on the table. I grab the knife slice the cheese, take a bite and say. “Homophobic brie is actually pretty good!”

I am thinking about Paul’s story while we sit in traffic on the trip back to Boston; the sunny days of the weekend already fading into memories under a cloudy sky. Paul looks out of the corner of his eye at me and says:

“What are you thinking about? Right now!”

I consider saying nothing, but then “I was thinking even though strangers may hate me, I’m glad that I don’t hate myself anymore.” Paul pats my leg and smiles. I look through the window of the car, past the traffic and close my eyes.  There is a single white sail leaning into the wind, brilliant against the blue sky where it meets the water.

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