The Stringers, страница 1
This book is a work of fiction. The characters, places, incidents, and dialogue are the product of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real, or if real, are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, either living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by TJ Martinell
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Table of Contents
About the Author
I was busy completing a work assignment with my thought processor when I turned to my father, who was meditating over a book of poems he had sitting in his lap.
“Isn’t that rather inconvenient for you?” I asked.
My father looked up from his book, flashing his wry smile, which meant he had some witty remark tucked underneath his shirtsleeve like an ace, or a derringer. It was a smile that had no doubt once concealed his true identity from criminals, who had never suspected that in reality he was an undercover officer.
“Not nearly as inconvenient as you interrupting me just as I was about to figure out what Tennyson meant by this stanza,” he joked.
I chuckled, removing the assignment away from view as I watched him look back down at the poem.
Poetry wasn’t an obscure pastime. Plenty of students loved poetry, whether it was Poe, Dickinson, or Eliot. But to see someone with an actual physical copy of them, forcing them to cast their eyes downward, rather than look ahead of them as the words appeared in front of their eyes in a holographic form, was a quaint sight. I had grown accustomed to it as a child, but having spent a considerable amount of time around others, I was well aware how outdated my father’s pastime was. Bookstores were about as common a sight as stables. They existed, but one didn’t see a horse trotting down the street alongside cars.
This wasn’t to say I found anything wrong with books, or with him. Out of all the people I knew, there was no one whom I cared for, respected, admired, and loved more than my father, Carl Farrington. It was actually quite easy for me to feel this way. Despite his reserved demeanor, he was a very friendly person. He had a nonchalant manner of talking and had no trouble striking up a conversation on whatever topic he felt interested in, and whatever you wished to discuss he’d be able to discuss it in detail, as he was also a thoroughly educated man. Whether the other person was a doctor, a lawyer, a clergyman, or a taxidermist, he had something to say and could articulate it well.
“Why do you read that?” I asked.
“Because I want to,” Father rejoined. He had a distinct voice, a finely tuned, rapid-fire sputter that spat out words in bullet-like bursts at high speeds. His terseness made it easy to confuse his humor with rudeness, but he never spoke that way in public. Only in front of me.
“I mean, why do you read with an actual book?” I inquired. “Is it any different when you read with your Prizm?”
Father’s eyes turned up toward his right temple, where a small thin strip along his skin gave him access to an entire library of books, all of them instantly readable on holograms through the use of a contact lens. I too had the same device on the side of my head, as did everyone else. Unlike him, however, the rest of society, myself included, considered it an invaluable tool. His lack of enthusiasm for the device mystified me. Whenever I wished a book to appear in front of my eyes or to turn the page when I was finished reading, I needed to only think it, and it happened. It was efficient, effortless, and took up no more space than the size of a thumbnail.
Of course, Father knew that already as he considered my question for a moment. He then closed the book, placed it on the coffee table, and turned to look at me. Aside from a few gray hairs and some wrinkles around his eyes, we shared strikingly similar physical appearances. We had the same height, the same oak-brown hair and the same high hairline with twin peaks on our flanks. We possessed the same pale, cobalt-blue eyes, the same boyish features that made people mistake us to be half our age. On my wall I had a digitally converted photo of both my grandfather and my great-grandfather in their seventies, and they appeared no older than they did on their wedding day, fifty years before. The only thing that appeared different was their hair.
“I said it before,” Father replied. “I want to read it, so I do.”
“Not exactly an elaborate answer.”
“Not exactly an elaborate question.”
“Actually, I find it profound.”
“You do? How?”
I gestured at one of his personal poems he had on the table, riddled with scribbled lines and crossed-out words that he had written over time and time again, a telltale sign of his preference for the old-fashioned. This was in no part due to his upbringing; he had been raised in the same borough of Bellevue as I had, in the same multiethnic community and diversified culture. He had received the same education at Bellevue High School and attended the University of Bellevue, before higher education had evolved into employer-based apprenticeship programs, like the one I was currently enrolled in. Somehow, despite a brief career using what I presumed was state-of-the-art technology to monitor the criminal underworld, Father had decided the past to be preferable to the present. It left no room for explanation or rationality.
“It’s like your use of the pen and paper,” I said. “You could do all of that much more effectively with a thought processor. It acts as quickly as you think. You don’t have to spend all the time erasing or writing over or anything of the sort. You save time and energy, and it’s far less stressful.”
My father’s smile increased. “I am aware of that. I don’t do it to save time or energy, or to avoid stress.”
He deliberated, glancing down at his book again. He didn’t strike me as being suspicious of new t
His personal library reflected this preference. Though it had been years since books ceased to exist in printed format and everyone enjoyed reading the holographic words as much as readers in the past had the same words printed in ink, my father stubbornly refused to submit to technology advances and insisted on keeping several bookshelves in our home, as well as his study, where I imagined the shelves were crammed with hundreds and hundreds of books that could have easily fit into an area smaller than a hair.
“You want to know why I write with my own hand?” my father finally said. “Because then it’s real. And because it’s not good to write as fast as you think, because sometimes what you think one moment you don’t think the next. Acting before you think is dangerous, both in life and in writing.”
Father dipped his head back as he gazed up at the ceiling, sifting out a quiet sigh between his lips. “Society moves too fast,” he said, chuckling to himself. “It’s funny; when I was your age, your grandpa said the same thing about us. Your great-grandpa said the same thing about your grandpa. But now it’s gotten way too fast. Sometimes, you have to stop and let time pass before you act.”
“Is that the only reason you like to do all these things?”
I paused, raising an eyebrow. “Care to explain your answer?”
“We’ve reached a point where we can act physically as fast as we do mentally, or at least as fast as we possibly can. Fine. It’s been that way for decades. But let me tell you something; you can read a poem on your Prizm, but it’s not the same as holding a book in your hands. It’s like what Saint Anselm I believe said: physical things are always superior to the nonphysical.”
“Like the letters you wrote to mother?”
He grinned, but behind his veneer it I detected a sorrowful look. He had an air of mystery to him, and I had been told repeatedly—by mother, of course—that it was this enigmatic quality that had caused her to fall in love with him, despite the fact that she, like myself, couldn’t quite figure him out. When I was young, she often teased him about it, always with endearment.
“Yes,” he said in answer to my question. “But it wasn’t just the physicality of them. It took much longer for me to write those letters with my own hand than if I had used one of those thought processors to send one to her. That would have taken a millisecond. This took quite some time. But it also gave me the chance to think about it. I gave more weight to what I had to say. She could tell. And I’m sure she appreciated the effort. At the same time, there’s more to it all than that.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was not and am not romantic. Don’t believe what your mother told you, rest her soul. But a writer has to write. And when a writer can spit out a work in a few days because they use one of those thought processors, that’s not writing. It’s thinking. And it’s not literature. It’s a collection of simplistic thoughts without any serious regard for what they put down. Thinkers think. Readers read. Writers write.”
I shook my head as I smiled. While I used a thought processor like everyone, which transcribed our thoughts onto a digital file, he had this inexplicable desire to write with a pen and paper. Every day after I came home I found some writing of his sitting on the dinner table, sometimes the same poem he had been working on for months, other times random thoughts that seemed to swirl in his head like water in a vortex until he could finally expel them from his mind. His preference for such archaic methods made no sense to me.
Nevertheless, I appreciated his ardent enthusiasm for writing, even though how we expressed it reflected the difference in our perspectives. I had grown up with mother telling me about how great a writer my father had been. Mother had regarded Father’s writing with an awe-like expression, and her face always seemed to glow in his presence. Her countenance would radiate most brilliantly when he presented her with some note he had handwritten.
Although Father did his best to convey contentment in having his literary accomplishments remain within the confines of his own home, mainly in the form of poetry, personal essays, and private correspondence between him and my mother, I had always suspected an unfulfilled desire to see his work published. It was a desire he had never truly acted on, working as a technical editor for a small company after a brief stint doing undercover work before I had been born. Inspired by my mother’s praises and that of my own aspirations, I sought to achieve the dream for the both of us in a viable manner. Having successfully applied for a temporary permit to practice journalism in high school, I had opted for an apprenticeship at one of Bellevue’s news sites, where I was currently working while studying to pass the final exam necessary to obtain my journalism license.
“I don’t see how a poem written with a Prizm is any less poetic,” I said.
“Because all it amounts to is a thought something else turned into words for you. That ain’t writing.”
“Ain’t?” I asked rhetorically.
Father paused, his eyes widening. “Sorry, I meant ‘isn’t.’”
I looked at him with a curious smile. Another telltale sign of old-fashioned attitude and perspective on life was his manner of speaking. After decades and decades of disintegrating language, the formal rules of speech had been restored through proper education and a newly found intolerance for poor verbal skills.
As my officious English teacher had once proclaimed, ain’t was nothing but a four-letter word, the use of which was a call for punishment. This meant that people such as me conversed with an impeccable sense of etiquette and manners, as opposed to the barbarians from the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, whose films and literature were hardly understood anymore by a modern audience as a result of their idiosyncratic language.
Interestingly, my father had never used slang like that before in front of me until recently, when it had slowly crept into his speech. In fact, it was about the same time he started acting peculiar around the house. Three weeks before, I had come back from my apprenticeship to discover him upstairs standing near his bedroom window and tinkering with a flashlight. Some days I would come home and find him locked in his study on the first floor, or he would retreat there after dinner. Although the thick walls made it difficult to hear what he was up to, once I dared to place my ear against the door, hearing only a strange, mechanical click-clack noise that I could not identify. This would go on for an hour or so before he’d emerge like a bear out his cave following a long hibernation and rejoin me in the living room, where we would chat about whatever was in the news or my day at school. For whatever reason, I chose never to ask him about what he did with his free time since retiring from his editor position. That night, however, my curiosity was piqued enough to where I slowly worked up the nerve to mention his peculiar behavior as of late. But I couldn’t approach the subject directly.
“Have you been using this brutish word ain’t in conversation with others besides me?” I asked. “Returning to our old work among lowlifes, are we?”
Father suddenly grew concerned and reached for his book again, shifting his eyes away from me. He opened it and returned to the poem he had been studying, pretending as if he hadn’t done anything to warrant my attention.
Unfortunately for him, my curiosity was nearly as great as his. I wouldn’t let it go.
“Where did you pick up that word?” I asked.
“Not everybody speaks perfectly all the time. We’re all human.”
“You seem to let it slip out without knowing. Why?”
He flashed another clever smile at me as he turned a page, licking his finger first. “What makes you so curious?”
“I am you
“That’s also why I’d like to ask you why you behaved so strangely lately.”
“Me behaving strangely lately? What’s new about that?”
“More than usual.”
“Playing with your flashlight at odd hours of the evening, for one,” I said. “And then there is your customary seclusion inside your study, in which you do who knows what on some contraption. One might think you’ve got a side project of some kind planned.”
A terrible look swept over my father’s face. His complexion drained, the redness in his cheeks turning into an insipid white. He set the book down on the coffee table, leaned forward, and gazed at me solemnly.
“Have you told anyone about this?” he asked quietly.
“What you just said. Anyone else know?”
I was alarmed, but laughed off his consternation. “Of course not. Why would I? I can’t imagine anyone being so interested in what you do during your free time. Most sons aren’t that fascinated with what their father does, but then again, most don’t have one as unique as mine, and I mean that as a compliment.”
He studied me carefully, as if to determine if I was holding anything back from him. When he realized I had been truthful with him, he sighed rather loudly as he laid his head back against the sofa, before suddenly returning to his book of poems. Right before he did so, however, he looked up at me with a serious expression I had never seen on his face. He loved to confuse me and pretend to be somber when he was actually in a mischievous mood, but I could tell by the glimmer in his eyes there was no humor behind his words.
“Don’t tell anyone. Anyone, you hear? Nothing. Can’t tell you why, so don’t ask.”