He was the six A.M. sunrise. Quiet in his beauty, and sleepy soft as gold spread across the horizon. I remember steam swirling, wispy and white, like ghosts in the dewy morning air. An open coffee cup in his hand, the lid discarded. Packets of sugar dumped inside to sweeten each bitter sip. He spoke in mumbles until the ghosts were gone, the last drop drunk.
There was a single bench on a short boardwalk where we would sit each morning, drinking coffee and watching the sky turn purple and pink and blue. Once, in the rain, he broke the boards to stick an umbrella between them so that no hands had to leave the safety and warmth of their respective paper cups. When it snowed, he shoveled heaps off the seat.
We never talked about our days and nights, our lives.
Instead, we told stories. Stories we made up but pretended we didn’t. Stories about his mugging on the subway, made infinitely more dramatic by a long-harbored hero-complex of his youth. Stories of monsters beneath city grates and scaling mountain peaks. Jumping out of planes. Bears in backyards and wolf packs fought off on camping trips. Stories that could have been true for someone, somewhere, but weren’t for us.
We would watch paintbrush streaks drag across the sky; clouds gather and part, and arc across the sky as orange and yellow rays forced their way through. The air would get warmer and the coffee colder and the stories would come to their ends. We were always heroes.
I miss his six A.M. sunrises. I miss his evening calls, as the sun turned orange and red and darkened the colors of the sky. Slipped down and down and down to give the stars their turn to shine. Just one more story, he would say, and I would leave him on speaker as I drove home and the sun set and the world got darker and colder. I would listen to one more story, and promise him a good one for the morning. For the six A.M. sunrise.
Our bench is old now. Worn far past the single break he made for our umbrella all those years ago. The wood looks rotten, and I think that if I sat on it the whole thing might crash down and turn to dust beneath me.
I sit on the sand instead.
Alone now, but still with coffee and its ghost-swirl steam cupped in the palm of my hand. I watch the sky turn pastel pink as sunbeams stretch and ripple over the water’s restless waves. And I still tell stories. Impossible, but plausible. Could-be stories, would-be stories, but not stories I lived myself. I tell them to the open air and hope that he somehow hears me. Because I’m still the hero.
I still want to be the hero.