Monday 28 March 2022

The Summer of Penton


by Mike Lee

an IPA at the bar 

Sometimes I daydream by counting the months back to a particular situation, wishing I had made different decisions. Some of these choices I made were insignificant at the time, like not following up on a suggestion, passing up on a further conversation, saying no when I should have said yes, all leading to choosing the wrong partner. I paid the price for every one of them, particularly the latter.

The densely patterned cracks on the sidewalk reminded me of looking at the terrain from eight miles above. Also, of complex leaves laid out on a light plate, the kind I used decades ago in high school biology class.

I remembered Mama and stepped on as many as I safely could.

I entered the bookstore next to the café on the corner. Browsers packed in the single-aisle in front of me and gathered at the new releases table on my right. In this circumstance, claustrophobia sets in, but I shrugged it off and looked at the rows of used books going from A to B, hoping someone would move and I could head further down the alphabet.

I pass over the ones I already read. Nothing else held much interest.

Someone moved, so I added C, D, and E to my search. All fiction.

I already sensed boredom. Maybe a little sadness mixed in having had this experience of reading so much that nothing will strike like the lightning bolts of long-ago pretty much-misspent youth.

I had plans to tackle the remaining consequence of that mistake I made a long time ago. But unfortunately, these outcomes begin from different points, like those cracks in the sidewalk that eventually crumble the concrete.

Then you rip up the sidewalk and repave. Later I intended to finish the last slab of pavement.

Empty-handed, I left the bookstore and turned the corner to the café. I smell the pastries, the coffee, the perfume going stale in the afternoon.

I ordered a latte and a grilled ham and cheese and found a table in the back under a framed painting of unrecognizable figures in pretty colors. I opened my computer bag and pulled out my black notebook, a pen, and an iPad, and wrote in the notebook until my order was ready.

While nibbling on my sandwich, I went to my iPad and looked at the draft email I needed to send today, checked for typos, and considered how it all came to this—the endgame for what was almost half my life.

I met her 30 years ago.

My phone pinged a text. It was from my sister.

How are you feeling? <heart>

Sad. About to hit send. <heart>

I love you baby brother. <heart> <heart> <heart>

Thank you.


I pressed <enter> and off it went. 

I am done and done.

I’m so sorry. I understand how tough this is on you. <heart>

Thank you. Well, so when it ends, it ends.

I closed the iPad and returned to my sandwich and latte.


My therapist suggested doing something I did before we had met. So I took the subway to Coney Island and sat at a bench on the boardwalk to watch the sunset. I noted the difference between sitting there as a young man and doing so in late middle age. Felt a little sad and sighed.

While the river of life continued to flow, the debris it carried was boxed up and carted away by movers to a storage site, with a month’s rent paid. I mailed the key yesterday. It’ll arrive at its destination in a few days.

Yet I felt a distinct sense of release in that I realized that with the beauty in shattered illusions was the peace of wisdom that follows.

About the author 

Mike Lee's work appears in or is forthcoming in CafeLit, Drunk Monkeys, and others. In addition, his story collection, The Northern Line, is available on online bookselling outlets. He was also nominated for Best Microfiction by Ghost Parachute.


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