MAGNUM OPUS: A SHORT STORY


WARNING: This story contains a reference to a female dog’s male offspring, and it also takes the Lord’s name in vain. But only once.


Dedicated to all the Toms, Dicks, and Harmaybe not the Harrys.

MONDAY

Harry walked into a bar. A bar he knew well. A bar with the perfect counter-to-stool ratio.

He took his usual seat, and he ordered his usual beer, a pint of pale ale.

“How’s the book coming?” Frank, the bartender, asked as he placed Harry’s beer in front of him.

Harry eyed the glass. It was a quarter-of-an-inch short. He made a mental note, but decided to let it pass.

“Not good, Frank. Someone was sitting at my spot.”

“Your spot?”

“At the coffee shop. I always sit at the same table. It has the best lighting and a power outlet so I can stay for hours without worrying about my battery dying. But today, I was running late, and when I got there, this guy was sitting at my spot, like he owned the place.”

“What did you do?”

“I left! I had to,” Harry spat. “I don’t like any of the other tables there, and I wouldn’t be able to concentrate with that guy lurking about.”

“Why don’t you just write at home?”

“Can’t. Too many distractions. The TV and refrigerator are right there, tempting me.”

Frank nodded in understanding as he wiped the counter.

“But I had to get my word count in,” Harry continued, “so I went to another coffee shop around the corner.”

“How were the tables there?”

“The tables were fine, but the place itself had a bad vibe. It was too dark or something. I couldn’t let that seep into my writing, so I went on the web for a couple of hours, and then I came here.”

“Maybe you should try the library?”

“I have, a few times. There were too many giggly school girls. They’re not as strict on enforcing that ‘no talking’ rule these days. Another time, I had to deal with a smelly, homeless guy, snoring in the study carrel next to me. I couldn’t get anything done. I can only write in coffee shops.”

“So no writing for today, Harry?”

“No writing for today, Frank.”

TUESDAY

Harry walked into the bar, took his usual seat, and ordered his usual beer.

“How did it go today?” Frank asked.

“I got my spot back. I had to get to the coffee shop extra early this morning to make sure, but I got it.”

“Well, that’s good.”

“Yeah, but then, they cranked up the music, like we were in a nightclub. I think it was the new barista.”

“You should get some of those noise-cancelling headphones. They block out everything.”

“I’ve got those.” Did Frank think he was some sort of an amateur? He let it pass. “But I forgot them at home.”

“That’s too bad. So what did you do?”

“I tried to ignore it, Frank, I did. But who could ignore that crap? It’s called trance or something. I thought I was going to overdose just listening to it. I had to ask the new barista to turn it down.”

“And?”

“He did, but he gave me a look. I think I’ve made an enemy.”

“At least he turned it down.”

“I suppose, but then, as I was getting into my writing flow, a couple came into the coffee shop. The man had one of those loud, booming voices. Great for the theatre, but not great for those trying to write their magnum opus.”

Harry wasn’t sure Frank knew what a magnum opus was.

Frank nodded in agreement.

Harry thought he was bluffing.

“I decided to wait them out,” Harry continued. “But when they ordered a second round of cap-pu-cci-nos, I knew it was hopeless. I left and came here.”

Frank placed a shot of whiskey in front of Harry. “On the house. You look like you could use it.”

Harry accepted the shot. It made up for being short-changed on his beer yesterday.

WEDNESDAY

Harry walked into the bar, took his usual seat, and ordered his usual beer.

But then, he changed his mind.

“Frank, forget the beer. I’m going to need another shot of that whiskey. Make it a double.”

Frank brought him the whiskey.

Harry downed it in one go.

“Oh, boy. What happened today?” Frank asked with concern on his face.

“I got to the coffee shop early again, got my spot, and remembered my noise-cancelling headphones. I’d noticed my table was rather close to the one beside it, but I figured I’d push it farther away after I ordered my drink.”

“Ah, jeez. I can see where this is going.”

Harry didn’t like being interrupted in the middle of telling a story, but he let it pass.

“So I ordered my usual green tea – I gave up coffee years ago, made me too jittery, affected my writing.”

Affected. A hell of a word that had Harry scrambling for the nearest dictionary. A deceptive word that couldn’t be trusted.

“Did you get your tea?” Frank prompted.

“Yeah, but that new barista looked all annoyed he wouldn’t get to try out his training on something with a higher degree of difficulty; probably thinks I’m one of those guys who orders only a tea, and then hogs a seat for hours. Anyway . . . where was I going with this?”

“The table.” Frank reminded him.

“Right. I got back to my table with my tea. But it was too late to push the other table farther away because some lady was sitting at it. I squeezed into my seat and quickly put on my headphones to discourage any kind of chit-chat.”

“Smart move.”

“I thought so. I started typing away, but I felt a presence, like I was being watched or something. I looked out of the corner of my eye and saw that the broad was reading over my shoulder, and then writing in her notebook. She was stealing my work!”

Frank gasped.

Harry felt vindicated. Frank hadn’t seen that coming.

“Did you confront her?” Frank asked.

“Better. I gave her a taste of her own medicine. I spun a yarn – a tale – about a tight-rope walking, banana-juggling monkey to get her off the scent. It wasn’t bad, actually. But I didn’t get my own writing done.”

“There’s always tomorrow.”

“I guess. Anyway, I’d better get going. Looks like it’s started to rain,” Harry said, putting on his coat.

“You got an umbrella?”

“Don’t need it. I have to write a scene with my characters in the rain, and I’ve forgotten what that feels like.”

THURSDAY

Harry walked into the bar and took his usual seat.

Frank saw Harry’s disheveled appearance and said, “It’s another whiskey day, isn’t it?”

“You might as well line them up.”

“What happened?”

“I got to the coffee shop early, got my spot, remembered my noise-cancelling headphones, and made sure to push the table farther away from mine before ordering my drink.”

“So far, so good,” Frank said, placing a row of whiskey shots in front of Harry.

Harry took a shot and said, “The new barista acted all friendly, but there was snarkiness or something in his tone when he handed me my drink and said, ‘Here’s your tea.’ When I got back to my table and placed the mug down on it, my tea spilled a little. The table was wobbly. My table is never wobbly. Someone must have switched it. But who?”

“The new barista!”

Exactly!” Frank had played right into Harry’s hands. He took a shot and continued, “There was only one other table available, but it was on the other side of the coffee shop. I contemplated switching them out, canoe-style, but decided against it. So I tried to fix the wobble, but my tea kept spilling and spilling, more and more.”

“Did you complain?”

“Nope. They would’ve just ganged up on me, like a union. So I left, leaving behind the spilled mess. I won’t be going back there again.”

Harry took a shot, and then wondered if he should be making these sorts of comments about baristas to Frank; them all being in the service industry.

“Did you try to find a new coffee shop?” Frank asked.

“I went to a bookstore, instead. I’ve started using these visualization techniques to get what I want in life. So I go over to the bestsellers rack, closed my eyes, and visualized my book on the shelf. When I opened my eyes, I could see my book. I could actually see it!”

“Wow! That’s some powerful visualization.”

“It had my book title and everything. Except, it wasn’t my name on the cover. It was the name of an already famous author. That son-of-a-bitch stole my title!”

Goddammit!” Frank said, slamming his fist down on the counter.

Harry appreciated Frank’s outrage. “The entire premise of my book relies on that title, and now I can’t use it, or I’ll look like a copycat. This whole thing is hopeless.”

“Don’t give up, Harry. You’re just being tested.”

“I’d say. Well, I’d better go. That last shot did me in,” Harry said, clumsily getting off his stool.

“All right, then, we’ll settle the tab.”

“Of course!” Did Frank think he was the kind of man to walk out on a tab? Harry let it pass and put the money on the counter.

FRIDAY

Harry walked into the bar, took his usual seat, and ordered his usual beer.

“Looks like things are back on track,” Frank said. “Did you find a new coffee shop?”

“Nope, I went to the park. I heard that some famous dead writers used to take long walks in nature for inspiration. I figured as I’m starting from scratch, I could use all the inspiration I could get.”

“Did you find some?”

“I tried, but mostly I got bored. And cold. My brain doesn’t function when I’m cold. I guess I’ll begin again on Monday. Maybe try to make something out of that monkey story.”

“That’s the spirit!” Frank said, then hesitated before adding, “Actually, I’ve been doing some writing of my own. I’ve taken a couple of classes up at the community college and managed to get a rough draft of a spy novel down on paper. A little something I’ve put together whenever the bar is slow. I’d appreciate your thoughts on it. Maybe next week some time? I could use your expertise.”

“Sure, sure. Bring it in.” If Harry had a nickel for every Tom, Dick, and Har – maybe not the Harrys – who had taken some writing night class and thought themselves to be a writer, well, he’d have . . . a lot of nickels. Harry was a true writer, not a mathematician.

Harry finished up his drink, paid his tab, and climbed off his stool.

Something was off. He’d noticed it earlier, too, but hadn’t been able to put his finger on it until now.

“These new stools, Frank?”

“Just got them in this morning!”

Harry couldn’t let that pass.


“Magnum Opus: A Short Story.” Copyright © 2017 by Sandra Cunha. All Rights Reserved.