I follow people. I don’t stalk or bother them, no, it’s not in my nature to be persistent or intrusive with anyone, let alone strangers on the street. I follow, sometimes with a notebook, other times with a tape recorder. When I get back to my rented room, a small room in my aunt’s old boarding house in what passes for downtown in this Maritime town, I enter my notes and observations on my computer or transcribe the audio tape, also onto my computer. This evening I have my tape recorder on, an older device that I retain a deep attachment to. Not only was it a twentieth-birthday gift from a woman I loved, wanted to marry, when we were both students at university, but I once interviewed Samuel Beckett, in 1987, using this exact same tape recorder. I had my degree in journalism and was living in Paris. Sadly, the woman I thought I could not exist without, had wound up in Toronto, to be with her childhood sweetheart. I still had the tape recorder, and it was a few miles outside Paris, about two years before Beckett’s death. I was a young man, with dreams of being a great journalist, and I had managed to convince an important European literary magazine that I was the one to capture the elusive literary giant. The Beckett interview was going to be my entry card into the big time. Mr. Beckett spoke only five words during the half-hour the tape ran, three in French and two in English. He smoked two cigarettes, exhibited a fascinating assortment of expressions, from pained world weariness to the exhilaration of an old but wise prophet. He had granted me the interview after I had written him and said I had a terminal illness, and this would be my last journalistic piece, earn me enough money to pay for my cremation. When I arrived at the tiny restaurant he had suggested, he was not well, but still he quickly determined that I was not an ailing man. I wrote the article anyway, the long article with over a thousand words quoted from Beckett, and it was published in 1989, a few weeks before Beckett’s death. A year later I was found out and discredited. It is since then, back in the town I grew up in, where my parents are buried, that I have been following people.
But this evening, as I am following an interesting looking person, from behind I’m not certain if it is a woman or a man, but that does not deter my interest. On the contrary, it whets my appetite, stirs my curiosity. I follow this person for several blocks, imagining a life, speaking my observations and thoughts to the tape recorder. Creative non-fiction. Long walk for exercise and reflection, stylised jail break, no not quite, spiritual journey, hardly, these descriptions that seek difference. This is my take on the walker I’m following.
I see this extraordinarily large feather, maybe from an ostrich or an emu. I reach for a lovely feather and I see an envelope nearby. The envelope is old and the addressee’s name is faded. I can make out the postmark and date. I pick both objects up, but drop the feather in order to open the envelope. When I look up, the person I had been following is not in sight. I open the envelope: a hundred hundred-dollar bills in sequential order, older than I am, and a note, in a messy hand: “I love you more than my pitiful self. Forgive me, I wasn’t being myself,” dated in a neat hand, sixty years ago, Vancouver, the other side of the country. I wonder about the envelope’s provenance, the sender, the intended. I read the message over and over, as though it were the plot of the most convoluted novel. I sense that the words are capturing me and I need to flee their grasp. From my wallet, I remove a twenty-dollar bill, crisp and without promise, and hurl it into the sky, watching it float away to a rendezvous. Then I start to walk back to my apartment, but slower than I can ever recall walking, like someone being observed walking in a tank of water, perhaps being filmed.
“Monetary Transactions” was first published in the short-fiction chapbook Not a Second More, Not a Second Less (Mercutio Press, Montreal, 2005) by J. J. Steinfeld.
Fiction writer, poet, and playwright J. J. Steinfeld lives in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada. He has published a novel, Our Hero in the Cradle of Confederation
(Pottersfield Press), nine short story collections, the previous three by Gaspereau Press — Should the Word Hell Be Capitalized?, Anton Chekhov Was Never in Charlottetown,
and Would You Hide Me? —
and a poetry collection, An Affection for Precipices
(Serengeti Press). His short stories and poems have appeared in numerous anthologies and periodicals internationally, and over thirty of his one-act and full-length plays have been performed in North America.