MR FRINGE (NKP03)
By Adya Agarwal Gupta
Mr. Fringe was an odd old man. No one ever wanted to be in his presence. He had been like this ever since his wife died. His wife was a straightforward, intelligent lady, and her absence lead Mr. Fringe to unusual quirkiness and awkwardness. Every day, this solitary man would visit his wife’s gravestone, only seeing her in his mind’s eye. He would kneel down on the grainy ground and utter the words written on her stone:
“Here lies Maylea Fringe in peace.
“Sometimes, one can feel alone, but when you feel most alone is when The Lord sends you someone who you can love more than yourself.”
Mr. Fringe read these words every day but trusted them little. He had no one is his lonesome life anymore and no hope either. He almost had convinced himself, he needed no other. However, the day after this story starts, Mr. Fringe’s life changed…
Mr. Fringe visited his wife’s gravestone as usual and knelt down to kiss it. As he pushed himself back up onto the marble bench, he rested back and sat silently on the bench, unconsciously shaking his legs. He was looking at his wife’s stone and holding back tears. Oh! He missed her so much. Mr. Fringe had always been quirky but Mrs. Fringe was his closest friend. Her smile and joyful personality more than made up for his awkwardness. And her best gift ever to Mr. Fringe was her love for him. She loved him unconditionally. She was the only one who ever had. Even in death, she had left him a friend. His only friend: her gravestone.
One day, as he sat lost in his thoughts, enjoying the silence, when a shuffle of footsteps sounded near him. Disturbed at the interruption, Mr. Fringe looked around to see who it was. A young boy in a dusty khaki overall with a tattered straw hat was sitting on the next bench. He was kicking at the dust as he read a gravestone. Tears dripped from his turquoise eyes. Mr. Fringe edged closer to this boy. He hadn’t seen this boy before around these parts and was curious.
“I’m Mr. Fringe. Who are you?” Mr. Fringe asked in a hushed voice. The souls of the gravestones were all around them, so Mr. Fringe whispered as he talked. The boy turned to look at Mr. Fringe and wiping his tears from his stained face, he responded.
“I’m Alan.” Quickly, he added, “I’m the new cleaner here.”
Mr. Fringe was surprised at his answer. He had almost felt the boy was grieving someone like he was. But maybe the cleaner had a sad story. So he nodded, as he sadly shifted away. Alan got up from his bench and ran away from the graveyard.
The lonely man’s heart sank. He was sure he had been awkward again and scared the boy off. He shrugged. Then, he kissed his wife’s stone once again and left the graveyard mournfully.
Lying on his bed with his eyes wide open, he thought about the boy he had met. His turquoise blue eyes flashed upon his inward eye, as he wondered why he had run away. As he lay in his bed, he had a strange feeling of a presence. Twice he woke up and walked around his little house and even parted the curtains to look outside. But clearly there was nothing to see. He chided himself for his anxiety and lay in bed again. Slowly, his eyelids became heavy and his wife’s angular face was visible again. A smile now set on his face, Mr. Fringe drifted off to sleep. Unbeknown to him, just outside his window, Alan peered in. The bitter cold made him shiver, and he rushed off back to the graveyard wondering how he could make himself warmer.
Birds chirped at Mr. Fringe’s doorstep the next morning. Startled, he awoke with a jump and rolled off the bed. Rubbing his eyes, Mr. Fringe threw grains out the window as he did every morning for the birds and freshened up. As he walked out, the wind rushed at his face, numbing it completely. The graveyard was his first stop. No day of his started without a visit to his wife. As he sat on the bench and whispered his thoughts to Maylea’s stone, he felt a presence near him again. Someone was watching him. Stopping his conversation, Mr. Fringe looked around. The same young boy he had seen the previous day was sitting there, watching Mr. Fringe attentively. Mr. Fringe nodded at him in greeting, as he quickly bid farewell to Maylea and approached Alan.
“Hello, Harry! No, it was…” Mr. Fringe awkwardly started.
“Alan! I’m the new cleaner.” Alan quietly said as he moved lightly back and away. Mr. Fringe moved back to his bench, not wanting to scare the young boy off again.
“You are Mr. Fringe?” Alan whispered shyly.
Mr. Fringe nodded, surprised that Alan had remembered his name. “Yes! I was just… Talking to my wife.”
He hunched at the side of the bench, afraid that Alan would find it odd. Alan didn’t say anything, but seemed to nod knowingly. Then suddenly, Alan ran away once again.
Mr. Fringe sighed and walked off to his workplace as well. He would return again that evening on his way back from work.
From behind a short wall, Alan watched as Mr. Fringe wistfully walked away. Then he went back to the gravestone he had sat at first when Mr. Fringe had seen him and the tears came back to his turquoise blue eyes. He started to say something in between sobs. Words only he and the people in the grave would know.
When Mr. Fringe left from work that day, he wasn’t thinking about whether Alan would be there. He was only thinking about Maylea. Shivering in the cold wind, Mr. Fringe kissed his wife’s stone and rushed back to his house. Once again, he felt that presence. But, he shrugged it off. And once again, as he drifted off to sleep, two turquoise eyes watched him from behind his windows. And then disappeared into the darkness of the night. Alan was intrigued and felt a strange attraction to him but it was too risky to trust anyone in his situation. But Mr. Fringe’s routine visits to his wife’s stone and his ritual chat with her day after day had endeared him to Alan. He felt the need to know more about Mr. Fringe.
Mr. Fringe also thought about Alan. He wondered whether if it really was Alan who was following him around. A part of him wished that it were. What if he could find a friend in this young boy? Deep inside, hope had started to bloom. The solitary man thought about this young boy and his future. Would he be destined to the life of a cleaner? Where were his parents? Would he find a life long friend as he had found Mrs. Fringe? Would his future be one of solitude or hope? Would it be one of laughter or frowns? Mr. Fringe wished him well as he drifted back into one of his deep sleeps.
A few more days went by. The same ritual repeated itself. Every day, Mr. Fringe met Alan. Except, slowly they grew to trust each other more. Alan did not run away any more. They would greet each other. Silently they exchanged thoughts and almost without knowing they grew closer in their silence.
One day, sitting down quietly on the bench, Mr. Fringe turned to see Alan looking back at him as usual. His hopeful turquoise blue eyes seeking him out, as Mr. Fringe cleared his throat and asked Alan a question.
“Would you like anything, Alan?” Mr. Fringe shyly asked, shaking his legs again nervously.
“I need food….” Alan whispered, half wanting Mr. Fringe to hear, though not sure whether he would. Mr. Fringe jumped up with a start, and took Alan’s hand. He had heard. Rushing to the nearest convenient store, Mr. Fringe released Alan’s hand, letting him look for what he wanted. Mr. Fringe whistled softly, as he drummed his fingers on the counter and looked away so as to not embarrass Alan as he picked up what he fancied. Alan rushed back with nothing in his hands.
“I can’t ask you to buy something for me!” Alan exclaimed.
“Why not, Alan? Go on, pick something.”
Alan got back a small packet of food. As he handed it over to the cashier lady, the cashier lady smiled, but her smile faded. Something had struck her! This was the boy. The boy the police was looking for. She handed the packet and the change back and watched as they trailed off. Instantly after they left, she dialed a number.
The young boy settled on the bench beside Mr. Fringe.
“Thank you.” He whispered, as he gently hugged Mr. Fringe. Mr. Fringe was taken aback by this embrace of affection, and hugged Alan back. The two were happy. A feeling they both hadn’t felt in ages. For that moment, the gap in their hearts was full once again. Alan had refused Mr. Fringe’s kind offer to sleep in his home, though he had accepted the blanket Mr. Fringe gave him.
In the morning, Mr. Fringe awoke, happy and contented. He kissed Maylea’s stone, whispering to her happily. However, as he turned to look at where Alan should have been sitting, he saw no one. It was everyday at the same time that Mr. Fringe visited the graveyard. And it was every day that Alan was there. Today, he was not there!
A feeling of worry and hurt rushed through Mr. Fringe.
Did I scare him off? Thought Mr. Fringe sadly.
Searching everywhere desperately for Alan, Mr. Fringe began to worry about the young boy’s fate. He could be anywhere! But, he never went anywhere. He was always staying near the graveyard. After all, he was the cleaner there. Too worried to be upset, Mr. Fringe rushed to the convenient store, searching for him through the lanes.
“Sir! Sir! Excuse me. May I help you?” The cashier lady from the previous day asked.
“Do you remember, the boy yesterday? Have you seen him? Please, ma’am!”
The lady coldly replied.
“I called the police yesterday. That boy is wanted by the police, sir.”
Mr. Fringe gasped, as he hurried to police station.
He begged the Inspector to tell him about Alan and what had happened to him. He offered to do whatever it took to release Alan.
“Sir! Please. Alan is just a hapless young cleaner.” Mr. Fringe pleaded. “He was my friend.” He added, in a weak whisper.
The policeman responded shortly.
“He was no cleaner, you fool! He was a runaway. He had hit the caretaker at the orphanage before he ran. It’s the kindness of the people at the orphanage that they even bothered to report him missing. We have delivered him to their care. Now off with you!”
Mr. Fringe took the directions to the orphanage, where Mr. Fringe helplessly watched Alan sitting in a corner. Alan was rocking to and fro, rubbing his arms where new bruises had formed.
“Alan.” Mr. Fringe whispered, as he passed by him. Alan looked up, hurt flooding his eyes.
“Mr. Fringe! Please. Help me!” Alan whispered back, tears streaming down his cheeks. Mr. Fringe reached out his hand to grab Alan’s, but the hefty caretaker ushered Mr. Fringe out roughly. Alan helplessly reached out his hand to Mr. Fringe but the door was shut in his face and locked. Tears welled up in Mr. Fringe’s eyes.
Then what Mr. Fringe learned, turned his life upside down. Alan was the son of the two people he had wished had never lived: Mr and Mrs. Bittlestone. If it had not been for their speed driving Mrs. Fringe would have been by his side today. Now it all made sense to him. That first day Alan was sitting at a bench near the gravestone of the Bittlestones. He had never suspected. Now he regretted having ever spoken kindly to Alan. He would have to forget Alan and Alan would have to face his life alone, like Mr. Fringe was forced to. It was their destiny.
Mr. Fringe left the orphanage feeling lost and empty. His only other friend was lost. There was no more hope left in his life. He would never find someone like Alan. Or like Maylea. They were both unreachable.
Once more, everyday Mr. Fringe returned to the graveyard. He would blankly stare at Maylea’s stone, wishing for her wisdom to comfort him. It was the deepest loneliness Mr. Fringe now felt. He didn’t even feel lonely; he felt nothing. Absolutely empty. His internal pain was numbing his emotion. Hopeless grey tears dripped down his face. Kneeling down closer to Maylea, he kissed her and whispered his goodbye and went back to his lonely house.
That night, Maylea came to him. And whispered something into his ears.
“I love you. I wish I had more time with you. But, I don’t. I’m sorry. But, in Alan I saw a companion for you and a son we never had. Don’t give him up Mr. Fringe. Three people died that night. Don’t kill two more. Don’t keep it till too late Mr. Fringe.”
Mr. Fringe woke up the next morning and struggled with what his beloved wife had said. That day at the graveyard, Mr. Fringe sat back on the bench, nibbling at his nails. He thought and thought, what love Alan had brought to him. But, how could he express this love and embrace Alan as his forever? Or could he?
Kissing Maylea’s stone mindlessly, he closed his eyes for the first time in a long time. And what he saw shocked him. Instead of Maylea’s wise brown eyes, he saw turquoise blue eyes peering into his. They were extremely familiar. Mr. Fringe kept his eyes closed, trying to make out whose eyes they were. He looked and looked, staring back into the turquoise eyes to see. And finally, he realized who it was. They belonged to a lost boy. They belonged to Alan.
Mr. Fringe opened his eyes once again, allowing the tears to stream down like heavy rain.
Maylea was right as she always had been. As soon as Mr. Fringe allowed himself to think of it, he was released. He ran to the orphanage. Taking Alan’s hand, he smiled.
“I’m here to adopt Alan.” Mr. Fringe said in a deep voice. His voice didn’t tremble anymore. It used to, when he was quirky and odd.
The hefty caretaker frowned at Mr. Fringe but went through the paperwork with him anyway. At last, when all was done, she had this to say.
“Eh, take him. We care least for this violent filthy boy. Whip him into shape, Mr. Fringe!”
Alan smiled nervously as he gazed up hopefully into Mr. Fringe’s eyes. His hands slid back into Mr. Fringe’s and the two walked out of the hopeless, grey orphanage. Hope was restored again.
“Sometimes, one can feel alone, but when you feel most alone is when The Lord sends you someone who you can love more than yourself.”
All credits for pictures go to Google Images and Shutterstock.