The next day I was in town to get a few things and I stopped in at the coffee shop—not the franchise on the way out of town, but the locally-owned one just off the square. It’s the place you go if you want to hear spurious stories and scandalous hearsay. I’m not typically in the market for either of these, but it is also the place one can find grains of truth and elements of fact if one is willing to sift through the outrage and the intrigue of the storytellers.
The storytellers were: the couple who owned the place, Lilian and Apollo, and their long-time friend and co-worker Dian. Outside of their constant barrage of conversation, often shouted to one another from one end of the shop to the other, it is hard to imagine when they had time to work. But they were maestros in their own way, experts able to do the daily activities of running their business with little thought or effort, while simultaneously focusing on what really mattered to them, and where they placed all their dedication and pride: gossiping.
The shop had been in this same location for several decades, but before that it had been located in another building a few streets over, which had burnt down in the late 1980’s. Back then it was a café where most of the locals congregated each morning to get a quick coffee or bite to eat, or sit and have a heartier full breakfast, and to share stories from the local paper. More recently, Lilian and Apollo had scaled back the menu and now served only simple baked goods and coffees; but the gathering of locals and the sharing of stories was still an honored tradition.
As I entered, the three were engaged in what appeared to be a heated debate:
“I don’t care what they say,” exclaimed Lilian. “I know it isn’t true, I can tell these things. I’m not perfect, but God knows…why, I would even give the shirt off my own back if it had been me.”
“First of all, why bring God into it?!” Asked Dian. “What’s your point? You aren’t making any sense.”
“You’re not making any sense!” Apollo jumped in as he handed another customer their bill. “You aren’t listening at all!”
“I’m not listening!?” Dian yelled back. “Oh! That’s rich! Ha! Who’s the one that doesn’t listen?!” She laughed as she looked around the coffee-shop nodding to the customers for approval. Several nodded in agreement while others looked at Apollo and shrugged.
“I’m just saying,” continued Lilian. “There’s a lot more to it than we think, that’s all.”
The three agreed on that last point. And for a moment there was silence in the coffee shop while Apollo gave a customer some change, Dian went to change the coffee pot, and Lilian cleared a table. I stood in the doorway hesitating, debating with myself really, on whether or not I should go through with my plan. I knew there was no turning back if I lobbed a topic out there to this group. They were certain to run with it, and no telling where we’d end up. But I was curious, I had heard rumors about Father Davidson and wondered what truth there was to these; this probably wasn’t the best place to come for truth, but it likely was the only place where someone might have had first-hand knowledge of the facts behind the rumors. I felt dirty though, and I despised myself a little for coming here to dig up dirt about the Father. But was that really what I was doing? Maybe I wanted to prove to myself the rumors weren’t true. Maybe I was only here to vindicate him in my own mind. Or was I just wanting to throw mud on a good man; trying to bring someone else down a peg to make myself feel better? I couldn’t decide what my motive for coming was—I tried to turn and walk back out the door. I tried to hold my tongue, but instead I said: “And what about Father Davidson?!”
All eyes turned towards me, and the three oracles of the coffee-shop looked genuinely surprised. There was another moment of silence, the kind the settles on a place just before a sudden storm.
“Oh! That man!” Lilian gasped in exasperation.
“That do-gooder?!” Apollo added.
“Good for nothing is more like it!” Dian chimed in.
“He burnt our café down, I can tell you that much,” Lilian snorted. “And he ain’t what he appears, I’ll tell you that too! He’s a thief the way I see it. Robin Hood my ass. And a murderer!”
“He does seem to think he’s something special now,” Apollo continued. “Always was a vain young man, and proud. You couldn’t tell him nothing he didn’t think that he already knew. Always thinking he knows more than you.”
“That’s the truth! Staring off into the distance, cocking his head like a little dog, acting all cute, and squinting at you with those eyes of his…so damn annoying. Well he got what he deserved.”
“No he didn’t. Hardly! Three years? If that?! What was it…parole or something after that?” fumed Lilian.
I interjected cautiously: “Well, I was wondering if everyone thought that he really did it? This is why I brought it up actually.”
Dian briefly looked at me, and then out one of the windows. “Oh, the old conspiracy that it was the kid instead? Is that what you’re getting at? The strange one that was always hanging around in the shadows? What was his name?”
“Richard.” Apollo answered. “He was autistic I think. Fairly severe case as I remember. They put him away too…I think he’s still locked up.”
“Probably for the best,” said Dian. “What kind of life could he have anyway? Sad situation all around. If you want to know more ask Amelia, the Father’s younger sister. The whole thing is her fault anyway.”
I got my coffee and left the shop as the conversation veered to a different topic. I felt dejected, I got what I came for—intrigue and vitriol—and I knew it was my own fault for broaching the subject, but I felt dirty and as though I had betrayed Father Davidson’s confidence. I chastised myself for asking about him in there. I knew it wouldn’t amount to anything good, although I did learn something new about Richard, and the Father’s sister Amelia. So there was more to the story than just that Father Davidson went to prison for arson and manslaughter, perhaps a lot more.
* * *