The Dream (Flash Fiction)

The conversation came to a quiet pause. They sat together in the corner of the cafe and watched taxis roll by in the street. Bob sipped his tea. Catherine took a small nibble from her brownie and swallowed it down with hot chocolate. The world on the other side of the window was frantic with blowing snow and hurrying people. Their small table was an oasis from the freezing storm.

“What’s your dream?” Catherine asked. She said the words while watching the drifts of snow form on the sidewalk.

Bob looked down at his tea. The cafe was quiet for a Thursday. He couldn’t remember the last time it was so quiet. His thoughts were loud because of it. “River rafting,” Bob said.

Catherine turned and looked. She half-expected to catch him with a smile on his face. He could never give a silly response without laughing. No smile lingered. “Rafting?”

Bob swirled the tea in his cup and watched the water round the curves inside. “Yeah, river rafting. My dad, he used to love the river. He would take us when we were kids, back when we lived in Utah, before we moved to the city.” Bob took a sip and sighed. Outside, a honking frenzy started and then ceased. “We used to raft down the Colorado River, me, my dad, and my brother. We’d fish. He let us drink a beer, sometimes two.” Bob smiled. “He loved the rocks, ya know? The canyons. He loved looking at the stone and talking about the millions of years that stood before us. How all the different layers represented a different time. A time before our time.”

“Would either of you like a refill on your coffee?” asked a passing waitress. Bob and Catherine both shook their heads in silence and neglected to correct her. She left.

“Was your dad a rafting guide?” asked Catherine.

“Nope,” said Bob, shaking his head. “He just loved that river. We spread his ashes over it when he died. It’s what he always wanted.” Bob took another swallow of his tea and swirled the cup again. Catherine finished her brownie. It was moist and rich with chocolate.

“When we were out there, he’d tell us,” Bob continued, “that too many people retire when they die. For the longest time, I never understood that.” He looked at Catherine who was again watching the snow drifts build. “He would tell us, ‘Don’t retire when you die. Retire when you live. That’s the dream, kids. Retire when you live.’ It always confused the hell out of me.”

“What did he mean?” asked Catherine.

Bob shrugged. “I never asked him. He always said it in a way that meant it was something you would realize someday, ya know? It wasn’t as simple as an answer to a question.” The swirling tea in Bob’s cup stopped and he set it down. “I think he meant don’t work yourself to death. There’s more to life than that. You gotta take time to live. A lot of his friends, when they retired, they were already too old to do anything with their life. They retired, then they died.”

“Did your father die shortly after he retired?” For some reason, Catherine felt stupid for asking the question.

“He never got to retire,” Bob said. “Cancer did him in.”

The conversation came to another quiet pause, and more taxis honked in the street.

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