The nightmarish terror erupted out of nowhere, provoked by a sudden encounter with a stranger who displayed a level of rage that appeared close to exploding in violence. The man's wrath instantly shattered the protective layers of healing I had struggled over the years to construct and for a brief instant reduced me to the defenseless child of my distant past—as if I were about to be beaten unmercifully by the most terrifying man on earth—my drunken father.
This encounter happened today during my lunch break when I was scanning the half-price sale items at one of the used book stores near the law firm where I was employed as a bookkeeper. I was checking out the condition of a hardback copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls when I was shoved forward forcefully by a hard slam into my back. Turning to see what had happened, a man my age with rage-filled bloodshot eyes confronted me, his arm positioned as if ready to strike. He was shorter than me, but broader and heavier. His tight, black tee shirt revealed over-developed muscles in his arms, shoulders, neck, and chest, like a testosterone-infused body builder. He held a black gym-bag in his other hand. He glared at me for a brief moment, then growled, "What are you trying to do, buddy, start a fight?"
But I managed to quickly overcome the terrorizing panic that was my automatic reaction and instantly realized the guy was out of control. He was just like my crazed father had been when he would stumble into my bedroom those many years ago in a drunken stupor to take out his disappointment with his failed life by beating me until he exhausted the fury that festered in him. Instead of flinching under this deranged stranger’s hate-filled gaze, I handed him the book I was holding and said, "Have you read Hemingway? He channeled his anger into great prose. Try it, I think you'd like it."
The man's angry stare changed to a questioning look, maybe even a tinge of confusion.
"Have a nice day," I said as I turned back to the sale table and spotted the Steinbeck I'd been looking for since reading a review of it a few months before. The memory of my father faded as fast as the man in the black muscle shirt disappeared. I even chuckled to myself a little as I made my way to the cashier. Sometimes fiction is so much better than reality.