The Place Holder

Saturday Stories #5

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The custodian pulled out his keys with a jangle, fiddled for the one, and opened the door.

A man was sitting on the battered leather couch, staring into a smartphone screen.

“Who are you, then?” the custodian said. “You’re not Mr. Comfort.”

“No, no, I’m not,” the man on the couch said. The custodian looked toward the other door. “She’s not here, either.”

“Well, what’s all this, then? And what are you doing in this office?”

“I’m the place holder.”

“The what?”

He finally looked up from the smartphone.

“I’m the place holder,” said the place holder. “Once upon a time there was this writer, and he made a pledge to write a story every week and give it to the world on a Saturday morning. One week, something went horribly wrong. Except it didn’t, you see.”

“Something’s horribly wrong but it isn’t? What’s that supposed to mean? And how did you get in here?”

“Oh, he gave me a key. I put it back on the desk.”

The custodian looked at the desk. Sure enough, there was a key in the middle of the blotter.

“Well, you know about the stories, then,” he said, somewhat mollified. “Are you trying to tell me there’s no story?”

“Oh, there’s a story,” the stranger said. “The story is you and me. How well do you know the writer?”

“I’ve been cleaning here twice a week for 20 years,” the custodian said.

“Good. Now here’s the point: Has he ever made a promise, like the one to write a story every week, and then not followed through?”

The custodian blushed. “Well, yeah.” Before the man with the smartphone, who had a look of smirky triumph on his face, could respond, he added, “But he was following through big time. He’s been writing up a storm all week, talking under his breath with a big smile on his face. He was really looking forward to putting out his story this morning, and now you’re saying it ain’t here?”

“Not that story,” the intruder said. “He tore out his hair last night and said, ‘Goodness goose! It won’t be ready!’”

“Yeah, that’s something he might say,” the custodian muttered. “So the story is just you and me talking about how there’s no story?”

“Pretty much.”

“That ain’t too much of a story, is it?”

“Not really. He left this post, telling people if they still want one of his stories, they can look through the older ones under the link over there on the left that says ‘Stories,’” he said, displaying the post on the screen. “It says he’s so excited about the new story, he wants to finish it off properly before he puts it out there. Then he wrote a story about a custodian finding a place holder in Mr. Comfort’s office.”

“He promises a new story every Saturday and then dashes something off in 20 minutes, doesn’t even show up and leaves a note that says, ‘You can always check out the old stories.’ Ain’t that just typical.”

The two men looked at each other in silence for several seconds. Then the man with the smartphone pushed himself up off the couch.

“Well, we’ve managed to talk for more than 500 words,” the place holder said. “You reckon that’s enough? Let’s go for a drink.”

The custodian looked around the office. “I still have cleaning to do.”

“Right,” the place holder snorted. “And he still has writing to do.”

“Yeah, good point,” said the custodian. “Let’s get out of here.”

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