Worth 1000 Words #13: Ol’ Reliable

On the first day of college, I was nervously approaching my first ever class – Health and Wellness – wondering who I would sit with, if I’d make any friends, and why on earth said class needed to be so freakin’ far away from the parking lot, when my backpack strap broke.

Now, superstitious folk might have perceived this occurrence as a bad sign. Unfortunately, I am one of those people.

I immediately assumed that one single stroke of bad luck was going to define my future academic career, and that my pending failures were all due to an unfortunate incident of faulty stitching. I wished I had bought one of those snazzy, colorful L.L. Bean backpacks embroidered with my initials instead of a dowdy brown messenger bag designed to carry my laptop, which I literally brought to class maybe twice in my entire three years of degree-hunting.

So I hobbled to Health class, retained no information while there, then hobbled back to my car with my broken bag and similarly broken spirits. And that night, I went to Staples and shelled out $72 for a backpack that came to be known as Ol’ Reliable.

Ol’ Reliable is a High Sierra brand bag, black with silver/white accents, and contains five pockets of increasing size and a laptop sleeve, so it was quite a lot of bang for my buck. Now, I have owned many a backpack in my time, including one of those wheelie bags that were popular when I was in elementary school, a Big Dogs bag bought at an outlet store in the Poconos, and a really pretty white and purple plaid bag that also broke beneath the burden of weighty books. But I don’t think any backpack past or future can ever eclipse the enduring legacy of Ol’ Reliable, who has been my stalwart traveling companion for the last eight years. Who knew one backpack could carry so many books (I was an English Lit major, remember?), as well as all of my hopes and dreams?

20180926_110729.jpgHe’s suffered through some wear and tear over the years – one shoulder strap is ripped slightly, but it remains resilient and shows no sign of tearing completely. A pen exploded in one of the pockets during an intense rainstorm, so the interior is stained a splotchy black. And, as mentioned earlier, Ol’ Reliable has been through it. My last semester of college alone I had 25 textbooks, including two massive, dreaded literature anthologies. It’s a miracle that both Ol’ Reliable and my spine survived.

Ol’ Reliable not only assisted me on the road to an English degree, he has accompanied me on the literal road on many actual travels. He was with me when I studied abroad in England, which was my first time ever out of the country. When I hiked the steep stairs at St. Paul’s cathedral and then took in the gorgeous view at the top, he was there. As I strolled through Westminster Abbey, looking upon the memorials of poets and writers and kings and queens of yore, he was there. When my crew and I took a whirlwind one day trip to Paris, visiting the Louvre, viewing the Eiffel Tower, and walking through the beautiful and haunting Notre Dame, he was there. Whilst I toured the legendary halls of castles and prestigious universities, he was there. He was strapped firmly to my back when I stood upon the tomb of King Henry VIII in Windsor, and sat quietly at my feet during every exam and quiz. And when I returned to England three years later, he was with me yet again, as solid and hardy as ever. I took him with me to see Stonehenge. He came along when we glimpsed the white cliffs at Dover, rising from the ocean like pale stone beacons. He has visited the Shakespeare House, the royal crescent in Bath, and has graced the floor in many a pub and tavern while I sipped a pint of Strongbow and nibbled on a burger.

Ol’ Reliable was there on my recent trip to Vegas, able to carry everything from my laptop, to my Nintendo DS, to my Nook, and two spare outfits in his sturdy pockets, yet was still able to fit beneath the seat of the person in front of me on the airplane, so I didn’t have to cram him in the overhead bin. He was with me every time I traveled between New England and PA on school breaks and the like, able to fit enough of my belongings in his pockets that I rarely needed to check a bag. He’s been on planes, cars, trains, and ferries. Whenever I have a trip coming up, I feel somewhat less nervous just knowing that Ol’ Reliable will be accompanying me. Because he is exactly that – reliable. With him on my back, I don’t need to worry.

Since I currently work in a retail establishment, I have occasionally had to recommend items to shoppers. Recently, I was assisting a couple with the purchase of a backpack for their grandson from our online store. And wouldn’t you know, a slightly updated version of Ol’ Reliable was available. I sang his praises to them, recounting my eight years of reliable backpack ownership to help them make their decision. And – I like to think due to my persuasion – they made the right choice, and I hope their grandson has an Ol’ Reliable of his own.

Ol’ Reliable isn’t winning any beauty pageants – he’s worn, almost a decade old, and not as glitzy or as glamorous as some of the other backpacks out there. But he gets the job done, and he gets it done well, and without complaint. Any trip I go on, he is automatically the first thing I think of to come along. He has never failed me, and I intend to keep him as my frequent travel-companion until he or I cannot travel any longer, or until that tear in his shoulder strap finally gives.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

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Lacuna

(Thought I’d share a short story I wrote several years ago and only just stumbled across.)

Lacuna

by: Allie Frost

         Café La Bréche was unusually busy for a Thursday morning. Outside, beneath the bright yellow awning, every table was occupied. To foreigners, the café advertised ‘Paris in a cup,’ but to the Parisians it was nothing more than a simple, somewhat tacky café by the Seine, the towers of Notre Dame watching thoughtfully in the distance.

Emery King wasn’t overly fond of the place, but she had picked it out—and so he went. She said she liked the ambience. He preferred to select his breakfast venues based on the food choice and whether or not he deemed the prices reasonable, but Mona would take burnt croissants and exorbitantly expensive espresso as long as the atmosphere was nice.

“Your coffee will get cold if you don’t drink.”

At his warning, Mona obediently took a sip from her mug, green eyes twinkling over the rim. “Cold coffee is not a tragedy,” she teased.

Emery scoffed. “For €4.50 a cup it is.”

Mona laughed. A breeze kicked up, and she brushed some auburn strands of hair from her face. She had changed her color again. She had been blonde the last time he saw her, and brunette the time before that. He didn’t even remember what her natural hair looked like—or if he had ever seen it.

Mona smirked. “You’ve always been too serious, Emery.”

Emery sighed, crossing one leg over his knee.

You are not serious enough.”

“I am known to be serious sometimes,” she informed him indignantly. “For example, when I tell you I am glad you came to visit, I am being serious.”

He dabbed at his moustache with a napkin. The foam from his coffee always collected there. He would probably need to shave soon. He had an important conference in about a week and wanted to look professional. Mona hated the moustache the last time they had met—Berlin, three years ago. It was half the reason he’d kept it so long. But this time she said she loved it.

“I could visit more often if we lived in the same country.”

Mona took the sunglasses from the top of her head and positioned them over her eyes. Emery wished she wouldn’t hide them. Sometimes, when he looked in her eyes, he could almost grasp what she was thinking, or feeling—almost. No matter what else she changed, her eyes had always been the same. Mystifying green.

“I like it here,” she determined. “There is no reason for me to move.”

Emery rolled his eyes. She liked it now. She would hate it in three months and move a thousand miles away, most likely, and he’d only find out when his letters would return to him unopened with ‘Return to Sender’ stamped in red on the envelope.

“You don’t even speak the language.”

Mona laughed lightly. Emery loathed that laugh as much as he loved it. Such a careless sort of afterthought – as though she found no actual humor in his words, but wanted to appease him. A whimsical flippancy. An expression of pity. It frustrated him.

“Precisely why I like it.”

Emery tried not to show his annoyance. She couldn’t even order a croissant in French. Yet she had lived in Paris for at least a year—or was it two? He didn’t remember. She knew ‘bonjour’ and ‘au revoir.’ Hello and goodbye. She was a creature of constant hellos and goodbyes – it was what came in between those hellos and goodbyes that kept changing.

“What is the point in living in a place where you can’t understand anyone?”

“That’s the point, though.” She stared at him, but he couldn’t quite see her eyes beyond the tinted lenses. “If you don’t understand, then you can pretend. The nastiest insults become the prettiest compliments when you don’t understand the difference.”

             It’s a pretend life, he wanted to tell her. You’re not really living.

But of course he wouldn’t say that. She wouldn’t listen anyway.

He sighed.

“I will never understand you, Mona.”

He had known her for a long time—thirteen years. Since freshman year of college. Every sporadic letter, every fleeting conversation since then always felt like he was speaking to someone he had never met. Struggling to hang on to the image of a person he would never really know, and perhaps, had never known at all.

She smiled coyly. “No, you won’t. But it’s better that way.”

Her coffee had stopped steaming. She had only taken a few sips—the mug was over half-full. €4.50 for a cold coffee. Such a waste—a tragedy.