Frank was enjoying a book and a coffee when a kid’s overheard comment sent him spiraling down a regrettable memory. The stupid words we can’t take back.

Enjoy the story.

What a Stupid Thing to Say

Bob Gillen

On an October afternoon, Frank Meek sat at a table on his local Starbucks patio, re-reading Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and sipping an Americano. Retirement could not be better. 

At the edge of the patio, cars lined up at the drive-through window. The squawk box voice echoed across the patio. Hello. What can I get started for you? Kids from the local middle school filled most of the tables, waiting for their parents to pick them up. They were noisy, but it didn’t bother Frank. Life was good.

Four students sat at the table next to Frank’s. Two boys, two girls. Both by appearance and by noise level, Frank placed them as eighth graders. One boy, a tall kid with short brown hair and a long hoodie, stood up abruptly. He hoisted his empty drink cup, said, for all to hear, “Okay, I’m done. We can go now.”

No one at his table moved. After an awkward moment the boy slid back down in his chair.

The boy’s words jolted Frank, woke up a memory he has spent a lifetime hoping to forget. “Okay, I’m done.” Frank’s words exactly, so many years ago. He had never forgotten. It was the stupidest thing he had ever done in a long life filled with stupid moments. Something he regretted to this day.

Frank’s mind chased down his memories. It was the early spring of his eighth grade year. Frank and three of his friends were out one chilly afternoon after school, riding their bikes around the neighborhood. Back then Frank was known to all his schoolmates as Frannie. No one could remember how he got the nickname. One theory was that his teacher, Mrs. Gerard, could not see very well and saw his name as Frances, not Francis, and began calling him Frannie.

The other theory, just as plausibie, was that the teacher confused him with another student. A boy named Francois had moved to the neighborhood the year before. Francois came from Montreal, and of course everyone called him Frenchie. Mrs. Gerard may have mixed up Frenchie and Frannie. Either way, to Frank’s dismay, the nickname Frannie stuck all through the year.

Frannie and his friends left their bikes at the base of a large wooden bridge that spanned the mouth of the town’s wide creek. It was a draw bridge, capable of opening to large cabin cruisers and sailboats that moored in the mile-long creek. But opening only by reservation. There was no budget for a man to stay at the bridge 24/7. You called ahead to be sure an operator could get to the bridge and open it for your boat.

The bridge was strong enough for car traffic, heavy beams and rails, planks that clattered when a car crossed. 

Frannie had climbed up on the support beams under the bridge with his girlfriend Pattie, followed by their friends Ed and Diana. The two couples had sat snuggling in the chill air. They kissed. Warm and wonderful kisses.

And then Frannie pulled away from Pattie, said loudly, “Okay, I’m done. We can go now.”

Frannie did not remember if everyone immediately climbed down off the bridge, or if they ignored him for a while. The only thing he remembers, what is burned into his psyche, is what a stupid thing it was to say. But Frannie was not exactly experienced around girls, not very much in touch with his own emotions.

He could have enjoyed sitting there with Pattie, arm around her shoulder, warming each other in the chill spring air.

But no. He blew the moment.

Frank spent much of his lifetime socially inept, emotionally naive. He could list dozens of things he had done and said over the years that were stupid, regrettable. Things that betrayed his social ineptitude. 

Today, on the Starbucks patio, he turned slightly for a glimpse of the boy who had spoken. Poor kid. I hope he learns sooner than I did.