I had just finished a chapter in my present, in process book. So, I thought I’d take a break.
I found myself in the “Writer’s Corner” wine bar. The other day I met a man that knew a lot about Benjamin Franklin in this place, filled with authors portraits.
I climbed up on a stool opposite the picture of Nathaniel Hawthorne. I ordered a large glass of red wine and studied the portrait. It was a very imposing picture of a man with sharp, structured facial features, and long dark hair flowing around his ears. Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804-1864.
“Hello, do you come here often?”
It was the fellow sitting on the next stool. He sort of resembled the portrait of Hawthorne! He was dressed impeccably in a dark suit, white starched shirt and a dark bow tie.
“This is only my second time here,” I replied.
“Have you read much of Hawthorne’s work?” The fella said, pointing to the portrait.
“I’ve only read “The Scarlet Letter.”
“You should read his best short story, “Wakefield,” my drinking partner commented.
“I’ve never heard of it. What makes it so good?”
“It’s one of the strangest stories you will ever read. Also it has a hidden meaning in it!”
“Sometimes, when I finish a book, I don’t get the meaning. It’s a riddle to me.”
We both took long sips of our wine.
“There are times I wish I could call the author up on the phone and get his explanation.”
“You won’t have to do that, I’ll tell you about “Wakefield.”
“Please tell me, I’m all ears.”
I glanced up at Hawthorne’s picture, it was like it came alive! His eyes were boring through to my soul. It was weird!
My drinking partner continued, “Wakefield” is an odd story about a fellow walking out on his wife after 10 years of marriage. He felt he was a nobody.”
“Was adultery involved?” I said, smiling.
“No, nothing of the kind. This man settled down in a flat one block away in order to observe-for 20 years-the effect he was having and then he returned to his wife!”
“Wow! That is strange!”
“You bet it’s strange. This is not your standard mystery: there are no secrets, no corpses, no ghosts, not even a romance! Just an exit, a vigil, and a return!”
“Bartender, give us a bottle of this wine, this explanation is going to take a while,” I said, “We will share.”
My partner smiled. “Thank you, very much.”
“So, what have we got so far? An ordinary man, a Mr. Nobody, leaves his spouse, for 20 years, to spy on her. He wanted to see the impact of his absence!”
I re-filled both of our glasses and said, “Now, I want to know, WHY DOES WAKEFIELD LEAVE HIS WIFE?”
“That’s a good question, why do you think?”
“Well, 10 years of marriage, maybe a mid-life crisis! Maybe he is a sadist and wants to play a nasty trick on his wife.”
“It could be those reasons, but I don’t think so.”
“Why then?” I said, wanting to know badly.
“He leaves to UNDERSTAND himself!”
“We all want to understand ourselves.”
“That’s right, but in life we can’t really do that. Who can tell us who we are? YOU are always in the way of that understanding.”
I sipped my wine and pondered that thought.
“So, that is probably why Wakefield left, so he wouldn’t be in the way!”
“I think you’ve got it!” said my bar stool mate.
“When he returns home after 20 years, he felt he had found himself. By removing himself from the picture, he saw how people reacted when they thought he was gone and then presumed dead.”
We both stared up at Hawthorne’s portrait.
“So, Wakefield was no more a Mr. Nobody. He was a Somebody, in his mind.
“We all should go on a visionary project to find ourselves, to look beyond and see things we don’t know, living so close to one’s self!”
“So my friend, that is the hidden meaning in “Wakefield”, Hawthorne’s brilliant short story.”
I sipped my wine and thought about my conversation with this man I had just met.
“I want to understand myself also. So this odd story leaves me asking:
HOW DID THE AUTHOR KNOW THAT ABOUT ME?”