I’ve known Frank Turner for a long time now. Long enough, at least, to get to know some of his ways and habits. For example, I know that Frank wakes up every morning at 4AM and spends the next two hours sitting at his kitchen table with a cup of coffee. Not reading the paper, not watching TV, not doing anything at all. Just sitting there, his elbows on his knees, staring into his cup, a naked bulb in a lamp in the living room casting a thin light over his hunched figure.
I started going over to Frank’s some mornings when I couldn’t sleep. I’d let myself in through the unlatched screen door and Frank would look up at me for a moment as I walked to the kitchen through the breezeway. He wouldn’t say a word. He’d just stand up, take another mug off the shelf, fill it with hot coffee off the stove, and set it down in front of the chair adjacent to his. Neither of us are much for talking, so we didn’t discuss our lives or pasts or plans. We’d just sit there and drink the coffee, sometimes looking out the window at the hills in the distance, watching the contours appear out of the darkness, waiting for that thin band of gold at the horizon that heralded the coming day. When it was time for my shift to start, I’d tell Frank good-bye, thank him for the coffee, and walk out to my truck.
A couple times, early on, I asked him why he woke up so early just to sit at his kitchen table. He’d tell me, “I take a little time to get fit for the day.” Or, “I just need to think on some things.” So, always the same meaning, even if the explanation was slightly different. I didn’t ask him too often, though, and after a short while I didn’t ask him at all. For Frank’s part, he never asked me anything, not even the first time I showed up on his porch at 4:30AM, bleary-eyed and sweating, even though it was early-February and the wind was whipping across the prairie, the cold stinging my cheeks. He only pulled out a chair at the table, made a vague motion with his hand, and set a cup in front of me.
I went over to his place maybe a month ago, about 5AM, after a bad night, and as soon as I opened the screen door, unlatched like it always was, it was like I could sense something had changed. The light in the living room was on and Frank’s cup of coffee was on the table, but he wasn’t there. I called his name softly, then louder, so as not to surprise him with my being there. But there was no answer. I walked around the house and looked in the rooms, but he wasn’t in any of them. Finally, I went into the kitchen and put my palm against his mug. It was warm. The coffee on the stove was still simmering. I walked out to the garage and saw that his truck wasn’t there. The tracks in the gravel driveway were fresh. Then I went back inside, turned off the stove, closed the windows, locked the doors, and got back in my own truck and drove away.
Since then I’ve been back a few times. The coffee in the mug now has a thick oily sheen on the surface, but, other than that, nothing has changed. I’ll keep going back every now and then, but I don’t expect I’ll find him. He must have finally made up his mind about something, I guess.
The photos were taken in Dunnigan Hills, California, USA in fall 2008 with a plastic WOCA camera and medium-format 120 film. The NEXT post will be on Pietown, New Mexico.