STORY: The Old Type-Setting Man

The old Type-setting man had a large, hooked nose, deep wrinkles around his mouth and shocks of white hair from the sides of his otherwise bald head. He arranged metal letters on printed pages all day to bring the revolution. People like him and his parents deserved better from a parliament that was corrupt and selfish. He printed pamphlets and letters daily and sent them throughout England. Eventually, he knew, even if through sheer volume and force, he would get through.


His mantra was “Peace, Justice and Love for all people.” From morning to night, in his cold, gray workshop he would not stop striving. He owed it to his parents to reach for revolution. Perhaps if he did, no other boy would have to watch his parents die of poverty. The rain came down outside, as it does in London. And the sun, in the rare moments it shined, just reflected off all the damp sharp edges of the buildings and cobble stones outside, making it hard to see. He might as well cover the windows and stay inside doing his work.


A weak knock on the door. The Type-setting man swung open the door and held out his hand. The little neighbor boy set envelopes in it and said, “That was all that was in your mailbox today, Mr. Templeton. Now, would you like to buy a pretty key today?” The rain pummeled the boy’s umbrella.


“No, son. Run along.” He shut the door. The boy lived with his grandfather next door. The old Type-Setter humored the child because he saved him a trip to the mailbox, which meant he could keep working. Every day the boy would knock, bring him his mail, and offer to sell him keys his grandfather had decorated to sell as paperweights. He often heard the old man rummaging in his toolbox and working next door. Their townhomes shared a wall. The poor old man had known the Type-Setter’s parents very well, and used to spend long hours drinking and laughing with them in the parlor when he was a boy. And he used to be the neighborhood keysmith so he had no shortage of keys to decorate. He was using what he still had to scratch out a living.


The Type-Setter sat back down and opened the letters. One from a prominent business man, acknowledging his latest pamphlet, but not really offering to help in any way. And another was a letter transcribed from a mayoral candidate. Hand signed, but gave no concessions. He was getting closer every day. He had to keep striving.


He bit into his apple as he opened his last letter. It was from a wealthy woman whom, if he could woo to be his wife, would be a very good political move to start his revolution.


As he read through it the gears and pulleys of his mind clinked together, to adjust with this new news. “Dearest Mr. Templeton. I have enjoyed our outings for the last year and I greatly appreciate your investment in me. But I must be frank and break things off quickly with you. I have come to realize a woman’s heart, even mine, is fragile. And I feel it would be punctured by the many sharp pieces of machinery of your strong mind. I am sorry.”


He took the last bite of the apple as he put his head in his hand to think. He was so tired and it was only 10 a.m. He swallowed the last bit of apple and noticed he was missing a tooth. He felt for it and cold not find it. He sat in astonishment. His neck and back hurt. He had not felt healthy for a very long time, but maybe this tooth was a bad sign. He looked back down at the letter, and asked himself, in a voice he thought was only loud enough for himself to hear, “Is a man who is tasked with revolution supposed to have anything but a strong mind and hard gears in his heart?”


He was a dutiful type-setter so he went back to work.


The next day the boy’s weak knock came again. But as the Type-Setter answered and took his mail the little boy said. “My grandpa made a key for you.”


The Type-Setter stopped and said, “I don’t need a key. Thank you.”


“He said this one is free.”


The Type-Setter breathed in impatiently and took it from him.


“But it will cost you something.”


“I thought you said it was free, young man. That means I have to pay you nothing.”


“Oh how could you pay me these things.” The boy chuckled at the absurdity of the thought.


“I don’t understand. What will it cost me if I am not paying you for it?”


“He said you must give this key patience in silence. That is all it asks of you.”


“Okay, thank you very much.” He started to shut the door but the boy added, “He said he heard your question yesterday. And he said this key was specifically chosen to help you find an answer.”


The Type-setter, shook off the strange little boy and shut the door with an abrupt “Well, thank you. Good day.”


He set the mail and the key on the counter with barely a second thought, and continued his type-setting.


That evening however, he hit his head on a lever on one of his machines. He cursed and looked at it, dumbfounded from the floor. It was one of his oldest machines. Why had he never hit it before but did so drastically today? Maybe he should take a break for the night. But no, how would the revolution happen if he did not give it his very best. Peace, justice, and Love could only be found for all if he gave it his all.


He looked up at his desk, wondering if he could at least do some paperwork, or hand write some letters. And he saw the key.


He stumbled over to the desk, sat in his chair, and stared at it. “I must only give it patience in silence. That makes no sense," he said to himself. "Nothing can be accomplished with patience in silence.” But then he covered his mouth, wondering if the old man could hear him say that too. He took the key in his hands and examined it. It was very old. It reminded him of the old nickel-plated keys his parents had to this house. He noticed the little engraving the old man next door must have added. “The key to P, J, & L.” He thought. P. J. L. Hmmm. Peace? Justice? Love? No, it couldn’t be. Could the man really somehow hear his daily mumblings? He was appalled and then sobered by the thought that the man next door could hear far more of his heart than the Type-Setter was comfortable with. But then he remembered the question from the day before. It was something like, "can a man tasked with revolution have anything but a strong mind and hard gears in his heart?" But the old Typesetter knew that patience in silence was NOT commensurate with seeking revolution.


That night the old Type-Setter decided to pour himself a glass of brandy and sit where the parlor used to be. He remembered the old locksmith from next door and his own parents used to sit hear, laugh and chat and sip Brandy. It would be just a quick break. He probably could have gone back to work after that but he kept looking at the key. The rain outside kept coming. And it kept coming. He could hear nothing but the rain and the house as it creaked and groaned through the night. The city bustle did not quiet until the wee hours of the morning and is when the rain ceased. And it was only then, after waiting so long in unproductive patience, for everything else to quiet down, and his machines to be at rest, that he realized he could hear something new. It was a quiet whistling. The wind whipping over or through some part of this old house.


He got up, stretching out the pain hunched in his back. He picked up the key and crept a few paces at a time, tracking the whistle through his house. Eventually he found himself up the stairs, staring at the bottom of a panel he never realized was a door. It was in the ceiling but now, as he looked, he saw it had a key hole. He got on a chair and hesitantly placed the key in the hole. It turned.


The panel rotated down and he carefully unfolded the attached ladder. He slowly crept up them; the wood was very old.


And in the twilight hours the old Type-setter, Mr. Franklin Templeton, found an old, dusty box of photos in this attic. He dragged it out weakly and sat down in front of the single attic window and patiently waited for the sun. It was just a little too dark to see the photos. The quiet whistle of the wind through the attic sang a patient lullaby as the sun slowly rose enough to see in and lighten the room.


Then he looked through the pictures. And the pictures looked right back into him. In one, his mother was smiling while putting on his little shoes. In another, his father reclined in the parlor with a drink, so peacefully as he watched his son play.


He felt something unusual, in that well lubricated, mechanical heart. The feeling turned into words. What he saw here in the pictures, this here was the "right type of peace."


Then in the next, his mother was looking on as his father taught him how to ride a bike, the bike he bought with his allowance. He remembered how hard he had worked to buy that bike- his just rewards. A warmth in his mind, and words came to him again; this was the "right type of justice." He was surely about the age of the little boy that brought him his mail in that picture.


In another, his father was holding him as a toddler, and wearing a ragged old jacket, but a rich smile under his grand mustache. And his mother behind him, tired from hard work but supremely content, watching them. They had such love for their little boy. And the reason they were happy was because their little Franklin Templeton made them happy. He had accomplished nothing but be their own son. Their look said they knew that he would do great things in this world, but what made them happy was that he existed and was theirs. "The right type of love."


And Franklin realized he had forgotten the true meaning of Peace, Justice and Love. It was in these pictures. And it was what he saw in their eyes.


And he wept. And he wept. And he wept such rusty tears. As the sun rose on the streets of London, so did it rise on Franklin Templeton’s heart. It warmed him. And the machinery within it, rusted to bits. And it fell to soil. And if one were to pause in the streets of London below the Templeton house that morning, they would hear sobbing. It sounded like the shuttering and crumbling of the hard machinery in that old house. In that old soul.  And the patient beginnings of a garden sown with peace.


His crying eventually subsided and as he stood by the window the rain began to pour again. Washing soot from the roofs like it did every day. And the sun came out stronger, even in the rain. The yellow light sparkled over the roof tops. He really liked just watching this, he thought. He would still work (though maybe not quite as much) but perhaps, he thought, he would start every morning up here, waiting patiently in silence for these beautiful sunrises.


And maybe he would have the little boy over sometime, with his grandfather. And they could talk about his parents. And life. They could watch the little boy play. Maybe he could help the boy buy a bike and teach him to ride it. And they could dream together about how to change the world because now he saw a better type of Peace, Justice, and Love.


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