KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 1: Fall 2014
CNF Essay: 633 words

A Little Tale of Sunrise

by Thomas E. Kennedy

He was a fisherman, I think, a local, and I had been walking with my son and daughter quite early one beautiful morning to watch the blue sea gleaming beneath the rising sun on the cliffs of Madeira. My son was nine, my daughter seven, and I glanced at the man as we approached each other. We were guests in his country. I smiled at him and said, “Bom dia. Good morning, sir.”

“Fuck you,” he muttered and trudged past us in his tattered shoes.

We continued over the cliff in silence for a few moments.

“Do you say good morning to everybody?” my daughter asked then.

“It makes life more pleasant,” I said, thinking it might make us laugh, but the fisherman’s words still hung like a gray mist across our sunny path. It felt a little like being hit and not hitting back. I wondered if the kids might have felt better about it if I answered him in kind—“Same to you, señor!” Or, “Fine gentleman!”—but what would that achieve other than maybe instigating an escalation and setting a bad example for the kids?

So instead I told them a story about another man I remembered from my own neighborhood in New York City when I was little more than a child myself. He was a tiny black man who walked with a stick. I don’t know who he was or where he lived, remembered only that every morning for a while he used to walk swiftly down our street, hobbling on his stick but moving swiftly, with a kind of smooth stiffness, a small thin dark-skinned man, and each person he passed he would nod and smile, without breaking pace, and say, “Good morning.”

Where I grew up this was unusual behavior. The unspoken practice was to acknowledge those you knew and look away from those you did not. The first time this little man greeted me, I was dumbstruck, did not answer, continued on, my heartbeat quickened at the strange experience of being greeted by a stranger. It was, I am certain, the first time in my life that I had ever encountered a stranger who greeted me so amiably, offering the unrestrained gift of his smile, of having acknowledged and approved my existence. A tiny man he was with a great radiance.

Next morning I hoped desperately to see him again, to have the opportunity to make amends for my silence, to return the pleasure of his amiable greeting, to acknowledge the bright force of good will he so freely shared with the world. He appeared again that next day, and every morning for many weeks, perhaps months afterwards. I saw him moving briskly along on his stiff leg, heard the rhythmic tap of his stick, and every morning he greeted me, and I returned his smile, his greeting, his nod, and the encounter fueled my day with a sense of pleasure in myself, in the world around me that had such people in it. How I loved that man, and how sad I was that one day he did not appear and never appeared again.

“Dad!” my daughter reproached me. “Why didn’t you talk to him? Why didn’t you even ask his name?”

I had no answer. I decided to let them have the story without trying to explain it to them. All I could really say anyway was that I had never forgotten that man, and still haven’t, not in all these years, decades. A person who with two words, a few gestures, a glance, enriched my existence.

Nor for that matter have I ever forgotten the Portuguese fisherman on Madeira who said fuck you to me and my children. I cherish the memory of both.

Thomas E. Kennedy
Issue 1, Fall 2014

The author of more than 30 books, including novels, story and essay collections, literary criticism, translation, anthologies, and most recently the four novels of the Copenhagen Quartet: In the Company of Angels (2010), Falling Sideways (2011), Kerrigan in Copenhagen, A Love Story (2013), and Beneath the Neon Egg (released the summer of 2014). All four are from Bloomsbury Publishing worldwide.

In 2013, Kennedy also published Getting Lucky: New & Selected Stories, 1982-2012 from New American Press. His books have been highly praised in the Washington Post, The New Yorker, The Guardian, and other prominent newspapers and magazines; and his latest novel was a recent Editors Choice in The New York Times Book Review.

His stories, essays, and translations from the Danish appear regularly in such venues as The New Yorker Blog, The Independent in London, Esquire Weekly, Boston Review, The Southern Review, Epoch, Ecotone, New Letters, Glimmer Train, Broad Street, Writer’s Chronicle, The Literary Review, American Poetry Review, Serving House Journal, Poet Lore, and many others. His work has won the O. Henry Prize, two Pushcart Prizes, and a National Magazine Award as well.

Kennedy has also won two Eric Hoffer Awards for novels, multiple grants from the Danish Arts Council, and other prizes and distinctions. He teaches fiction and creative nonfiction in the low-residency MFA program of Fairleigh Dickinson University and lives in Copenhagen. +

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Cutting Up to Free Your Instinct, essay in Glimmer Train (Bulletin 39, April 2010); includes Kennedy’s cut-up text, “HowlDover”

US writer on why Copenhagen has more to offer than New York: “Thomas E. Kennedy hails the Danish capital’s healthcare and education system—and the ironic humour of its people” by Nick Foster in Expat Lives (15 November 2013)

Fine Writing, Fine Smoking in Smoke and Minds (25 August 2014), blog of NYC Fine Cigars; also includes photos of Kennedy

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