Eliana stood across the street from The World’s Doorstep, the little cybercafé which started her on the path to her writing career. Not much had changed, the original sign still hung above the glass storefront, still proclaiming itself to be the first cybercafé in North America. “Come into The World’s Doorstep and surf the Web,” the red words still scrolling across the small marquee just below. This was where, as a teenager, she was introduced to the internet and fell in love with it.
Being raised by a single mother meant that money was always tight. She had the necessities, but no frills, certainly not a computer, so when the café opened she became one of its most loyal customers. Whenever she could afford, usually about twice a week, she would finish her homework and come running down to surf the web and learn about everything she could. Her mother saw little to be concerned about as Eliana’s grades began to soar with her new-found hobby. Besides, at $2.50 an hour, it created a safe place for her daughter to be while she was working long hours.
Eliana, even at 14, felt at home surrounded by all the knowledge and computers. There was only one thing which made her young mind uneasy, the presence of a man everyone called ‘Snail.’ He could always be found sitting at the same table, at the back of the café with a pot of tea and his typewriter, notepad and fountain pen not far away. Anytime someone would approach, he had a ready smile and a polite word, spoken in his slow drawn-out manner. If asked, he would say he didn’t mind computers, he just preferred the sound and feel of a typewriter.
She secretly agreed with him, vowing to someday buy one, in the meantime, she would watch him covertly out the side of her eye, trying to guess what words he was tapping onto the page. All she knew about him was that he was a writer and was involved in a serious accident, leaving him with partial brain damage, hence his slow speech. What he wrote, she had no idea, being too afraid to approach him and ask. Over time, she felt the opportunity to speak to him had passed, her only interaction being a one-time accidental meeting of eyes, followed by her awkward smile and embarrassed flush.
Only once had she made the mistake of mentioning Snail to her mother. Asking if she knew who he was or what he wrote and was surprised as her mother became quite upset, yelling at her to never call him that, it was a mean name that people gave him after the accident. She didn’t know what he wrote, but to stay away from him, she knew better than to speak to strangers.
Laying awake at night, she would stare at the ceiling, the tic-tac of the typewriter echoing in her ears, as she dreamed of what his stories were about, not realizing she was making up her own, honing her imagination and storytelling skills. The first story she penned was about how she imagined the story of Snail’s life.
As she became old enough to start working, she spent more and more time at The World’s Doorstep. She could afford a computer, in fact she owned a laptop, but she preferred the ambiance of the café and the gentle tapping of Snail’s typewriter. Walking into the cybercafé turned on a wellspring of inspiration. She could close her eyes and practically swim in ideas, it became a second home, to her, until she graduated high school.
While away at university she began to sign her name with a little snail, a secret homage to her private inspiration and a reminder of why she became a writer. It was also the symbol which brought her to this moment, all these years later, about to face her past, so she could move into her future. The truth of her mother’s warning to stay away from the strange man clutched in her hands, a letter found while taking care of her mother.
She was on assignment when she got the news her mother had been diagnosed with A.L.S. and had dropped everything to return home to become a caregiver as her mother’s condition began to rapidly decline. Her mother could no longer speak when Eliana found the letter marked with a snail. Her mother could only watch with pleading eyes as Eliana opened it to read her life’s agony; Snail was Eliana’s father. He and her mother had dated for 8 months when his accident occurred. He begged her to stay, but she chose to ignore her heart and listen to her friends and family, leaving him for a life unburdened by a disabled husband.
The twist of fate would be the baby girl she didn’t know she was carrying, leaving her to struggle as a single mother, being too devastated to admit the truth. Eliana now stood with that letter in hand, ready to meet the man called Snail, and to explain to him that she was his daughter. Butterflies tumbled through her stomach as old anxieties, fear of rejection, and the excitement of meeting him collided.
Crossing the street, she steeled her nerves and walked into the café, the old smells rushing over her, bringing back memories. She closed her eyes and heard the tapping of the computer keyboards layered over the sound of… silence. She opened her eyes to see a bronze snail on the back table beside the, now dusty, typewriter and an in-memoriam plaque.
Her heart broke and hot tears ran down her face as she turned on her heel to walk back to her childhood home, to do the very thing her mother was never strong enough to do; take care of a loved one in need.