Deep thoughts from a bench: A short story from a vintage SFU photo

SFU students write three fictional stories about decade old photos of SFU 

Photo: Vancouver Sun (1975) 

By: Jennifer Low, Peak Associate


What do you think SFU students were doing on campus 40, 50 years ago? In honour of National Novel Writing Month and inspired by the New York Time’s segment ‘Past Tense,’ The Peak asked writers to spin short stories based off of archival photos of SFU. Real photos. Fictional stories. All written by SFU students. Martin made his way across the empty courtyard and pulled his guitar out of its battered case. As he lifted the instrument, papers from his various classes spilled out and flew away in the breeze. Martin barely gave them a second glance. Instead, he took a paper cup and a clipboard out of the guitar case. He spent a few moments positioning them carefully on the bench. With a heavy sigh, he sat down, and hefted the guitar onto his knee. 

 

Four years, no major!” He sang, strumming a chord. Martin paused as he tried to think of a word that rhymed with “major.”

Workin’ hard, still a failure,” someone replied which caused Martin to lose his train of thought. 

He glanced up, annoyed as a familiar figure came into view: Bobby. Marty thought his grin far too wide for this early in the morning. 

“No major? I thought you said you were studying history?” Bobby said. “Also, you’re skipping class. Don’t you have a paper due today?”  

“No,” Martin defended, his voice raising. Bobby held up his hands in surrender before stretching out on the bench next to him. 

Martin frowned. Being a musician, he had always thought that being creative and having original thoughts came with the territory, but he was really starting to worry now. He hadn’t written good lyrics in weeks. In every song he wrote, his rhymes were poor and his ideas were lazy — just like his prof thought his paper was. It would be fine if it was just his songwriting, but now that his writer’s block was affecting his academics and endangering his scholarship . . . Martin pushed the thought from his head and focused on watching Bobby pick a few crumbs from his shirt and toss them into the foliage as if feeding imaginary birds. 

“Careful!” Martin said, fumbling with his guitar to slide his items away from the edge of the bench that Bobby had nearly knocked over.  

“So, what are you doing out here, Marty?” Bobby sighed, propping his head on his elbow. Martin thought he looked like he wanted to be painted like a model splayed out like that. “This some kind of activist or protest kind of thing?” 

Martin shook his head. “I’m composing a song about student life.” 

“And the empty cup?” Bobby smirked. 

“Well, if someone hears me and wants to show their support, I’m not going to deny the people what they want!” He paused. “Plus you know, once I’ve lost the scholarship, I’ve got to pay tuition somehow.” 

Bobby threw his head back and laughed, “That’s not how you’re going to attract the crowds, but with me sitting here, looking this handsome? Well, that’s another story! You got yourself a groupie, roomie!” 

Martin rolled his eyes. 

“As long you don’t disrupt my process,” he decided. Bobby nodded obediently and Martin turned his attention back to his instrument. 

Four years, no major—“ 

“Marty,” Bobby interrupted holding up the clipboard and marveling at the blank white paper. “You haven’t gotten anything written down!” 

“I know,” Martin said, annoyed. “That’s why I’m working. Just be quiet.”

“If you want some free advice,” Bobby said ignoring Martin’s annoyed glare, “I think you gotta loosen up, man. You’re putting too much pressure on yourself for it to be good and thoughtful and stuff.” 

Martin began to sing. Four years, no majo—” 

“Marty!” Bobby interrupted again. He pointed dramatically at the cup on the bench. 

“Do you realize that a cup is made to hold water, like a bathtub . . . but a boat is like the opposite, it’s made to be held by water.”

“What?” Martin asked distractedly, trying to remember the chord he was strumming. 

Bobby closed his eyes, “I don’t know, like do you ever just sit and think about stuff. Random stuff?” 

Martin tightened a string on his guitar and resisted the urge to scream at Bobby for being such a nuisance, “What do you mean?”

“Like, how it doesn’t matter what kind of drink you buy, they’re all just flavored water. Or, how like, one day we’ll wake up and be halfway through our lives and not even know it?”

“How did you come up with all these?” Martin asked in mock amusement.

“I was just thinking the other day,” Bobby replied, eyes still closed. 

For a moment, Martin and Bobby sat in silence. They listened to the sounds of the wind and basked in the sun. 

“Do you ever think about how sunlight is technically starlight?” Martin said slowly.

“If your shirt isn’t tucked into your pants, your pants are tucked into your shirt!” Bobby smiled.

“My right eye has never seen my left eye, except for in reflections,” Martin added. “And warm ice cream tastes the same as a warm milkshake.”

“Well,” Bobby said, tilting his head, “I guess that makes sense because milkshakes are liquid ice cream.”

“Letters are just drawings that everyone agrees on,” Martin thought aloud. 

“Zero is something that is nothing,” Bobby replied, nodding.

“You writing this down?” Martin asked after a moment. 

“No,” Bobby answered. 

“I wonder if we’re the first people to have ever thought these things.”

“Probably not,” Martin replied. “I wonder if all our thoughts have been thought before, like, how do we know if we’ve ever had an original thought because nobody keeps track?” 

“Yeah,” Bobby smiled. 

“I think I’m going to have another go at writing my paper,” said Martin. “Thanks Bobby.”