An acoustic guitar rings quietly into the ether.
It is out of tune, a veteran of various hands and various songs, its wooden body chipped and lacking the sheen it had while rolling down a Chinese conveyer belt. A low voice hums, adding melody to the noise. It is Marshall’s; he sits merely five feet away from the two other figures basking in the singular light of a fluorescent bulb, basting in the hot summer night. The three are sitting on a familiar old porch, its creaky wood bearing the weight of a bench with floral print cushions, a few lawn chairs and a tiny fold-out table, enough to hold up a few empty bottles.
Marshall, the singular presence that he owns, sits alone and cross-legged on one of the old plastic lawn chairs, perpetually noodling away at the guitar, old chords he barely remembers how to play. The tunes that escape his throat are more guttural noises than melody. “I’ve just about kicked that self-depreciation habit of mine.” Simon mentions, half-lying, as he swallows a volume of lukewarm ale from a bottle he’d been holding for about fifteen minutes. He readjusts himself on the second lawn chair, watching a moth flutter towards the sterile light illuminating the scene.
“Really now?” A third, feminine voice, cuts through the heat. She is the figure lying on the bench, lengthwise so as to not allow for anyone else to intrude on her comfort, staring at the paint above her. “Last I checked on you, you were wallowing in the pits of your own inexplicable despair.” Marshall hits a dead note and grunts, half chuckling at what he just heard. “Last I checked…” she turns and faces the boys, resting her head on her hand, and her shoulder on the flowers, “Last I checked, you were crying on your bathroom floor.”
“Were you really?” Marshall scoffs, pausing again to reach underneath his chair for a beer of his own.
“I’d rather not talk about it, really.” Simon burps as softly as he can, hoping the others would ignore his slight bit of being improper. “Mia, I fucking told you that in confidence, anyway.” She shrugs and reaches towards the floor for a pack of cowboy killers, made heavier by a butane lighter. “Seriously?” Simon says to her, “I thought you quit.” After a pause, Mia shrugs again. She tosses them to Marshall, who immediately lights one up. “There’s something different about me now, I don’t really know what’s quite changed but I know it just might be for the better.”
Marshall savors his cigarette, the embers falling lightly between guitar strings. “Does that mean we’ve run out of things to talk about, now?” He places the lighter back into the pack and tosses the bundle back to Mia, who catches and opens it again. “Shit, if we’re not listening to you bitch about life then what’s the point of talking outside past midnight?” He grunts a laugh, “Guess this means we actually have to start enjoying each other’s company, now.”
Mia laughs alongside him while letting out a drag. “You know, Simon, something has changed in me too.” Simon, meanwhile, had been emptying his bottle at a greater pace. “Yeah?” He replies, half-wincing, awaiting the punchline. “And what exactly has changed?”
“I’ve taken up smoking again.”
I’ve gotten a bit better at talking lately, which of course means I’ve gotten a bit worse at typing.
Which makes it all the more confusing when I realize that this laptop, the one I’m clicking away at right now and the one I’ve had for about six months now has a spot on its spacebar that’s been worn down by my constant usage. It’s an island of matte smoothness in a sea of barely recognizable texture. It’s a noticeable transition every time I run my thumb over it, and every time I wonder how exactly I managed to make such a weird little scar on the plastic. Maybe that just speaks to the quality of the laptop itself, rather than my own actions contradicting what I seem to believe in my head.
But it’s getting more often now, so that’s why I believe it; my fingertips are becoming transient and hitting keys adjacent or below to the ones I intend to hit, jumping the gun and adding spaces before I finish my words. It’s even worse when I consciously make an effort to type, when I shoot a glance at my nervous fingers to make sure they’re in line, they seem to flinch and trip over themselves. I suppose that’s better than slurring my spoken words without the aid of mind-bending substances.
I keep losing track of time, as well. Currently, when it’s supposed to be “Winter”, the air outside can range from “Thanks, Climate Change! Now I Can’t Feel My Face!” cold to “Is It Really Eighty Degrees In December/January/February (Probably Not, But It Sure Feels Like It)” warm within the span of a week, and that doesn’t really help in terms of continuity. (What it does help in, however, is developing my ability to come up with song titles for Sufjan Stevens.) My body now likes to assume it’s a week or month later than it actually is, and you’d think I’d be used to it by now, living in a city where April air likes to turn up around February.
A few days ago, when the weather downshifted to a lesser extreme, or if you prefer a different metaphor, when the weather decided to lessen its manic depressive tendencies, it was a welcome change of pace. I was shooting the breeze with a friend of mine in my car, and later at a 24 hour eating establishment, and for once I was hit with the sense that things were pretty decent. I’m young, my only stresses being the looming threat of true financial independence, straggling chapters of Dostoevsky and introductory statistics, and petty personal problems such as a nagging feeling that I should be going out and being the social creature that nature intended me to be.
See, there are times where I have a tendency to hate a lot of things. Consequently, there are times where I have to sit back and realize that everything isn’t all that bad sometimes, and lately, that seems to come easier than some sort of malaise or general feeling of being downtrodden. So when you also take into account that in the past, the only way I got any sort of writing done was when I was feeling particularly disgusting, not having that malaise cast a shadow over my disposition makes it particularly difficult to be productive in my more creative endeavors.
It’s probably better for me in the long run not to spew out ridiculous amounts of prose that pretty much amounts to the same set of ideas recycled through a bunch of fictitious characters and slowly descend into the pits of despair, even if the theme of said ridiculous amounts of prose essentially boils down to me lamenting my inability to get laid. I’d rather not move to Paris for a bit and eventually swallow buckshot.
Instead, I’ve gotten better at talking, going out there and taking this thing called optimism out for a spin, setting aside the misanthropy and leaving the can of hatred to rot in the back of the pantry, next to the Cup o’ Noodles I’ve had since I thought it was an honored privilege to sit in the front seat of a car. There’s little reason for me to get caught up in trifles now, more reason instead to consider things to be somewhat okay. Of course, the superstitious side of me likes to assume that the mere act of publishing this will lead to some awful times ahead. I was once told that the archaic definition of “awful” was tantamount to “full of awe”, so I’m just hoping the universe is using an outdated copy of Merriam-Webster’s.
And if it doesn’t, well at the very least I’d get a lot more writing done.
There are little reminders of you scattered in the most random of places, strands of hair open to my interpretation.
And when I see them, I pick them apart from the noise, jumbles of dead trees and India ink, coffee stains and dirt. They’re not small enough to be considered inconsequential, not large enough for all the fuss, so I sit there with them firmly clasped in my palms. My fingers unfurl them from handwriting to the shortest distance between two points, the strands curl back into their original shape the moment I let go. For a few moments they glisten in a peculiar way, underneath the lamplight they seem almost ethereal, strings taken from the very fabric of reality at the points where it begins to fray.
And how it seems to me that you are nothing more than that, some sort of anomalous individual formed when the molecules arranged themselves in that particular way; someone with two hands, two feet, and two eyes all designed to contradict everything wrong that I still consider right. But how it seems to me that you are so much more than that, undeniably human and indefatigable in your pursuit of nothing more than the ability to see yourself in the reflected light of glass, puddles, and photographs without any twinge of remorse. I’m left only with remnants, my own explanations of everything you are, everything you want to be, residue gracing the ridges in my fingertips. Coarsely smooth, quietly fragrant.
And when a wind carrying your scent lazily drifts past me, I’m fooled. For one happy instance, I’m fooled into forgetting the long-gone clouds of wrinkled fabric, arranged in a manner conforming to your body on an uncomfortably barren bed. Pressure starts to build in the wells of my chest, pushing its way outwards, puncturing vessels and cracking ribs in a ruthless ploy for self-pity. I’m carried away by the gusts, abused by the lightning, pelted and pricked by the downpours. There is a part of me that succumbs to those depths, saved only by reassurances scattered throughout the sea.
And though I’ll experience days that seem like two; twenty four sets of sixty segmented and lived in such a way that makes them feel like forty eight, those agonizing waits between dial tones or arrival times, they have little bearing on what carries the weight. There is an irrevocable sincerity in what is felt as the memory of your presence spreads through my skin, even if it is prefaced by notions enough to confuse and disorient the truth. Your presence will always be inherent, implied by the leftovers of visits cut short. Our lives are offset by those imaginary lines in the sky, established by Greenwich Means, that divide our world into simple zones. While you think in Eastern Standard Time, I’m thinking in Central, accompanied only by what you left an hour behind you. The strands of hair, scattered in the most random of places, little reminders open to my interpretation.
And that’s enough for now.
The paintings on the wall shift diagonally across his field of vision before jerking back to their original position.
One of them, the portrait of a man no younger than seventy, has eyes pointed at him. Fixed and derisive, they follow his as he loses the battle against a room that won’t stop its spin. This process repeats itself every three seconds as he tries to regain his bearings, clasping a hand against the cold wall, the textured bumps in the paint tickling his fingertips as they grasp for an illusion of stability. He take a deep breath and struggles to exhale nothing more than carbon dioxide. The acid burns the bottom of his throat as he takes staggered steps in what seems to be a forward direction.
An hour later, his hands would be clasped around a scathingly hot volume of coffee held in a vessel of thin porcelain. The callouses that form on his palms as he resists the urge to let go would serve as reminders of the night’s mistakes. But for now, only Russian spirits coursed through his bloodstream, intensifying thoughts, muddling words, and dampening actions.
To him, it seemed as if they were always sitting in abject, miserable silence while a yearning that was once a blanket slowly wraps to a noose; a maddening reminder of the disappointment born from his own inaction. He’d meander through their conversations, listening carefully for her little hints, acknowledging the presence of some underlying truth but doing nothing of it, a stain in the carpet too small to really clean, too large to really ignore. There was a certain inevitability that hid behind his trepidation and her tendency to stay aloof, that if one of them were bold enough to say they loved the other there would undoubtedly be magic. And it sure as hell wouldn’t be him. So instead, he drowns.
Each word that came her voice was enough to shatter his heart. There must be some reason then, that at this very moment, when the room’s incandescent light begins to cascade on the walls around him, melting the colors surrounding his hand, she’s still on his mind. He’s left only with the deafening pound of his pulse against his ear’s drum, the antagonistic stare of a seventy year old man, and his vision a disorienting loop. The yearning for warmth, of her skin and of her soul, wraps around him and even the most remote of possibilities that she shared that same desire was enough to keep his legs upright and barely rigid, just enough for stumbled paces but not quite enough for the illusion of sobriety.
This room is devoid of anyone worthwhile, so he walks, towards a sphere of brass protruding out of the wall. Each motion throws his ten-second conceptions of balance into an entirely new direction as he tries to follow the path she had taken no more than a half hour ago, ten straight fluid ounces ago. He wants nothing more than to release what’s been welling in the depths of his throat and chest. His hand meets the cold metal and he uses the weight of his heavy frame to twist the knob the direction it would yield.
He trips outside, greeted by a song of snow and air, and wanders alone, unnerved and upset. Eventually he falls to the ground, two steps away from a street, watching the flurries spiral down towards his body and trying their best to accumulate. Hour-long minutes pass inconsequentially, making it increasingly difficult for him to stand. Sitting up on the curb, he buries his eyes into his sleeve, lamenting how he knows she will be the one that never does. The wind cruelly mocks his cheeks, slicing them and slapping him into submission towards the weary cold. For now he is numb, left with nothing more than the warmth remaining in his pockets.
A beacon of safety in the shape of a dimly lit ember attached to nicotine and tar is moments away, staring at the dark and increasingly disheveled figure in her foreground. She had stepped out only for a cigarette or three, only for a few moments of solace and thought. He might be completely oblivious, but she isn’t.
They were inevitable.
There’s that moment when the dial tone stops short and your breath pauses for half a second.
And it’s usually followed up by the sound of a recording, a canned response addressed to the ghosts haunting unanswered phone calls. But not this time. Instead, what flows towards your ears from the magic of magnets and waves is the reminder of that person’s actual voice, whose words are tailored to the frequency that makes your heart melt. There’s nothing sweeter than knowing what’s waiting for you on the other end, a shared feeling that’s so effervescent it’s difficult to contain. They’re running late, as they always are. But they’ll be near you soon enough.
Those moments of anticipation are worth the potential heart attack. When those drums start beating on the sides of your stomach and that lump starts forming in the recesses of your throat about as enthusiastically as children making their first snowman, it puts you in a state of being alive so close to being dead you start to wonder exactly when you’ll black out and start convulsing on the ground. You’ve been sitting at that park bench for the past half hour, the same park bench that you scurried to after jumping out of the train about a half hour prior. It’s getting to that point where your fingernails are digging permanent etchings in the brittle wood, adding to its collection of scars.
Your eyes squint to hide the sun’s glare. Maybe you’ll see them before they see you, or maybe they won’t show up and your eyes will be prepared for the tears if they decide to flow. Once your gaze meet theirs and there’s some sort of instinctively satisfied grin that overtakes your faces, only then will that tempest of neuroses be quelled, and that knot fully formed in the middle of your chest unravels, leaving nothing more than unbridled happiness. They know where you are, you just have to wait.
The sky is its happiest shade of blue and its whistling is enough to make you shiver even inside your navy wool coat. Though you’re trying your best to stay warm by yourself when you’d much rather be warm with someone else, your body isn’t doing much to help what your mind knows will stop you from catching a cold. The goosebumps that are scattered on the back of your neck when you want nothing more than what isn’t there are being teased by the careless wind and you want nothing more than to know they’re by your side.
Your lungs quicken even as you try to play it cool. Hopefully they won’t notice, because when you finally do share that inevitable embrace, you’ll be wrapped in a warmth fostered by distance and longing, a flame stoked by anxiety and nerves, it’d be difficult to explain why you’re so flustered. They’re close now; you can feel it in that spot behind your ear that reminds you to turn around, that spot in your leg that twitches violently in furious anticipation or lack of ease.
Sometimes you get lost in your own thoughts which meander with ease from one thing to the next and your body is left staring into a distance while your mind is dancing, slamming against the sides of your cranium. But it soon stops. See, there’s a lightness to the atmosphere those seconds before your mind realizes what’s in front of you. A toothy grin, a cheery disposition, and an arm extended as an invitation to stand, a puzzle solved as your whole self ascends to such ethereal heights from something so ephemeral as seeing someone else.
From that point on, it won’t really matter what color shirt they’re wearing when you see them, the manner by which their hair is adjusted, tossed around by the day’s winds, what day the calendar says it should be or even how far the sun is across the sky at that very moment your arms intertwine. Those things probably won’t even be remembered, carried away by the crescendo of heartbeats and emotion that you so readily threw yourself into, for which you were waiting agonizing spans of time. Instead, quite paradoxically, what is left is a vague recollection of events and a vivid impression of emotion, a niche carved into your heart that forms as you dig your face into their chest.
Those hazy memories are usually the fondest, anyway.
There isn’t much ahead, just the prospect of lying in my own bed for once.
I’m dozing off behind the wheel of a car the age of a fourth grader, while the wind rattles the car windows in a manner not unlike that of a shiver. At eighty miles an hour, on a dark stretch of road illuminated only by passing radio towers and UFOs, I’m resting my elbow on cold plastic and glass while resting my head on the hand attached to the forearm attached to said elbow. It’s too dark to form a coherent thought and too monotonous a drive to gain any sort of excitement, as evidenced by the other people in the automobile, currently asleep.
The one in the back seat, wrapped up in a hooded sweater and white cords descending from his ears, is long gone. His snores, loud enough to penetrate the sound of air rushing past us add to the drone of the drive, only bringing variety with the occasional cough or snort. The other one, holed up two feet adjacent to me, is leaning his face on the passenger side window, and I’m left wondering how the hell he can tolerate the vibrations. The rattle’s enough to drive someone crazy, and any bump in the road would cause his head to disconnect from the glass for a brief instant and reconnect with a loud thunk, enough to make his heart stutter and knock him awake.
There’s nothing to do but grip the steering wheel and stare into the darkness while listening to the CD being churned out through the speaker system. My hand gets tired of holding up my weary eyes and now I’m just gripping air. Every time I consider doing something stupid; take up smoking cigarettes or roll down my window and let the air currents lead my arm and fingers in a dance while risking becoming an amputee, all just so I can have something to do with my hands instead of letting them atrophy into claw shapes once I peel them from the wheel, I take a sip of iced tea. There’s about a quarter of the bottle left, and I’ve already decided that there won’t be another pit stop for another hour.
Drops of water start to accumulate on my windshield and wiping them away just makes it worse. Nearby cars in the form of small red and yellow orbs of light have now transmuted into streaks. The outside air roars louder now, as its being ripped apart by a bored kid audacious enough to break the speed limit in a ten year old car. Being behind the wheel sounds more like being strapped in the window seat of an airplane, watching the wing lights pulsate slowly and staring at the night sky above the clouds.
If it were daytime here beneath the clouds, the domineering darkness would be replaced by flat fields and scattered trees, the orange-tinged gray of the visible road would be baked by the sun instead of headlights. I would be less reminded of the fact that someone I love is a plane ride away. I’d be more enchanted by the prospect of seeing a funny sign, roadside stall, or cow, and absolutely enthralled at the thought of all three of those things being spotted at the exact same time. But that’s not the timing for this particular instance, instead I’m traveling in a straight line, listening to people snoring and my music barely penetrating the noise of engines and passing miles.
They’re the sounds I’d much rather her to hear than me, because at least then she’d be closer to home.
Robin’s reaching into her jacket pocket for a pack of cigarettes while Simon’s busy staring at pedestrians.
Both of these behaviors are characteristic of them, actually. Robin, not being pretentious enough to roll her own cigarettes, is a willing victim to the highly noxious and highly taxed packs of Marlboros they sell at the nearest corner stores. This product may cause lung cancer, but it was also a bitch for her to try and quit. So she continues, ravaging her vocal cords, especially on a day like this, when the air was chilly and she was in the process of catching a cold. Nothing really warmed her up more than a drag, though, so she’s still fumbling around for those cigarettes.
Simon, as we’ve said before, is busy staring at pedestrians, taking note of the particularities in people’s apparel and demeanor. There was that girl in the white pea coat and red ascot, the guy doing his best impression of Doctor Who, the one with the funny scarf, the woman whose walk carried a swagger reserved for those who knew their own self worth. Of particular attention to him were those women, who, intentionally or not, dressed in a way that enthralled every fiber of his being. As ridiculous as that sounds.
The pair is sitting at a bench on the side of the road, waiting for a bus that may or may not come. Public transportation in this city is spotty, at best, and they have been waiting for at least the past half hour. Robin’s growing impatient, her legs and arms are crossed, her svelte figure resembling more of a leather and denim pretzel than someone who spent a good half hour of her morning deciding on the exact pairing of jacket and jeans to wear in this cooling autumn weather. In her left hand, the hand closest to Simon, was now a lipstick stained cigarette. Lines of smoke trail upwards towards his nostrils, and causes him to cough.
Not that Simon minds or anything, he’s been around her long enough to get used to the scent of those fumes, to not be as bothered when he returns home from a night with her only to have his clothes reek of that same smoke. It’s just something else for him to ignore. He’s still busy, looking out towards the people passing in front of him, the people passing by on the other side of the street, and the driver of the occasional car that stops in front of them. He clears his throat of the remnants of the flu he fought off last week. “I’m looking out at all these gorgeous people, the ones I’ll talk to once and never see again and the ones that are nothing more than passing glances and all they do is remind me how much I’m… not.” He says, without breaking his forward gaze.
“Not what?” Robin’s voice is honey wrapped in sandpaper.
“Gorgeous.” The gravity in Simon’s voice is apparent. He isn’t joking, and Robin knows he isn’t. When this man speaks of beauty, he’s prone to hyperbole, but he’s also prone to putting his full faith behind that hyperbole. Even knowing this, she tries her best to downplay it all, as too much of Simon’s over-the-top histrionics when it comes to the opposite sex could cause him to become off-putting. And he has enough trouble befriending people as is. “I hate when you use that word.” She replies to him, partly to strike up a conversation but also to bring up what’s been bugging her. Simon has been using that word a bit too much, lately.
Robin’s reply finally causes him to stop staring at the countless strangers walking in front of them. One person, a man lugging around a backpack, clutching his cellphone and a notebook, sits on the side of the bench left vacated by our pair. Upon second glance, this man was hardly a man, most likely a kid on his way back from university, waiting for the bus that will take him back to his tiny room across town, surrounded by people in his exact same circumstances. This causes Robin to scoot towards Simon, who is oblivious to this. Her leg brushes against his as she tries to find another comfortable position to sit in, careful not to flick ashes onto either of their clothes. “Why?” He asks her, after she settled down.
She inhales. “I dunno, it’s just the connotation of that word.” She exhales those words with a puff of smoke pointed towards the stranger to the right of her who doesn’t seem to mind at all; he seems to be lost in his own world of facts and figures. Robin continues. “To me, gorgeous is as close to perfect as you can get without coming off as pretentious, prissy, or a bitch.” The stranger shoots a quick, perturbed glance at our pair, as if Robin timed that statement to coincide with the gap in between songs currently being pumped into the stranger’s ears.
Neither Simon nor Robin notice. A tingle shoots up Simon’s leg, caused by his telephone. He checks it before continuing the conversation. An email pushed to him from the ether, about an ongoing sale of something or others, nothing really worthy of his time. He slips the phone back into his pants pocket, and readjusts his jacket. It had gotten breezy. “That’s a bad thing?” Robin, expecting this response, fires back. “Well, we’re all fucked up somehow, to think that every random stranger you see is gorgeous is kind of pushing things, right?” A shot of pragmatism to the chest of Simon’s mostly nonsensical idealism. He goes on the defense.
“What should I say, then?”
Robin takes this opportunity to let him have it. “All these girls around me sure are pretty! I wish I could have sex with them!” Damn if that didn’t feel good for her to say. In the near distance, their long awaited transportation was lurching into view. Fifteen minutes late. The driver was sleepy, as were the passengers. Each of them had somewhere they’d rather be, each of them were waiting for that bus to take them there. Simon scoffs at her words, offended only slightly. Deep down inside, of course that was what he wanted. He gives her a defeated smile as the squeal of brakes can be heard.
“Give me some credit, come on.” Robin stands up, towering over Simon and the stranger as a way to preempt their entrance onto the bus. “Fine,” she says. “All these girls around me sure look good! I wish I could enter long-term, monogamous, and loving relationships with them!” Perfectly timed, she jumps up onto the steps of public transportation as soon as she finished talking. “That’s much more like it, thank you.” Simon replies, and follows suit. The stranger remains on the bench, awaiting the next bus.
If this was because he was waiting for another route, or if he had some time to waste and didn’t want to bother with listening to another one of Robin and Simon’s conversations was left to be seen.