You could hear the steps of dawn glazed by caffeinated heat, the chilled silence—stressed by sparse crickets and calmly lush morning dew. The suburbs prepared for the morning. Plazas flickered with local pizza and franchise fast foods. There were backpacks and bus stops, fields of barely tame grass and adolescent trees cusped on maturation. All of them merged in plan and purpose. Purpose and plan. Bumper to bumper.
On. FM. GOOODDD MORNING!! Almost the long weekend! Half a half-laugh joke. Traffic update. Bad. Weather update. Warm. News update. Shooting. Some place. We’re now taking calls for concert tickets!! Hello? Hi, who am I speaking to? Courtney…Oh my God. Well congratulations Courtney Ohmygod. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod! You’ve just won two tickets to—Ohmygodohmygodohmygod! I’m kinda worried Courtney, are you in church or—coming up! Three tips on how to spruce up your sex li—Idiot! Racing towards red.
He drove home. A man to whom dawn was evening bliss—graveyard shift. Yet it seemed so far away— those heavy steel toes pushing barely broken soles, one step after another to the warehouse door. The last shift of workers left the same way—and he saw him: tall, with unkempt hair, tired eyes gazing passed them, the hours desperately digested into dollar signs. They collided—day and grave—the baton passed in stride as machined white noise slowly tuned numb; and it was there, graced by the fresh breeze of a new dawn, that he looked back, salted away, at the man that was—wondering who, just who was it the whole time?! Pulling up to a school parking lot to catch a mind running wild, he recoiled at the inflamed bells—ascending melody: four notes, three seconds—carrying echoes of unbalanced chair and desk legs stuttering to a halt. Okay class, next we’re going to learn how to write a story. Shaking, his hands crushed at the wheel—forehead pressed upon the leather wrap. As slivers of stress began to release, thin clouds gave way to a burst of rising sun—his face consumed—but orange behind his closed lids, and warm—an endless canvas peeled towards the back of his mind. Staying there, the sharp textures of life regressed into two dimensions of soft color. Darkness… calmly coating.... weightless…death.
Lids unsheathed. He jolted—quickly placing himself in place. Crusted eyes gazed at the curb, at pink lilacs tresses patterned by a winded willow’s shade, dancing with time. Shit!Time! Noon. His long form exhaled over his seat. That day. It was that day that damned it all. When his eyes exorcised as ambition crippled and rippled like raves of burning butterflies. Words. Not vessels. Words! And not just words, but melodies, color! I was Proust!! In a field of lilac curls, gaging moments with pulses of past lives… those lonely minds, injecting life upon my dull green grass. I could feel them, stressed to paint shades of past days, raged, that between the wounds of an unstitched soul futility poured so forcefully free. Sing to me! Muse… of those homes they ripped from soul—of cunning cobblers and burly bakers, muddy rains and mothered pains…take me there! And I finally saw: now through eyes of old. Floating through the park majestic rainbow turbans of Sikh men gleaming with the sun. They spoke in native tongue of days of old, lands of old, lights of old. At once they burst in child-like glee as a splash of new playfully clashed with their thick beards and lion hearts. Closely by their wives smiled, half-amused, walking measured strides in cultured clothes and running shoes. Beyond them on a park bench I saw a mother, young, her skin a rich and radiant dark brown, her poise a solemn song of strength, and hope, a pale spark inflamed as she looked through her children’s eyes. Her son, sweeping sand as he ran and ran, up the stairs and down the slide and up again. Bored, he scanned the park and saw his sister building a castle. He ran towards her, past the park swings and onto the walking path but then slowed down; an older man was walking his way. Nervous, the boy puffed his chest with feigned confidence so common to young boys. The old man smiled at the mother as she did back knowingly. The boy reached his sister and sat next to her castle, trying to help. But she didn’t want his help. But he wanted to help. But she didn’t want his help. Nathan, leave your sister alone. Go play somewhere else. Angry, he got up and kicked his feet across the castle, shocking his sister as she let out a slashing howl—right through her mother’s tranquility. She sighed, carrying and consoling her wailing child and pulling him home. And you, my dear, dear boy, held on to that final fence, fingers fruitlessly clenched between the diamond weave. Bzzz.Bzzz.Bzzz.
—It’s me, I’m with the guys at Slum’s. Reach.
—Jesus. It’s like… three o clock, you guys already drinking?
—Bro, the game. I told you last week! Just reach! First one’s on me.
—Ahh…alright I’ll be there in ten.
—yo lemme finish my story. So we’re walking in right? And they say it’s five bucks to get in—but as soon as we downstairs, we see the party’s complete shit—terrible music, no alcohol, and like five guys for every girl. So I’m angry, like I could’ve been with Erica, but this guy convinced me to go, telling me it’s gonna be some next shit. So after standing around for like twenty minutes, I’m like, ‘yo, reach with me outside, we’ll have a smoke. But I was out so I had to ask—
—I’ll say the next part, I don’t want you changing the story—making yourself look like less of a dumbass. So we reach outside and there’s a bunch of guys right, like five of them, and this guy literally walks up to them and says, ‘yo, cool if I get a cigg?’ Leader of the pack, this big-ass black dude walks right up to him and says, ‘naw, but you got two dollars?’ He wasn’t asking. Me, having some damn sense, am tryna leave and reach back inside—but this guy just starts laughing—in the dudes face! He says, ‘bro, you telling me you ain’t got two dollars? I would lend it to you but I ain’t got cash right now—
—It ain’t that funny man, just tryna help a nigga out. And don’t think I forgot what you did. This guy, right before they surround us, takes out his phone and puts it in his underwear—
—Cause I knew they were tryna rob us! While you out there negotiating loan terms, I actually had some damn sense!—
—Woahhh hold up. Pause. So you just stuffed your phone in your drawers? Just like that? No other thoughts or considerations?
--Lets be real, he probably done it before, but at least he smart enough to know his fat ass ain’t running away—
—Fuck off! How the hell are you talking? We ain’t even done yet. So after he says that shit, they surround us. One of the guys grabs him and another robs his phone out his pocket—but—you’ve seen this guys phone—some fifteen year old samsung flip, we talkin about the last game he had was snake, shit, that thing don’t even have a color screen! So straight up, this exactly what happened. The dude just stares at the phone for like a minute… looks back at him… stares at the phone again—and just gives it back. Bro. You cannot make this up. Everyone just starts cracking up! I swear, the dude was looking at him like he wanted to buy him a new phone!!
—Whatever man. All I’m saying is—I ain’t got robbed.
Like a soft sound in background finally in focus, a distant clatter of plates dispelled the conversation. While cleaning over a table, a thin layer of sweat glazed her olive skin, refracting the bar’s low-light gloom. She arranged plates, stray forks and wasted food. Finished, she rose up, straightening her back and circling her worked shoulders—her white blouse and black high-wasted skirt creasing between the curves of her ample figure. Preparing to leave, she noticed a few strands of dark hair escaping her bun, prompting a slender hand to tuck them along the crevice of her jewelled ear. Her face, now focused, exuded calm yet graceful exhaustion, a rich and rare radiance... unravaged—yet, hit by stray praise, changed into a breathless smile, accentuated by the soft but firm angles of her face, the slightly wrinkled sides of her eyes, and two rows of priceless pearls. Ghost of a ghost of her smile, ravaged. Be honest, would you ever want to see the world through my eyes? No, Nathan…you look too long, and anyone, anything, can be poisoned. She walked on his cloud from table to bar, catching his eyes in between. He stared searchingly as if through a glass, every moment kept to stare again—but in her eyes was only fear... cautious acknowledgement, the instinctive kind given through countless daily deflections. No! Don’t you see you’re so much more?! I’m the only one who knows who you are! Every twitch and flicker! They all—Nathan…you look too long. You. People.
—So what’s all this writing I’m hearing about? My boy all sentimental and shit now?—
—Really!? Bro you wanna write my essay for me? It’s due Friday and I haven’t even started—
—Ha! But seriously, I’m actually kinda worried. All this shit about you not going back to school? You gotta start looking at things more rationally…
Rational. He smokes a pack a day. Ten minutes of life ripped away with each cig. Three hours a pack. A day a week. Two months a year. Rational… as if they were never really there…. walking those same fields… melting their wings in the same sun. Dreams. Not snatched but thrown away.
—I don’t know…I tried. But I just I couldn’t resist the urge.
—To be... a genius. It was that or a perfect man… but I looked too much to be a perfect man.
—Bro…what the fuck are you talking about?
Distance. Far ahead. Or behind. But alone. Gazing through the glass he watched the pace picking up, the evening air seething with final bursts of caffeine and cologne, dying off like a slow drum. Thum. Thum. Rush hour. Old men with young cars. Young men with old cars. A symphony of modded mufflers.
—You gotta start thinking about your family, your mom, start helping her out soon…
Mother. Gazing through train glass as passing poles flicker fast enough to tint the sky.
—I’ll…catch you later. I have to pick her up from the station.
—Alright man, hey, you know we just tryna look out for ya right?
On. FM. Now here’s traffic with Lisa!—Thank’s Mark—It’s bad—Back to you Mark. Thanks Lisa, now the weather with Harold—Thank’s Mark—expect showers—back to you Mark. Thanks—We seem to be currently experiencing technical difficulties and apologize for the inconvenience. We will be back shortl-----Welcome back!! Sorry for the delay folks. Who knows why such conditions continue to plague us. Allow me to assume your day has bursted with moments so warm and bright that your icy hearts have finally begun to thaw! Just kidding my loves. Ofcourse it wasn’t! What with everything going on ofcourse. Ofcourse! Something is always going on. It’s rather infuriating isn’t it? You may be wondering why my voice sounds a bit different, more lucid, intelligent, or charming you might say? Let’s just say I feel awakened! My day has been brutally eventful to say the least. Oh? Brutally eventful how, Mark? Well I shall tell you my dear followers. As you all surely know, speculations on whether the royal couple are calling it quits are at an all-time high. Updates through various outlets have held us at the brink of strangulation, wondering if a world naught with such a sincere necessity could, quite plainly, endure. Who could surmise the implications of such a tragedy? Even the Bard and all his verse would have an excruciating task tying up the twists and turns sprouting like weeds and fatally clutching our feeble hearts. But I digress. I solemnly urge you to lay your weight upon my cross. I have listened, all day, for you, my dear dear followers, not without bursts of laborious wails—but I cling, ever so slightly, to that place called hope, and hope, as Freeman once said, is a wondrous, glorious thing. Shit! Damn it! Okay, listen to me. They will say that an unidentified man, possibly mad, had broken into the station and taken over the waves. Do not believe them my loyal followers! Think with your heart! Not your eyes! They lie! I speak for you all! We must know! We must not be left in the dark to such things that keep us truly alive, tossed aside and condemned by pompous intellectuals bent on being unhappy! No! Get away from me! Get your dirty hands off me you filthy detestable buffoons! How dare you treat me like the dirt of an inanimate object?! Wait! My name! I wish to&%$#@^$%#@--------------------Are you or anyone you know suffering from symptoms of depression? Does happiness arouse hopelessness? Despair? Prozac@#$%&Come to Sleep Country for our summer clearance event! You’ll never want to wake$#%&@ Hey Shawn! Yes Sarah? Did you know that Spence diamonds is—Fuck! Off.
The first drops fell flat—scattered with no pattern across the train glass. She gazed as they multiplied, watching as droplets streaked like fallen stars, absorbing others on the way down. They flowed so naturally, like rivers—and she switched focus: drops—with a blurred background.The metallic view—through spots of drops. The train picked pace as the drops hung on to futile traction, pushed back and split by the wind. A clear canvas of condensation slowly hazed and replaced the view. She stared, seeing names she wrote when child, and she wanted to now…but how?
—Why the heck would she hire him? Is she crazy? He’s too qualified, tall, good-looking—I’m telling you, give it two or three months, once he knows everything, and he’ll get her job. One-hundred percent!
—That’s really too bad! But seriously, you should have her job. You’ve been there what? Ten years?
—Thirteen this October
—Oh my God! Why don’t you look for another job? It won’t be too hard for you, you should be manager at least by now!
—It’s not too bad really, it’s a good company, and the benefits are good. And, you know, I cannot afford not having job, one income and everything…by the way, congrats! I saw on the Facebook that Karenna got into the college.
—Oh! Thank you so much! We were all so happy! But now I am getting sad. She’s never been away from home too long.
—She’ll be fine, she’s a smart girl.
—I know I know. But still. I’m going to be so worried. Anyway, how is Nathan? He has few more years left no?
—Oh, no, he’s working right now, working and writing. He says maybe back to school next year…
—…that’s good… I read his story the other time, he writes very nicely.
—Yes, but… I am very worried for him.
Moving uncomfortably in her chair she felt a familiar tenseness envelope her mind. She saw his face, his form, his light. Capable. Perhaps too capable—but, no map of a man.
Wiper-blades screeched against the dry glass. Off. He drove through the final crossing and into the lot. The grass, freshly glazed, winked at the sun as fresh air seeped through the opened glass. Nathan, my love, tell me what you think about sun showers. Parked, he turned off the ignition and reclined in his seat. Freedom, the smothering weight of possibility, slowly dimmed through a dimming mind.
—He’ll be okay, he’s a smart boy
—I know… I just…tell me about your trip!
—It was nice. But you know… I don’t know how to tell this. We were driving back from my parents’ house and the kids were finally asleep so Paul and me finally had some quiet. And I started to look at the fields we were driving by, like actually look at them, and they seemed so… endless! Like we could keep going and going and that green, would never end! I was so confused. It was like being in the middle of the ocean, with nothing but water. And I started to feel a sharp pain in my chest, and I couldn’t stop asking myself if the city, this town, our…life, actually existed. Cause driving through those fields it really felt like they could never end... and I couldn’t stop thinking that maybe this was life. Like, remember back home, our villages? I know we all came for different reasons but… what? Why is everyone looking at me like I’m crazy?!
The late sky pulled its last puffs of light. You could hear bells draw near in the distance— closer and closer they came as taillights bloomed in swift reply. Inside the train they moved beyond mind, instinct rather, as they clamored against the gates. They waited. You waited. As it harnessed onto the platform. For that odd pause yet oddly satisfying sound of pressure… released. Look around you! As you drain through the gates, washed with the waves. Stop! What do you see? Tailored suits? Polished shoes? No! Look at him! At his confident stride! His well-groomed form! His voice! Cutting through the white noise and flaunting words just enough to be heard past his friends ears, to passerby’s—in awe of course—at his unyielding surety. Tell me, is there any question to wear down the sureness of his tone? As he walks, does it not seem like those worlds so dense and dark, sprawling through the depths of your mind and weighing over your every step, do not exist at all? Were it so easy, and it is it seems! He must know! Something that heals the gauze stained breaks! Ask him! Before he slips away! But…which one?
But look at him! Old and wise and absorbed. He walks in a trance far deeper than most. His broad frame moves in perfect economy of his decline, every step an echo... but he shines! The year’s yield to his indifference! What else could have such stolid perfection? At times you catch his eye, just for a moment, and wonder if you’re really there. You wonder when, or if, stimulation reaches past the first layer, when a smile smiles beyond a twinkle in his eye! Tell him to recount those days and see his eyes glaze. See him catch his breath and reminisce of a dance years ago, when it was she who saved his heart of stone. And there she is! Cue the smoke and soft tunes. She walks looking ahead but only at herself—heels piercing the mist of every man. She knows. Of-course she knows! Like pillars of prestige only a moment ago but now like boys they slyly move to catch a glimpse. And they look, look how they look at her! In lust or admiration, or sadness—for what she is, perhaps because they could never not look, perhaps. But watch as she goes! Like a mist she sweeps through your claws, holding dreams you know far better than to find. And the roads, they all at once seem closer to that feeling. You step out the station and the wind greets you with a freshness you almost forgot existed, the emptiness and silence brings a peace felt only in your dreams. And you see her again! But the years have taken their toll. Her once slender arms are now stronger than she had ever hoped. The ripeness of her youth wringed to the last drops, fresh only in the small but vast walls of her tested smile. She walks differently now, through quicksands of compromise, gazing past the sky for drops of solace as her worked shoulders selflessly carry the weight of new worlds, until they too… But. Do they not soar? Lonely in those fields is there not solace in knowing that such a place shall forever remain? The strings replaced but tuned to the same old song. And you escape to find something more in that dark, when for a moment, the sounds of birds and stars infuse you with rapture you swore you’d never forget. Yet you come back to this place, helplessly again. And though it never lasts… she reeks of home. Even now beside you in that car, ready to face the same day. Bursting to speak of placid turns and trials, of a pulse just enough to be alive.
—So… how was your day?
A wrinkled smile and a drained sigh. Resignation. Relief.