Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Walk

  Here is a fictional short story I wrote probably a year or so ago and recently drew pictures to go along with it. It's called 'The Walk.'

   While I walk along Third Avenue I follow a woman in a yellow coat. She looks like someone I once knew- an old friend who I never wonder about but I’d still be happy to see. I can’t tell if the woman in the yellow coat is her or not. She is several blocks ahead of me. She is walking briskly like she is in a hurry or she just likes the feel of the pavement pounding against the soles of her shoes. At the corner she pauses and looks up at the sky. I look up too, to see what she sees. All the clouds look like animals. Fluffy white polar bears drift lazily across a sleek blue stage. Lions with wispy manes slowly stretch apart.
   When my gaze returns to street level, the woman in the yellow coat is gone. I look around for her almost frantically. I feel like I lost track of a kid, or my puppy some how escaped his leash while I was window shopping. Yellow isn’t a very popular color, especially in the Winter so I scan the scenery focusing only on the insistently cheerful color of yellow. A yellow poster advertising a music show is stapled crookedly on a telephone pole. A yellow taxi rumbles by, but there is no sign of a familiar woman in a yellow coat.

   I keep walking toward the direction I last saw her but am distracted by two street musicians. A man plays a guitar and a girl in a floral dress sings. I move closer so I can hear the song through the constant whirl of city sounds. The girl sings songs that sound far away. They are songs she has collected from the tops of mountains like fistfuls of mountain flowers.
   The guitar case is open with a few suggestively placed dollars lying flat on the velvety lining. I search  my pocket for crumpled dollar bills or forgotten coins. But all I find are the two dollars I brought along for my bus fare home and a few seashells. I wore the same jacket when I went to the shore a couple of months ago. My fingers feel the rough edges of the shell. I remember salt air and shuffling through the sand. Most of the shells I found were broken pieces but I only keep them if they are pristine. I want them the way the mollusks had them during life, before they died and withered into unseen molecules while their study shells remained. I drop the shells and bus fare into the open case. The guitar player glances at me and smiles but the girl ignores me. Her sad songs drift into unseen street corners, twisting around bare tree branches and filling empty ally ways.

   I continue walking down the street the same way that the wind is blowing. It is the same direction the woman in the yellow coat disappeared to. I want to find her. I hope that she is my old friend and not just a stranger with the same dark hair and confident stride.
   I imagine us getting coffee and pastries together at the cafĂ© on the corner. We will sit across each other with straight backs and attentive smiles. She’ll tell me all about her life. How she is married now, but no  kids yet. “Hopefully soon.” She’ll say. “We are trying after all!” She will tell me all about her job. She will work as an archeologist or anthropologist or biologist, or whatever it was she was studying back then.
   Then I’ll tell her about my life. Except I will make it all up. I have a husband too. “Yes, he is sweet.” I’ll say. “Handsome too. The whole package.” I’ll tell her about how we like to ride bikes together.  And every evening we cook dinner together. He always sings old pop songs while we cook. He says it makes the food taste better.  In our garage he has a makeshift workshop where he carves wooden figures and sometimes makes furniture.  He always smells like sawdust and sweat and it is my favorite smell in the world.
   Somewhere in between watching the music and daydreaming, the clouds bunched together ruining the sunny day with rain. The light sprinkles swiftly transform into an angry down pour. I huddle under an awning in hopes that the rain will stop or at least lessen. I didn’t think it would rain and had not brought an umbrella. I am entirely too optimistic about weather. If I see blue skies in the morning I think it affords me rain protection for the entire day despite what the weather forecasters with their pearly smiles promise.
   The window is open in the apartment above me and I can hear people arguing. The man’s voice is loud but hollow and the women’s voice is like an angry song.
   “You always do that.: she says, “You always, always do that. Why do you have to always do that?”
   “No, no.” he denies. “I don’t. No, I don’t.”
   When they repeat themselves again, they sound like birds chirping. I imagine two human bodies with bird heads chirping ‘always, always’ and ‘no, no.’ I laugh aloud at the image. But they hear me and the arguing pauses. I hear the window slam shut. But through the patter of the falling rain I can still hear a muffled ‘always, always’ and ‘no, no.’
   The rain gives no indication of softening and I am tired of waiting in one spot. It is time to find a more entertaining place to wait out the rain. I jog toward the library. I wonder if the girl is still singing on the corner, her floral dress heavy with rain water. The wet guitar strings probably sound thick and dull but her voice will still be clear.
   When I get to the library, my clothes and hair are wet but the heater is humming and I already feel warmer. I wander though the bookcase rows, picking up  books and skimming different passages. Nothing keeps my interest until I find a book about the ocean. I learn that ninety percent of all Earth’s volcanic activity occurs under the sea. I learn that around 200,000 known marine species exist and even more are speculated to exist. I imagine all the animals swimming around in the ocean. They get to see things I’ll never see. But they have no idea about the world of land. They don’t even know what it feels like to be dry.
   I hear a sneeze in the row beside the one I’m in. It is one of those light, girlish sneezes that all princesses and Hollywood starlets have. It is the type of sneeze that makes men want to wrap their arms around the person that helpless little sneeze came from. My eyes are drawn to the noise. It is one of the few sounds besides the hum of the heater. I look through the empty spaces in the shelf to see who sneezed. My pulse quickens with the thrill of discovery. The dainty sneezer is the woman in the yellow coat! But now I see it is not her. I mean, it is not the girl I use to know. Close up, their faces don’t even look alike. And of course now I remember, my old friend would never wear a color as bright as yellow. She only wore drab colors like gray or tan or sometimes olive green.
   The stranger in the yellow coat catches me staring at her and smiles uncomfortably. She shifts her position so she is out of my line of sight.
   “Bless you.” I say, but it is several moments too late. Her only response is a light sniffle. Later, after the stranger is gone, I go investigate what she was reading. She was sitting in front of the section on ornithology. I imagine that she grew up in the tropics where there are hundreds of bird species, all of them bright and colorful. In our city most of the birds are crows and pigeons. She must get sad living here where all the birds are gray and black. She must cling to that yellow coat in the winter when the sky is gray and all he birds with their beady eyes look drab and dreary.
   I skim through the books on birds too and choose out one to bring home with me along with the ocean book. I think again about the arguing bird people and laugh.

   Outside it is dark and I am hungry so I check  out my books and head toward home. My bus fare is gone so I must walk the several miles home. The rain only lets up once during the walk and only when I am a few minutes from home and already so wet it makes no difference to me if it is raining or not. My library books are wet too and when I get home I lay them on the kitchen table underneath the hanging light. The books smell musty and the pages have already started to warp.
   The house feels empty. It is silent except for the creaking of my foot steps. but when I get to the living room, I see him sleeping on the couch. Behind his sleeping form, the light from the TV flickers on the wall. But he must have muted the volume. One of his legs is straight with his toes pointing toward the ceiling. The other leg is bent so the sole of his foot touches the ground. Spittle is dripping from the corner of his gaped mouth. It drips toward his chin like the glistening slime of a snail. His rounded belly peeks from beneath his too tight shirt. He won’t give up the shirt. He thinks it still fits him like it did when he was in his twenties. An inch of skin protrudes ostentatiously from the bottom of his shirt. The dark curly hair on his belly fluffs outward like his shirt has a grotesque version of a peach fuzz moustache. I touch the exposed portion of this stomach lightly and can feel the hair bundled beneath my palm.
   “Wake up, Manny.” I whisper.
   From the other room, I hear his dog stir. His big paws patter against the hardwood floor. The dog see’s me crouched on the ground. My face is right next to Manny’s sleeping face. If he was awake he’d be able to feel my hot breath against his cheek. Even now my breath may have changed the course of his dreams. The same way my alarm clock manifests it’s self in to the sound of some sort of demonic doorbell in my dreams. The exteriors attempt to penetrate the interior but only managing partial success.
   Manny’s oafish dog bounds toward me. I ignore him.
  “Wake up, wake up.” I chirp and push Manny’s slumped shoulder.
   The dog growls as if he is trying to protect his person’s sleep from me. I glare at the dog and swear he returns my stare with just as much menace.
   “Fine.” I say to the dog. I stand up. “I really don’t care that much anyway.”
   The dog plops down and stretches out across the area where I was sitting. The dog looks content like it had been his plan from the beginning to take the spot.

   I go into the bedroom and close the door. Goosebumps sprout on my skin so I finally take off my wet clothes and leave them in a heap in front of the rooms entrance. I change into a dress I usually wear in the summer. It’s yellow. The exact shade of yellow as the stranger’s coat. Even though I am not tired I lay on the bed. It’s only six o’ clock. I usually eat dinner at this time but I lost my appetite.
   Last summer I painted the bedroom ceiling to look like the sky. Pale blue with fluffy white clouds. I had never noticed before but the clouds I painted look like fluffy animals. They look so much like animals that I wonder if I did it intentionally and somehow forgot.
   Next door music vibrates thorough the walls an penetrates the sterility of silence in my own house. The neighbors have a teenager who likes to play his music on he highest volume his stereo will go. This would be annoying if he played the angry or mopey songs so many teenagers relish, the type of stuff I use to like when I was his age. But he only plays music from way before he was born. He plays swing bands and old jazz from Bing Crosby to the Boswell sisters. I‘ve had more exposure to the music of my grandma’s generation from that boy than anywhere else.
   One time I heard Frank Sinatra blaring from his room. It was summer and I was outside drinking lemonade. The sun had just set and it was the first time I had felt comfortable all day. The neighbor boy had his curtains open and I could see straight into is room from where I was sitting. He was standing in front of the mirror wearing a beaten up old fedora and singing along with Frank. I couldn’t hear the neighbor boys voice over Frank and the band, but the way he cocked his head or dramatically gestured at certain verses made me think he must be good. He moved with a certain graceful confidence that most adults would envy. There was something about the scene that was dopey and cute and sad all at the same time.
   I hear the same Sinatra song coming from his room right now. The boy is probably singing along again. I start to sing too, to accompany the kid. But I only sing under my breath so no one can hear me, except for maybe Manny’s dog. Before we can finish the song, I hear the boy’s mother yell something. The music stops abruptly and we are all silent.

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