In the darkness we lie amidst a bed that envelopes us like so many worn tee shirts, softened and compressed over time. Your voice emerges from the pitch-black to gently inquire, “what do you want?”
We are still strangers yet, surfaces barely dusted off and displayed to each other with a mixture of pride and sheepishness. We exchange first names and dutifully compare our written self-descriptions, resumes of lonely yet optimistic people applying for the role of “Unique Individual with Much to Offer/Worthy of Affection” (for your consideration, if you please). We talk over dinner and drinks and milkshakes – speaking of ourselves to each other, hoping that the translators are set to the right frequency. We touch each other to check for damage, feeling for holes in our carefully constructed fabric. As we stumble along, intoxicated and following half-written instructions, we finally meet in the muffled space of mattress, pillow and skin.
“You mean, from a relationship?” I try to clarify the heaviness of the question, knowing my answer is the same regardless.
I pause for a moment and in the dark, soft room, the words are hardly audible,
“I want to be happy, that’s all.”
You stood there. Purple striped socks, wrinkled denim, hands in pockets, mussed hair. You stood in front of my bookcase, head tilted, as I watched from the corner of my eye. One striped foot rose slightly and scratched the back of your calf, hidden under blue folds. As you examined my worn paperbacks I felt a soft nudge beneath my sternum – as if the books could transmit your gaze back towards me.
Reaching forward, you slid one out of its nestled place, and quickly skim the title —- no hint of hidden thoughts reach your surface. You left the book askew as you turned to face me, done with your examination.
I’m full of queries, full of doubts. Have I passed? Will I do? What lies beneath those searching eyes? Lips touch, breaths sigh, and a smile passes between us. In an instant all questions are forgotten. And suddenly the door has closed and your absence is louder and more cacophonous than any silent looks cast on strangers’ books.
"Miss Edith?" I call out into the softly lit waiting area.
A tiny wisp of a lady slowly rises, dressed all in black, gray-white hair gathered into a bun and perched atop her head. She walks hesitatingly towards me, managing to look graceful despite her cane. Beside me, she hardly reaches my shoulder – yet her presence radiates and eclipses me, as I awkwardly stand over her with my starched white coat and draped stethoscope.
She follows me into an exam room and I gently begin to ask her questions. Her eyes are large and full of stories. She speaks quietly but her voice sings clear and resonates in me, a level deeper than eardrums. She tells me of her heart, slowly calcifying over time - an echo of Lot’s wife turning to salt as she turned to look back upon her life. She tells me of her age, and its incongruity with her passion, still burning hot within her. She tells me of growing old and watching loved ones die. She tells me of her love of the world’s history and the paintings she creates, weaving watercolors in with culture and time. She tells me of her pains, slowing her fingers and leaving her drawings half-finished.
Even as the sadness pours forth from her, her eyes still shine bright and vibrant. She looks at me and states in full seriousness, “When I grow up… I’m going to be a bird. A hummingbird, flitting its wings.” I return her mischievous smile and agree that this is a wonderful plan.
I look down at my notepad, empty of notes – her story safe and secure and permanent within me. As I guide her towards the exit, our interview over, I lean over to tell her how happy I am to have met her. She grasps my hand and half-whispers, “We had fun didn’t we? We’ve become such friends.” I squeeze her hand good-bye and watch as she makes her way out into the cold. A fragile bird, braving the wind.
I want to feel all there is to feel, he thought. Let me feel tired, now, let me feel tired. I mustn’t forget, I’m alive, I know I’m alive, I mustn’t forget it tonight or tomorrow or the day after that.
she covered her face with powder and paint because she didn’t need it and she refused to be bored chiefly because she wasn’t boring. She was conscious that the things she did were the things she had always wanted to do.