Original fiction: strangers somehow

Nicole Hennessy

I find myself dodging the sun inside the dark smoky walls of coffee shops and bars. I enjoy the company of those shunned from society. The smoke of the coffee shop is so thick that I can’t see the souls trapped in it. I am lined pages with words trapped between them like caged birds in a beautiful house. My soul is ticking like the sound of the clock under the effects of insomnia. It reminds me that I am living.

I woke in the morning in my cheap motel room, still fully clothed from the night before. The chain wrapping around my boot unraveled on the floor, my skirt around my shoulders. I dreamt that my voice was beckoning me, and the more I chased it the further away it became. I took out a pack of cigarettes and fired one up. I closed my eyes as the smoke slid deep into my lungs. The morning sun, obscured by clouds, made my eyelids glow orange. It was summoning me from the small window to my right. It was day once more.

It was a blue day; the kind of day when children recited poetry on street corners. Their words fell from the sky and formed puddles on the ground. I sang silently, enveloped in the carefree poetry of youth.

I walked up and down the streets for no reason in particular. They were shiny and slick. They were familiar. They were bones with no flesh to mask them.

As the rain fell, my reflection forming in the puddles became more pungent and contradictory. I carried myself indifferently. The people waiting at the bus stops, on the other hand, looked as if they had a purpose. They knew that the bus would come and take them to their destinations and their lives would just pass by. I could see the old man in the brown corduroy jacket breathing. He was just staring off into the distance, past the buildings. The look on his face was one of nostalgia. It seemed like he had been waiting at that bus stop for a long time. I kept walking towards my destination, but the difference between me and the bus stop people was the fact that I knew my destination was ultimately a choice, but they were chained to theirs.

As soon as I opened the door of the coffee shop, I felt like I might faint. I hadn’t seen her in exactly a year. It was the deal we made when we broke up. “We’ll meet once a year in the same location, which will be chosen arbitrarily,” I said to her. She agreed and we chose an Italian restaurant, which became a dive bar, which became a dry cleaner (that was awkward), which became a coffee shop. It had been 10 years.

It was a strong silence. The room was stiff. It was stale with smoke that had been emitted from long-ago-extinguished cigarettes. I was a foreigner for god’s sake. I was a stranger among strange faces in a strange place. I was words dripping off of a page on too hot of a day.

Watching the world through the coffee shop window, it was as if I was on a tour bus. I lost myself in a giant blur of self-delusions and ideas. I forgot who I was. The streets were starting to become filled with people with somewhere to go. They walked past schools where children were learning to forget their poems. They walked past alcoves serving as shelter for gone minds’ bodies.

I watched the clock as the hours slipped by. Things were happening around me, but I was oblivious.

In 52 seconds she would be here. Her hair would have just a touch of red mingling within random strands of blonde. It would stop at her shoulders, hugging her neck. As her voice danced off of her tongue, her mouth would part…

Just as she opened the door it became hard for me to breathe. Her fingers were elongated. The steam that once rose from my cold cup of coffee rose from the sewers behind her instead. The door closed slowly, but slammed at the last moment; the room swallowed her.

As she ordered her coffee, I stared at mine precariously. I drifted off into the faint traces of ripples produced by any insignificant movement removed from my perception for purposes beyond my understanding.

She sat perfectly across from me, her knees bent at 90 degree angles. The rectangular wooden table with knots the size of my head was surrounded by four mismatched chairs. The amount of table between us was an abyss.

“’I’m throwing away something that I can’t even find in the incredible clutter of my being,’” she said to me with a slight look of terror. “It’s Kerouac.”

“You’re throwing away Kerouac or he said that?”

“Come on Marla. Don’t start this off with any of your smartass bullshit.”

She reached across the table and took one of my cigarettes. Then she used my lighter to light it.

“You look…different. When did you dye your hair purple?”

“Oh Mar; a lot of things have changed. The way you’re wearing your eyeliner all smudgy like that makes you look like you’ve been up for three days partying, and that jacket looks like it’s been stolen from some real nice chick with real nice friends who don’t have to make appointments to meet in coffee shops once a year.”

“It’s not like that.”

“Then what’s it like? Please tell me. I’ve been dying to know.”

When she said that, the inflection in her voice made her sound contrite.

“Why did you show up Kaya?” I asked.

“I told you, ‘I’m throwing away something that I can’t even find in the incredible clutter of my being.’ Maybe this would be easier over beer. I never understood why you like these smoky coffee shops. I mean, look at that guy over there. He probably has no idea where he is.”

“If that’s true, I envy him.” “Besides, this is where we have to meet. I was just bragging to myself about not being chained to my destinations too. Hah!”

“Oh poor Marla, she is such a tortured soul. Why can’t the world just understand her and blah, blah, blah?”

“I’m serious. I sometimes try to forget where I am. I watch everything happening around me until I feel quite confident that I am not a part of it. When I got here, for instance, I sat in this chair and watched the world go by that window behind you until it walked in and sat directly across from me.”

“Are you implying that I am the world?”

“Maybe in a way I am.”

There was a silence so thick the air inside the coffee shop sunk. It dove down deep into my lungs when I inhaled it.

“So, how much money do you have left Marla?”

“Enough to afford to live in a crappy hotel room drinking expensive whiskey and spend all my days walking around observing things – Wanna hear a poem?”

Without waiting for her reply I began: “Spoken poems are refugees of the mind, escaped from the oppression of page, liberated from tongues in languages devised to abort them.”

“That’s pretty good; I miss your poems.”

“Are you seeing anyone?” Every time I ask her this my insides constrict. The words just linger in the air.

“I was seeing a guy, but he turned out to be a real dick…a musician. He split in the middle of the night to a town I don’t know the name of. Oh well, that’s why I stick to chicks. It even rhymes. Why did we break up again?”

When she asked that my body wanted to either fall apart or run forever. Dodging the question, I pulled a ring out of my pocket. It was glass with little blue dots surrounding silver swirls. As soon as she saw it her eyes light up. “I found this.”

“I haven’t seen that in forever!” Then her smile quickly became a frown. “Why do we do this to each other? I mean, it’s not healthy. We just torment each other. Neither of us can have a relationship with any one else and it just makes us hate each other more. You don’t even know why we broke up.”

“Do you?” I snapped at her suddenly.

“I just wanted…oh, never mind. What difference does it make anyway? I’ll see you next year.”

Just as she rose to her feet I jumped up out of my chair. “Wait!”

“Oh Marla, if you only knew.”

She turned and walked out of the coffee shop taking those eyes with her, but leaving them forever in my mind. The door opened and closed quite calmly and for another year we were just two people walking around a city.

The clouds had cleared and the streets were full of people I would never know. Maybe one day one of them would be her and she would just walk past me and I would let her.