Don't ask why. I just have to write it.
It has a title. I won't give it away now.
But here's a bit of what I wrote. It's rough. Read if you are so inclined. I'm being self indulgent. I don't care one bit. This is my space.
What if it is just talk? Everything’s talk isnt it?
--Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses.
The landscape must be brown and orange, sand and gold. She thought that tumbleweed would surely pass by her by as she was unable to steady herself in those winds, the ones that come once a year, that are strong enough to carry off a small child of six or seven. Sure, there are lawns, but they are put there in opposition of what should be there. All of the forced greenery is unnatural, sitting next to the clay, the sand, and the plants that are supposed to be in that place.
She always walked the same way to work because she had been awful with directions. She always had trouble identifying which streets lay north, south or east of her. She loved maps, but could never orient herself.
She imagined that when she did see him that he could tell her what direction they were in by closing his eyes and quietly drawing in a breath.
“North,” he would say while gesturing in a direction, “is that way.”
She didn’t know any of this, and so she settled for the crossing guard she met on a daily basis.
“Young lady. You should have a date tonight.”
Her mind drifted off to imagine where he would take her, on a Friday when he finally had time to see her, the time that she had become so jealous of, the time she no longer had with him.
In truth, that’s all that they ever did. Talk. Correction. That’s all she ever did. She talked. He listened. He asked question after question and she answered. She always wanted more from him, but never got it, and she just assumed that his bouts of silence were just a consequence of his upbringing. He just didn’t speak that much. And now they didn’t speak at all.
She had a lot of thinking to do. And when she needed to think, she took the bus downtown.
At half-past noon, she jumped off the bus, and made sure to thank the driver. She just missed stepping on a sharp piece of a broken brown bottle. She swept the glass away with her foot, taking care that none of it settled into the sole of her flip flops. It was time to stop wearing those, for a variety of reasons.
The weather had begun to change only a day before. The heavy watered air was slowly leaving the city and the clarity of autumn was settling into its place. The smell of trash that nearly made her vomit daily on her way to work was finally being subdued. Only cities reek of trash like that during humid summers. The stench somehow hangs in the air and makes it hard to breathe.
She walked for a while and then stopped to watch an old man unfurl an American flag and hang it outside of a barber shop. His shock of white hair contrasted sharply with his dark brown skin.
He turned to her to explain.
She had never known that kind of death—the one where all desires and hope of safety are scattered to the winds only to return with a postcard or a knock on the door detailing what is at once inevitable and unthinkable.
“Jesus,” he muttered as he adjusted the flag in the front of the blue brick building.
She moved silently down the street away from him. She turned back for a moment only to see him in the exact place where she had left him standing. He wiped away the tears with his left hand.
She walked inside of the coffee shop and decided to sit in the front window. She closed her eyes for a moment to clear her mind of that death. She drew in a breath and held it so that she could feel the rhythms of her heart, feel it pounding against the walls of her chest--feel her life.
The phone rang.
She couldn’t decide whether or not to pick it up. She had nothing left to say, but then it wasn’t who she expected, so she answered.
“ Toby. I’m thinking about going back to war,” was the first sentence on the other end of the phone.
“Is that the only answer?” she asked.
“That place is the only place that makes sense to me right now.”
“I wish you had somewhere to go other than there, Borden. I wish there were something outside of my own head.”
“We both suck.”
Then she hung up the phone.
She pulled out a book and pretended to read. She didn’t have to look at the calendar to realize that a month had passed since their last conversation. That was one where she tossed the phone across the sofa and he listened to her cry on the other end for twenty minutes.
She thought about how she would respond to a friend telling her the same story. She kept hoping that someone would stop letting her indulge in melodrama, smack her back into reality and away from false hope.
That hadn’t happened a month.
Once they had stopped their daily conversations, she retreated a bit into herself. She never really felt like talking at work anyway. The books were enough to keep her, or anyone else for that matter, distracted for years on end. They were old, rare and had more stories in them then most of the people sitting around cracking open the books’ spines to do research. The library was grand at moments and small and intimate in others. The scholars who came to visit seemed to connect with the building and its rooms immediately, or they remained coolly, almost uncomfortably, detached from their surroundings. The dark mahogany walls illuminated by green library lamps provided what she thought was the perfect ambience for scholarly endeavors. She didn’t need to talk at work. She was content. She liked to work alone.
Maybe she was meant to be alone.
She walked home from the coffee shop ignoring the busses as they passed her by on the street. She lived on the side of town that was called “transitional”—a not so secret code for the rehabilitation of houses by moneyed young people who were interested in living in the newest, edgiest parts of town. The older, less moneyed people, who had been living there for ages, weren’t always interested in new the new developments in their neighborhood. The changes weren’t always welcome.
Buildings that had been burned out by race riots in the late sixties were slowly turning into retail shops featuring high end clothes, the type that Toby would never have worn. She shied away from anything that was too flashy or trendy, but loved friends who embraced every season of new clothing and wore anything. She thought about changing that and several other things.
She continued to walk up the long avenue to her neighborhood, passing large hordes of men waiting on street corners for something better to come along. She felt insulated and protected in her sweater, glad that her clothing did not attract attention.
“Hey pretty lady. Got some money for me?”
She was always asked for spare change, or larger sums of money. She always politely refused. Most of the time, it was the politeness that saved her from harassment. She hated that people felt that she owed them something. They saw themselves in her, and so it was her duty to give without question. That day, the asking became too much for her, and when she pulled out the phone to call him, for a distraction, she realized that she couldn’t.
And instead of ignoring the question, where are you going? she snapped, “Home from work. You should try going one of those two places.”
She rushed quickly down the street for fear of retribution. She also made note not to walk down that way for a week.