Circles

I was surprised to receive her message. I had not talked to her for over five years and had not seen her in person for a bit more than ten. “I am visiting the city. They admitted me to a remote master’s program, and I will be there for their orientation events.” We agreed to get a drink sometime during the week. “Friday would be best” she said on Monday. On Thursday I asked her if we would still go out on Friday night, and I was surprised to hear that not only we would but that she needed a place to stay that night as she had messed up her hotel booking. “You could stay at mine” I texted. I waited for a couple of hours before I got a reply “That sounds like a good idea. Thanks for helping out”. 

Monica closed the car’s door behind her and walked with a bouquet of flowers towards the sidewalk. 

“They are for my sister” she mentioned as soon as we had said hello. “Do you want me to help you?” I asked trying to pry the luggage from her hands. “No”. I looked at her for a moment. There she was, her body turned flesh after having lived in my head in the form of a vanishing memory for more than ten years. “Sounds good” I blurted out as I scoured my pocket trying to fetch the apartment keys.

She left her luggage in the living room. We sat for some time at the kitchen table. “Do you want some water?”. 

When we left the apartment the two glasses were still full and lay there covered in a vaporous veil. 

“Sir, what do you want?” the waitress asked me. I looked up from the menu, crossed a swift glance with her and pointed to one of the imported beers the bar had in offer. When the waitress turned to Monica, she pressed her finger over the wet paper menu and slid it slowly down the list of options until she found the one that pleased her the most.

I tried avoiding talking about the past. What was the point. Then years had passed, and with them, all that was felt and all that was had melted into a gray soup of faded memories. We talked about the general state of things, the incoming hurricane, the presidential election, her job and my paintings.

Once the band that was playing at the restaurant finished their act, we paid and left. A short stroll up the street landed us at the door of a dimly lit establishment with plenty of empty tables. 

We sat by the bar. The bartender was quick and soon enough we were in front of two glasses of beer. There was a long mirror and on its surface one could see the reflections of the tables around us, and even the heavy traffic of the street.

We were also there, our two faces’ contours chiseled by the dim light of the bar. I lifted my glass and looked at myself while sipping from the foam-stricken surface. To my left Monica played with her hair, gazing abstractedly towards a shelf stacked with colorful bottles.

We remained quiet for some time, no more than a minute or two. She was there, so close to me. The idea of thrusting my arm towards her and letting it coil around her waist crossed my mind. For I moment I considered what would happen. She would pull away, I thought. And my mind played the whole scene; my arm moving, the contraction of her hips, the breaking of her smile. 

As the night went on and our conversation kept circling around the edges of our story of old, I couldn’t avoid thinking how there was a time I would’ve walked to the moon if that could’ve brought a moment like the one we were having, sitting side by side, beer in hand and the past forgotten. 

When I finally reached out and my hand rested on her lower back, she didn’t move. She just finished what she was saying and rested her eyes on mine. For a fleeting moment I felt it. She tilted her heard to the side, her dark hair flowed down her neck and her brown eyes twinkled with a faint light unearthing a mellow, almost forgotten sense of wonder inside me. She had been the vessel of my affection. I had been madly in love with her. Yes. I had been once. All that was left was this trace of a moment, one that wasn’t truly there anymore.

When we went back to my apartment, a dense alcoholic fog was hovering in my mind. We stood side by side looking at the latest watercolor I had painted. She said her apartment down in DC didn’t have enough art and suggested I gift her the piece. I didn’t.

She was there, a few centimeters from me, the smell of her cologne floating in a sweet mist around us, and the back of our hands touching each other as the effervescence of the alcohol we had consumed shook our bodies side to side. 

She laid down on the couch. “Do you have a blanket?”. I had a Japanese mattress, which I helped her setup with a pillow and a comforter. I slept on the bed. She slept on the floor.

The next morning, we walked around town, went for breakfast at a diner and visited a hardware store where she gave me multiple suggestions on how to decorate my apartment. “You should get a key rack with a slot for holding mail. It can help you organize your keys and that way you can avoid dropping the unread letters on the kitchen table as you are doing now” I bought a similar item a couple of weeks later. She was right. My mail is very organized now.

Her bus was to leave at 4:30 so we got back to my place one hour before that. For thirty minutes I struggled to say much. Perhaps I was expecting something to happen, but nothing did. When her Uber arrived, she insisted to carry her luggage down the stairs by herself. I helped with the bouquet. The flowers remained as fresh as the night before. 

As she lifted her bag into the car’s trunk, I stood there waiting. A confused mix of feelings drew circles in my chest.

We hugged and kissed before she hoped into the car. As I watched the vehicle drive away, the place where her lips had touched my cheek felt moist. I turned around and went back into my building. I let the door close slowly behind me. 

Purple light

“Why is that building purple?” she asked. “Why does the light turn purple at night?” I held her hip with my right hand and looked outside. Far into the night was the dark façade of the building she had been pointing to. The lights were purple, running in circles around the upper rim of the building’s roof. 

Three glasses of whiskey where already bubbling in my head. “Why?” she mumbled in a soft voice close to my ear. I couldn’t figure how to respond so I just said, “I don’t know’. 

As I rode the subway on my way home the following morning feeling the remnants of the previous night’s alcohol still lingering in my head, I couldn’t stop thinking about those purple lights. Someone had placed them there, someone had decided they had to be purple, not red, not blue, not green, but purple and I couldn’t stop asking myself why. 

To the front

Mirror. Green uniform on pale skin and clean shaved face staring into itself. The faucet coughs and whistles to the sound of water circling down. Feet clap impatiently on the tiled floor. A high pitch voice shouts a name following the screech of wheels of a vehicle coming to a halt. 

Steps fall down a staircase. There is a hug and kind words followed by young men’s voices mixed with the rumbling of an engine. White and gray, the city’s buildings, pedestrians and vehicles merge into a confuse mass sprinkled by occasional reds and greens. 

A beer splashes its foam on the wooden table and golden arrows of sun pierce the glass’ body painting yellow stripes on the foam stricken surface.  Merry voices and nervous laughter fill the hall. The low ceiling of the pub turns into the tall wide metal skeleton of the train station. A loud metallic whistle fills the air and a hurried murmur of boots pushes a crowd of green uniforms into the trains. 

The landscape rushes by in wide and oily brushstrokes. Melancholic greens and the red brick of small villages comes to a sudden stop in front of the sea. A fresh air blows from the south, filled with the sounds of water splashing and seagull cries. The boat rocks back and forth as its body cuts the gray waves. Young men murmur in low voices, looking overboard into the ocean.

It smells of green at the landing site. To the west pink lights burn in the horizon, to the east the camp’s lights break the incipient shadows at the edge of the field. 

The inside smells of bodily fluids, and the sheets are dripping with sweat. In the darkness, the occasional sprout of a snore, late night conversations or even furtive sobs break the monotonous hum of gunshots coming from the front.

Wet mud squelches under a barrage of boots. The walls of the trench are tall, and a foul stench of rotten food and dead bodies fills the air. Beyond lays the lunar landscape of the battlefield. A voice shouts an order, a machine gun spits a round of fire and a mass of uniforms, shaven faces, and bayonets thrusts itself forward through the barren field. 

He lays there, his back flat over the wet soil. Around him the battle rages. One or two of his comrades jump over his stretched arms before turning back, look at his waning gaze and continue their advance towards the other side. 

A big sharp pain spreads through his body from under his ribs. His arms are heavy and his gaze cloudy. He hears some voices speaking in a foreign tongue grow loud, linger for a second over his head and then turn faint before a gunshot startles him one last time. 

Modern times

I had been sitting there for ten minutes, feeling inadequate as the gazes of other customers paused on my figure and the empty seat besides mine. I ordered a glass of water and kept ripping small pieces of the napkin on top of which the bartender left the sweaty glass.

I felt a slight tap on my shoulder, turned around and there she was, wide big blue eyes and pink cheeks, as if she had been running, cheered by the clapping of her heels on the pavement to get there. I was pleased to see she looked far better than the portrait her pictures had painted of her.

The following two hours went on as expected. We exchanged brief accounts of the wheres and whens of our lives, just as the other two or three couples that had just met were doing in other sections of the bar. We looked at each other’s eyes, touched each other’s forearms a couple of times, downed two glasses of wine and said goodbye with a hearty hug in front of diverging platforms of the subway station.

One day I got to see the two purple sofas in her apartment’s living room, and smell the peach scent of her hand soap, and even to “take the stairs, because the elevator is broken” in the morning.

The rest was mostly uneventful, what followed was a story that perhaps lasted three weeks until our lives disentangled without any words but with a lot of understanding. She did have some amusing quirks, and I could have conceivably imagined a life with her, but I never did. I couldn’t. And she either noticed, or she couldn’t imagine one either. One day the phone stopped ringing and I assumed it would continue doing that, spitting silence. I can only imagine she thought the same, because I never saw her again.

I’ve been thinking how to land this story with either a metaphor or a complaint, but I can’t seem to find any. I guess this short text is just what it is, a tale of the tangling and untangling of lives, of arms, of sweaty bodies, and hungry mouths and ending in a flat silence, one with no moral qualities, just like the tiny white moment that follows an orgasm.

Morning time

“Giant wave rushes down” I heard the two old men chatting at the table to my right. They talk as their coffee cups become emptier. It is a cold foggy morning and white light pours over all of us from a partly shaded sun. It falls like a cold silver shower on the garden touching with careful fingers white chairs gathered around black tables, and purple blossoms hanging from bright stems among wide green leaves.

“It is a painful inflammatory condition” he adds. And the second man nods, sips his coffee with his eyes fixed on the visible cracks of the black table’s skin. There is a pause in their conversation. A shade passes through his forehead, he mumbles one thing then another and as if steering an airplane away from a knot of turbulent winds, he lands on a different topic “Portland is a great place”. 

In the tiny pause that ensues they look at their neighbor, me, this man crouched on top of a notebook writing furiously as if assaulting the white page. Unaware their words are metamorphosing into ink the second man replies “That’s where my sister in law lives” before resuming their conversation.

A tiny girl with big round blue eyes shining like turquoise marbles on her forehead looks at me with the curiosity of those for whom the world is new. There is a group of Indian folks to my left, filling the air with foreign syllables and in front two university students read their notebooks, look at their laptops and scroll down their phones all at the same time. 

The sun’s white round circle burns warmer as people pour into the garden. Suddenly the murmur of conversation fills the place, enveloping all with the sounds of a world suddenly filled with lives other than my own.

Silence has fallen on the table to my right. A clatter of china, and a screeching of metal on cement makes me turn my head. They walk away with short careful steps and disappear through the black revolving door, their words growing fainter until they are no more.

Train ride

We stand there in front of the dark window of the first wagon of the train. Ahead of us and preceded by the noise of wheels scratching over metal the darkness splinters into blue shadows leaving us with a swift sight of the train tracks.

Our reflections are there, looking back at us from the black window. She looks at herself, combing with her blue eyes the contour of her dark hair searching for a hidden meaning behind this composition of light and shadows. Her gaze is fixed on her own figure, the curve of her body bends gently finding refuge on my chest. A pensive frown rests on her brow. The lines of her face have been reduced to simple strokes of color, softened by the brush of light that has painted her reflection.

I wonder what does she think. I look at that skin that is again soft and spotless and catch the sparkles of a defiant gaze, lost in the admiration of the smooth contours of her own reflection. And as I pull her closer to my chest I see her eyes crawling through the mirror and landing on my own.

Kiss, step, step, kiss. A voice pours down over us from the wagon’s loudspeakers. The train jolts back and forth before finally stopping at the station and a stream of light washes our two figures away.

The fall

They keep talking. Ok. They talk and talk, and I listen here from the adjacent table while I drink my beer. One, two, three, their words fall from their mouths to the pavement and break. I see the trace of ink leaving a bloody pool on the floor. Ok. I keep quiet for a moment, while I feel the bubbly alcoholic liquid become foam in my mouth. Alright.

They brought the bill. I see two coins resting on the table as I stand up. A pair of lonely rays of sun dance over the tabletop tying and untying a knot of light with their sinuous movements.

The sun rests above all, and its rays pierce the water’s skin. It is a lazy day and I walk down the road and in front of the river. Ok. I think. I lift my head and feel the flame of light burn my cheeks.

There is a placid minimal wind running eastwards following the course of the water. It plays with the river waves, curls of hair, sweet leaves of grass and unsuspecting hats in its race towards the sea.

If I close my eyes I can hear it. Yes, it is there. The sound of air carving a hollow circular cave in my ears. It is there, sunny and gray and cold, and full of ghastly winter chills and delicious summery warmth. I sit still on that bench. A few curious fingers of the ivy hanging from the wall behind me, touch the back of the seat. The water flows in front of me, relentless and quiet and the city and its gears are behind me, humming with the infinite complexities of human life.

I’ve found it. Ok. I think and smile. Something stirs inside my chest with the soft boiling caress of a sweet melancholy. It surrounds me, that big everything that fills the void with the noise of cars, the howling of ambulances and the hurried walking of pedestrians as they sprinkle the air with the clap clap of their steps. It is then that the sound of everything becomes the sound of nothingness, and the immensity of this big screaming world comes crashing down on my head.

A sweet green fragrance of grass and smoke in my nostrils. A headache and a feeling of fullness. My ankle hurts. Yes. It is ok and I keep walking. The horn shouts and I stop there, as I wait for the light to turn green.

 

After un día lluvioso

There is rain on the road. Las llantas del auto dejan unas zanjas largas y profundas sobre la tierra húmeda al pasar. The air is clean, sweet and empty. Unas florecillas blancas descansan entre el pasto, brillando como perlas sobre terciopelo verde. A few clouds linger on top of us, gray and quiet, moving slowly through the space above us. El camino desemboca en la costa verdosa de un lago. I can see the dark silhouettes of fishermen casting their nets into the water. Sus barcazas de madera bailan oscuras sobre el agua como pedazos de hojarasca. The engine hums and behind me it leaves a trace of smoke.

Something missing

If I lay here on the high grass Carla can’t see me. I like this grass. It surrounds me and I can’t see her. She is there playing with the forks and spoons at the edge of the field and under that tree.  The sky shines cloudless and green and two long black birds circle, spiralling upwards and upwards directly on top of me.

I close my eyes. The sun hits my pupils and the world goes orange. It is warm and it smells of grass and dirt. There is barely any sound; the wind licks the back of my hands, and the exposed skin of my face.

I hear some steps and I think of Carla, but the sound of broken twigs passes behind my head and goes away.  I open my eyes and look at the birdless sky.  There are no clouds, no big black shadows, no noises, no wind, and there is only a constant patch of a greenish blue.

We biked from the city. We took a long and winding road that not many know about. It goes through a placid meadow filled with the sweet stems of spring grass before it passes through a forest, coiling under the shadow of big and muscular trees until it reaches the park.

The sky has a very slight green hue, green memory of the prehistoric sea dwelling under our feet. When they were digging the lake, the excavator would spit out piles of sand and sea shells. I can’t help but think that the nights of the past are still shinning under me. Silvery skeletons of stars are shining under the grass over water now long gone.

There is something missing, missing from this placid day, missing up there in the heights of a clear sky. I look up into the blue and look inside myself and I can’t find it. I can’t find it.

There is always something missing. I have never known what it is. Robert drinks, and I drink with him, and we keep drinking until the street lights are all yellow, and distant, and the buildings turn into hallucinating creatures of a thousand eyes and mouths and I can’t find it.

Carla whispers something to my ear. And the night surrounds us as we kiss and move and our naked bodies fuse into one, and then it comes, the horrid realization that not even an instant of oblivion, not even an instant of death can fill it. I can’t find it. I know it is there, there in the yellow lights, somewhere in the middle of a nameless orgasm, lost in the starry memories of that prehistoric sea. Maybe we should take all the sand and shells out from the womb of this park, maybe if we dig enough we will find the reflection of the night.

I don’t know why I think these things. Carla laughs when I talk about them and sometimes she looks at me with her big eyes and says nothing.  And then I say nothing and we keep quiet. It is a placid day and the grass is high around me. Carla is playing with the forks and spoons; I can hear their metallic clapping mixed with the sound of her laughter.

Flying kites

The door closes. The street is silent. Sundays are slow days. The cherry trees are blossoming. We walk and laugh. We walk and laugh again. Up that hill they are flying kites. “I want to get one” I whisper to  her ear. It is windy and I can see the carcases of my words go away. They are floating around us, threaded to our kissing mouths only by the silence that lingers between us. The hill is steep and the city shines beyond the park.