He had dressed with too much care; that was it. He dressed with the practiced care of a man wishing to appear careless. The same mistake marked him every night. If he had been able to notice it he never would have begun everything in the first place. But here he was, in his small apartment. It was remarkable only in its perpetual state somewhere between compulsive organization and general neglect. The Drive, Work, Drive Back, There, the perfect Get Ready, Go, Search, Drive, and finally Sleep tempo beat through him without regret. Pulsing unquestioned, it had become his heart. There was no crescendo that night; no fermata; no rumbling from the orchestra pit of his thickly carpeted desperation. There was a rhythm. The tone, timbre, and pitch were the same as every other Tuesday. 1, 2, 3, 4, leave the car, shut the door. 5, 6, 7, 8, buy a drink, sit down and wait.
The count is over, so what am I waiting for? Stupid. Just a few glances flashed twice and then perhaps once more. Why have I felt so uneasy? Need to find a new Tuesday spot. It was the button, I’ll sew it back on tomorrow. Open bag, insert book, close it up, take one last look.
Green and grey together. I…. [A pause, a contrivance, and then…]
Mind and heart are racing in lockstep. Pounding, coursing, boiling their way through veins and side streets both blood and body fled the scene. Oh, God, the scene! It was the scene of his death; the scene of the tempo kicking, reeling, falling into nothing. Crashing, smashing, going. And now he’s rushing, turning the engine, pushing, and fleeing. Yes, fleeing.
Blurry lights flashed by and then a tree stepped in my way. I taste warm metal. Is it seatbelt? No. Seatbelts don’t go in my mouth; they go in the push-click.
I never saw him walk in, I just let my eyes slide through my friend and there he was. He was opening a book. Goethe, I think. Who reads Goethe? It seemed almost intentionally obscure to me. There he was, just sitting and reading. I got this strong feeling that even though his eyes were moving side to side to side and always down he was really just watching us. Whenever somebody shifted their weight towards him, looked at him, or walked in or out there was always some small accompaniment in his face or eyes. A small drift of his gaze, a slow shift in his brow, something. His fingers would make small intentional movements, like he was counting. He must have been marking time somehow because one hour after I noticed him he put everything in his satchel and looked up.
He noticed, finally, that I had been watching him. Right as he dropped the book in and fastened left and right his dark eyes flicked upward and found mine. He froze, like I had caught him stealing something. He just stayed like that: mostly hunched over, looking straight. Rigidly, breathlessly, staring; like he had died.
And then he just got up and ran out. He fumbled with the bag. That was it.
I can move. I can get out. I can stand. My car’s pretty screwed up.
His face shows nothing as he sinks slowly to the ground. He sits there for a few minutes, not moving, not even thinking. Just existing completely separate from the world he has built up for years.
I have to go back. She won’t be there, but I have to at least see that she’s gone.
THE LONG WALK
He tumbled to his feet and turned his back on the wreckage. It never occurred to him that his face was probably covered in blood, that his clothes were far from perfect, that his lip was swollen. As he walked down the gravel path on the side of the road his mind never left that 40×20 space where he had found his freedom; his tearing, soaring, horrifying freedom. It took 24 minutes to crunch his way back to the coffee shop but years later the only thing he would remember about that walk was bright ocean eyes.
Walking up to the shop’s cookie-cutter exterior he finally saw his reflection in the front window and realized what everyone was about to see. Exhaling to a stop, he watched himself shudder and then be still. For a moment it captivated him. But gradually, the desire to catch another glimpse of her gripped him. He let his eyes slowly slide through the pane and look into the bright warm envelope inside.
There she was. She was talking with her friend, still. How could they find so many words for each other? He realized that he had nothing to say to her. The words wouldn’t come. Maybe they never will. What was he trying to do, to prove? He watched her until she happened to glance at the window. He watched her until the glance became parted lips and widened eyes.
She recognized him, clearly. Slowly, uncertainly, she took in the blood and the rising bruises. He looked at her sitting there, he saw her as if seeing for the first time. He was really looking at someone now, not just searching for his own reflection in their eyes.
What must she think of me? That I’ll come in shooting? What?
Her friend had begun staring now, too, along with many of the others. He realized that he didn’t care. He hadn’t been counting their eyes, carefully adding up the sum total of their attention. All he knew, all he wanted to know, was sitting there in front of him.
He blinked, turned, pulled the door open, and stumbled inside. As he crossed those last few feet he blurted something out. He said it loud, loud enough for everyone to hear.