Back at her place, alone was a detriment, from the cold covered furniture trapped under white sheets that folded under her weight. Goosebumps crawled along the hairs of her arms as a vent jetted out air with a negativity that found its way through the ceiling panes.
She didn’t even want to call him, but she’d already dialed his number, the numbing comfort of having him around was more than enough to keep her stomach turning.
“Lets meet for a drink,” she speaks into the little speaker, a kitchen window leaked the ting of wind chimes.
“I don’t’ know, somewhere on the East side of town—”, far from this part of town.
Anna put on her jacket and stepped out, her back stiffened to the cold, along with a breath callousing around her lips. She tightened her fingers around her coat as another brush of air hit the wind chimes.
We all need time to heal after we’ve cut someone open.
An alarm went off in the queue of email alerts on a Vaio, a phone mimicked it with dull vibrations before it emptied out.
She slept lightly, it kept her at the tepid edge of her dreams, so she drew her head off the threaded pillow. Her toes curled against the cold floor, and the comforter fell along the low edge of the bed. Reality bit as a cold breeze that left its mark in goose bumps along her skin.
Along the adjacent rooms canvases hung with pale sheets covering them, sharp edges shied a peek at her as she walked through the dusty flat. She picked up a phone, removed the plastic covering off the screen and let her voicemails strain across a small speaker.
‘Anna, you should consider coming into the office, working remotely ain’t always good for you…’ A female voice spoke.
She did fine, her work hadn’t taken a hit, she’d never missed a deadline. The documents are coming in later, but it’s still hours earlier than anyone else.
End. Loops to next voicemail.
She walks around the island pressing cotton boy shorts against the counter, prepping instant coffee.
‘Hey Anna,’ speakers crinkle, ‘about the other week—’
The coffee bag slips from her hand, she leans over to hit DELETE before the phone overstepped its boundaries. Certain voices had no place in her world, they came stringing audible memories, and certain fallacies with them. Words that explained themselves always seemed so empty to her.
She moved past a console table, slender fingers brushing the top of a picture frame, putting it down on its face.
‘It’s time for a girl date.” Another message recited. Dates, hanging out, meetings, all were proper words for empty interactions.
The insta-coffee brewed, the toaster pops. She never saw a point in exerting effort if it was just for her, with a lack of an audience around, every afternoon was simple prep.
One bite into the toast, drawing it with her teeth, she noticed the time on the microwave. It blinked in simple repetition.
“Shit.” She slid the phone into the seam between boy shorts and hips, she was going to blow an early dinner for the third time in a row.
In the bathroom her reflection stared back at her, a hangover was glazing over with a headache strumming with one of the strata that followed, her emotions boiled, and she pressed her canines against her lip. She’d found a way of burying the weight of anything, and all it took was a small smile.
She turned the shower tap, water drizzled in, and she shut it just the same staring back at a mirrored wall, she shuffled a hand through her hair and threw it to one side, light locks shined with a dirtied sheen.
A knock came on the door.
She squeezed into dark faded jeans, a one-leg hopscotch after another. She leaned against the door for support, peeking through the peephole.
A cardboard box obscured her view, so she carefully opened the door.
“Hey,” she could only see long legs behind the box, and they fidgeted till a head peeked around the corner.
“Package for,” The feminine voice paused reading the shipping docket, “Jack.”
“Oh, he’s not here anymore.”
She relieved herself of the box, “Yeah, he’s always ordering these kinda things.”
The delivery girl talked as if she knew him, likely friendly dialogue, which came off intrusive in the wrong circumstances.
“Yeah, he left, took all those packages with him,” at a glance she was surprisingly young to be running deliveries, with dark locks and cherry gloss on her lips. “This really your gig?”
“Why not? A woman can’t deliver packages?”
Anna gave out a laugh, “No, just young for it.”
“You must’ve missed the memo on the millennials and their crippling college debt.”
“Trust me, I got it, twice.”
“I still got a problem, I need his signature,” she tapped the delivery docket with two fingers.
“Then grab a drink, it might be a while,” Anna leaned off the door, letting it prop open all the way. She moved back into the apartment grabbing her phone.
“Last delivery of the day, but who drinks at four?” Another tap, this time on her wrist, an invisible watch. All her tapping was peculiar, habitual.
Back at the door the box was deceptively light for its size, Anna swayed it into the apartment with a few kicks, taking a moment to look at the deliverer’s nametag, “Imogen, I’ll make sure it finds its way back home.”
“Your call, Thomas,” Imogen handed the docket to her, “Sign at the bottom.”
The door began to close behind her, catching on Imogen’s foot, “There a coffee shop around here you’d recommend?”
A deliberate smile works its way onto Anna’s face, “That wasn’t the kind of drink I meant.”
“Yeah. I kinda got that, like I said, who drinks at—“
“—You already asked that question.”
“Four blocks down, on the right. It’ll be at 40-17 Broadway.”
Imogen gave another tap to the door, slipping off a navy cap, a bun of hair covered her long face, “Where was that again?”
She was surprised that someone who made deliveries around town had such a lacking sense of direction.
“I’m heading out that way, I guess I can change my drink preference.” Anna said.
The coffee shop split in two sides, an eatery and the small coffee counter, the shop wasn’t profound. A short line formed, with coffee brewing smells that filled the air. Imogen asked what’s good at the joint, and Anna just responded by pointing at the chalkboard that hung behind coffeepots.
Anna rattled her order to the barista, fiddling in her change purse, till her fingers caught a folded bill in cardstock.
It was crinkled with faded text, only bated images remained. With a puzzled turn to its backside, its signature still faint she slipped it tightly between her fingers and the barista shouted next, she made her way towards the patio door, her steps were quite, and defiantly detached of the world they’re in.
Fingers squeezed the paper in her hand, she was dangerously absent from feeling her surroundings, from the breeze that made its way against her floral dress to the brisk smell of the air.
Imogen made her way out to a fenced in area, Anna leaned against wooden planks with an embossed ‘Harlem’ in enlarged font. She took a seat across from her, captivated by the loud city streets that were just over the partition.
“Like it?” Anna asked her.
“Yeah, it’s not far from where I usually make these deliveries.”
“So, how long you been in this career?”
“Careers the wrong word, currently in law school, I just need to make money for books. Is that sad? All this work just for books? Not even the tuition itself? It feels sad.”
“Can’t say it can’t be.”
Anna let her drink stew, till the smoke settled to condensation.
“I told you, I found out twice what college debt looks like.”
“Dropped out twice.”
“Third times a charm then?” Imogen said, with a tenacity of comfort in her words.
Anna kept her response to herself, leaning farther back against the fence rustling with the sound of chains. It always surprised her when strangers could be friends under sober circumstances.
Imogen didn’t commiserate in the silence between them quite the same, she watched a couple walk in, scarfs on the warm day and arms locked.
“A couples kinda shop is the vibe I’m getting.”
The couple sat down and whispered in each others ear till the barista came delivering a mug for the fella and a cup for the gal. Anna watched them with dull introspection.
“You ever wonder if they have an interesting story of how they met, came to be?”
“Is it ever an interesting story?” Anna replied.
“Not often, interesting isn’t easy.”
“Easy? I doubt it was easy.”
“Don’t tell me you’re a romantic,” Imogen said.
Anna flicked towards the couple, “Look at that, people like that, wonder what their backstory is like, all the hard ones and moments they let go. So they white lie, about life, money, love, that this was the real deal. but no one buys that. Nobody’s somebody’s first or last by choice. It’s all about a consolation prize of a lie. ”
“You really have to be so literal?”
“Imogen, I get that you’re the type of girl who puts stories to people.”
“No. People are just fascinating, even in how seemingly dull they are.”
She enjoyed her coffee, taking a moment to wipe the foam from her lips.
“This ain’t half-bad.”
Loneliness is easier to accept than other people.
Beauty is irrelevant when there is no one to share it with.
She looked at his phone as he walked off, a black sculpture was the background with him at its side and he had a surprised look as he stared up at it. All it took was one photo to stop a stranger from being that, she could tell a million things, from the crease in his forced smile, to the way he stood by the sculpture at his height.
She shrugged it off and dialed a number, a pause struggling to remember the digits, erasing the first set she re-entered a different combination.
Putting the phone to her ear it began to ring, watching him as he leaned over the counter and spoke to the waitress, his shirt sagged along the curvature of his back, arms crossed.
He had an easy indifference to him, it didn’t matter where he was, he just belonged.
To her people could only belong in contrived ways, they either fit and this was what they were, or they’d been stripped of their roots, that no matter where they were placed they couldn’t grasp into the ground beneath them, so it all felt the same; an uncomfortable indifference.
“Yeah. That place, right off the highway,” after hanging up the phone, it was a short conversation, and she’d already forgotten it.
He came back to the booth, taking a seat up right, then landing into a slouching position, sinking his weight into the red cushion.
She didn’t respond, they were caught again in the spinning of an old vinyl record, hiccupping and looping the same verse, neither of them exchanging a word.
After a long skip and loop.
“They’re looking at us,” she finally said, wiping at the mascara that followed her natural wrinkles.
He glanced around the diner. “Forget’em.”
They were the type of people that made an old diner romantic, a landscape out of a movie. Just them two, leaving the place dull in color, everyone sitting in their theater chairs caught in their show. She felt uncomfortable in feeling important.
“Who was he?” he asked.
“Who was what?” she said.
“Walking down the street at the crack of morning, crying, make up running. That’s the look.”
“The look of a girl who’s had her heart broken for the last time. Right before you’re done with it, you cry it out, you hurt more than you ever did. Then you’re done, you’re empty,” he said. “So who was he?”
“He wasn’t anyone.” She didn’t have an explanation for him, more than she had for herself, so she kept her emotions bubbling under the surface.
The waitress came up to them, “Eggs, sunny side up, hash browns, and a patty melt.” She dropped off the food and gave him a look as if to ask if the stranger he’d brought was okay.
“Thank you,” he said.
They ate with a pause, each of them saying a reflective prayer. She poked at her food, and he moved his plate away after a few bites. She winced at the brightness of the sky now, his skin was tanner than she remembered, an olive tone ran down the low cut of his shirt.
“I hate to leave, but I have work soon,” he stood up, folding a few twenties from his pocket, wrapping them in a bent flyer. He placed them under the napkin holder. “I already foot the bill, the twenties are there incase your ride doesn’t show.”
“I can’t take it.”
“It’s for my peace of mind,” he said. “Get a cab if you need it.”
“Guy—” She didn’t want to accept his charity.
“—Guy? I don’t do nicknames very well. Call me Porter. Everyone does. I’ll see you around,” he walked off before she could give her name. They were still strangers.