I think I said I’d post this a week ago, but it didn’t happen. Apologies. Things came up, you know. Anyway…
I originally posted this story way back at the beginning of October when my first short story workshop was approaching. Going into that workshop, I wasn’t sure what I thought of the story. When I left the class, I never wanted to touch the story again, mostly because it didn’t have the effect on my classmates that I thought it would. I wanted to bypass the “placing-the-story-in-a-drawer-and-leaving-it-sit” stage and shred the paper copies and delete the file from my MacBook.
This wasn’t possible, though, because as my luck would have it, the story needed to be substantially revised and included as part of the final portfolio for the end of the class.
I put the revisions off as long as possible, picking the story up again two weeks from the day it was due (December 7th). I marked the paper copy up so much, I nearly went through an entire red gel pen. The end result was a bit more cohesive and understandable than the first draft. It, along with the revision of another story, was enough to get me an A in the course.
In any case, if you’re interested in reading the new version, click on. And as always, feedback is appreciated.
“I’ve been through a lot,” I casually mentioned, as I stood with Patrick under a red and yellow marquee that flashed the name Othello. “Seen even more, though, I think.”
Traffic, even in the dreary, misting weather, sped by on the one-way, throwing a dark wave of stale rainwater across our legs and feet. Neither of us paid it any mind. As with every Friday night, when the film ended, people shuffled up and down the sidewalk that turned out of sight around the corner. The low, indistinct chatter, flashing of cell phones, and shrugging of shoulders that we were privy to was exactly what one would expect from such a group of late-night film fanatics.
“Yeah?” Patrick responded. “Like what, Lena?”
I couldn’t tell from his tone if he was genuinely interested or if he was just trying to humor me. He ran a hand through his wavy, pitch black hair and tilted his head to the left, mirroring my own actions with near-perfect precision. Our shoulders touched; I think they did, but my kinesthetic perception is bad, and I wasn’t sure I felt it through the anxiety and terror of random conversation with this man who always appeared out of nowhere on Friday evenings.
“Oh, most everything, really.” A light bulb flashed out on the marquee above us. I suddenly felt like some of my color leached out into the surrounding world. “Most anything you could imagine.”
A black pigeon flew between us.
“That’s odd,” I muttered. “Have you ever seen a black pigeon before?” I couldn’t really tell, but I think Patrick smiled. Maybe I only thought that because his face sat the same way mine did—in a perpetually innocent smirk.
Patrick spoke through the filter of a snuffed-out cigarette. “Aren’t all pigeons black, especially at night beneath a marquee?”
I shrugged, ignorance covering indifference or embarrassment—either one, it didn’t matter.
He dropped his cigarette to the pavement and crushed it into the surrounding watery blackness. My mouthed filled with a taste of tobacco and I coughed and spit out the taste as he began to speak again. “As for having seen and done things, I’m no stranger to the world, Lena. Let’s agree that for everything that’s ever happened that you didn’t do, I did.”
A cockroach tumbled down from the marquee and over the front of Patrick’s checkered shirt. I recoiled, stepping away and brushing the front of my own shirt. He didn’t seem to care about what had just happened. The two of us watched as the insect crawled across the street, defying traffic, defying death, but mainly defying common sense it couldn’t possibly have possessed.
I filled the awkward silence when it became clear that he wouldn’t. “Did you know that if you cut off a cockroach’s head, it will live nine days before it starves to death?”
A mass of people walking past paid us no mind, except for a girl of about seven who asked her mother why I talked to myself. I looked over at the girl and her mother as Patrick turned away from me; I think he did, at least—his face was distinctly indistinct in the shadows from overhead. Perhaps the girl had missed him as she walked by.
“Let’s agree that for everything you’ve ever thought, I’ve thought everything else,” he said.
With that, I was nearly positive that he was no longer facing me, although I still couldn’t be sure. Feeling rebuffed, I gave in and let the silence fall over us like a shroud. The cacophony that embodied downtown—the car horns, the splashing puddles as tires rolled through them, the voices of those around us—did the talking. Patrick and I listened quietly. As the night dragged inevitably on, a few more of the remaining light bulbs flashed out above us. I grew weaker. Tired. Suddenly, Patrick broke the silence.
“Do you feel like you disappear, Lena? At night, I mean. On nights like this one.”
I saw his face for what he was, then. A well filled with tar—thick, viscous, and impossibly deep—the same way I viewed myself sometimes. He would always say what I was afraid to, and I could do nothing but stare in his direction. “I like to think I’m there during the night, but I’m not sure,” Patrick said. “I’m not sure at all during times like these, so I try to stick to the light.”
My feet felt uncomfortable, like something was standing on them. He noticed my discomfort. He sensed it when I shifted my weight from my left leg to the right and back again.
“I always feel like someone is stepping on my feet, too,” he said. How could he know? Could he feel it, too?
Without warning, the marquee overhead flashed out completely and Patrick disappeared.
“Are you there?” I whispered.
There was no answer.