The Wall

We were early, not fashionably so. I had my ragged notebook in hand, my sweater the color of spring sunshine. When we walked in, our footsteps curious, the slate grey floor echoed our nerves.

I found a seat in the front and instantly made eye contact with the large, hand-painted wall at the far end. It was acrylic on brick, pastel on muddy brown, stories in every crack.

I heard a switch click on, flooding the room with lights that matched my sweater, breathing life into art that smelled like a wallflower. I saw five people, huddled around a table like it was their own little secret.

Jimmy played his guitar in a corner, for friends who liked his music better than him. I saw a violin on the next guy’s shoulder, he had struggle on his face and a rip on his faded white jeans.

The man in the center – I called him Karl – had his cards fanned out in the way that experts do, and a drink on the coffee table. He gambled the night away with his two other friends, mischief hidden in his dark brown eyes.

But when I was drawn into things that were more poetic than Jimmy’s guitar or Karl’s poker face and saw heads down, hair streaked with the glow of active smartphones, words tumbling into poetry with every breath, I felt Jimmy play along, Karl set his cards down and the violin? The violin was finally in tune with our shaky words.

Magic?

It’s a sunny afternoon, we’re done for the day, eager to head home to the ice-cream in our freezer – and that’s when we see you. An image flashes before my eyes, one that I haven’t seen in years: the bright-eyed little girl with plaits in ribbons, white blouse neatly tucked into her checked skirt, hoaxing me into a tree-to-tree game. So we call out your name, fingers crossed that you might turn, and in that split second that a million strings of fate untangle, you look up and stare us straight in the eye.

But no, I don’t believe in magic.

So what was it like, finding you after a decade of switched schools and lost phone numbers? It was as easy as hopping on a bus, getting off an hour later and finding ourselves at an open mic: packed with a creatively starved audience, the careless strumming of a guitar, dozens of fairy lights and the nervous munching of our loaded fries. I felt the butterflies escape as the flutter of poetry filled the quiet of a late evening sky. I wouldn’t want my first open mic attempt to be with anybody else.

But no, I don’t believe in magic.

You call me up one afternoon, tell me you’re being spontaneous and surely, a visit is in order. I find you at my doorstep in a few hours and as the night wears on, we bump into some grand adventures with unplanned sleepovers and planned gatorade. And as we spend all morning walking around town, finding insipid coffee and aesthetic brick walls for the polaroids we keep in our wallets, I feel the comfort of home wash over me, knowing I needed my monthly dose of happiness.

But no, I don’t believe in magic.

As you get ready to leave, we trace our stories backwards and plot connections worthy of constellations. You open the package I’ve left you and tell me that this particular book of poetry has been unduly stubborn about falling into your hands. I tell you that’s because it’s been waiting for you, one spontaneous bus ride away. My fingertips tingle as I type this, and yes,

I start to believe in magic.

Footsteps

We walked down a road where the sound of our footsteps – yours crisp and business-like, mine a docile shuffle – was the only sound for miles. You didn’t hold my hand and I didn’t listen to you grumble about the traffic.

It wasn’t the first time I’d noticed how different we were. I wore oversized sweaters in the summer and always carried a hair tie in my pocket. You liked geometry, comic strips and the thrill of not being rooted to a place.

We loved the same things, but for different reasons. I weaved your pillow talk into poetry, and you made my morning coffee.

We continued in this way, for a while. There was silence, classical music, shared garlic bread, a host of elevators and more silence.

I kept our picture in my wallet and pretended you still wished me good night everyday. You cared a little less when I cried, and worried a little more about our silences.

My courage, like my footsteps, was docile and in the end, you had to stop. We parted ways at the end of that road, tore down the little house we’d built and forgot our promises in the pockets of old raincoats.

I still wear oversized sweaters and keep that picture in my wallet. I miss my morning coffee, though. I can never get it strong enough.

If I ever came back to that road, I wonder if I’d still hear the steadfast sound of your footsteps, ringing in my ears, reminding me we were wrong from the start.

Strangers In A Coffehouse

Roasting coffee beans and the smell of a working oven greet me as I enter the coffeehouse. A brief, but definite tingle of excitement dances down the back of my neck: something’s different.

I wait in line for my hazelnut latte (I am predictable to a fault), and notice with some annoyance that my window seat’s been taken.

A young woman, seemingly in her 20’s, braided hair down to her waist, with topaz cat-eye glasses and a septum piercing that I secretly thought was très chic.

The more I look at her, the more it feels as though she is frozen in time.

But not the present, no.

She is far too entitled for the present.

I feel a little tug, gently grabbing me by the finger and pulling me to a different time, a time where I’d sit across from her and we’d discuss the pile of books on our coffee table; a pile that only grew higher with each passing day.

A time where her hair would be pulled back in an effortless bun that I could never, ever perfect and she’d have little half-moons below her eyes because she’d stayed up all night, perfecting her essay on Homer.

She would clutch her tenth mug of coffee so tight, her knuckles would turn bloodless and she rarely smiled because she didn’t like her teeth.

Her gray eyes sort of defined her; she wouldn’t stray far from a bleak existence.

But now, I see an almost firefly-like twinkle in her eyes, still grey but with little ripples breaking the surface, as she looks out the window, amused at something she’s read in her novel.

Her smile is wide and disarming, with dimples I’d never known about.

There is a pink in her cheeks, like she’d forced the color into her life.

Traces of the person I knew still lingered: in the earnest tightness with which she clutched the pages of her book and the peach iced tea on her coffee table.

But there was an air to her that made her seem almost foreign, unreal.

When she looks up a second time, she finds me staring and my cheeks flush with embarrassment.

Her smile appears almost as quickly; she calls my name, waves me over and wonders if I’d like a hazelnut latte.

I realize then, what is so different about her: she is unmistakably happy.