The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Life Stories
Be Right Back
I’m sitting across from Jane in the outdoor area of my favorite Indian Food restaurant in Los Angeles. She’s dressed casually. Her hair, longer than the last time I saw her, is falling out of her hood that she has drawn, perhaps because she is cold.
The courtyard of the restaurant is shaded and peaceful as usual, a vine-covered fountain in the corner adding a trickle of background noise to our conversation. She’s doing most of the talking, her brown eyes brimming with tears as she describes to me her feeling about this man she’s been dating who may or may not be ending things.
“I’m cursed,” she says, covering her mouth dramatically, and I think about curses.
I’ve heard of curses being passed down from father to son, mother to daughter, or even family wide, down through the generations, like a recessive gene one is only reminded of when some series of events triggers its reappearance, causes it to rear its misfortunate head. Jane believes her curse is with men. She believes she is cursed to forever be left by emotionally unavailable men who will learn to love after they have walked out of her life. She is just “preparing” them for some other luckier, uncursed woman.
I thank the waiter when he comes to our table to refill our glasses with water. He’s a middle-aged Indian gentleman who I suspect is also the owner, and he makes brief eye contact with me as he pours my glass. I can see in his expression that he’s proud of me, or something like proud of me, for having brought a beautiful, crying woman to his restaurant. I’m sure he’s come to think of me as something of a loner, having seen me eat here alone at this very table on so many recent occasions. But today I’m not alone.
Jane picks up her phone, which has been vibrating incessantly since we sat down, and presses a button with her thumb to make it stop. The bright afternoon sun is casting light spots all around us through the veranda and jasmine overhead, and countless beads of condensation can be seen collecting on our glasses. Jane has very full cheeks that reflect light, similar to my water glass, and her eyes, usually dark brown, are clear enough now to see her pupils. She looks at me, expectantly.
I take a sip of my water. She goes on.
“I love him more than anything, but he doesn’t know how to accept it. It scares him. I see it on his face when I’m talking to him, he just withdraws into himself,” she says, putting a lot of emphasis on that word withdraws. She is an actress. Emphasis is one of her specialties.
“Like a turtle?” I ask.
“Yes, John. I guess like a turtle.”
And we sit there in silence for a long moment, stilling ourselves, me looking at Jane, Jane looking at me. As I stare at her face so present all of the sudden, I think maybe she’s even looking into me, seeing whatever there is really to see there, the various processes that go on somewhere behind my eyes that in the world of my imagination connect the name John, when it is uttered, with this idea of me, an idea I’m for whatever reason having trouble recalling the meaning of now. It’s as if where I end and where the restaurant surrounding me, or for that matter Jane sitting across from me, begins, is wherever I say. My face? The tip of my nose? Or maybe my right hand? Or better yet, at some point in space, somewhere over the table perhaps, out there closer to Jane, who is again checking her phone.
“Pick it up,” I hear myself say.
She looks up at me and tells me she doesn’t want to.
“He’s probably just worried about me,” she says, “calling to make sure I’m not dead in a ditch somewhere.”
I look at her straight. She sighs and without another word puts the phone to her ear and says hello. I pick up my glass and put it to my lips and drink what remains of the cold water. Jane’s conversation is brief - she says things like “eating lunch,” and “why does that matter,” and “maybe later.”
I let her words wash over me, contemplating the ice cube I’m letting melt in my mouth. I tongue the rapidly shrinking piece of ice to a space behind my teeth, trying to pay attention to the cold, the sharpness of it, to this moment at which a little square of ice transitions into a slightly less cold liquid. Water is one of the few substances on Earth that expands when it is frozen, or slowed, depending on how closely one looks at the process, and I feel the frozen piece of ice in my mouth, now just a sliver, speeding up, accelerating, as it reverts to a liquid state against the tip of my tongue.
I remember as a boy sitting in the kitchen at the house of my babysitter, Maring, who would serve me water with ice in the long afternoons while I waited to be taken home. Maring’s husband worked for the railroad track, so there were photos of a much younger version of him hanging off of train cars all over the walls, as well as little, plastic model train engines on top of the window sills. For fun, or maybe out of pure boredom, I would peer into the mason jars Maring served me full of water and ice cubes, and imagine the configuration of ice floating in the upper part of the jar was actually a huge superstructure of ice, of planetary proportions, and I could almost hear the massive weight of the cubes as they shifted, their cataclysmic melting occurring at an almost imperceptible rate in the water.
Many years later, after I’d moved to Los Angeles and after my out-of-college girlfriend had subsequently left me for another man, I remembered that vision of childhood, as my entire life seemed to have slowed around me in the now barren apartment I had once shared with my girl. Needless to say her absence was conspicuous: in our queen size bed, in the kitchen beside the large window that overlooked the entry, on that corner of the couch where she used to sit, the look of concentration on her face illuminated in the ghostly light of her laptop. And I could not for the life of me seem to dispel the ridiculous notion that she had simply evaporated into thin air, and that maybe the slightest change in conditions could bring her back.
It was some time in the midst of these dog days that I gazed out my bedroom window at the view to the west, and an entire month passed by me like nothing had happened. I do not mean a calendar month. What I mean is the scene I saw outside my window became stuck in the appearance of a sunny afternoon moment of pigeons scattering skyward and palm trees doing nothing and a single, minuscule jet plane adding its deliberate geometry to an otherwise empty sky. If I could have looked away, at anything, I would have, but I knew there was nothing else. So I just stood there staring, and I felt the hours transitioning into days, the days into weeks, my body aging in real time as the rest of the world moved on without me, and I can tell you I was positively exhausted by the end of that experience, so much so that when I did finally become unstuck in time, or let back in, depending on how you look at it, after sleepless weeks standing at my window and taking in that same somehow unchanging California moment, I collapsed into bed and tried to imagine who I could call to explain what had just happened to me, how my life had slowed to the point of an absolute, leaving me utterly alone without even the promise of a next anything. But I knew no one would understand, so I just lay there in my bed and sobbed like a small child, until mercifully, night fell.
Los Angeles is a place with very little natural ice. Most of the water, when it is present at all, is in the air, in a vaporous state. It’s not uncommon to take in a night view of the city lights from the top of a hill, the Griffith Observatory, for example, and see millions of artificial points of light partially obscured by huge glowing blankets of mist crawling across the super luminescent grid that is Los Angeles; the diffuse air born bodies making their natural progression eastward from the sea, back to somewhere in the high mountains where the water will again freeze, fall from the sky, and wait for something to change it back to liquid form so that it might begin the whole downhill process again. In any case I’ve heard people refer to this city as the city of angels, and this marine climate effect that brings big clouds from the pacific low enough to envelop buildings and touch tree tops, is perhaps the only angelic thing I’ve ever seen in this place.
Today, there is no visible mist in the sky. It’s all burned off with the morning by the time Jane and I leave the restaurant and begin our walk down Sunset Blvd. I’m holding both our leftovers in a single Styrofoam container and Jane points excitedly at various commercial enterprises as we walk, asking me if I’d like to go – to the arcade or the froyo shop or the beer and liquor store. I can tell she’s in a playful mood now and I take it all with a grain of salt.
We pass a group of smiley brown-skinned school children arguing with the feigned intensity of adults, and then a haggard down-on-his-luck-type with longing in his eyes, and then a pair of very small, very colorfully-dressed women speaking in a different language – Armenian probably – And I notice that time is moving quite fluidly as I walk down Sunset with Jane, more so the more time we spend together. I suspect Jane feels it too, because when we get to the intersection where we would need to part ways to get to our respective homes we both hesitate, and instead of saying goodbye we stand on the corner and face one another.
“How can anyone say they hate LA,” Jane says, closing her eyes and angling her face to the sun. “It’s perfect here.”
I wonder for a moment, looking at her with her eyes closed and her face in the sun, if I could love Jane, with her self-diagnosed curse. She knew me before I moved here, and I think we’ve both wondered what it would be like between us.
I let these thoughts move through me, and squint up at the sun.
“LA does have its wonders,” I say.
“Not to mention, I’m here,” Jane says and gives me a smart look.
“That much is obvious.”
Jane begins to smile but touches her upper lip to make it go away, the way she does when she’s embarrassed. For an actress, she embarrasses easily.
“So, are you coming with me or what?” she says after a moment, gesturing in the direction of her apartment, and I say the only thing I can say: why not?
Our walk down Jane’s street feels like the natural crescendo to our afternoon together. Jane takes the Styrofoam container out of my hands and carries it herself and then wraps her arm tightly around mine. We walk like that for a few blocks, arm in arm, passing hectic domestic life as it exists in Jane’s neighborhood in East Hollywood.
“Maybe people like you and me, we’re just not supposed to have normal relationships. For us, love isn’t meant to stay put,” she says, looking up at me, “we get the best of it, but temporary, only in catches, never the whole picture.”
I’m entertaining Jane’s idea, about to say something about how if we got any more it wouldn’t be fair to the others, when she abruptly stops me at the corner of the sidewalk about half a block from her apartment.
“That stubborn fucker,” she says, looking up ahead. There's a hint of glee in her face, and I follow her gaze to a little black motorcycle parked in the street directly in front of her apartment complex.
“Is that your boyfriend’s bike?” I ask.
“You know what,” she says, handing me the leftovers, “wait for me here.” Jane puts a hand on my chest as if to steady me where I stand, then gives me a swift kiss on the cheek before turning away from me. “Be right back!”
I watch Jane as she walks on the sidewalk away from me until she gets to her gate and goes up her walkway and disappears from sight. I can’t help but notice the front yard of Jane’s building is awfully drab and a tiresome thing to look at when she’s not a part of the scene, so I turn my attention elsewhere. I admire my shoes. I look at pigeons in a row on a slacking telephone wire, and beyond that, inanimate sky. An air conditioning unit somewhere nearby begins to drone. Otherwise the street is surprisingly still, except for me holding my leftovers, waiting for something to change.
© Ian Geronimo May 2014