Through the looking glass

July 21, 2010
She was late. Not her fault of course, and besides the combination of throngs of irritable people traffic down town and his inability to adequately fill the day before they were together allowed him, under the pretence of killing time, to lose himself in the intimate reverie that could have been afforded only by a cookie-cutter fast food joint.
For brief flashes of time he could almost forget his surroundings, his mind tactfully disallowing the foam that spewed from his pastel patterned chair, the primal sobs of children who lusted for sleep and then he was any man, wrapping himself in the guilty thrill of an unknown quantity.
Often, like now, he simply found himself absorbed in thoughts of what was to come. He glanced around him offering the knowing smile of co-conspirators to the blank eyed young man sitting across from him methodically reducing his polystyrene cup to strips; despite the man’s clear preoccupation he felt his cheeks prickle with heat.
For the vivacity with which the images played across his mind allowed for no other possibility than that he was not alone in observing them, that it was not just he who watched as caught in a world unreachable to common touch she moved in her own stop start rhythm past the restaurant’s plexi-glass window, how the hands that gripped the straps of her backpack would suddenly jerk from their station to frame her face and half cover her eyes in a portrait of understanding sought. She would offer the sweet smile that was a mystery to all but him.
Slowly, renewed awareness of his surroundings floated back to him. Automatically he checked his watch, an unusually significant amount of time had passed. He gripped his now undrinkable coffee, warmed to the point of tepidity by the nervous heat that coursed through him, to disguise the shuddering motion of his hands; any second now.
His fear was inexplicable, given the anticipation that was its equal. The event he waited for was as intertwined in the fabric of his every day as the shrill series of beeps that woke him from a dreamless sleep at six forty-five exactly and the feel of a meticulously ironed khaki shirt beneath his unsettlingly elegant hands as he brought it forth from its neatly arranged replicas.
Her own attire fascinated him, and, as much as it pained him look away from those eyes he could not let a day go by without taking note of her clothing. Bound by inescapable regulation she managed somehow to make them her own; a turquoise glass brooch casually pinned to a jersey, a frayed ribbon laced through adding brilliant interruption to the velvet night black of her shoes. Tantalising hints of her.
She, who was a child’s splash of primary yellow sun transforming the patiently blank sky of construction paper, occupied the centre of every thought he had. Too bright, too brilliant, he knew it would hurt, but could not look away; the time for that was long past.
During the long hours where he neglected the work she left no room for, the ever present pull of eyes to the clock that told him a justifiable time to leave the bland safety of his office, to come here and continue to wait had not yet arrived, he took solace in knowing that she too was bound, was kept from sweet proximity to him by unforgiving routine, by the delegation of time that should have been theirs.
Despite the anticipation her appearance was preceded by, his heart began to race with renewed vigour as her colleagues, if such a word could be applied to those so juvenile, so uniformed, in every sense of the word wracking the high street air with their orchestrated whoops, passed by, as nothing more than a mere precursor to her.

The adrenalin, not helped by the coffee he had consumed, had long reached its peak and he was now most definitely on the decline. Like a child for whom the day has brought too much, he felt weariness wash over him. Leaving however was out of the question; he needed her even though she was never quite enough. He gritted his teeth against the familiar pain that now throbbed between his eyes, this emotion that raged though him refused to bow to any explanation his mind, accustomed to the black and white calculation of biddable figures, brought to bear upon it. Beyond doubt he knew this was wrong, and yet, here he was.
When I was seven years old I once sat staring with the solemnity only the very young possess through every second of a horror film, left in the video-player by my well-meaning but lax father whose sleeping figure formed a fort around me on the too small couch, the rhythm of his sleeping heart beat anchoring me through that long night of shocks more sickening for their predictability. For years afterward every night ended early with me in a limp and whimpering heap of sleeplessness. Yet I could not have looked away that night, for wondering was far worse than knowing.
This explained as far as it could that which I could never explain, even in the wordless language of feeling, why today, like every day with the exception of the two given to respite I find myself on this route home having spurned the numerous others. I walk alone through choice, Knowing I can never bring in witnesses even if I wanted; I cannot open that door and let the freezing air blast through their normality.
As if such a banal reminder of the ordinary existence, the action and reaction lying beyond the restaurant’s façade could help; I hitch down my skirt with familiar self-consciousness. As if it counts. I walk as fast as my too tight black shoes and my stubborn air of the unaffected allow, eyes cast downwards until the last moment. Then I look, he looks, and as always, we look for a heartbeat more

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