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Our Place - Chapter 1
I hurt. It’s been a year, and still I hurt. I had hoped that it would stop, but it doesn’t slow, doesn’t ebb, doesn’t retreat to the back of my mind. At least, not for very long.
That day, two things happened that changed my life. Changed me. The first, I was able to brush off for a while, leave it be.
The second left me on my knees, weeping. And it only made the first hurt more.
Now, it’s today. And today, I don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t want to leave the deep, dreamless sleep. It was like a black cushion beneath my mind. Comforting.
Someone called me. I sat up. Pushed the covers down. Changed into work clothes. Brushed my teeth, my hair. Ate breakfast. It was all so routine, but I didn’t want it to change. Routine is a constant, safe and sound.
The sidewalk traffic left my dizzy. I couldn’t focus on the people, on their faces. They blurred past me in a never-ending motion of color and voice, problems and resolutions. It wasn’t always like that. It’s getting worse every day.
I made it to the office. I am late.
Adella, my boss says. His name is John. You’re late. That’s the third time this week. And it was twice last week.
As I was the week before that, and the week before that. I’m surprised he hasn’t fired me. I ought to feel lucky, but I don’t feel anything.
I’m sorry, I tell him. Monotone. I’ll try harder tomorrow.
I hope you will, he says. If you don’t…
Yes, sir. Perhaps I’m not so lucky after all.
You’re a hard worker, John continues. I hate to see you so down. I know some people you could talk to, if you would like that.
It’s been suggested before. I know nobody wants to hear me. Thank you, but no.
He nods, smiles, moves away. Get away from the crazy one before it catches.
I am left alone for the rest of the day. No one bothers anymore.
At home, it’s the opposite. They bother. They pester. They ask, they wonder, they suggest.
You need to get a man, my sister, Stacy, tells me. She’s 18. Only three years younger, and so naïve. She doesn’t know anything.
You’re wrong, I insist. I don’t need men. A small shiver runs down my back, quicksilver.
She frowns, then smiles and giggles. You’ll see, she says. You will someday find a guy that you can’t resist, and you won’t be able to do anything about it. He’ll be kind, and understanding, and handsome…
I stop listening. Her naiveté is shocking.
Adella? Adella! Come on, smile a little! It’ll be OK. Stacy has her hands on her hips, stubborn. I obligingly over-grin.
She sighs. It’s been a year already, she says. I mean, it still hurts me. But life goes on, you know?
Easy for her to say. She has no responsibilities. She doesn’t know anything.
That night, I go to sleep eager for darkness, for nothingness.
What does happen is different. A change. I close my eyes.
It’s too dark to see. Oh. There. A light. I move towards it, see that it’s a streetlamp. I’m standing in the middle of the street. Fifth Avenue. Where my office is.
I am alone. My footsteps are silent and deafening at the same time. At first the loneliness is oppressing, then I smile. I feel right somehow.
I move along the street, finally coming to the end where there is a park, long and giant. The grass is dew-covered and springy, fighting for space with huge oaks and rosebushes.
Now I am below the streetlamp I saw earlier. I twirl lightly. The air is damp and cold.
I spin. A voice? But aren’t I alone?
“Damn curb. Jesus, that hurts.”
A man’s voice, behind me, on the street. He is on the sidewalk, holding his foot. I can’t see his face.
Still, it makes me laugh. The action feels alien and wonderful.
The man looks up, sees me. He drops his leg to the ground.
“What’s funny?” he asks, coming over to me. He has a smile on his tired face, which I can now see is unshaven and drawn, his grey eyes drooping.
“Nothing.” I shake my head. Then, “Who are you?”
“David,” he says, looking at the leaves above him. “What’s your name?”
“That’s pretty,” he says. “Where are we?
“Central Park. Fifth Avenue.”
“Fifth? So this is Manhattan then. I’ve…never been to the park.”
“I have,” I say, looking down the path. “I come here for lunch sometimes.”
“Is this…a dream? I remember who I am, where I’ve been, which isn’t what usually happens in my dreams. I remember going to sleep,” he murmurs. His face is so tired, I am to reach out and touch it, try to smooth the wrinkles on his forehead. I don’t.
“I remember sleeping too. I don’t know if this is a dream. I haven’t dreamed in such a long time. It’s beautiful.”
He smiles wearily. “It is, right? It’s gloomy, a city park, but it feels so good to be here.” He looks at me. “It feels good to be here with you.”
I blush. I don’t know what to say. So I ask, “David, what’s your last name? You look so familiar.” And he does. As if I’ve known him before, but perhaps not in this life. His face resonates in my mind like a butterfly, trying to escape.
He opens his mouth as if to speak, and he says my name in a voice that is not his.
Adella! Jeez, wake up.
It is Stacy. She has a book in her hand, one she borrowed from me last week. She looks curious.
You were sleeping hard, she tells me. Who’s David?
He’s nobody, I say. It was only a dream.
Her cheeks redden. “David, what’s your last name?” she asks. “You look so familiar.”
“Aster,” I tell her, but she’s already gone. She has faded, ink in the sun.
I awoke slowly, swimming.
Finally, someone says. My wife, Angela.
Yes, I replied. I’m awake.
She looks suspicious. Good dream? she asks.
I suppose. Why?
You’re smiling. She sounds accusing while saying this.
That would explain the stretch of my face. I raise my fingers to my lips. Ah, I say. So I am.
Angela doesn’t say anything more. She looks like she might, but stands and walks away from the bed before any words are allowed from her throat. I look at the clock. It is noon.
I think I’ll get up, I tell Angela. I’m hungry.
She freezes, turns. Really? She looks confused.
I sigh. It makes me sad. I thought she might be relieved, or happy. Instead, the very thought of me moving or eating confuses her.
Yes, really. Are there any eggs?
She says she’ll check and leaves. Good thing, too. I was running out of steam.
The smell of cooking wafts up to me. I lift my body up and out of bed, telling myself that I want eggs, I want toast and oranges and coffee and I want today and tomorrow and next week.
What can I say? I am hard to convince.
Even fuzzy slippers do little to soften the pound of my feet on hardwood floors. I cringe as I walk into the tiled kitchen. Angela doesn’t seem to notice the cacophony.
It’s not ready yet, she tells the stove.
That’s fine, I tell the newspaper.
I haven’t read the newspaper in weeks. One look and I remember why.
Three dead in shooting.
Boy lost, found dead in woods.
Man caught on camera shoplifting.
Young girl, age 9, runs away. Lost.
Who wants to read that?
Angela interrupts me. Here you go, she says, setting a plate of steaming stuff in front of me. Looks like eggs and toast. Oh yes, and coffee. Is that orange slices? Just what I wanted. My fork weighs a ton. Chewing the smallest bite possible takes too much energy. It is tasteless. Nothing.
Eat, I am commanded by my wife.
I eat. While I am eating, I flip through the rest of the paper. There is nothing worth reading, nothing that would convince me to do anything today, nothing to inspire me to worship. It is tasteless. Nothing. The stories, anecdotes, the quotes and headlines; they are all worthless and meaningless.
Don’t read the paper if it makes you sad, Angela says as if it’s an easy and everyday thing.
The thing is, it’s not. I wish it were easy, but nothing is.