Strangers | Teen Ink


October 31, 2013
By claudia hyman BRONZE, South Orange, New Jersey
claudia hyman BRONZE, South Orange, New Jersey
3 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Marcy shifted the weight from one foot to the other and fidgeted with the bright red collar of her work uniform. She hazily stared out in front of her, unfinished thoughts circling through her brain that she had already thought before. Time here seemed endless. What was actually only a five- hour job felt like a 24-hour job where she had no break to sleep. She people watched as different college students and the occasional adult stepped in and out of the store- the bells chiming every time the heavy door opened and closed. She was uninterested and tired of the fake, forced smiles and unnaturally upbeat questions she felt as though she repeated hundreds of times a day to the customers that stood on the opposite side of the counter. She knew that she didn’t quite pull off the outgoing and cheerful personality that she tried to project for the first hour of working there. It got old fast. The only part of this shitty job that was mildly enjoyable was that guy that always came in she thought to herself. Marcy didn’t even know his name, yet somehow she felt as though she knew everything about him. Each morning he came at the same time and ordered the same tea- earl grey. How unique. He wasn’t particularly interesting even though he liked to think he was she thought, but he always started up conversation- smothering her with attention and affection. He was a sad man, lonely and remote - yet made her feel special and important - as if there was no barrier of a counter between either of them. When he wasn’t asking if she had a boy friend (which he asked every day), he talked about himself and his job as a lawyer but how he actually wanted to be a teacher, or his ex- wife, or his father who pushed him to be a lawyer etc. etc. She chimed in here and there either to ask a question or say something relevant, but she mostly let him speak. She rarely said anything because Marcy - as shallow, unhappy, and ignorant as she came off - understood complete strangers like no other. 7:00 A.M was the one time each day where the man could talk and talk with no shame or fear of judgment. The least she could do was give him one time a day that he could look forward to.

His time was up he thought as he checked his expensive watch that he had so lavishly spent more than a months salary on. He subtly turned it in such a way so Marcy could see it, in hopes of impressing her ever so slightly. It looked sharp he thought. He said good- bye to Marcy and adjusted his designer tie and threw on his newly bought Ralph Lauren jacket. He strolled outside and went back to his apartment, his expensive slacks hitting the sidewalk’s pavement- the Manhattan skyscrapers towering above him reminding him of how small and insignificant he truly was. His expensive, flashy clothes gave off a different demeanor of glamour to him that he had never been able to experience before in his life. It made him feel slightly less small within such a large and intimidating city. He turned the key of his door and cringed at the creaking sound it made as he pushed it open and looked at his one room apartment with a small bathroom attached that just barely had room for a shower. He sighed- reminded of how unspectacular and unimpressive his life was.

“John! John!” the land- lord yelled in his low husky voice, breaking into a slow jog to catch him before he shut the door. Slam! The door closed in his face. Typical. That bastard still hasn’t paid for two months now he thought to himself angrily. His fists clenched and face flustered as he walked back to his apartment. His wife Evelyn sat on their old and scruffy couch- tears and rips along the side where their fat cat had clawed, and cigarette burns on one of the couch cushions. A haze of smoke slowly rose above her- creating a thin layer of grey that hovered above her dark red hair that fell upon her pale shoulders. She gave the illusion of mystery and darkness- an image that she had worked hard to create- unapproachable, complex, and confused. Whether she was actually any of these, he was still discovering. It didn’t bother him though- he was infatuated with her. Her long, thin legs were always propped up over the arm of the couch or chair with her arms dangling at her sides- cigarette in hand- looking bored and beautiful. Her red hair fell in a tangled mess behind her as she laid her head down on the seat cushions of the couch. She gave him a long look as he walked in- just staring. She didn’t move or sit up, she simply looked at him with her pitch black eyes that gave no invitation to understand or welcome anyone to do so. After she compiled whatever thoughts she had wanted to gain from this long gaze, she stood up and put her cigarette down in the ashtray and left the room without a word.
Evelyn stared out her small window which she had propped open to let air in since Steven could never afford the air conditioning. She pulled out yet another cigarette and pressed it to her red, thin and chapped lips. The small and simple lamp that hung from their cracked ceiling flickered and she heard a sudden buzz and tapping sound coming from the lamp as a fly flew violently and seemingly uncontrollably around it. From her crumbling window Evelyn could see directly inside another person’s apartment as the stranger danced around her kitchen, lifting her leg as high as she could while she cut fruit, or leaping when needing to get across the few feet of the kitchen floor. The girl had her hair pulled tightly back into a clean and neat bun that was wrapped perfectly on the back of her head. She was wearing sheer white tights and ballet slippers but only a loose fitting sweater on the top.

Grace stretched her leg as far up as she could- ignoring the strenuous and sore pain that came from it and instead focused on the cucumber she was cutting. No calories she thought. No calories, no calories, no calories. She leaped across her kitchen, careful not to bump into the counter and gracefully lifted her arms to grab ahold of forks or cups. She didn’t want to go to ballet today, not at all. In fact she was dreading it. Her stomach growled but she ignored it. She didn’t want to eat her cucumber yet. Or ever. She walked over to the mirror that hung in their hall and stared at her self judgmentally, grabbing ahold of her non- existent love handles and pinching her thighs. She overheard her mother’s snores even though it was 4:00 in the afternoon. I guess she would walk. As she stepped outside she began to feel nauseous. The sun blazed down on her and her eyesight became blurry but she continued to walk until it all became dark and she woke up in a hospital bed.

She woke up to the groaning of a young man in the bed next to her whose immense pain was evident within his icy blue eyes and clenched fists that lay helpless on the uncomfortable, thin hospital mattress. She peered over at him through the small space between where the curtain that separated them where the wall met. He stared up at the ceiling and focused on the crack that was in the center. It was just like his therapy sessions he thought to himself. His therapist would tell him to lie down and look up, taking deep breaths and making himself comfortable. What bullshit he thought. He was never comfortable there and he never tried to be either. Focusing on the cracks in the ceiling was far more interesting than “opening up” to a complete stranger. He’d probably have to go back there now; he wouldn’t get off easy this time. Drunk driving and a history that included a suicide attempt? No doubt. How tragic I am he thought cynically to himself. He didn’t want to face his mother, who was pacing outside of his room, anxious and worried. He closed his eyes and pretended that he hadn’t woken up yet.
Finally his mother walked into the emergency room that her son was in, not being able to wait any longer. She stared at him, not sure of what to do or say- he lay there motionless but peaceful- a complicated boy, her own boy, a stranger though nonetheless. She wasn’t mad even though she knew he probably was worried she would be. She sat down on the stiff hospital chair next to his bed and gently held onto his bandaged, scratched hands.

Desperate for a breath of fresh air, the boy’s mother left his side and went downstairs, leaving the hospital feeling sick to her stomach. She stepped outside and bumped into a frail old woman. “Watch it Miss!” the old woman yelled in her raspy voice. She walked slowly, cane in hand and bundles of jewelry dangling on her thin wrists and wrapped around her long neck. Her red lipstick was smudged on her cracked lips and on her aging, yellow teeth. She looked striking and bizarre, small hints of youth showing through her old, wrinkled and bitter face. She was once beautiful. It was apparent in her eyes that were a bright shade of green and her long eyelashes that hung from them batted up and down- once charming any man who looked into them. She aged a little more each day, a wrinkle or two settling in or a new pain in her back. As she grew older she grew more nostalgic as well, gazing at young men and women who walked by her- each reminding her slightly of her former self or her husband. She entered the movie theatre by herself, dressed as if she were attending a charity ball. She took a seat alone; unsure of what movie she was about to see. She pretended though that her husband Edgar sat next to her. He loved the movies she thought. She peered over the rows of people noticing a young couple.

“So, do you go to the movies a lot?” the young boy asked awkwardly. “Yup” the girl said, looking away and rolling her eyes. Did he ever have anything interesting to say? Luckily the lights dimmed and the trailers began. If he made any moves on her she would frankly get up and leave. As the movie went on, he didn’t try to pull anything, except for the attempt at a subtle way to put his arm around her, that was unsuccessful when he banged his funny bone against the back of the chair as he tried to do a fake arm stretch and yawn. After the movie was over the lights slowly turned on, waking everyone and bringing them back to reality.
I wish I had a boyfriend. A young girl, maybe only 11 or so thought to herself as she watched the bored couple get up from their seats and exit the theatre. The young girl walked home by herself and looked at herself in her bathroom mirror. She looked ugly she thought. My hair is a disaster. And my braces. And why is my body so awkward. Dark circles underlined her large black eyes and she just stared at herself. Stared for so long that she forgot who she was looking at, and sadly that made her feel better. She waited for the day when she could look pretty. Look like that girl in the movie theatre. Have a boy friend. Have boys like her in general. But for right now she was ugly. Ugly, ugly, ugly. She was done torturing herself for the night and unlocked the bathroom door and went to bed. As she lay in bed she over heard laughter, the clinking of empty beer bottles, and yelling outside of her window.

“Where are you going?” He shouted. Anger, frustration, and fragility were built up in his booming voice. He looked at her, following her out onto the sidewalk, unsure and helpless. “What do you mean where I am going? I’m going somewhere else where you aren’t.” She said frankly. Her voice cracked ever so slightly, only hinting at the emotionally confusing and strenuous night she had. A taxi sped down the street and with perfect timing stopped and let her in. As she stepped into the cab a part of her hoped he would stop her even though she most likely would have continued leaving. But he didn’t. He stood quietly, unable to move or know where to go from here. He stood there, alone on the sidewalk for a good ten minutes- maybe more and then walked back into his apartment building. He slowly walked inside in a daze unable to notice and calculate his surroundings except for the boy who sat in the hallway leaning against his apartment door, his knees pulled up against his chest and his phone held up to his ear.

His hand shook and his bottom lip trembled but no tears came from his dark brown eyes. He put his phone down. Not hanging up, or saying anything at all just consumed and trapped within the hundreds of thoughts that circled in his head- overlapping and competing for him to focus on just one of them but he was unable to. The color drained from his face and chills began to run up and down his arms and back while sweat dripped down his forehead. He was dead. He was dead. He was dead. He was just gone? So quickly? It didn’t seem possible. He couldn’t be gone. He was coming home tomorrow from college! They were going to a baseball game together! He was dead. This competed with the other thoughts of denial. Dead, dead, dead.

The boy stood up and rested his hand against the wall, trying to gain his balance. He walked down the hall that seemed endless. A narrow, never ending hall with doors that each looked identical with the same distances between each- one after another. He tried to get his mind off of the news he had just heard. He didn’t want to think about it or believe it. He eavesdropped in on a conversation that was going on in an apartment through the thin wood doors.

“Academic probation? Really Jared? How the f*** did that happen? You’ve decided you have more important things to do?” She looked at him directly in the eyes waiting for a response. Is that a rhetorical question? How the f*** am I supposed to answer that. “I don’t know.” Was all the he could come up with. “Well thank you for your insight Jared. You’ve officially screwed up. So tell me. What are you going to do? Continue to be busy with your far more important things that you do apparently? Tell me. I’m dying to know.” Jared looked around the room. Looked in every possible direction besides his mothers. There was a small spider in the corner of their ceiling. He stared at it, watching its every move and choosing not to respond to his mother, expecting her to just continue her sarcastic, unhelpful bull s*** that she thought was teaching him a lesson or making him feel guilty- or whatever she was trying to do. But she didn’t. She just looked at him. Not with anger or cruelty. Just affectionately. She looked at him with a hint of sadness, disappointment and love. But mostly disappointment. She was quiet. She walked out of the room and went to her bedroom, quietly closing the door behind her.

In her bedroom she lay down on her bed and took a deep breath. She was exhausted but unable to fall asleep. She turned to her side and looked at the framed picture that still was propped up on her night table. The picture was of herself, her son and her husband Nick. Nick had his large, strong arm wrapped around her waist and his other resting on his son’s scrawny shoulders. Everyone looked so happy. Simply happy. The photo was taken three years ago on their vacation to Italy, before Nick learned that alcohol could drown all of his problems. Could separate and exclude him from any sort of rational thoughts and awareness of the people surrounding him. This was before he was no longer in love with her, before he left. She placed the frame down. She no longer wanted to look at it.

That next morning she woke up from a deep sleep and slowly got out of bed. Jared had already left for school. She sat on the edge of her bed- alone, empty, and sad- but mostly sad because she was empty. She walked to the coffee shop around the corner, pushing the heavy glass door open and hearing the chiming of the bells. The lady behind the counter was busy talking to a man, much older than she, who was flirting with her and trying every possible way to flaunt his watch or make her notice him. The girl giggled at everything he said to her, preparing coffee or tea as she talked to him. She interrupted them and put in her order. She sat by the window and people watched. Strangers walked by, some looking happy, others serious, or sad. Each one someone she may meet in the future, or maybe not. Each one with their own story.

The author's comments:
I love to think about how I can walk by someone one day, and not know anything about them. Not know if maybe, two years from now, you'd meet them and they would become your best fried. Or your husband or wife. I like the idea that no matter how you are feeling, someone is going through the same thing. You are never alone. No matter how estranged we are from one another, we are still all connected by human nature and experiences. We are all intertwined by simple day to day acts that bring us closer than we realize. Everyone who walks by has their own story, has their own tragedies, has their own happiness. I tried to convey all of these concepts in this piece.

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