Preface: A Short Story

18 12 2010

Facing northwest I watched the sun set early behind a gagged foreground of Evergreen and Pine. A bleached smear of cirrus spread the last bit of day light into narrow sheets of multi-colored reflection. I sat looking up in silence. I shuttered in a cool wind as it swept over my bare freckled shoulders–denying the coat just inside my hotel room, a minutes walk away. My presence felt temporal and a coat was excessive in this condition–neither home nor anywhere in particular. Seattle was merely the first leg of a much farther journey.

A tall man walked up beside me, his loud yellow wind-breaker jacket broke my gaze. I didn’t turn to acknowledge his presence. He lit the tip of a cigarette then offered me a smoke. I accepted, if nothing more than to distract my mind from the wilderness before me. He leaned back on his heels.

“You here for the festival too?”

“No.”

“Where you from?”

“California.”

I inhaled the cheap menthol cigarette. The next few moments passed with an ambivalence that  we both felt,  but he continued to speak despite my apparent disinterest. He mentioned visiting California a few times, commenting on how friendly the people are. I was suddenly aware of myself sitting on the bench in front of the hotel, somewhere in Kirkland, Seattle. I turned to face him.

“What festival?”

“Oh, it’s a big wine and music festival. They have it every year. Me and my wife come up to have a good time. I just hope it warms up a bit you know?”

I was more comfortable now–the nicotine had kicked in, and somewhere in the hotel was this man’s wife. He was middle-aged, but  his face was very wrinkled, probably from years of working outside with his hands. His slim and lanky build was unobtrusive, but his conversation consummated the space between us with a youthful verve, something I experience alone at a bar.

“You here on vacation?”

“No. Work. I’ve never been here before. It’s beautiful.”

“Yeah, it sure is. I just hope it stays nice through the weekend you know?”

“Yeah.”

A gray cloud whisper fled quickly across my cheek as I exhaled. A million thoughts went up with the rise of smoke. I could feel the insignificance of this conversation beating over every word I choose to keep silent. I looked out, to something farther than the sun setting. Somewhere, my mother was worried. My best friend was feeling the baby inside her belly move, a man was fighting in a war and I was here. A few cars passed by on a stretched two lane road. The black asphalt was midnight, yellow lines punched out through the darkness. This street is new, I thought. To the north the road carved the base of the mountain for a quarter-mile then led up into the forest–too thick with green to see how exactly. South the lanes faded into a horizon of  rectangular structures of brick and glass, graying now in the anticipation of night. Then, in the last purple of twilight, I felt every fear of the world open up and glow down on me, the glow warming my eyes wider as I said goodbye to this day.

“So what kind of work do you do?”

“I’m not sure exactly.”

He laughed. “What does that mean? You work for the government or something?”

I smiled, and was now holding back the tears that had poured out in the John Wayne terminal the day before. I could feel them pressing against my eye balls again. I didn’t want to tell him. But I needed him to listen.

“I’m going to live abroad for a while.”

I had said it so many times to friends and family that the words had begun to lose their meaning–I didn’t know what it meant. The words had been stuck in a vacuum for 4 months and watching them realize in the open night sky of this evening was like watching a character move through a novel. Control was absent my ability; reactions to each moment predefined. Numb. I couldn’t even cry. I didn’t want to.

“Wow, so you’re like doing some humanitarian work then?”

“Yeah, something like that.” I flicked the ashes off the burning end.

“Well good for you. That’s awesome!”

“Thanks.” Every detail I had prepared was screaming in mockery from inside my suitcase, I could hear it now from the hotel patio, in the dark cold of evening. Everything felt excessive, superfluous to the void of self-awareness I was consumed with. How did I get here? Who is this man? I wanted to hold this feeling in my hand–look at it, apologize, comfort, break it, anything to make it human. But it was somewhere beyond my perspective.  I thought, if only I could push my feet deep under the clean Oceanside sand, weigh me down to earth, then I could sort this out. I put out the cigarette.

“Well, you look really good. So, you have a good night with that pretty face.”

I was pissed. “Thanks.”

But the anger I felt was liberating, I could at least feel something. I looked to the north focusing the outer limit of the road as it disappeared into the wild. Nothing was going to make this feeling go away except for time.

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One response

19 12 2010
joe

Daaang that’s a bad ass piece, Whitney. I like the way you wrote this, setting it up and walking us through your thoughts and your conversation in real time, allowing the scene to unfold and the interaction to take its course. Great job in showing your readers whats around you and inside you as opposed to just telling us. I love being able to watch your style take form, nice job Whit.

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