Across from me on the train sat a large man of Greek descent or so at least my guess, his middle-age bordering the old, his eyes warm and friendly. His arm full of roses, their colour pink and so intense they rivaled the beauty of a sunrise half-hidden in a cloud-cluttered sky. Next to him a woman, her skin mocha smooth, her red-rimed glasses giving her an air of quirky elegance. And as we exchanged a smile over flowers displayed to us in such magnificence, her eyes lit up infecting mine. It was a smile I carried with me on my way to work as I poked along, past worker bees and office ants and parents in a rush tugging at their children’s nerves, always ready to be the first ones at their daily crosswalk, bakery or coffee shop. I shrugged them off, their rage mild today, unfeasible somehow with the sun still lurking behind some sleepy clouds. So when I reached my morning hangout, my mood was balanced, frolic even – minus the fatigue I cannot shake without my first hot chocolate of the day. So I placed my order and my favorite waiter met my smile, then brightened it by knowing exactly what I wanted. “Almond milk, an espresso and a croissant,” he beamed, “Early morning order. Busy day.” I nodded. “And with a start like today, I don’t mind one bit.”
“Is that a hickey you are covering or why are you wearing a scarf,” she asks, unaware of the wound she rips open by asking her question, the inner turmoil I’ve been trying so hard to keep to myself.
“Of course,” I say with a forced little smile, images of my dreams still vivid to me as her curiosity darkens my mind, leaving yet another scar from missing you so badly day and night.
For anyone who knew Elsie, the story I’m about to tell won’t come as a surprise. Elsie was hands-on, her clothes often covered in mud, her behavior boisterous at times. In her family, she was the quiet one, for everyone else, she was rather peculiar with a sense of humor bordering the crude. With a heart too sensitive for the outside world, she kept her feelings hidden behind a facade of I-don’t-care, her emotions aggressive whenever she feared someone threatened to expose her inner world.
Her stories always rather gory, her friends were used to hearing fables of lost limbs, wives celebrating their husbands’ deaths and infected dog bites. They didn’t flinch at pet names such as Ebola or Plague and had learned to laugh off her regular slurs. So one day, when Elsie started to tell one of her stories in a voice bubbling with suppressed rage, no one questioned the name she used to describe a beloved family member and that, in return, said a lot about Elsie’s friends themselves.
“Didn’t I tell you,” Elsie asked half annoyed. “She’s finally dead. I can’t believe how long it took her to finally call it quits.”
Minus five degrees outside, the train is packed. Tired people everywhere, worn out after a week of every-day gray. A drunkard sings and his voice isn’t even bad. Two girls with naked knees and ankles sit across from me. I feel old all of a sudden, wrapped in my down-filled coat and two layers of scarves. A child is whistling non-stop and I’m happy it’s not mine, that I do not have to come home to this now, a kid full of energy and life. Because all I want is a glass of wine and my couch. Two weeks back at work and that’s all I have in me, all that is left from my creative drive. So I switch it on, my favorite show inside my head, erasing the smell a beggar leaves as he passes the workhorses sitting beside me. The show my mind creates features me in the lead. Waves are crushing against a shore, the sun is shining. Call me a dreamer if you want, but my thoughts keep me alive as all I see are factory buildings and graffitied insults outside. So when I close my eyes, I nearly miss it, the stop that’s mine. But on the platform then the air awakens me, crisp and clear, and I enter a reality far from comfort as people push me down the stairs with them in lockstep. It’s strangely invigorating and phrases and pictures begin to invade my mind. How come I was so drained only moments ago and now my emotions lie bare to me in my thoughts? Take your pen, I’m telling myself, don’t question it. And so I do as I finally close my apartment door behind me. Three days without writing and I’m like a junkie craving her chocolate.
So there’s a mannequin in our closet at work. She has no head and wooden legs. Her body is white, her curves are womanly, not too skinny, just right. I want to take her home I’ve decided today. She Looks so lonely there, undressed, exposed to us in a way. How pretty my dresses would look on her. How much I’d like to invite her to a dance. That’s what I think when I see her. Now call me crazy, I don’t care.
And there she sat on her couch, slightly depressed in the aftermath of so much action. She hadn’t expected to get so emotionally involved. A women’s march, not her first and yet… So many familiar faces and new ones, too. Men, women and those still undecided at that. Dogs, little ones, flags and so many signs expressing what she felt. She didn’t have a sign at first, had gone there unprepared, overwhelmed by the crowd and cheers. So much energy without the hatred, just hope in her heart from the words surrounding her, the smiles on people’s faces. She had taken a sign after all, offered to her by a girl half her age. So many generations united, so many things to say but her voice had been relentless, stuck in her throat. Tears had come instead. Why she had cried, she still didn’t know as she now sat on her couch, her heart still elated while her mind was battling with the news of the day.