Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Gust of Wind - A short story

"I don't think it would have turned out this way if it hadn't been for that gust of wind..... that was when it all fell apart."

I was in the corner of Sadie's in our usual booth. We had fallen in to a rut some years back and we just naturally drifted to that booth every time we walked through the doors. I was in that bar early that day... I had walked out of work mid-meeting and had kept walking. Just grabbed my briefcase, my jacket and walked out. When I hit the door I kept walking, past the parking lot and down the street. My phone was ringing but I didn't answer, I just walked. I walked until the road I was on ended at a parallel road and then I turned left and kept walking. I was about 3 miles away from that damn building and that damn meeting. A man held his hand out to me, begging for change... I handed him my briefcase and a twenty dollar bill. He was surprised a little... He asked me if I was OK. It was my turn to be surprised. This man who lived on the streets was worried about me, it was more compassion then I had experienced in a while. It made the tears fall, completely unexpected. He gave me advice as we shared a six pack behind the liquor store, I told him my life story. He told me I had never truly lived, he said I was one of the dead. That resonated, he was my new mentor of the moment.

He kicked me out of his alley... he had a lady friend coming over and she did not like anything new. I was way too new, too clean, too alien to stay. I stood up and as I walked away he yelled at my back that I was welcome back tomorrow. Same place... same time, as long as I bought the beer. I told him maybe but I did not turn back to make a promise I wouldn't keep. I kept walking until I reached a park. I went through the gate and walked past the blooming flowers. I had no interest in their beauty today, all I saw was future death. I found a bench and fell into it. My back registered its disagreement with how I came to be off my feet. I took the pain as a sign that I was still alive but I was not sure if I was on the verge of tears or overwhelming happiness. I could feel pain in my foot and it seemed a little too wet but I was not concerned by it. Mainly I was numb.... One thought bounced through my skull "How the hell had I got here?" I did not mean this park... I could tell you how to get here from the other side of the world. I knew where I was physically, this was more of a philosophical question. I meant how had I end up working a job I hated for the last five years? How had I stopped loving the woman I was with? How had I completely screwed up my life?

The week had started out normally. I woke up at 5:30 and headed to the bathroom and began shaving. I hated shaving but the job had strict rules on facial hair. The rule was "SHAVE!" I was working towards a supervisory position... I had an interview that day. My tepid goal was within my reach and I felt.... completely apathetic. I smiled at myself in the mirror but my eyes showed the truth. I turned away from my mirror image and entered the shower turning the nozzle and letting the brief splash of cold water slap me into reality. The day did not improve even though my interview seemed to have went well. At noon I found myself at the corner bar having a liquid lunch with a side of pretzels and peanuts. Feeling slightly less hopeless I stumbled back to my desk and chewed gum while staring at the computer screen until the day was over. Stephanie was there to pick me up and I slid quietly into my seat and she pulled away while busily talking to what seemed like nobody. The benefits of bluetooth connectivity.... I found out we were meeting with her friends Ted and Tina by listening to her conversation with Sandy. It occurred to me then that we had not had a conversation in a long time. We spoke at one another but we had stopped really talking. I wondered how long it would be before we went our separate ways but it seemed we were destined to keep plugging away because we would never have the talk. You have to talk to have the talk. We pulled up to Chez Bistro... I hate Chez Bistro and Stephanie knew this. She had just scored a point in her favor. I said nothing, just exited the car as the wind picked up. A wet piece of paper flew up and hit me squarely in the chest.... it was sopping wet. The headline read "Are you lost? Are you just going through the motions?" I ripped that top set of questions from the sheet and discarded the rest as I stuffed the questions in my pocket. Stephanie had not even stopped to see if I was following. I saw her long legs walk through the door and I stood there for a moment just staring as the door slowly closed behind her. I turned around and saw the Lotus Inn was behind me. The pink neon sign flashing with only the 'o' having burned out. I walked through those doors instead. The Lotus Inn was a seedy little bar that looked like it had always been a seedy little bar. It had never experienced a heyday, it had no illustrious past. If it was wiped off the earth only its current denizens would notice its absence as they looked for a new dank hole to hide in, to attempt to fill the hole in their souls with liquor. I bellied up to the bar and the bartender gave me a once over glancing just a little longer at the tie I wore. When he looked at my eyes the sarcastic comment died on his lips. I ordered a whiskey on rocks and sat down as he handed it to me. He had been kind enough to include a stir straw and I focused on it instead of the appraising looks from some of the cities worst that were in attendance. My phone began vibrating in my pocket, I pulled it out to see who it was. It was Stephanie and she must have finally realized I was not with her, it only took ten minutes. She was probably cursing my absence and attempting to explain it to Ted and Tina, she hated explaining unexpected things. One point for me. I ordered another drink as the phone vibrated against the wooden bar. Some one cleared their throat and I took the still vibrating phone off the bar and shoved it back in my pocket. I spent hours in there. A lot of people approached me like they wanted to test what I was about that night only to back up when they looked into my eyes. I walked out of that dive as the bartender announced last call and found Stephanie's car was gone. I started walking as the rain started up again.

When I finally made it home I was soaked to the bone. I had removed my wet jacket along the way home and had left it hanging on a guard rail. My tie I had tossed in a tree and my red dress shirt I had thrown in the back of a jeep. I was in my undershirt, slacks and dress shoes. It was 45 degrees but I was no colder with less items then I had been with the extra sopping wet layers. She had bought these clothes for me. I was done with them and I was done with her. I unlocked the door of our apartment and patted Talia's head. Her tail wagged, the only one in this house happy to see me. Stephanie was up, sitting in a dark room that was lit only by the flicker of the TV. She pointed at the message board but I did not turn to look I simply headed to the bedroom while shedding clothes until I fell into the bed. I thought "This bed is much warmer then I am" as I fell into a dark dreamless sleep.

The next morning I woke up to an empty bed. Being alone in the bed was not all that unusual these days. I headed to the bathroom and started shaving. I went to the kitchen and saw the living room was empty as well. The dog wasn't even there which was unusual. I felt a stab of pain as I set my foot down... the ground was littered with broken glass. I stifled a scream and began carefully hopping to a chair where I pulled the glass shard from my foot. My foot was bleeding pretty decently but I doubted I had hit any thing major. I walked to the bathroom wincing in pain with each step. I left a trail of one bloody footprint behind me. I had no intention of cleaning it up, this was her place and her broken glass. I wanted her to know she had scored her point this morning. I stood crane style with my foot in the sink as I poured isopropyl alcohol into the wound. It was not deep but it loved bleeding. I wrapped a towel around it and set my watch alarm for 10 minutes if the bleeding had not stopped by then I would call an ambulance. The amount of blood was alarming but not life threatening... at least that was what I was betting. The white towel began to color with blood but soon the spread stopped and even before my alarm rang I slapped a bandage on the wound. I hopped to the closet and grabbed Stephanie's crutches from when she had broke her leg the year before during a ski trip. I glanced at the mirror and saw I had managed to get blood on my clothes. I grabbed a new set of clothes and changed. I stood back up and used the crutches to avoid putting the foot down. A block down the road was a walk in clinic that opened at 7, I would go there. It was nearly 7 now.

The doctor at the clinic put sixteen stitches in my foot. He said no major damage had been done, one point for me. He warned me against walking on it as it might tear out the stitching. I nodded and maneuvered out of there and to the bus stop with the damn crutches and began my journey to work. I arrived late but the crutches and the bandaged foot were my excuse. I sat down at my desk and the message light was on. I picked up the phone half wanting it to be Stephanie asking about all the blood and the other half of me wanted it to be anybody except her. The second half was the side rewarded. My boss had left me a message letting me know I was with him for a meeting on Thursday. I settled into my job as well wishers dropped in with gifts and asked me to tell my tale of foot trauma. I told the truth only once and the reaction had been strange. So I began lying, the tales getting more elaborate with each rendition. The day was filled with small gestures of kindness but I still felt hollow. I walked out of the office at the end of the day and saw her car waiting there for me. I got in without hesitation and she drove off without comment. She was not on the phone today but no conversation was sparked. She did not ask about the foot or the crutches, she even neglected to let me know how much of a bastard I was. We were going a different way from home but I did not ask questions I just sat in silence. We rolled into an extended stay hotel and she handed me a room key and an envelope and then unlocked the doors. I got out and she pulled away and headed toward the exit. I stood there resting against my crutches as I watched her drive away. When she was out of sight I opened the envelope. It read: "Your room number is 354. Your room has all of your clothes hanging in the closet and food in the fridge. I used to love you, you know." I stared at the last line before flipping it over. "PS. There is an elevator to the third floor in the lobby. You probably need it." I stuffed the envelope in my pocket and made my way to the lobby.

The next morning began like every other day. I was staring at my reflection in the mirror as I attempted to eliminate the stubble. Then I showered, spending a little more time cleaning my foot as my doctor had recommended. It was ugly looking this morning, the abuse from the previous day showed in it's bruised appearance. I slowly dressed while staring at the message board that sat in front of the TV. Across it were the words written in red dry erase marker "What happened to us?" I turned away from it, stuffed my room key and wallet in my pocket. Then headed to the elevator and out to a nearby bus stop. Work was the same as any other day. People had stopped feeling sympathetic about my foot and no one was curious to hear the story. When I walked out at the end of the day I felt the first spot of regret when Stephanie's car was not waiting for me. I hobbled down to the bus stop and waited for it to whisk me back to my new home.

I woke up to my alarm blaring. I headed to the bathroom, looked in the mirror and the shadow of stubble covering my face and turned toward the shower. I decided to not shave, what was one day? I boarded the bus and made my way to work. My boss looked at the stubble when he came up to my desk. He decided not to comment and I followed him to the meeting. It was a new client and I was the pitchman. I went through the motions automatically, I was on autopilot. That was when it happened.... I simply stood up and walked out.

I am in the park again.... I am no longer lost in thought. I watch the kids play with their parents. I feel a slice of envy sharply stab in my heart. I had told Stephanie it was OK when she had admitted she did not want kids. We had been eating a picnic under a huge weeping willow in the middle of this very park. I was telling her what I wanted from my life and she flinched when I mentioned my desire for children. I listened as she shattered my dreams.... telling me all the reasons she would never have kids. A gust of wind blew through as she spoke and my soda fell over soaking my sandwich. I stared at it for a long time, focusing my anger there. Mad at a sandwich instead of her. Our relationship had more or less ended there. It just took two years for it to become official. I decided to leave the park as that realization crystallized in my mind.

I started walking and got into more familiar territory. I saw Sadie's, Stephanie loved this place and we had spent several Saturday nights here singing Karaoke. We hadn't been in here together in at least 6 months. The bar called to me and I walked thought the doors. That was how I ended up in the booth, our old booth, just reminiscing. That was where I was when she walked through the doors and walked to me. She sat opposite me in the booth and took my hands in hers. We sat there not speaking to each other for a while. I looked up and said "I don't think it would have turned out this way if it hadn't been for that gust of wind..... that was when it all fell apart." She stared at me for a moment before nodding. Somehow understanding my unexplained statement, no other words came to my lips. The silence invaded the space again, the only sound was the waitress bringing us a new drink. My mind drifted between her being here and the feeling that my foot was sitting in a blood soaked sock. The stitches long since torn open and the wound reopened. She finally looked up at me again and looked in my eyes "Can we start over?"

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