Un écrin grisâtre

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The waves of sleep toss me around, the bed’s warm embrace keeps me still and my worries keep me seasick. But there are so many worse feelings when the seaman finally arrives upon the land. How they will miss the sea, how they will have phantom swayings. I’d rather stay in this abusive marriage with the sea.

 

It is 5pm.

 

I can’t be honest to myself if were to say I want to get out of bed. There’s nothing out there, there never is. Even if I live in a beautiful area, I know what it looks like. There are more worlds at my fingertips than are out there anyway. I could read Borges, I could play Animal Crossing. Then I am assured that I will find a world more complex or a world more friendly. Better yet, I could stay right here and memorize the wall; then time will stop moving and death will be put on pause. This is why I am living so slowly all the time, I can’t have time go too fast. I have to savor it all, everything is planned in the end for me being so reticent.

 

I can clean my room, I can make proper my dojo. It is only right that my world be arranged nicely, I can control that much, can’t I? I place my trash in a pile near the door, ready to go out with me if I do. If. My things all around the room, they are mirrors. Clothes that I wear that people comment on, words evoked by physical objects. Borges would be proud of the contact between language and reality. I can feel my life intertwining with everything I read and want to read. This phase shift is what we get for reading so much, status as a certified space cadet. But I’ll gladly stay in orbit forever, much better than the hard crunch of the ground and the strain of legs in gravity.

 

I am hungry.

 

Now I can’t stay in my bird’s nest, I have to come down. I must either make food or go out to the restaurant. I will probably see co workers, that will be nice. That should be nice. Should. The evil words seethes in my heart and I am reeling from all the obligations swimming around me, these are my sharks. Books and screens, my map and telescope. I can navigate to the nourishment I need, it isn’t too hard. You are a human after all, they will recognize you or pay you no mind.

 

The restaurant will be easier, you won’t steep yourself in the things you should do. How your kitchen is dirty, how you need to buy healthier groceries, how you need to cook more often. None of these worries are in a restaurant. Just go, it will be okay. You grab your garbage on the way out, how nice you will feel when you return to a room without trash. Then you can launch back into your studies and distractions. This is what you tell yourself as you walk out the door. The evening’s first light has a different glaring quality. It is rare and patronizing. The trash receptacle is overflowing, you try to make sense of the jenga tower of human refuse, but end up placing your bag next to it. You break a different suit, there is a tower and you have created the swamp.

 

The road reveals itself to you after your sad corridor, everything is the same. The sidewalk is still uneven in balance and in the identity of the stones. Some are modern and calculated, some are ancient and jutting. But this is the charm of this city, or so they say. There is nobody on the street who isn’t hidden behind glass. Cars go by, windshields. Motorcycles go by, helmets. Pedestrians go by, screens. To survive in the crowd, you must struggle alone. Hotori Satuo was right. Just get walking.

 

You only have to go a few blocks to reach the restaurant, you already know what you’re going to get, you already know you’re way in and out. It will be a clean getaway. You’ve been a master of cutting smalltalk short for years, nobody can get in the way of your plan. Nothing has changed in the macro of the street, all the same businesses and places for rent. But there is so much chaos in the micro, you notice new blackened gum marks on the pavement, a bus stop is further vandalized, more cigarette butts in a corner, no kids outside, a bike is now missing a front tire, the streetlights come on as you are on the street. It is enough to bring tears to your eyes that there are so many details that change every day. Not because they go unnoticed, but because they all amount to nothing just as much as anything else. They are beautiful in their nothingness.

 

The terrace in front of the restaurant has your co workers. No, these are your friends. You’re not as alone as you wish you were. You approach.

 

You are glad to see them.

 

“Well, I’ll be, look who it is in broad daylight. I hardly recognize you out here.”

 

“Here I am, hungry like anybody else.”

 

“Have a seat, we’ve just ordered but they can’t mind you ordering more food.”

 

“They probably will, I’ll just get takeout. It’s what I came for anyway.”

 

“Oh come on, it’s fate that you’re here! We’re all here and we’re waiting on the new person!”

 

“Ugh.”

 

Some people are ferocious in their friendliness. Zealots who think their way is the only way. To them, smiles and embraces are worth more than anything in the world. A server comes by and you tell them what you want and that it is to go. You get some nice glances for that. What? You just want to go home. A thousand stories from work fly around you, this client is terrible, this was done wrong, this is unbelievable, this is sensational, that is unfair. You’ve heard all of them. You get curious and venture a question.

 

“Who is the new person?”

 

“They’re here to work early in the morning, because it’s so hard to find people for that.”

 

“Makes sense, that’s why I work so late. I wouldn’t dare waking up so early.”

 

“They should be here any minute. They just moved here today.”

 

You feel your chair and enjoy your surroundings. The wicker seat and arms are familiar like the countryside, makes you think of summer evenings with your grandparents. They are so far away now, maybe you should call them when you get back. The restaurant is situated on a large intersection and you can see all kinds of days interlacing into this mess of gray, white, black, red, yellow, green. You’re glad you live somewhere that isn’t so tall, you can see the evening sky just above all the buildings. It reminds you that there is so much more out there than this moment that you will escape soon. As soon as your food gets here.

 

“There they are! Hey! We’re over here!”

Some people, no tact whatsoever.

 

“Come sit with us! This is the new person I was telling you about.”

How are people so friendly? Where do they find the energy?

 

“I’m so glad you made it! Let me introduce you to everyone!”

Here comes the machine gun, right down the line. Sights set on you quite soon.

 

“This is our oldest colleague, they’ve been here since the beginning.”

This poor new person, this barrage of platitudes.

 

“This is our manager, it’s a big deal that they’re out here with us!”

Everyone laughs, where’s the server?

 

“This is the other person you’ll be working with, you early birds!”

When will this end?

 

“This is my co worker, they get me through the day.”

You don’t know if you’re anxious that you’re next or relieved.

 

“and this is our one and only night time worker!”

 

You muster the strength for a glance and a grin, but notice an actually intelligent twinkle in this newcomer’s eye. They look like an old friend of yours. They seem smart. There is a brain inside that person. You can’t believe it. They finally speak:

 

“I’m thrilled I got to meet everyone before my first day. But I better get going, I have to find the post office before my early day tomorrow.”

 

Everyone looks right at you.

 

“Well! Don’t you live right next to the post office! Why don’t you show the way!”

 

All sorts of excuses start to dribble out of your mouth, you were on your way to this place, you have to do this or that. But they all get fended off and destroyed. Especially when the server shows up with your bag of food.

 

“Perfect! You two have fun. Good meeting you!”

 

You give a pathetic little wave to the group and get moving. Your tag along is looking all around at their new surroundings, you give some context and share what you know of the city. They mention that they are brand new to the area, if it’s not obvious. Your glad to show it off, it breathes fresh life into an otherwise drab frame. This new person visibly appreciates your sentiment and eases up a bit, mentions a previously academic life that they have just put in the rear view mirror. You mention your struggles with all of that, barely coming out alive.

 

You are pleased to meet this person.

Two figures in the darkening eventide, shuffling along at a distracted pace. They seem to have known each other for a long time, but one is giving a tour of the street to the other.

 

“Well, it seems you may love this city yet.”

“I’m not sure of that yet, I think I’m just in tune with it. That doesn’t mean I love it. An A note doesn’t necessarily love an E note, they just work together.”

“But can A describe the nuances of E so well?”

“Probably not, but that’s just my job. A does its job and E is glad of it.”

“What a puzzle, but either way it is beautiful here. I’m glad to see such low buildings and such an interesting mixture of old and new.”

“It’s certainly something, but that’s the joy of this line of work. You find yourself relocating to different destinations constantly.”

“I’m interested to see this work, I’ve never done a second of it.”

“Well, it’s like any other sort of work, but all mixed in together at once. You’ll be fine.”

“Hope so, at least it will be exciting to be somewhere new. I’m glad of that.”

“I hope that this place suits you, I seem to hole up anyplace I go so it’s not too important where I am.”

“Didn’t we pass the post office?”

“Yes, but there are more important things just past it that I want to show you.”

 

The two continue on to a large fountain, marveling at its different intricacies and details. An awkward smile appears on the face of the tour guide, a musty smile like a book that hasn’t been opened in fifty years.

 

“So you’re a morning person who avoids alcohol? And I’m a night owl who can’t stand coffee?”

“It seems that way! I guess it is apparent what it takes to get through these different times of day.”

“Maybe so, I couldn’t imagine being a night person without alcohol.”

“And what would a morning be without coffee?”

“Well, we’ve seem to have found a certain yin and yang here.”

“I hope so.”

 

The night falls as the two part ways near the post office. One of the two enters a sad corridor, goes past a garbage receptacle and into their room. Their faith just a bit wavering in the hermetic lifestyle. They think, “maybe I can’t expect everything. Maybe I do have to just get out there every once in a while. Maybe, but I doubt it.” They turn on their screen to see Woody Allen watching a Groucho Marx movie.

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