The three of them are gathered in an untidy triangle, sharing a table in a cramped coffee shop on the corner of a busy street. It is the tail end of mid-day, that awkward time between lunch and dinner when people are exhausted and need a pick me up to make it through to the end. Rose is sipping on hot cocoa, extra sweet because she cannot stand the bitter taste of coffee. Vincent enjoys his usual earl grey with no sweetener and Jane her drip roast, black as usual, while tearing at a buttery chocolate croissant like some kind of bird. They are puzzling over a riddle in the New York Times, waiting for a book signing.
“Maybe there is a mirror facing the three men and they can see each other.” Rose’s light voice and airy disposition draws the attention of people sitting nearby. Jane and Vincent exchange a glance.
“The point of the riddle is that the men don’t know what color hat each other is wearing” he retorts coolly. Rose’s face pinkens and looks she looks defeated, fiddling with her pen. After a little while, she inches closer to him and rests her head on his shoulder, a mess of blonde hair falling in front of sweet, honey colored eyes. He instinctively leans over and kisses her forehead reassuringly.
“I’ve got it.” Jane declares. They look up at her, noting the tone of confidence in her steady voice. She begins to laugh into an explanation when the conversation is interrupted by the sound of the clock tower chiming outside, reminding them of the time. They quickly gather their things and begin making their way toward the next block. They are moving at a brisk pace through the streets, deftly maneuvering around blurred faces in the flux crowd. Vincent leads them with long easy strides and Rose struggles to keep up with her counterpart, her hand grasping his as though she is afraid, she may be swept away in the undertow. Jane follows a few steps behind, lone, her long black hair whipping around her and heavy black boots carrying her lithe body along the current.
They leave the building after the event a couple of hours later like children exiting a candy store, each with freshly inscribed books in hand. Jane is holding hers close to her chest. Rose is chattering cheerfully underneath the overcast, grey skies now above them. Vincent is wearing an expression mimicking the clouds, though he is holding his new object gingerly. The large red and gold doors open and close as people file out, filling up the street around them. A streetlight next to them flickers impatiently.
“We should go.” he says, turning to Rose and cutting her off. Her words trail and she nods. Jane catches his eye for a fleeting moment, trying to appraise his mood but he avoids her. Rose moves in and embraces her, and she returns the chaste hug, waving as they walk away. The couple together and her alone, stationary. She stands like that awhile, watching the crowd shift around her and the sky grow gloomier. She flips through her book, bringing it up to her face and smelling it, appreciating it. She is thinking already about her plans to have lunch with Vincent tomorrow. She both anticipates and dreads seeing him. The clouds ripen and it begins to pour down her. She has no umbrella with her, so she tucks away her book and by the time she arrives home, she is drenched.
She rests near her large window in dry lounging clothes with the heavy dark blue curtains pulled back and stares at the small box in front of her. Rain pounds outside, battering against the glass. Her coffee sits cold and untouched, her hand lying near the mug in forethought. A clove djarum burns down, lonely in a clean ashtray that she pulled out from the cabinet earlier. The moonlight casts a glow on her chipped black fingernails. The song White Room by Cream is playing in the background, inducing nostalgia. On it’s conclusion, she picks up the box and painstakingly wraps it in silver and purple, tying it off with a simple black bow. She writes a few lines on an ivory card and stands to pour her neglected coffee down the drain. On the way to her bedroom, she grabs the crisp pack of little black cigars and tosses it in the trash. Her new novel lays out drying next to her bed, the pages damp and the ink bleeding.
Sitting on a bench next to him the following day, overlooking rows of neatly planted red poppies looking absurd against the backdrop of crude unfinished buildings and smoke, she thinks of the ocean. She watches the flowers, and the people fade away and willfully replaces the angry sounds of construction trucks with that more powerful, more simple sway of the tide. She closes her eyes and feels her awkwardly long toes sink and wriggle into cool sand. The sticky smells of urban life disintegrate from the compelling scent of salty air. She breathes in deeply and for that finite moment, she is content. The archaic deep water is pulling back, sweeping those tiny grains from underneath her naked feet and she is swept out of her daydream.
“Hey! Where are you?”, his voice cuts through, a few octaves deeper than usual. He is staring right at and into her with that calculating expression that he so often wears. She likes to imagine gears turning within his skull, clockwork moving intricately and expertly.
“Oh, sorry, I was just...thinking, what were you saying?”
“Nothing important. I was talking about the service they had here last week. Are you okay?” he asks, covering up some other emotion with thinly veiled concern like pouring sand over wet seashells. She turns to face him, looking past for a stalled moment at the stained-glass windows dressing the little church behind him while gathering her thoughts back to the present.
“I’m fine, really.”, she deepens her smile into a reassuring one. And she is fine. She is here with him and she has him to herself for the first time in months. Things almost feel like they did before. Almost. She shifts to his green eyes, noticing for the hundredth time, the little flecks of gold within them. He is wearing a black shirt today, which sharpens the hazel and makes him seem uncharacteristically vulnerable. The fragile, multi-colored glass shuttering the old building glitters in the invasive sunlight.
“My head has just been escaping me lately.”
He studies her. “You always seem to be floating away like that.
“Yeah...”, she says swallowing mild embarrassment and laughing away any visible discomfort.
“Sometimes, I think about crawling inside of your mind and wandering around” he teases endearingly. He is looking at her lips and she is pretending not to notice. She gives him a small, amused smile.
“Trust me, you don’t want to do that. And what about you? Is there something going on or are you just thinking about morose things and funerals?”
“No no, nothing important. Just the usual”, he sighs and looks away pointedly, fixing his attention on something idle. She frowns, her hand instinctively moving closer to his. Tension dances between their fair, pale fingers resting atop that dark aging wood. It is not lost on her that she too wishes she could peek inside of his head.
“Let’s go for a walk” he says suddenly, his voice dissipating their nebula of unspoken words and thoughts. He stands looming over her, holding out his hand. She sits staring at it for a beat long enough to imbue the air with a palpable awkwardness. Finally, she takes it and lifts herself gracefully. His hand is warm, and she suppresses a pleasant shudder, carefully returning hers back to her side. They walk casually past offerings of dying lilies and roses decorating tired stones.
“I like her, you know,” Jane says softly.
“We’ve become really close lately”, she says heavily.
She stops in front of a stranger’s grave, looking intently at him. He lulls in unison and locks eyes with her. He seems startled by her inquiry, caught off guard.
“I... don’t know.” he says, and she is searching him. He is looking at her like she is a precious metal, just like he always does when they are alone. Only right now his gaze is amplified and he’s not holding much back, and she is stirring in response. Her sharp blue eyes glimmer frozen tears. They have been avoiding moments like this. When they do see each other, she’s always there. hanging onto him like wet cloths. His actions and words always seem so watered down now, as though there is a filter grabbing all of the best parts of him.
She thinks back to when they could effortlessly banter without guilt lurking around the corner. When she could say the things that she wanted to say and he could hug her for a few seconds longer than friends do. When she could call him on a whim in the middle of the night to come over and lay with her because she couldn’t sleep and they would stay up late talking and drinking whiskey, being foolish and comfortable. Things got complicated. He got a girlfriend. A sweet, sometimes too sweet, girl who adores the ground he walks on. A girl who she made an effort to get to know, for him. And now he’s not happy and he’s standing here, looking at her like this. Fucking idiot. She should just kiss him and send it all straight to hell. But she won’t.
“Oh. I see.” she says and looks down at her scuffed, black leather shoes planted firmly on the recently groomed, green grass. An army of ants marches past on the concrete next to her feet, oblivious to the giants above them and focused intensely on a morsel of abandoned food. She takes in a sharp breath and breaks away from the moment, reigning it all back inside. She looks back up, but her eyes have gone cold. There is no one home anymore. She’s turned off the lights and he knows her well enough to look away.
They continue to walk in dead silence, two silhouettes side by side in a restless city. The sun lowers in the sky, and the horizon deepens into nautical blue and indigo. In a nearby ash tree, an elegant raven mocks a murder of clumsy crows. The desperate, angry cawing at the intrusive figure gliding effortlessly around them clashes with the empty space in the little graveyard beside the church. Today is Rose’s birthday.
Jane is swiftly moving from corner to corner, tidying up things as she goes. A candle flickers on the coffee table, sitting adjacent on an old Persian rug that seems to take up a tremendous amount of space in her small apartment. Some obscure, unknown band is playing on the radio and the windows are wide open, letting in the cool morning breeze. The lingering smell of syrup and bacon sticks to Rose as she lies stretched out on the fading blue sofa, staring up at the ceiling as though it is more than just an off-white barrier between her and the sky.
“It’s been three weeks and I still don’t feel 23.”
Jane tsks playfully. “Don’t worry, it will catch up with you.”
Rose picks at a wayward string unraveling from her yellow sweater and fixes her eyes on Jane, a glint of admiration leaking out that Jane would have seen had she been looking.
“You never finished explaining that riddle.”
“…Oh, right.” Jane grabs her corn husk broom and begins carefully poking at a stubborn pile of dust and debris nestled behind the wooden leg of a table. “The answer is actually very simple, though still clever. The man in the middle would have the opposite color hat from the man in front of him. Otherwise, the third man in the back would have immediately called out the answer.” Jane glances over and notices that Rose looks contemplative but is scrunching her mousey little nose in a way that reveals she still does not understand.
“You can probably look it up online. Just google three men and some hats riddle.” Jane offers.
Rose’s face colors like the sunrise outside and she nods. She is quiet for a long time after that and Jane carries on until the space in nearly spotless.
“I think that this is acceptable for hosting a party, yes?” Jane inquires, settling into the couch next to Rose. She looks around, appraising her own work. The silence prompts her to look over, and she notices that Rose looks apprehensive.
“…Are you okay?”
“Hm? Yes. Sorry. It looks great.”, Rose stumbles sheepishly.
Jane looks at her patiently, waiting for her to say more.
“I’m moving to Germany.”
Jane is stunned and says nothing, her face revealing little.
“I accepted an internship and I leave at the end of the month.”
“Oh. That’s…well, congratulations.” Jane manages. “I am happy for you. It sounds like an incredible opportunity. In fact, I have always wanted to go to Deutschland.”
“You could come visit.”
“That would be nice.”
“All of my expenses will be paid for and it could lead to something long term.”
Jane shifts. “Have you…told Vincent yet?”
Rose is hesitant.
“No. I was planning to tell him tonight.”
“Well, I am sure that he will understand. And besides, you do not have to worry about that until later. We should celebrate now. This is good news.”
Rose looks relieved.
Jane stands and reaches her hand out and she accepts it, quickly and gratefully.
“We could take the ferry and go visit the ocean?”
“I like that idea.” Jane says.
Rose looks at her. “You are a good friend.”
Rebecca McPherson is a 27-year-old mother, full time student and wife with an insatiable hunger for both writing and reading. She is pleased to share her mind with us. She has been using the blank slate of a page to untangle her thoughts and express her perceptions of the world and of existence since she was a young girl. Her favorite poets are T.S Eliot, Sylvia Plath and Robert Frost.