The day was cold. William was going over to Emma’s, his gloves gloving his hands (if that could even be a term of sorts). He was worried, he could hear anxiety passing through his limbs, edging out of his fingers. Shivering. Maybe it was the cold? He could not tell.
It was Spring. However, the day was set without the sun, though he knew it was behind the clouds with the stars and planets and comets and blackness of space. How odd to understand he was nothing in this universe. He left the thought for fear he would be stuck on it.
The door to her apartment had an upside down 345 on it, and he believed somewhere that she had purposely performed this act, as a sort of rebellion. Perhaps to piss off everyone traveling to her house, not sure if they were at the right place or not.
He knocked twice.
She opened once. She looked pretty, his head felt empty for a moment, words trying to escape his lips. Unintelligent words he had to keep in. Her hair was up in an intricate braid. It was clean and sort of nice. She smiled.
“Hello,” she said. “Hi.” “Shall you come in?” I think I shall.”
Emma opened the door wider and they met in the middle of her hallway, his breath reaching out to touch her skin. She twinkled somewhere deep inside. A singular lightbulb hung above them.
“A halogen? You should get one of those good ones.” “When you figure out what they’re actually called perhaps I will.” “Okay good. Hey this is a nice place.” “Thank you, I tend to think the same when I’ve cleaned.” “I didn’t say it was clean.” “Hey, you’re an asshole.”
Will laughed. Taking the arm of his jacket, she lead him to the kitchen, where he leaned up against the island, his hands sliding across the granite like countertop absentmindedly.
She pulled a bottle out from a cabinet, the door shutting softly. She must have those rubber stopper buttons that Will used to pull off in his family home much to the irritation of his mother. It was even worse when he used a knife to cut the paint off the wall.
“Wine?” “It’s like 4.” “Thank you for giving me a rough estimate on the time, it would’ve bothered me if you hadn’t. Wine?” “Yeah. Yeah all right.”
She poured him a glass.”You’re not gonna have any?” He asked. “God no! It’s 4 o’clock! I don’t want people thinking I’m an alcoholic like you.”
There is a space between phone rings that feels like the longest, quietest moment of all life. It rings. Then there is silence, an unmatchable silence, one that cannot be broken, one that seems to hang in the relativity of space until we will all, one by one, disappear into dust.
It blisters your ears, it brings blood into your fingers, it hurts. You think it will last forever, this silence.
But then the beeping begins again; the cycle pulls you under.
Will heard the first strand of buzzing while reading an arduous magazine article about some country that had recently experienced an earthquake. He fell away from the words at the first hiss of electricity, jolting up and running to his cream, cracked, corded phone.
“Hello?” The eagerness resounded through the static.
“Hey, is this Will?” The voice was as light as he expected, as similar to a face to face encounter as he assumed.
“Yes, it is I.”
“Yes, we’ve already established the greetings,” Emma murmured. He could hear the eye roll.
“Thanks for writing on my hand,” Emma continued, though her sarcasm felt not biting, but rather humored and happy. “I love getting ink in my skin. It could be stuck there for ages.”
“Did you know humans are like snakes and constantly shedding. By the time you die, you will have lost about 105 pounds of skin.”
Will hit himself on the forehead, thinking Idiot, Idiot.
For a long moment, neither spoke, thoughts lost in minds. She did not seem to contain a response to his statement, his oddity released in nervous moments.
But, for no reason other than their curiosity in each other, Will and Emma enjoyed the static of this silence; they could hear each other’s breaths collecting in the ear pieces, blending with the electricity, reverberating as if they were lying next to each other in a dark night, their eyes closed but their ears wide open, and listening to the sounds of humanity in silence. Car horns and air brushed up against their minds, but neither minded; together, in this partial closeness, they could taste each other’s thoughts.
“You’ve been on the internet a lot, haven’t you?” She replied, finally breaking the light tension pulling on their world. It was too much at one time.
“There’s so much to distract me with on there,” He said, laughing.
Their conversation continued lightly for minutes after, going from subject to subject without learning much more than how the opposite person reacted to reactions.
“We should get together again,” Emma mumbled right after she spoke a good-bye. “Can I text you or something?”
“I don’t own a cellphone.”
“It’s just a distraction. Plus, I’d rather hear a person’s voice. Yours is magical.”
“Okay, I’ll call you soon then.”
After Will hung up, Emma looked about her apartment and suddenly felt the need to make it presentable.
He woke up late on a Sunday morning. Uneventful days had passed since the last time he had spoken to Emma, and suddenly she was all he thought of. How cliché of him to think such, but it was honestly true. The first thought of his morning, the last thought of his night. No one could replace her in his mind. In his mind. What else did he know about her?
These thoughts shook out of his head, dripping from his ears and onto the concrete. Already out there door, he stood with his bag. He walked to the bus stop. His feet calmly took him up the steps when it reached his street.
And when the bus took him to the landmark she last came onto, he prayed to whatever higher being of life existed above him in all controls of fate.
Three people came on before she stepped into the shadows of scratched glass. Her blue toms were cut and worn, bruised by years of walking and running towards nothing. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, a bright, colorful 60s headband tied above her forehead. She looked twenty five years young in an era much too old for the one she should have lived in.
Emma saw Will immediately after dropping her coins. A smile crept onto her lips, but seemed to resonate through her entire body, like she was finally away from all the terrible sounds Reality kept.
To the same effect, Will woke up, as if he could see brilliance in everything again. The sky blew over them, and for this blissful time together, he and she let the liquid of air wash over them, the clouds dissapitating far beyond their reach.
Emma sat down next to him, winking. “Haven’t seen you in awhile. Miss me much?”
He laughed, the sort of laugh you bottle up in your memory because it answers a question. “Of course, of course. Did I wander through you any?”
She shrugged, glancing away. She did not need to scare him with the odd daydreams she let linger in her, the journal entries filled with his face and the old innocence of his self. A blush crept onto her, but left soon enough.
The conversation wandered after that. His breath escaped him, mixing words with hers—she delved into the sincerity of love and lust and time and all she wished she could keep then, all she wished she had the courage to say. Her smile would linger in his eyes until the end of the day. And the next after. But each time their eyes met, they shut the blinds quickly, ignoring it. Ignore it, ignore it. Who said that?
When she stood up to leave, he said, “Wait wait.”
He took a pen from his pocket and wrote his phone number. “Just so I never have to search the sky for you again.”
She sat down again, looking at it for a moment. “Have you ever noticed that when a ballpoint pen touchs skin, it always looks as if it will pool off, all of those ink blots forming into a pond, a river, or a stream?”
She paused for a bit, to glance up at him. Their hearts raced again. She ignored it. He let the pounding encompass his soul.
“But it never does.”
Sometimes it is unnoticeable, but it always happens.
For Will, it was almost instantaneous, though he didn’t notice for a short while. His eyes are glazed, his brain barely registering what goes on before him. Life passes slowly for him, but he retains almost no knowledge of what his days are like. The sky pales and brightens, but his eyes only glance up for short bursts of time.
But he begins to see her, red. Red, everywhere. Auburn floating over his vision, clouding his eyes, draping his eyelashes, colouring his lids, and all of this is because he met a girl twice. But he cannot help it, his mind cannot help it, he wants to see her again.
And he is not alone in this. When one meets someone so beautifully different and inherently wonderful that causes heartbeats to skip and smiles to tug, life is caught in only two moments: When you are around her and when you are not, but your eyes, unconsciously, skim crowds in hope she is there, standing, waiting, also looking for you.
He sees red, he finds it in the coffeeshops, and he sees it on the bus. Every remotely red headed female is her and when he sees it is not her, all he can think of is her, Emma, wandering the streets with a delightful smiling, perhaps fraternizing with another boy, a cuter boy, a stronger boy, a more musically talented boy.
Here comes the sadness, for Will, the over thinking he has always kept to himself, the weird inability to believe in fate, the worst-case scenarios that are never real scenarios. Where is she, if she isn’t here? What if she has a boyfriend and she is playing with you? What if she’s married (that one is cut from his mind quickly, as he did not see a wedding band)?
It doesn’t matter if he quits thinking about her. Subconsciously he is searching every place, every street, every corner for her, hoping she is waiting on the other side, hoping he can perform some romantic gesture to a girl he barely knows, but he believes she could be the one.
Only when he stops seeing red will he finally see her, truly, the real Emma, walking up to him with a half-smile, jokingly asking, “Did you miss me?”
“You have no idea.”
Will saw her in the early afternoon several days after their first meeting. The sky was a gray blue, a swirling aquarium of light. Clouds were shaped like fishes, sharks chasing guppies. It was a Winter to Spring sort of day.
He was walking through Meridian park, when he saw her standing on a concrete bridge, her red hair billowing. He wasn’t taking in chances.
Within moments, he finds himself next to her. “Hello.”
Emma turns with a short fright, her eyes widening before fading to normal. “Will, it’s nice to see you again.” She means it.
“Uh, the same to you,” He replies, smiling.
There is silence hanging over them. Have the clouds fallen? Is this a fog? These thoughts pass through him slowly before she whispers again.
“Do you see the river below us?”
He looks down at the icy surface, the pale of snow having long faded, but the cold breath of winter still lingering in their ears.
“What about it?”
Her eyes brighten for a moment, the emeralds sharpening. “It’s one of those days again, when we are stuck between seasons, and the streams are still covered in ice, but thinning out. We can see below now, like when water was real and moving.”
He stares with her before letting out a short breath, it clouding his face. “Like glass. A window to the world beneath.”
She seems surprised, her face turning with raised eyebrows. She searches him. Finds nothing.
“I have to go,” She says, but a small grin curls in her lips.
He lets her leave.
Two days after her coincidental bus ride, Emma was sitting in her good friend’s apartment talking nonchalantly. It was late afternoon and the sky was turning a pinkish colour, the hue of her fingernails at her eight grade dance. Like a sunset about to begin.
Her friend, Laura, was slipping around the kitchen in her socks, searching for cinnamon. Her blonde curls were stuck in a tightly knit bun, her glasses slightly askew.
“I swear to God,” Laura said, rummaging through the cabinets of her apartment kitchen. The air was dusty, highlighted by fading sunlight. “I can’t have buttered toast without cinnamon. It just… It doesn’t do it for me. Have you seen it?”
Ignoring her friend, Emma stirred her coffee and mumbled, “So I met this guy on the bus.”
Laura stopped suddenly. Emma doesn’t meet guys. Faking normalcy, Laura murmured, “Oh? And what is his name?”
Laura sighed inwardly. The way Emma said the name. There was something to her tone. Not a lot, but enough to create a minor attraction.
“What’s he like?”
“He’s a musician. And seems all right. We only had a short conversation…”
“So why are we talking about him if you two barely spoke?” Laura asked.
Emma frowned. “I dunno. I guess. He doesn’t seem full, like he’s missing something. I want to help him.”
“Why?” Laura said, going back to her search.
Emma’s eyes were caught on the countertop reflection. She ran her hands through her hair and the sleeplessness of her self. She found herself blushing. “I like helping people.”
Laura didn’t respond.
It was a Tuesday morning. The sky was blue and covered by a few rolling clouds. The streets were covered by a thin layer of dust, as every city in every morning. The bus ran through, pausing to let on a single passenger at the corner of 32nd and Lake.
The man dropped his eighty five cents, his toll for the day. He walked up the aisle and took a window seat on the left. His messenger bag dropped on ground, he pulled out a white spiral and a pencil from his short brown hair.
On the other side of the aisle was a girl who looked to be a year or two younger than him. She wore auburn hair and a blue dolman sleeve shirt. She has been staring out the scratched window as the city went by, the reflective surface contorting the people outside. When the man came along, she turned to look at him, relatively curious. And when he pulled out the notebook and began to mark lines and notes, she became relatively interested. Her nose twiddled, her freckles shaking on her face.
For a bit they stayed like that, her eyes watching his hands move along. Until he said, “you know, if you want to get a closer look you could just ask.”
She jumped slightly when he looked at her. His eye were the colour of a winter sky, a pale grey mask of the sun. In the clouds she could see a little bit of bright sunlight. His smile was weak though, as if he hadn’t in awhile.
She stood up and walked over to him and sat down next to him. “What are you doing then?”
He marked a few more lines and from here she could see that it was a musical composition. “I’m writing a song. Or at least I’m trying to.”
She didn’t say anything more, but watched him still. The bus drove on, stopping suddenly and starting just as quickly. The doors would open, a piece of carbon dioxide escaping and a breath of fresh oxygen clouding the interior.
“I’m Emma,” The girl said, her emerald eyes sparkling with a quick grin. His heart started again, for the first time in many years.
“Why do you write music, Will?” She asked, running her fingers over the notes. To her they were only black splotches.
He shrugged. “I guess I love it. It’s something easy for me.”
Her nose twiddled again. “That’s cool I guess.”
They were silent for awhile as the bus continued. He watched as she stared out the window again. The sun rose higher. He began writing again. But he was unfocused and every second spent looking down was spent looking at her hands fidgeting, the moles on her wrists.
The bus stopped again. Will sighed and stood up. “This is me.”
Will looked up, faking nonchalance. “Oh? Well, will I see you again?”
She twisted her lips, thinking. “Hopefully.”
Emma walked off then. Will watched her through the window, but her body was contorted by the glass, the converging cracks. He could not see all of her. Not yet.