A slice of moonlight slid through the trees and rested on the walk like still-frozen butter. The man paused there. His cap seemed to draw some of the silvery butter into it, making it glow like stars. His face was downcast and shadowy, his nose silhouetted like the gnarled knot of a tree in a decaying forest.
That’s not to say he was unpleasant to look at. He was splendidly ordinary, in fact. His suit was well pressed, his briefcase as purely black as his cap, and his face could only be described as that of a man
named Tom, Bob, Bill, Joe, or Tim. His hair gave his forehead the look of a spider, as stuck-together jet-black strands arced from his hairline with only the ends touching his eyebrows.
The man gave off an air of polite contentedness to all who would believe it, but an unmistakable unease lingered beneath.
The blanket of warm summer night buffeted him in the face. It was stifling to him. It seemed to crease his pristine suit jacket, and retain all of the sparkles and smiles and laughter and kisses that had occurred that night in the world. He disliked it.
He paced deliberately onward in his own gloom. To any who passed, it would seem as though a section of the path was under the influence of some invisible freezer. His despair affected the air around him, cooling it noticeably.
As he dragged himself along through the circlets of street lamps and was swallowed again by shadow, he pondered the progress (rather dramatically) as a metaphor for normal life, fraught with both happiness and sadness. His was one of only shadow! He was unable to continue through the golden circlets, he thought. He was resigned to melodramatic self-pity, and he knew it, but there was nothing for it.
He clicked and unclicked the polished steel lock on his briefcase, as was his habit. The “thwack” rang through the street, slithering under light-spilling doorways, and into the puppet shows of happy silhouettes framed in windows. He turned, and found he’d suddenly arrived at his address, to a party his friend had invited him to, absent-mindedly.
“Nice of you to come!” said a voice, intertwining with the last notes of the doorbell. The man appeared to be staring past the voice. Slowly the voice became corporeal and the man reached to shake hands with his friend. The friend smiled at him, but the smile only whispered through his friend’s eyes, where the man saw more sadness than he would like. This evening was one of many attempts made by his friend to cheer him out of his state of despair, but the friend seemed to have given up on his usual displays of joy towards the man, and was resigned to inviting him in the hope that the man would find some joy on his own.
The bathroom was white and tiled. The toilet seat cover felt cold, even through his slacks. The shelf above the sink held variously colored toothbrushes, which he had washed thoroughly, straightened, and arranged in a color-coded order acceptable to him. He was now staring at the wall, brow beading with sweat, and spider-leg hair quivering in a most disconcerting fashion. He muttered “Curious” under his breath. It was a habit of his to use this word for most any occasion when he was occupied by something other than his singular depression.
The man had been at the party for only two minutes and thirty –four seconds by his count, before slinking away to the social respite of the bathroom. He had experienced several things, most of which he disliked, and one which made him extremely nervous.
One: A very large overbearing man holding a drink was speaking loudly at a man and a woman, specifically, speaking at them and not with them. That was an important distinction, he thought.
Two: A squat, corpulent, toad-like fellow who, after turning away from his conversation, had looked at the man in an extremely bellicose manner.
Three: A man had his head in a woman’s lap. She was looking down at him and stroking the hair just above his ear.
Four: A group of red-looking women was taking shots. They all had ruddy cheeks, and scarlet high heels, defying their short statures.
Five: He saw her.
For a moment he was in his home, glancing at the chipped paint on the door from where another man had slammed it, stepping over broken glass as he bade her “Wait. Please don’t go.” He felt a silver tear slide down his cheek and onto his lip. “Can we talk about this? Can we talk? Please!” His mouth was dry and salty. “I love you.”
Her wispy blonde hair almost caught in the door as she closed it.
And suddenly he was at the party again. The past slipped away and the man was assaulted by the happy light and cacophonous music around him.
She was sitting across from a lean man who was laughing at her, no, with her. He briefly stared at her slender fingers resting on the table and had immediately taken refuge in the bathroom, where he began sweating, and indulging the strange fidgety habits he had developed since she left him. His heart seemed to be attacking itself at this moment, which seemed, well, curious.
He returned to the common room, determined to have some sort of communication with her and, curiously, found the room silent except for a soft lilting voice spilling out of every corner. He nearly shed a tear as he simultaneously recognized the voice and gazed upon its source. Her. She was sitting at the piano with her mouth slightly open, singing. At once he looked for the lean man, and found him in his original place across from her empty seat. He saw the lean man’s perfectly insidious expression as he gently placed a small white capsule in her neglected wine. The man looked down at his own body, which seemed a nebulous proposition as his mind dithered about. He looked again in time to observe her waiting mouth, her moving hands and the touch of the ruby glass to her lips.
The man returned to the bathroom straightaway to ponder what he had seen. He had to tell her, he had to warn to her, he had to speak to her, to smell her, to hear her.
A cat, landing on the windowsill, startled him. His nose turned his head to look at it. It was jet black with bright eyes, one yellow, one green. Curious. He scratched its neck and fiddled its ears. Animals were the only enjoyment he ever got these days. He visited animal shelters and gave them attention, even smiled sometimes, but he was particularly fond of cats. He had one of his own that he loved dearly, despite being allergic. The man was beginning to really like this cat, maybe even call it a friend, when it bounded out of the window without turning its bright eyes away. He stuck his head out to divine the cat’s location, but it hadn’t gone far. It stared back at him from a circlet of light. He heard a heavenly voice, and his breath caught in his throat as he regarded her, hair streaming from the second story above him.
He quickly left the bathroom and made his way upstairs. The man began sweating instantly and, as he knocked on the door, he fixed his suit despite its immaculate condition.
“Come in,” rang a voice. He perspired more profusely as the door swung open and she turned to meet him.
“ My god it’s you! It’s been ages, how are you?” Her voice came from every corner of the room again.
She smiled and the beam of light directed at his face from her teeth dazzled him. She was scintillating to him. She spilled with soft exciting promises of momentous events and cool evening stars.
“I hope you’re great, you deserve to be great, I hope you’re excellent,” she continued. “You look great!” This last part she said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster, but not enough came.
“Oh, thanks,” he said, flushing. “ You look, you look…” he coughed, “…good to see you too! I heard you up here and I thought I might say hello.”
He looked around wishing something curious would happen so he could comment on it, but nothing materialized.
“Well, I’m very glad you did,” she came closer. “It has been too long.”
She placed her slender hand on his shoulder, and he hoped there wouldn’t be a crease. She smiled and he twiddled his thumbs at disconcerting speed. “Well, I should be getting back down” she said and stared at him before moving from the room.
“Wait!” he said, his tongue remembered what his mouth had to say.
She turned back.
“Yes?” she said.
He was silent. His nose looked gnarled from the shadow he had stepped into. He was worried, worried she wouldn’t believe him, worried she would revile him and abhor him for suggesting such a thing. His brain and mouth fought, and made his throat hurt. He was a scrupulous man and knew he had to say something, but he didn’t know how, and his thumbs seemed to be preparing to spin off his hands of their own accord.
“I liked your song,” he said. She smiled.
The night from the open window oppressed him as he sat on the toilet seat cover in the bathroom. The laughs and smiles of the world in the night battered his face harder, as though he were standing in the bow of a very fast ship being assaulted by spray. He felt much worse than usual. He had to tell her about the man. Maybe she would hate him and he would hate himself more. Maybe she would say something curious. Or maybe she would love him for it, love him again. His heart fluttered for a moment again, but was halted by the fetter that kept it sufficiently low in his chest.
Hope would not do, not at all.
Despite his efforts, as his head probed out of the bathroom window and the frozen butter of the moon made his hat glow, hope grew in his chest as he watched for her departure. Once or twice yellow-green eyes alit upon him from the shadows and he returned the curiosity.
Curious, he thought.
As he saw the woman leaving the apartment, he seemed to be already out the bathroom door. He had moved with a blur that would have to be called desperate. The bellicose toad glared at him as he hastily departed the party.
“Wait!” She turned at the bottom of the steps. The lean man was with her, holding her hand. “There is something I must tell you,” he said, his body shuddering. She looked concerned.
His mind shook as though under siege. He glanced nervously at the lean man, who was casting indignant looks his way, and lowered his voice. “He put something in your drink.” His voice trembled and seemed to sweat. “I saw him, while you were singing.” The woman considered him for several moments and his thumbs twiddled separately, if such a thing can be done.
“This,” she said, “is my boyfriend.” The fetter grew much, much tighter around his heart, and she angled her head so that her eyes seemed to have points, points directed at his head. “I can’t believe you. You are still such a child. What a pathetic attempt.”
“No, no, I didn’t mean-“
“Stop. Just stop,” she cut him off. “Please never speak to me again.”
The tears glowed just like his hat did, in the slices of light through the trees. He had collapsed soon after the wisps of her hair had disappeared around a corner. The curb felt cold and so did his throat, in which the toad from the party seemed to have taken up residence.
He knew this was going to happen. He felt worse than he ever had. He had been lessened to something he didn’t know he could feel, and the warm summer night’s blanket crammed its way into his ears and pounded through his head.It was more than he had felt in a long while. How curious, he thought. He hoped there was no one nearby to see in his self-pity, but his only company was the piece of squashed gum beneath himand the black cat from the windowsill.
As it turned and its tail swished away, he arose to pursue it. At least he was interested in what the cat was doing. Maybe he would have a companion. After a block, it leapt up onto the first level of a fire escape and began climbing the remaining four levels to the roof. He smoothed his suit, and followed the yellow and green eyes.
The cat sat on the flat roof, so he did as well. They gazed at one another, and it seemed to the man that its eyes, as he stared into them, were a receptacle for his sadness. His sadness was endless, and this did little to diminish it, but was a small comfort. He felt he had found a spirit to share with him this terrible night. It could not penetrate the black coat of the cat. Nor the frozen air his mood created that swam around them. Curious, he thought.
The cat got up and turned, walking to the raised edge of the roof. Searching beyond it for a moment it jumped from the roof. He stood and walked to a space just before the ledge, the night seemed cool now, not as oppressive to him.
The heel of his shoe made a scraping noise as he dropped from the edge.