Forty-six cents. All I needed was forty-six cents and, lo and behold, the change purse was coming up with nothing but pennies, and foreign change. I could have strangled myself for not bringing the five dollar bill stashed in an old jar somewhere on my bookshelf. At least, I think it was on my bookshelf. I had put it there for exactly this situation, when I'd forgotten to buy a monthly subway pass. The teller waiting smiled at me, but I could tell she was one of those 'hold the emotion on the inside', 'I'm going to kill you by pushing you in front of a train by accident' types. Usually I could spot them because I'd had too many similar situations, not unlike the one I presently found myself in. Meanwhile passengers waited in much the same manner as the teller. Politely restrained anger only lasted so long.
"Oh look!" I pulled out a coin. "A quarter!"
I thought I heard the small line-up behind me sigh. One lady even threw her hands up in the air, quite exasperated. I didn't understand what she was so frustrated about – it had only been five minutes and usually these sorts of situations took at least seven and a half minutes to solve – not that I had counted; I'd read it in a book.
A man shoved me roughly aside and dropped some kind of bill onto the counter, a gold watch gleaming in the faint light of the teller's station. "This is for the both of us, now can you just give the lady a ticket?" Beads of sweat had formed on his rather protrusive forehead, and a receding hairline of grayish brown hair had been flattened against his balding head. Wiry white and grey hairs poked out of his thick, flabby ears and his blue eyes were shoved deep into this rough-skinned face.
I smiled at the annoyed suit-clad man, who could have very well been a bus himself. "Thanks. You didn't have to do that."
He snatched his own ticket with meaty fingers and shoved one in my face, grunting snobbishly. "I didn't do it for you."
"Oh." My smile immediately faltered.
Why was it that random acts of kindness were the
result of impatience? What a mean, impatient …nice
businessman. I hope Dr. Atkins hunts you down!
I ran up the nearest escalator and onto my awaiting subway train, weaving through strangers as though in a maze. The sights and smells and sounds of the station weren't foreign to me anymore: people speaking unusually fast on cell phones that attached to their ears to block the rest of humanity out, homeless people asking for change, and mothers with children that just couldn't sit still seemed to fade into the background of my subconscious. Even side-stepping blobs of multi-colored gum didn't faze me anymore.
I managed to dodge most of the melee and had almost made it to the door before I bumped into something solid. The scent of cologne that this solid wore smelled of spice and something else – probably one of those sprays that were supposed to attract women like a magnet. I suppose it had worked due to my unfortunate run-in. Immediately apologies flew out of my mouth, almost like a robotic automation. The 'solid' reassured me that it was okay, though I didn't really see his face because I was frantically hoping that the subway train door wouldn't close on me. I hadn't bumped into anyone in at least a week, which had led me to believe that my momentary habit of running into people, and/or non-moving objects, unintentionally had been cured. Apparently I'd had no such luck. Quickly I scurried into the nearest train car, thankful to be rid of the awkward moment.
Settling into a seat at the back, I propped my feet up and stared. The run-in incident slowly faded as I let my thoughts drift. I always sat in the back of the train. You were more likely to get followed home by a serial murderer if you sat near the front. I'd read it in a book once.
The rattling subway train wasn't too full, perhaps ten, plus a toddler on a leash and a Seeing Eye dog.
An old couple sat near me, probably having read the same book I had. The man held his wife's hand as they both stared absently out the etched, and muddy window. Each of them had snow white hair and wrinkled old hands. They also wore matching sky blue jogging outfits, which I noted as a trend amongst the older couples I had observed. Perhaps in growing older, matching helped to lessen the tendency to lose the other partner, I thought. They did look quite cute, though. I snapped a quick photo and resumed my observing. The couple appeared not to have noticed my candid photograph.
A scruffy-looking teenager listening to music through headphones in his sunglasses bobbed his head and seemed to stare straight ahead. Messy, mousy brown tufts fell across his face, uncombed and rebellious. His skin was marked with the typical sight of pimples, but he had taken the time to wash the oil and greasiness away somewhat. Feet and hands that looked too big on him, and pants that looked too small finished the image. He was just a gangly teenager attempting to get away from the world for awhile, and music was his outlet.
Next was a woman and her toddler who pulled on a blue leash that held him within a safe distance. He gurgled with glee and attempted to pick up a piece of gum from the floor. His mother tugged, and he was pulled away from his prize with an unhappy frown. I could understand why a mother would use a leash, but it did seem to make the child look more bothersome, like he was an animal. Perhaps that was all children were becoming these days: a pet that was more a luxury item rather than a must-have.
Various others dotted the seats, quite scattered. No one really talked to each other as the sound of metal moving over tracks drowned out speech: click-click, click-click, click-click. Throughout the seven months that I'd been taking the train, it seemed to me that there was an unspoken rule to never talk to strangers. One was never allowed to make eye contact either, for perhaps one would accidentally look into their eyes and read their soul. Apparently the experience was dreadfully unpleasant, because no one ever did. I'd even tried it once, just to prove my theory correct. The person had skittered away in possible fear and went to sit at the front. In retrospect I had increased their chances of being killed by a serial killer, but at the time I had been disgusted. The rules of society were so self-preservatory.
I stared out the window and caught my reflection through the dirty, etched glass. Various shades of red streaked my hair, as though a downpour of each color had rained down from the sky. This rouge hair had been cut and layered in a choppy, jagged mess to the length of somewhere below my jaw line, but I could never tell due to the many layers. My hair was usually drowning in hair product – mostly mouse – and so on this particular morning I had pinned some of the back up, let the sides hang down, and shoved a few bobby pins in come-over style to allay the barrage of bangs that almost reached my mouth. Grey-blue eyes were the orbs of which I saw the world, and judged it as I saw fit. A firm jaw and cheeks that dimpled when I smiled only helped to create the illusion that I was sixteen, perhaps younger. A small, button nose only painted the word 'minor' on my face, but I wasn't; looks can lie.
I frowned at my slightly warbled reflection. If a stranger had ever looked at me, which I'm sure they had, they would have labeled me…,well I wasn't sure what they would have labeled me.
A rebel? My skin held a tattoo or two, or perhaps three, mostly hidden. An eyebrow ring had been pierced into my face, but nothing else so extreme. Other than that, my ears were pierced at least eight times. I didn't wear dark make-up or dark clothes that so many of 'them' did, nor did I possess the 'I hate the world and wish everyone would die' attitude so many of 'them' seemed to exude. No, I wasn't a rebel.
An intellectual? Not to the casual observer. Usually intellectuals wore glasses and looked smart. I only wore glasses for reading – inside my apartment – and almost always had a dumb-struck look pasted on my face. True, I read more books that were mentally healthy, but I couldn't exactly regurgitate the information if I'd tried – not that I hadn't; definitely not intellectual.
Artsy was probably the general consensus. With ragged jeans carrying a few stains of paint, a long lacy shirt underneath an old brown t-shirt, and jewelry I'd purchased in Africa, I was pretty sure I looked as if I'd stepped out of a Bohemian colony of some sort. Woe was me. To have been cornered into such a stereotypical genre was so naïve of society. No matter, it couldn't be helped. It was in a person's nature to categorize, and categorizing people especially seemed to be a favorite. I just so happened to fit into the short, cute, artsy category. Guaranteed if I were to run down the street screaming with only underwear atop my head, I would be sure to fall under the naked, crazy, rebellious section of someone's brain.
I found it funny how humans interpreted each other, even though the person whom they were interpreting could have been entirely different than what they looked like. First impressions were key in human contact, however. And so I played a game – the game that every person in the world plays. I watched people and categorized them, just as they would categorize me, and would speak to that person to see if indeed I was correct. Most always I happened to be wrong, as most people usually were in their assumptions about another human being. In most cases I didn't mind so much that I had been wrong.
The train slowed and jerked to a stop: my stop. I made sure I wasn't followed and walked the familiar route out into the bright morning sun, and the sidewalk of Wasabi Street. The sign marking the road's beginning had been stolen more than once. I loved stepping onto the street because, to me, it always felt as though I had stepped into a colorful, quirky new world that had nothing to do with the city in which I lived.
Each shop had been standing there for eons, and the owners were old and sometimes cantankerous, as some old people tended to become. I was looking forward to becoming old and grey and cantankerous, just for the excuse. In any case, each shop owner knew me by name, even though I had the tendency to forget theirs. Names and I had never been destined to marry and grow old together. I had, however, created a list of all the different ways to say 'Hey you!' or 'Hello' without trailing off like a bumbling idiot. Somehow this inability to remember names had leaked out anyway. So much for keeping a low profile.
Miss Quincy, a short, bent over old Chinese woman with so many wrinkles her lips and eyes were barely discernable, waved. She always waved – it was one of our 'Wasabi Street traditions'. "Not polite to not wave." Miss Quincy had explained to me one day in her broken English. That had been after she hit me in the back of the legs with her broom for not waving. Her narrow, lidless eyes always squinted, and with a combination of wrinkles, she looked as though she had a permanent glare on her face. She had told me that when she came to America, she and her husband had changed their last names to sound "mo' American". I loved her dearly, though. She would scurry into her shop of Chinese delicacies and come out with my daily fortune cookie. Every day was a different fortune. Miss Quincy said, "Same fortune in two day is bad luck." So far I'd managed to have good luck, though I wasn't sure how much trust I could put in 'luck'.
I was handed my fortune cookie by the petite woman and smiled as I opened it. "You will need to be careful today. Confucius says 'A wise man keeps his mouth closed and his ears open.'" I tilted my head in confusion. "He must know what he's talking about."
Miss Quincy grinned a toothless smile that only caused her eyes to disappear completely for a moment. "Today is good day."
"I certainly hope so. Have a good day, too, Miss Quincy." I waved and continued on my way.
Next stood a cozy little patisserie owned by an older French couple who traveled every summer to somewhere exotic. Both were still spry and happy, giving the traditional wave as I passed by the window. Usually the place was filled with elderly customers – old friends.
Old Mr. Finnigan swept the front mat of his small pet store. He was a timid man who stood well over me and gave a thin-lipped smile and wave. His dog, Scratch, lifted his golden head and wagged his tail. I loved visiting the both of them on breaks because all the animals inside were just as friendly. That particular pet store was where I had picked up my cat, Dog.
Next was my store, simply named The Brown Bookstore: New & Used Books. I had pestered Fiona, the owner, once or twice about why she had chosen brown, but she had never given me an answer. She lived above the shop with her cats, Molly and Sam, and had hired me due to her deteriorating health. A cigarette sat permanently between her thin lips, and she read mostly mysteries and English authors, even though she needed a magnifying glass. In the six months that I had known her I'd sworn she had shrunk at least an inch. She had waved it off as bad bones.
A small bell tinkled above my head, the sound signaling my arrival. The usual smell of books and bindings met my nose, which crinkled momentarily. I loved the smell of books. They reminded me of Percy, the cigar shop owner across the street. His shop always had a funny yet comforting smell, almost like one would expect from a grandfather. Percy would sometimes come over to chat with Fiona about the weather and arthritis aches and pains, and with him would come the smell, the 'grandpa smell'.
Books lined the shelves that wrapped around the ancient warm-colored walls. Ornately carved shelves sat in scattered positions about the room, so heavy that we never attempted to move them. On the far side of the room was a small, warmly lit area, with an overstuffed creamy yellow couch and matching chair, accompanied with a coffee table. This marked an area where many of our customers sat to relax and read their new finds, or finds that weren't yet theirs. Thankfully enough light came from outside so that the store wasn't so drab and dull, rather warm and inviting.
"You're late," came a voice from behind what was supposed to be a counter. Subsequently it had taken to being submerged in books.
"'Morning, Fiona." I smiled and poked my head around a rather large stack of books. Fiona sat in her worn, olive green arm chair that she'd claimed to have found at a garage sale of some kind. She was always finding something or other at a garage sale.
"'Morning, dear." she said absently, taking a puff of her cigarette, glasses threatening to jump off the edge of her nose. After a moment she closed her book. "Was the subway late again?"
"Sort of." I hung up my patched side bag and scarf on the wooden coat rack that stayed in a permanent leaning state – Fiona's deal from yet another garage sale. "See, I couldn't find enough change for a ticket," I began to explain.
"Forgot to buy a monthly pass, did you." Fiona asked as though it were a statement, as if she knew already why I had been late. She knew me too well sometimes. With a bit of extra effort she stood and set her book down on the counter, squishing her cigarette butt into an ash tray located on her chair.
"I – well, yes," I didn't bother denying it because Fiona hated excuses. "Anyway, this fat guy in a suit pushes me out of the way and pays for the both of us." We moved to the back slowly.
"Well that was nice of him."
I rolled my eyes. "That's what I thought before he gave me my ticket."
The back room had originally been a kitchen, but Fiona had rid it of all appliances so that it only held a lone green table and a few mismatched chairs. A tiny electric kettle with a giant cow on it, some chipped mugs, and a box of chamomile tea sat on the bit of counter left. I filled the kettle while I continued. "Then he has the nerve to tell me 'I didn't do it for you' when I try to thank him – it was in front of everyone in the line-up and so rude. What is it with people and kindness and the fact that they only show it when it serves their own purpose?"
Fiona lit another cigarette. "The world's deteriorating. There aren't many good people left. You should know that."
With the kettle plugged in I sat down at my usual chair with missing arm rests, resting my elbows on the table. I took to studying Fiona a moment in the comfortable silence. Her eyes were a faded brown, sunken from years of life; face, thin, almost gaunt, full of wrinkles and days of sitting under the harsh sun. A small nose, thin lips, and permed silver and white curls were wavy against her head, not as thick as it once was, but good at lying. She wore a cream-colored blouse with brown tweed vest and matching pants with fluffy bunny slippers that I'd given to her for Christmas. A gold chain with a locket containing a picture of her late husband hung around her neck as it did every day. Fiona had never taken the chain off since she'd received it on her first wedding anniversary.
She caught me staring. "I told you, dear. You can take pictures of everything except for me."
I smiled understandingly. "I won't make you."
Fiona returned the smile and took a puff of her cigarette.
My "boss" – if she could have been called that – and I had met through a sort of odd run-in one day. Newly moved to the city, I had been buying groceries, and after exiting the small store, had run into a woman walking her two cats. I snapped a photo of the sight, but she had come after me with her purse, dragging her cats behind her. I offered to take her to tea instead of throttling me, or worse, breaking my camera. She lit a cigarette and had agreed. Mostly I spoke, but eventually I had learned about her book shop. As a photographer I had needed some extra income, something to pay the bills with and get by.
"I like you," Fiona had said through the smoky cloud about her. "Work for me a bit and I'll see if I can stand you."
At times I had annoyed her with my blathering, but somehow she had learned to like me to the point where we enjoyed each other's company. She had become my dearest friend and confidant, mostly because she always had something to say that was ultimately wise and cryptic.
The bell tinkled, signaling a customer. "I'll get it." I offered, knowing she wouldn't get it anyway. I thought I heard her mutter something, but I had exited the room before she could finish.
Typically our customers were labeled as 'regulars' and if they weren't, they had heard it from a 'regular'. We were a nook in a vast variety of used book stores, so most of our income came from selling books online. To Fiona, it didn't quite matter much how many customers came and went, or how much money she made; she just loved books.
A young man stood by the glass door, eyes focused on the room full of books, though looking slightly perplexed and probably wondering if the place was abandoned. He wore glasses and 'smart'-looking clothes, though casual. Instantly my mind categorized him into the 'intellectual' category. My game had started.
He spun around quickly enough that I could tell I'd startled him. "Hey, um, I'm looking for a book." he chuckled sheepishly immediately afterwards, most likely due to his use of vagueness.
"What kind of book?" I asked, slightly intrigued by his warm, hazel eyes.
"Well," he rubbed his hand over his clean-shaven jaw and glanced upward, "he wanted something along the lines of a biography."
The 'intellectual' persona was crumbling short of my own brain aneurism. Had he used any more vague answers and I would be in serious need of some aspirin. "Anyone specific in mind?"
"Roosevelt I think he said." he lifted his arm helplessly and smiled. "I usually write these things down."
Molly appeared from one of her secret napping places and rubbed against the man's leg. Just as he bent down, a small crash sounded from the back room, sending Molly skittering into an aisle.
"Damn!" came a voice that sounded much like Fiona.
I gave an apologetic smile as Mr. Intellectual stood curiously. "I'll be back. How about you browse the far left corner, just by the window? You should find the biographies on the third shelf from the top."
I left hurriedly, hoping Fiona hadn't fallen or had a stroke. When I reached the back room Fiona stood with a scowl on her face, the floor covered in shards of broken tea cup.
I suppressed the urge to laugh. "What happened?"
Fiona's scowl turned to me, knowing by my held-in smile that I found it a bit comical. "Sam came along and nearly scared the wits out of me." The innocent cat now taking a bath on the table glanced at her at the mention of his name. "Yes, I mean you." she pointed her new cigarette at him and lit it. He went back to washing with a stare of indifference.
"Don't move; I'll get the broom." I ran back to the front and pulled out the broom from the ironically dust-ridden corner, hidden behind Fiona's armchair.
"Everything okay back there?" Mr. Intellectual asked from his browsing in the corner.
"Oh, um, yeah, it was just an accident with – the tea cups and…" I trailed, feeling like a bumbling idiot in the presence of someone who looked so intelligent. "I'm going to go clean it up." Once again I disappeared into the back.
Fiona, for once, had taken my advice and hadn't moved, but she looked cross about it.
I swept quickly to clear a space from her to her chair and underneath the table.
"You missed some." Fiona pointed out.
I pressed my lips together, but said nothing, only complied. Fiona had her moments that I had categorized as 'old person moments', moments where, if she weren't the age of seventy-two, I would have called her a smart alec and sent her to her room, but I didn't. She seemed to smile at my silence.
"Who's the customer?" She asked as I finished up.
"A man wanting a biography about Roosevelt or something."
"Idiotic man." Fiona muttered.
"He seems fairly coherent and intelligent, actually." I knew who she was talking about and grinned at her glare, leaving the room before she could comment.
The man stood shifting from foot to foot as though uncomfortable. Medium-length black hair had been gelled hurriedly, and some of it poked upwards in an attempt to rebel; it covered his forehead and jagged pieces had managed to fall into his eyes. He tugged at his collar absently as he searched titles. "You have quite the collection." he seemed genuinely impressed, but he'd already lost his title as Mr. Intellectual. There was something about him that just seemed…off.
"Fiona finds most of her books at the garage sales or auctions. I think some of the shop keepers donated some of their collection too. Plus the ones we can't get, we buy off the internet." Why I was rambling a spew of unintelligible garble, I had not a clue. Perhaps Confucius had been right: less talking, more listening.
"Oh." he turned back to the shelves. I was surprised he hadn't bolted from the store at that moment.
I had a tendency to, when nervous, spew off useless information; me and my useless, random information. I could have hit myself with a book, but it would have only have furthered the 'crazy' category he was slowly pushing me into.
I grabbed the book that he'd been searching for. "Found it."
He took the book and looked it over before giving a final shrug. For some reason he didn't seem terribly interested in what he was purchasing, a half-distant look in his eyes. I wanted to photograph them, but said 'crazy' category did not want to be reached. Instead I rang up the purchase on the cash machine that had been made in the Dark Ages.
"So, I'm guessing this purchase isn't for you?" I punched some sticky numbers and had to redo the purchase.
He quickly shook his head. "Nah, my grandfather's turning ninety tonight, so he asked for this. It's the only time I have to get dressed up." he smiled nervously and tugged at the collar of his shirt again.
It made sense, I thought. Normally he would have been…a rebel? I couldn't tell with the mix of genres in his attire. He did have small plugs pierced into his ears, though.
"What do you normally read?"
"Oh, well," he shrugged, "poetry mostly."
"Any favorites?" What can I say; I liked being categorized as crazy.
"Well lately I've been reading Robert Frost, but pretty much all poetry strikes me as my favorite." He handed me some money and I have him his change. Change for a fifty was hard to produce. He obviously wasn't poor. "I noticed your collection is pretty sparse."
I nodded. "They go pretty quickly when they're on the shelf. The regulars usually snag them."
"Well, I'll definitely stop by again some time. Thanks for your help."
"Have a great day. Say 'happy birthday' to your Grandpa for me." He grinned as he left, book in hand. I went to the back to pour my lukewarm tea.
"Who was that?" Fiona inquired.
I shrugged. "A guy; he was going to a birthday party for his grandfather and needed a present."
Fiona snorted lightly. "Should have bought cigars from Percy."
I didn't say anything.
By the time the day ended at four o'clock, rain had begun to fall, I'd ingested more than four cups of tea, and we'd only gotten three customers all day. Week days were typically slow. Thursday was no exception. Usually by Saturday the business people ventured to Wasabi Street, wearing clothes that made them seem less intimidating to the cardiac arrest-prone senior citizens. I'd read in a book once of people who were less intimidated by bankers who wore regular clothes and made house calls, even though they were scamming their clients.
I wrapped my scarf around my neck and grabbed my bag. Fiona waited patiently by staircase across from the kitchen in the back. Both of her cats sat next to her feet, as though waiting as well, though I knew they knew it was supper time and were waiting for Fiona to head up the stairs.
"See you tomorrow, Fiona." I said as I turned the lock on the glass door.
After pulling down a large metal gate to protect the door and windows, locking it, and making sure it wouldn't move, I turned and stared at the rain a moment. The rain came down in large drops and was leisurely in falling. In all my years of photography, the rain had been the only thing that you couldn't take only one picture of due to its ever-changing nature. I walked on the left side of the sidewalk, where the overhang of buildings couldn't quite reach, just to feel the drops on my head. I felt like a little kid again.
Truth be told, I was only nineteen. It had been eight long months since I'd moved to the city, just after my birthday. Mostly it felt odd to be edging towards the abyss of adulthood, but more than anything it scared me. Adulthood meant more responsibility, more maturity…it meant searching for a soul mate. Since I had been the young age of fifteen, there hadn't been time for even that.
Normally, I traveled. I'd been everywhere, from India to China, Japan, Paris, Venice, Switzerland, Africa – in short, not too many places had been left out, except for maybe Antarctica. Snapping photos only made so much money before finances ran tight. I would move, make money through photos, make enough to move again, and so on the cycle continued. It had first started when I had been fifteen, when a student exchange program had allowed me to travel to London, England for six months. After that the travel bug had hit me hard, and any chance I had, I saved money to travel straight out of high school. Of course, it all sounds a bit fanciful, perhaps even unbelievable, unpractical, but it wasn't as though I were of a brilliant mind and had a university-destined career. After a few years the money ran out, and I was finally denied a visa, so back to America I went. Not having a family to go home to had landed me in the city.
I loved the city – any city in general really. Everything about them fascinated me. Perhaps it was how so many cultures fit into one place, or how so many people interacted with one another. I liked capturing those moments when no one knew a camera was on them. Life was art, and, to me, life and art were equally beautiful.
My life's plan was severely lacking in the 'near future' section, however. In short, my plan was to save money until one of three things happened. One: a handsome prince would gallop through the constellations to my world of glass and concrete and stone to whisk me away to his castle, where we of course would live happily ever after. Two: I would land a job with National Geographic and be able to travel the world once more without the hassle of money. Or, finally, Three: I would become a freelance photographer, selling my pictures online or to magazines. The latter of the three seemed more practical, more reasonable, considering I'd sent in my portfolio to National Geographic months ago, and men were ten times less likely to commit these days than the average man thirty years ago. I'd read it in a book.
So there was I, Wednesday Aryn, making her way through the rain back to the apartment building she called home, for awhile. I suppose the name Wednesday was an odd one, but then again, I was not what everyone would call "normal". There was nothing especially odd about the name itself due to the fact that I had simply been born on a Wednesday – no other particularly special reason. In grade school I hadn't thought it that interesting, considering everyone had associated me with the Adam's family character. Eventually I hadn't minded the original name, but I was supposed to have been an adult by now, wasn't I?
This short, cute, artsy girl had a small handful of friends, mostly from her apartment building, though most of them were anything but sane. I enjoyed their company for the most part.
After the forty-five minute journey to my apartment building, I stopped just outside of it and stared at the sign a moment. "Paradise Manor" it read in big loopy white letters printed on the blue and turquoise striped awning. When I had first seen the sign my instant thought had been 'quiet' and 'tranquil'. After further living in the building, I had learned that such was not the case. If anything, the building was the furthest from a 'paradise'. Though small, the outside did little to tell of the people inside.
I continued through the front door and up the stairs in the chipped and faded light blue stairway. In my haste, I almost rammed into one of my neighbors, Felicity Walraven. Felicity was odd only because she was a writer, and sporadically yelped during a conversation and began penning down a line or description to a story or poem. Some nights she never went to bed, talking out stories in her apartment living room. I knew this because she lived right next door and therefore, due to bad insulation, I was subject to her acting. Usually it was entertaining, and she was quite a good writer when it came down to it.
"Is it raining?" Felicity asked, messed brown waves piled into a messy bun sending wisps into her face. Her beryl blue eyes were wide with the anticipation of my answer.
I thought it fairly obvious seeing as I was half-drenched, but I didn't say so. Instead I looked down at my dripping clothes and turned to her with a smile. "A bit of a drizzle."
"A drizzle…" her eyes got a far away look to them, and she suddenly yelped and pulled out her notepad. "The day drizzled, like the slow drops of… - no," she scratched out her words and began again. "The drizzling day seemed never-ending, as thick, soupy grey clouds slowly released their pent-up emotions…" For a long, unending moment she pressed the tip of her pen against her lip and reread her words carefully. Finally she grinned, turned around, and climbed the stairs two at a time. I heard her apartment door slam a bit later.
I shook my head a little and continued, making it to my door without further incident. All of my neighbors were weird. True, they were the most friendly, unselfish group I had ever met, but at times they seemed almost over-whelming. A few of them were always wondering if I had "a boyfriend yet." During those times I would nod and smile and say that yes, indeed I had a boyfriend, because what short, cute, artsy girl my age wouldn't? I'd taken to eating more chocolate than usual due to them and their nosy questions.
It took a moment to jiggle the badly-cut key in my door, but eventually I managed to open it. Only a lava lamp illuminated my cramped, dark apartment, its red-tinted light bouncing off the red of the walls. I turned on the lamp closest to me and closed the door, locking it soundly. The lamp stood to my shoulders and had to have been one of my favorites. Pieces of colored glass had been placed into the rich, golden-printed fabric. Tiny black glass beads hung on the bottom of the shade. I loved it because when I had found it, it had looked like any other kind of lamp. Most of the furniture or various knick-knacks in my apartment had previously looked like regular junk from the flea market.
Passing my stereo, I turned on Iron and Wine, a nice mellow band for the rain splattering against my window. A small, purple kettle sat on the stove, and I filled it before turning the heat on and setting it back to its former position. Glancing around as though someone were watching, I pulled a small jar of peanut butter from the back of a cupboard, and a spoon, taking a large glop of the stuff and stuffing it into my mouth. I loved peanut butter on and in just about anything.
My cat had sniffed at the stuff once, taken a lick, and had puked on my floor, which proved cats and peanut butter didn't exactly mix. He was an odd sort of cat, with one yellow eye and one blue, and he'd been named Dog, just because it had been an ironical name at that point in my life. Perhaps he had taken on a slight hint of species confusion disorder, but he acted like any other cat: temperamental, finicky, lazy, persistent, and downright annoying on occasion. We'd had enough one-sided conversations with each other for me to know that animals only furthered the feeling of insanity.
As if hearing my thoughts, the feline hopped onto the tiled counter, making a simple "meow" in greeting. I rubbed his black fur and scratched the top of his head.
"How was your day?" I asked through my mouthful of peanut butter, even though I knew he wouldn't go into detail. "Mine was alright." He purred and rubbed his cheek against my fingers. "Fiona, Molly, and Sam say 'hi'." I realized how boring it was to talk to an animal that had no comment back. Dog stared up at me as though to wish he could say something, but a knocking on my door sent him scampering for a hiding place. Dog was unsociable when it came to people other than me.
"Coming!" I called, hastily swallowing what was left of the peanut butter and hiding all traces of the stuff. In all actuality I would have rather cuddled up in a quilt and feigned a hearing impairment. No doubt it was one of the neighbors. Who had invented them as neighbors? Why was it that the word 'neighbor' was such a friendly one, which contradicted the people behind the word in the first place? If I had been a Viking, I would have growled ferociously and refused to answer the door. But I wasn't; I was just Wednesday.
Mrs. DeWinters stood at the door, peering into the peep hole with a beady moss green eye. Her hands folded continuously, as though she were rubbing lotion on them. She only folded her hands like that when she had some gossip, which was usually every other day. I tried to be nice to the old woman, but it was hard not to beat her with a bat or ship her off on 'vacation'. The woman would have broken her hip in order to tell some news she had heard about 'so-and-so'.
When I had first met Mrs. Agnes DeWinters, she had seemed so nice and friendly and demure. Soon after, however, strange things began happening. She became more manipulative and slightly clingy, determined to find me a suitor before she 'wound up in her grave'. I wouldn't have minded so much if finding me a suitor had driven her to her stress-plagued death, but the woman ran on batteries. Soon after I began to hear of 'so-and-so' and their problems that seemed fairly private, at least to me. The oddest thing was the mystery of how it was she accumulated such salacious material about certain tenants.
"The vents," she'd whispered to me one day. Pointing to one with her neatly manicured finger nail, "You can hear anything when you put your ear to these old things."
Sad to say, I'd actually tried it, though I wasn't exactly proud of the fact. Mrs. DeWinters had been quite right in her confession, which led me to a small phobia of speaking near vents. Most often I barely spoke above a whisper, and amazingly no unwanted gossip had managed to disperse over the apartment residents. My apartment remained as good as bugged; I was a prisoner in my own home.
"Hello, Mrs. –"
The woman pushed her way through my doorway, rambling – "I have the most interesting bit of news, dear – you simply must hear…" She paused and listened. "Your kettle's singing. Were you about to have tea?"
I tried a smile as I closed the door and faced her innocent mossy gaze. As much as I didn't wish to, it was only polite. "Would you like a cup?"
"Oh yes please! Did you just get home? You poor dear, having to walk in this rain. It's coming down harder now, so you missed getting too drenched. I've found that I have a leak in my roof and if that land lord of mine won't answer his phone? You would have thought he was purposely screening my calls."
I smiled secretly to myself as I pulled out two mugs from the cupboard. Ellery, the apartment manager, had once confided in me one day, admitting that he'd bought a phone with caller ID for that very purpose. I'd maintained his secret, although I found it amazing that Mrs. DeWinters hadn't known through her listening of the vents.
"I couldn't imagine why." I said, handing her a cup and taking a seat across from her at my small, two-person table. The table stood in front of a window that looked down into the alley below.
"Never mind it." she waved it away, folding her hands once more before leaning towards me. "Do you know that couple that live beside you? He's some sort of…" her face grimaced as she searched for the word, "musician or some such fiddle faddle – not a good career in my opinion. And that woman never has anything good to say about me: I heard her call me an 'old hag' right after I handed her a freshly baked pie. You know how good they are, Wednesday. I don't know how he can stand her. You know who I'm talking about?"
Matt and Brayden Larson had moved into the building two years before I had, a newly wed couple at the time. They had been the most normal out of everyone. Brayden, who was very much female, and I had often gone for coffee. She was a children's book writer and illustrator, while Matt was a music producer and signed musician.
I nodded. "Matt and Brayden Larson; they've always been nice to me."
Mrs. DeWinters made a sour-looking face and her eye brow rose. "It's the elderly; young people despise them these days, and what for?"
I didn't really wish to delve into such a topic, because I knew the Brayden was usually friendly to everyone, but disliked Mrs. DeWinters because of her gossiping. "What about them?"
"No, the Larson's."
"Oh!" she leaned in again, causing my table to creak a little. "Well, I've heard that they're moving out in three weeks. Apparently he's opening up his own…recording studio and they've already bought a house in Los Angeles. Good riddance I say."
"Oh." I masked my sadness. Brayden and I had become close enough that I would miss her. "Do you know who's moving in?"
She nodded, her eyes wide and aglow in excited anticipation to tell me her news. "A young man came to see the apartment this morning, though I didn't get the best look at him. Oh, but he was handsome! If it weren't for my old age he might not know what hit him!" she laughed an irritating, open-mouthed laugh that was a bit too giddy and grating. One did not need to use a vent to hear it.
Immediately I understood what she was suggesting. In her mind, her match-making wheels were already in over-drive, speeding towards more chaos and dishevel. The last person who had been the source of her match-making NASCAR race had been my plumber. Since that time, he had refused to be my plumber. Oh the stress the woman put me through!
"How has your love life been of late?" She quickly erupted with the question, her eyes practically oozing sympathy already.
I wanted to roll my eyes, but chose not to. She already knew from her precious vent that I hadn't gone out on a date in well over the time I had lived in the building. It wasn't that I was undateable, just uninterested. Prince Charming was supposed to be looking for me, and when he'd found me, we'd move away from the gossiping old bag and plug up every vent in the building. I prayed for that day nearly every time I happened to pass Mrs. DeWinters.
"Well," I started, but she quickly cut me off.
"It's alright, dear, you don't have to tell me. I'm sure –" before she uttered another word of her sympathy speech, I interrupted.
"Actually, I met someone and we…uh…he asked for my number." The instant I said it, I regretted it, but to be honest, it felt good to lie to someone so dishonest and nosy. "Ha!" I wanted to yell at her surprise-ridden face. "I bet you didn't expect that from your vent did you?!""Well, that's wonderful! You must tell me all about him." She didn't believe me. I could tell by the way she'd uttered the sentence and how she waited as though ready to mock whatever description that came out of my mouth. I picked up a shovel and began to dig myself into a proverbial early grave.
"I met him at the book store and we kind of hit it off. He's tall and…he has black hair and…hazel…eyes." I couldn't believe myself, describing a customer who I'd exchanged less than a conversation with. Could it get any worse?
"What does he do?"
Ask a stupid question… "Well, he wanted to be a –" something smart, quick! What was it? "He wanted to be a lawyer."
"Oh really?" She wasn't buying it. The woman was practically falling off her chair with disinterest.
I'll show you, you old bag. "Well yes, but then he became a financial advisor instead after he missed the bar exam by one question. He was quite devastated. He said that my eyes were pretty, though, and we decided to go out…next week." What a load of garbage. 'He liked my eyes'? I'd been reading too many books.
"Really?" her eyebrow rose with a sudden curiosity. "You should bring him here some time – after you've gotten to know each other better."
I opened my mouth to speak, but she went on.
"But really, dear. I think you could do so much better than him."
Suddenly I heard faint voices rising from within the vent. Mrs. DeWinters suddenly stood, folding her hands and making a beeline for the door.
"I just remembered that Oprah was starting, and I don't want to miss a minute of it – something about her book club. I'll chat more with you later, dear. Thanks so much for the tea!" My door was slammed, and then reopened. "When that young man moves in next door, I'll introduce you two!" Again the door slammed.
I sighed, listening to the obvious argument in one of the apartments. If only I'd kept my mouth closed.
Confucius sure knew how to make his fortunes accurate.
A/N I know this first chapter is quite long, but that's what makes it a book and not a measly little story. What do you think so far? Like what you read? Don't like what you read? REVIEW!! Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. The next chapter is ready to put up, but I'd like some more feedback first.