(a collection of vignettes)
I bet I could catch him if I tried.
Like a goldfish in a mass of sharks I was trapped. With one arm pinned behind me and my other thrust forward with the paper in my hand I had to find a way to swim through. To my detriment though this wasn’t an ocean of water, but of concrete and business suits.
“Excuse meeeee.” I tried, squirming from under one elbow to another. The heat wasn’t helping anything. Beads of sweat were collecting at my temples and no matter how many times I ducked or swiveled I couldn’t escape the throng. There wasn’t time for this. I would need a different approach. “MOVE.” Well. That was more effective. “Please.”
A gangly guy with slipping glasses and a goatee moved immediately and the bald headed man in the pinstripe suit raised an eyebrow but to his credit knew when to follow an order. Even when it came from the mouth of a short girl with a ponytail of frizz. Couldn’t be helped.
A car horn blew by and between one breath and the next the mad dash of traffic running parallel to me dwindled to a trickle. No. Not yet. Just as my feet reached the corner of the street the crosswalk signal turned red.
“No.” I said out loud. Stretching in my sneakers, my eyes scanned ahead. Past the skyscrapers and coffee cups there was an endless sea of people, but there was just one fish I needed to catch… there. Just past the hot dog stand, right in front of the entrance to the park was the navy blue baseball cap.
I took a step forward. That’s when the horn hit me loud and clear. Right in front of my face the blur of a taxi rushed past, and I teetered back to the curb. That was close. The rest of the traffic stampeded past in front of me and the herd behind pushed like hammerheads testing the confines of the cage, but I kept my eyes locked on that cap just until it rounded the corner of the next block. The breath left my lungs.
The crosswalk light lit up. Deep breath in. I bolted, as did the rest of them. Being at the front of the pack was easier than being trapped in the middle. In no time at all, I distanced myself and took up the next challenge of weaving through the others floating along the street. The elderly couple I swung around shouted at my back, but I just crushed the paper tighter in my hand. The mother of three I was sure didn’t even see me breeze by, but her kid in the stroller giggled when I jumped over his fallen toy. After some awkward eye contact with the hot dog guy, his white shirt stained in unflattering spats of red and yellow, I whipped to the next corner and turned right. I stopped short.
The avenue was near empty. There was no sign of the cap.
With my heart pounding in my chest, my hand crunched to a fist at my side and my face wearing a defeated expression… I had lost him.
The paper crinkled. In my pursuit it had turned into a mess of wrinkles and creases. The once pretty note, no longer looked as pristine as it did when it had accidentally fallen out of his backpack and then against my ankle, blown back by the wind.
Do you ever feel alone
even when the whole world
is pressing against your sides?
(The water pressure
pulling you down.)
Why hadn’t I opened my mouth sooner? As soon as the damned thing had touched my skin, why didn’t I open my mouth when you were only a few yards away? Because… as soon as my eyes caught the words on the page I had to finish reading it.
Do you know
how the words you say
no one seems to understand?
in a tank full of sharks.)
The edges unfurled in my hands, the pen lines running slick with my own sweat and disappointment. The letters, all loose and flowing like water down a stream, trailed into marks on my fingers.
To what end
would you go
to find the answer
(How far down
into the sea
would you swim?)
This poem wasn’t mine to keep. But nor could I throw it away. That would just seem wrong. If I hadn’t read the whole thing would I have even gone this far to give it back to you? Probably not… but it didn’t matter now.
And what if
when you arrived…
I looked down the avenue once again.
you were still left dumb.
Every new face that appeared around the corners, and hopping out of cars looked the same to me…because none of them were wearing navy blue baseball caps. To no one I muttered, “You didn’t even finish it.”
It was easy to move when there wasn’t a crowd around you, and I got to the concrete wall easily enough but an unsettled feeling tugged at my stomach. After all the trouble, I had come up short. Pulling a pen from my purse I flattened the paper against the building then paused. Then I put the pen down, letting my own curving scrawl drift onto the page.
I don’t now how long I was standing there after I finished, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. After being so focused before, my head felt dazed when I looked up into a pair of navy blue eyes. He gave a nervous smile, and gestured to the paper still flat against my palms.
“Excuse me but…” and he let the sentence hang. But that was probably my fault. Saucer wide, my eyes zeroed in on the cap and I’m sure I must have looked like an idiot but…
“This is yours!” I whipped the paper toward him, quick and self conscious. “Here, thank God. I wanted to give this back. You dropped it.” I took a deep breath and a step back. His eyes roved over the sheet and now I was feeling embarrassed. Maybe best just to go. Another step back, but then my mouth got the better of me. “Sorry, I thought I lost you so I…”
“You finished it.”
To the surface
spitting water from your chest.
And think maybe this won’t
turn out for the best.
“Well… I…” Cue the nervous laughter. “You can just cross it out.”
Until the air flows back
into your lungs
and out reaches a hand
to haul you back to solid land.
His eyes scanned the page again and with a quick shake of his head he said, “No. No.” I watched the cap shake side to side, it was too embarrassing to look at his eyes. It had been stupid of me in the first place. It was uncalled for to finish his work, rash to chase after a stranger, and luckless that I had decided to walk home today.
Realizing the answer
wasn’t going to come
when you called.
“It works.” he finished, dumbfounded. Wait, what? Did I hear that correctly? Rewind. His eyes met mine. They were a tad more noticeable, up close, than his hat. “Thanks.”
“Oh… you’re welcome.”