City Pavement

6 Apr

We walked along the street dazzling with lights and people. Neon signs advertsing beer straddled every storefront, and thick smoke drifted out of the windows and doorways and even up from the grates in the streets. The pavement was slick beneath us and the air wet and pregnant with unsaid thoughts. It was just the two of us, alone and together, each guessing what the other thought as we moved in and out of people who talked too loudly as they clutched drinks with their too thin hands. Ours hung cold and awkward by our sides.

A taxi cab sputtered past, bending in and out of a dark puddle on the side of the road, splashing silt and mud onto the cheap white coat he had just bought for me. I wouldn’t have noticed the irrevocable damage except that we were standing right underneath a streetlamp. It was the only thing that looked natural in this place, as if it had somehow always been there, growing straight up from the pavement. It illuminated every imperfection not only on the coat but on my skin, my shoes, my creased and greasy make-up. I was a mess- covered in a whole day’s worth of  grime and overwhelmed by the grim thought of what I needed to do. He stood by me, mumbling about how it didn’t matter that the coat was dirty and that I didn’t have have time to clean up before I saw him. The tattered hoody he always wore made him look like a boy, and I remembered that not long ago I loved that about him. Suddenly everything in me wanted to reach out to touch his hair one last time, but I knew I couldn’t do that. So instead I smiled.

“You’re still beautiful, you know, I think…I th, think you’re so beautiful.” He stuttered when he was nervous. I once  thought it was cute. Right now it just seemed pathetic.

He didn’t even look at me when he said it. He sounded sad, like my beauty bothered him, or maybe he just said it because I was splattered with mud and he felt sorry for me. I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t think of anything to say. We continued walking. His hands were shoved so far deep into his pockets I thought he’d punch holes in them clear down to the street.

We came into the glow of another street lamp. I stopped underneath it. He  continued walking. I would do it right now, right here, there was no use waiting any longer.

“Jim! I need to tell you something!”

I expected him to turn around to look for me when he realized I wasn’t by his side. I said it again, louder and with more urgency. Then a third time, quietly, to myself. The neon lights sneered at me like they were greedily absorbing my useless calls.

silence.

I watched his broad back until it disappeared into the shadowy crowd; it carried him with it like some kind of sadistic ocean tide. Jim never turned around. He never came back. Why did I even care?

Rain finally broke from the sky. It poured down my face, soaking my hair, my clothing, and the letter I held.  The letter fought  its way out from my hand, slipped to the ground and became an indistinguishable part of the trash littering the pavement. I let the wind pick it up and whip  it through the streets of New York. Light from the streetlamp glowed brighter as the rain came down harder. I stood there- wet, alone and in disbelief. Umbrellas popped out all around me, shutting me out from everything but the world of my own thoughts, hammering into me with merciless repetition. I was the cruel one. I knew I was the only person who had ever returned his love.

A hot tear formed in the corner of my eye, mixing with the cold rain before sliding down my face and finally into the metal grate below me. Jim knew what I was about to do. He wasn’t strong enough to hear what I had to say- that I was breaking up with him – so like him to just keep walking.

I can still see Jim walking. He’s wearing a tailored trench coat, carrying a brief case and talking on a cell phone in soft and hesitant clarity. He can afford to buy his pretty wife expensive coats, but his one free hand is always pushed deep into his pocket where it’s safe from having to touch anyone elses. Jim never could get close. Then again, neither could I.

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