One Day Long
She could see across the bridge to the unsubstantiated slates and splashy greens of the island but everything else was outside of her reach.
The edges of his face frayed against the strain of exhaustion, each of its features losing all distinction. The abuse was having the desired effect, damaging an irreplaceable cache of yesterdays. She was beginning to forget the way everything looked.
Below her, the sound of classical woodwinds trilled. Cassie could not tell if it was coming from a recording or if it was an emission of live, human skill. She considered pressing her ear to the floor for a better listen, but decided it would be useless. Knowing the source would not make the tune familiar. Jal would have known, she thought. Jal, being the only talented musician Cassie had ever known, she would have likely played it better herself.
But she did not want to think about that.
The lock securing the window was rusted, squealing pleasantly to Cassie's ears as she plied it with a screwdriver. The echoes wafting from the streets below drowned out the music, her intent fulfilled. She could see two bodies pressed hard against one another in a doorway just across the alley, their muted movements nostalgic to her. She was once that girl, though much skinnier and much less sure of the boys, or men, who she twined herself around. All except one.
The extraordinarily loud coffee vender, who lived in the building that rose behind the lovers, was screeching at them. Whether out of disgust or yielded jealousy Cassie could not tell since his words were as foreign to her as they were absent to the young people. Somewhere, the scurrying of rats beat hard, but not more so than the sour feel of the left behind brought on by the melancholy in the apartment below.
Falling drops began to splay across the sill, bleeding against the grain of ancient wood. They stuck in the fuzzy clumps of the mildew growing in the corners of the glass pane before dissolving it entirely. There was no screen and stray water struck her face.
"Rain," she said. She always laid near the window when it rained, the dingy, second hand sofa squeezed tightly against the wall to facilitate the closeness.
As a child, before she knew the true meaning of trouble, she would watch each drop, her eyes darting wildly, trying to experience each one. Some patted lightly, trickling from bottom to top, others struck violently, tearing through the destine paths of others. Sometimes, stragglers would conjoin after hitting the glass, forming into one long drip. They were poetry to Cassie's young eyes. Now they were hot like tears on her cheek. She was all cried out of her own. They helped.
Her cat, a nameless garbage dweller who had done little more than find its way up the stairs one night, stalked across the room without even the least bit of stealth and began swatting her dangling foot. He tore little marks in her soles but the pain was not distractive. Her mind was trying to focus, despite any effort to the contrary, of which there was little. Pieces were breaking through.
An unwashed, pink lipstick kiss. A green squirt gun full of vodka. A beautiful version of herself drawn by Maxxie. The shape of Michelle's mouth curling awkwardly about Sid's. Jal being restrained by nurses. The distinct rolling back of Chris' dying eyes.
As if it could see the slide show, the cat hissed loudly. More likely it had seen a tail disappear behind a crate that escaped Cassie's attention. Since she saw no one else, she assumed its objection was directed at her.
"Yes, I should stop, shouldn't I?"
He walked the bridge's footpath once, sometimes twice, a day. Normally, the rush of traffic helped detract his mind from a fruitless effort. The drop below enticed him. The water's surface whispered harsh ripples against the wind, forcing themselves past Sid's ears and into his brain.
Jump. Quit. She would. She has.
Everyday - 43 in total - had been spent searching. He looked in all of the places where he was least likely to find Cassie knowing she would go to a place where she would never hide. That was just her way. Upon suggestion of his landlord, who he delivered packages for in exchange for boarding in the attic room of the man's home, Sid tried places that were unlike Cassie but like anyone else. All leads came to dead ends. Cassie was nowhere to be found - a ghost wading about in a crush of 8 million.
Eyes passed over him as he trudged towards his destination, people assessing his sweatshirt and knit cap. He noticed but could not pretend to care. They didn't matter. At this point, he was beginning to think that nothing did. Not even the reason he'd come. He was beginning to wonder if he was pursuing anything or if he'd just gotten on a plane because Tony had put the ticket in his hand and offered him an out of the nothing awaiting him back home. Even though he was not accomplishing anything in New York, at least he was doing so away from everyone he knew.
"Sid, my man," bellowed a large man as Sid finally entered his destination - a dive bar near the bridge's entrance.
"Hey Tony." The words felt so familiar, having said them half a million times before, but they felt different. Anthony Slone was nothing like Tony Stonem. He was nothing at all, really, other than a business proprietor on a route. He tried to be, offering Sid a warm meal whenever he rolled through, and a listening ear, but he was hardly one to mince words or offer false sentiment. When he tried, there was a noticeable strain in his voice, as if it was far too daunting a task to be human.
Sid pulled a thick envelope from under his sweatshirt and dropped it on the bar. The man flipped peered into the envelope before throwing it into a mysterious hollow below. "So, any news?"
Tony's way of asking about Cassie without actually asking about Cassie.
"No," was all Sid offered.
Even though he knew Sid was underage, Tony placed a small glass in front of him and filled it with clear liquor from an unmarked bottle. "Ah, you'll find 'er kid. I don't think I've ever known anyone who loved someone enough to fly half way 'round the world just to find 'em then not find 'em."
"Ever known anyone who'd fly half way around the world for any reason at all, Tony?" asked Sid, staring at the glass, questioning himself as much as the bar keep.
The long silence gave Sid an unmistakable answer. "Hang in there, kid," he eventually mumbled and moved on to the other side of the dark room.
Sid took the shot, and sat thinking that the only thing love could conquer in that moment was the painful burn of whatever had been in that bottle.
Her forehead pressed against the glass, heat from both sides causing perspiration to smudge its surface. Even the persistence of human odor stifling the diner couldn't make her more miserable than she was. Still, it was an annoyance, a reminder that she could be crammed into the smallest space of one of the world's largest cities and all the people around her felt less insignificant that she would have liked. The duos, the quartets, deep in conversation, laughing heartily. Starving artists alongside construction lifers and rushed business types. All congealing into a single group, sharing one commonality. None of them was alone. Even the singles dotting the random booths and the counter had an air of togetherness.
Outside, the people passed by in masses but no one was him. She once thought she had seen him turning away from the window she was now glued to. But she blinked and considered the presence a manifestation of want. That was the night she took 3 pills she had scammed off a strange man behind the diner that had helped wipe her memory. The night she woke up in her current apartment, not being able to recall how she had gotten there. The night the cat curled up against her stomach, trying to keep her warm.
"Cassie, you okay?" asked a brunette named Maggie who was as waiflike as she herself was.
"No," Cassie said lightly, her accent making the word sound more whimsical to Maggie, the brunette.
"Well, if you want to cut out early, I can cover for you."
"Where have I to go? Home? No such place. No one to make it that."
He would never make it back before the door was locked, but he could not care less. All that place offered was a bed, and he had no desire to sleep. Asleep or awake, she'd be there by not being there. Walking and smoking gave him more hope –however little there was – than twisting himself up in musty smelling sheets, feeling her absence in the space next to him in an infested mattress.
He watched his feet as he moved along the running trail. He'd been told that overted eyes, especially during dusk, were an invitation though no one ever said for what. Not that he didn't know. Not that it would have mattered that he didn't. There was nothing left for anyone to take.
It was like the call drawing her to the chapel, holding her on its steps. The strange voices and clipped conversations the savory hymns of redemption, salvation. After dark, danger lay in its partial vacancy but it was still safer that being alone, her veins screaming for intoxication, nirvana. That was when she could see them all clearly. Jal's stoic eyes seeped with the color made by staring into the nothingness of existence without Chris. Poor, Chris. He had to be in heaven. His soul was too uncorrupt for anything else. Michelle's beautiful cheeks brushed over with delicate wisps of soft brown waves. In her stupors it was impossible to hate the convalescing purity that Michelle brought to her life. Anwar praying, Maxxie dancing. Even Tony, his soft, baby skin lying about what belie it, was forgivable.
Her eyes shifted, almost manically, in her stilled head.
Where was the cat to stop her now?
She wanted them all to go away. Or come back. Or she wanted to go back. She didn't want to think about any of it if none of those things were accomplishable.
She slumped against the twisted base of a seemingly familiar tree; its shape suggestive of an entrance way to another world. Like a storybook she once read. Or an acid trip she once had. Whatever existed on the other side, she wanted her mind to take her there. It was nowhere fantastic. Just away. Gone. No one ruled or defended it. She felt like digging at the ground around it. It would stop everything.
He stopped only a few steps passed a misshapen tree. Something brilliant white streaked against a murky canvas, lasting less than a second. He felt a familiar burst. He stepped backwards, lining himself parallel to the spot it had come from. He still completely still as he tilted his head slightly, seeing her dirty hair lying against her shoulder. A few more steps put him directly in front of her.
Heavy seconds ticked by as the feeling began to penetrate her senses. When she looked up, her eyes were too tired to believe it.
"You must be God," she finally said, staring at the glow from the street lamp around his form.
Her eyes closed.
"You alright, Cass?" The first thing he said to her. He wanted to do better but her abrupt peculiarity still startled him after all this time.
"Because you found me. How could you do that unless you already knew where I was the whole time."
That was the challenge to knowing it all. To deciphering Cassie. Even if he could not understand her meaning, or her logic behind it, there was no need to shatter her illusion. She was not mentally dysfunction, not like most people assumed she was, nor anymore unstable than anyone else. She just wanted to believe in something. It did not have to be good, or even promising. It just had to exist on some plane that she could understand. If he could accept that, he could be her something. Time would determine anything more but as Sid had once realized, nothing about tomorrow was worth worrying about when it came to loving Cassie. The moment was enough to consume anyone. "I just had to open my eyes and look," he replied.
"You're really here, aren't you?"
He crouched down seating himself next to her. "As long as you want."
"Lovely," she said as she ran her fingers through the spaces of his, closing them together lightly.