Monday, June 09, 2014

A Little Something

Keith stood alone on the waterfront. The lagoon stretched out before him, lovely and shimmering in the evening breeze. The sun had gone down a bit earlier. The sky was a dull orange rapidly turning purple. A flock of sea gulls were resting some ways from him. Keith searched the rocky bank of the lagoon, looking for something.

He had been working late hours pretty much all of last month. Tomorrow he would present his findings. He felt weary. What he had for tomorrow didn't seem like good enough. How was his new boss going to take this, he wondered for the umpteenth time. God knows, he was trying! An involuntary sigh escaped him. It is what it is. He purposefully started running. He would run up to the Mariner Point, a good three miles, and then back. That was his routine. A sea gull started to glide on the skies next to him.

Keith loved his jogging. This unstructured bit of solitude gave him the opportunity to brood aimlessly. The exercise helped him unwind. He never felt lonely in this desolate windy patch he ran every evening. He felt comfortable in his skin as he jogged, enjoying the rhythm of his own gait. It was a special feeling. But today he was a bit uneasy from the start.

From a distance, he saw some boys fishing in the lagoon. As he passed them, he thought he recognized some trout lined up near the water. Keith never liked the artificial blue they added to the lagoon to keep the algae growth down. He mused dubitably about the catch. He did like trout. His wife would love a fresh catch if he were to take these home. Those boys would be too happy to sell, he knew. But he went past the boys and kept jogging. Maybe on his way back if they were still there.

Suddenly he thought of Luce. Luce Dickson would know how to position his case for tomorrow. She always had the right words. Maybe he should invite her to the meeting to back him up if need be. Should he call her now or perhaps after he gets back? Will that be too late in the evening? As he continued to muse on these lines, something pounced at him from the dark. Keith did not know what hit him.

A medium sized black dog, also on its evening exercise, had jumped up at him. He hadn’t seen it coming in the dark. Keith stumbled and fell to the ground. As he had been jogging pretty vigorously, the momentum from the fall hurt him quite a bit. But he was numb to that pain. Keith was acutely afraid of dogs since an ugly incident when he was four. It had gotten better with age, but never went away. Thrust upon him thus, he was back in his childhood in that moment. He began to sweat profusely and froze up with terror. He lost his voice and could not cry out for help. As he stared at the sparkling eyes of his attacker with bared saliva clad gums and teeth, nausea filled his mouth. And then, the dog was off him as suddenly as it was on. A sea gull had poked the dog and it was off shooing at the new target. Keith watched the gull brave the dog and draw it away helplessly from the ground. Few feathers and drops of blood hit him as the dog snapped at parts of the bird he could reach.

The owner had spotted the commotion and came running toward his charge. The gull was able to fly away safely. The man apologized to a trembling Keith. His dog was apparently trying to play with Keith, seeing him jogging away. It’s the dog thing to do. Keith felt too drained to be angry and just wished the master and his monster departed soon. Slowly he rose and retched. He drank from his little bottle of water that he always carried. He rested a few moments. He pulled out his phone and dialed Luce. He tried to distract himself from the hideous few moments of the past by thinking of business. Why hadn't he thought of Luce before? Luce and Keith spoke for some time. He felt better afterward. He finished the remainder of his jogging mostly in a slow trot, but in relative peace, resigned to whatever was in store for him. The trout was of course wholly forgotten. .

He stood a moment gazing at the now dark rippling waters, back at the spot from where he'd begun. A half smile broke on his face. A sea gull was homing in on its favorite rock. Keith watched it with gratefulness and satisfaction. Keith wouldn’t discuss the encounter with the dog with anyone. He was rather embarrassed of his affliction. A bird, perhaps this very one, had saved him tonight. It had become a habit for Keith to watch this particular one perched on that very rock, every evening. It had bothered him to find it missing earlier today. Keith stood looking at it, trying to spot the broken feathers or other signs of struggle. He couldn’t really tell. He took a moment to look into its eyes in the dark. The bird seemed to stare back in silent greeting. Keith felt his heaviness lift. It was going to be alright tomorrow.

Route 51

They traveled the same route for almost a year now. Marie cannot remember when it started. Somewhere along, she had begun to take notice. Somewhere along, he had begun to belong to her. And then, he wasn't there on the bus one day. Marie kept looking hoping to spot him. Each passing day, she waited for him to show up. He never did. Marie struggled to come to terms with the change.

The reality of this infatuation was sadly brief. A mad grab at hope, jostled close on the crowded bus. There was the one day she had felt him graze his body over hers and unable to move away. “My stop’s coming”, she’d whispered to him, wanting him to somehow prolong their moment. “A lot of folks get off there. You’ll make it”, he’d whispered back, willfully misunderstanding her. Undeterred, she’d drunk in his cologne, stealing eyefuls of the crease of his lips. And that was all. It felt kind of empty and strange, missing him. Marie sat on her bus, playing with the little bits of this man stuck in her heart.

Duke had begun to sense Marie’s obsession with him some time back. He felt a vague sort of narcissism grip him every time they crossed paths. He would smile at Marie a little extra sweetly, almost unconsciously. Marie picked up the appreciation in Duke’s eyes when she took a little extra care to dress. Duke remembered her now and then with a bit of regret. He had left town for good on a sudden new assignment from work. A spectacled woman passenger on his new commute reminded him of Marie. The girl in a short green dress with highlighted tresses shining in the sun. Marie sat remembering Duke’s deep hazel eyes and the riot of freckles on his face. A sigh of regret escaped both lost in each other’s thoughts.

Several years now into different lives each, Marie and Duke have come for dinner at Rick’s rib shack this evening. They see each other and feel a bit restless as each tries to place the other with a name and a context. It’s that man from route 51, realizes Marie just as her husband returns to their table. Duke turns toward Marie again and notices the man approaching her. “Hey!” He’s off the bar stool in an instant coming toward Marie’s table. “Man, what are you doing here? Whoa!” gushes Marie’s husband clearly excited to see Duke. Apparently these two had been classmates for years, having grown up from across the street from each other. Duke accepts Rob’s invitation to join them for the rest of the evening.

Being in consulting, Rob travels a lot and will have to catch a flight later tonight. The couple had decided to eat out to celebrate Marie’s birthday in the little time they had. The evening progressed warmly. The old friends reminisced easily and regaled Marie with hilarious escapades from their days. Time flew and then Rob was shrugging into his jacket as he kissed Marie on the cheek, ready to leave. “Honey, just relax. I know you love desert. Do that here and Duke will keep you company. I will be fine taking the cab.” He’s glad to leave a bit early as the possibility of traffic had been worrying him a wee bit at the back of his mind. He was glad he was not leaving Marie alone. Duke was family.

Marie eyes Duke’s double banded wedding ring askance, as she sips into her cappuccino. It’s a later addition, not from her time, she’s pretty sure. Has Duke recognized her? She can’t tell. The four past years have not been unkind to him. She finds it difficult to focus as she struggles to block her memories of an imaginary relationship with this man. “You’re very quiet”, observes Duke. This young woman had increasingly impressed him over the course of the evening. First, he was curious because of a resemblance he’d noticed with someone he felt he knew. Now, it was just Marie whose company he was enjoying. She was clearly intelligent and had a great sense of humor. Rob was a lucky fellow.

Duke drunk deeply as he emptied the last of the wine and then slipped in the next question, “Is it hard, having Rob travel so much?” Marie says it is not. Her life is pretty irregular too. Her hours are brutal when she’s on a commission as days merge into nights until her work is done. So Rob’s schedule suits her fine. Duke remembers his recent quarrels with Lara about his lack of engagement in their three-year-old marriage. “Where’d you meet?” he asks on an impulse, as he looks up at Marie. “Route 51”, rings silently in his mind, as their eyes meet and the years fall away.

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