Fiction Alert! Fiction Alert!
This is actually a short, short story based on a writing prompt from the The Red Dress Club 5 months ago that I never got a chance to put up. The prompt was to write a story about running into an ex at the grocery store from his point of view. Even though it’s Thursday and not really related to anything, I thought that I’d share anyway. Have a wonderful time ringing in the New Year everyone!
My god it’s hot out here. It is never this hot in San Francisco. The sun piercing through my sunglasses and the sweat running down my back are both accentuating my hangover that for the record is getting worse and not better. I know that all of this after work drinking is part of networking here, but I’m a lot older than I was the last time I had to do this. My liver feels like Swiss cheese. I stand in the shade of a vegetable stand and drink some water. The bright primary colors from vegetables are yelling at me, and the scent of tomatoes is pervasive, almost like many of the women in the market are wearing the same perfume. Underneath I can also smell peaches, cilantro and fresh dirt. The shade is helping me a bit so I try to focus on the task at hand, dinner. Looking around I realize that this farmers market looks a lot like the ones I used to go to in San Fran. In fact, I’ll bet this market could be in any number of places in any number of countries. And in all of them the radishes would be piled high next to the carrots and the carrots next to the turnips. People don’t talk about how exhausting it is to figure out a new city. I am still in that stage of finding out where things are like the local drugstore and dry cleaner. I know it’s going to get easier, but right now everything feels like it takes one hundred and ten percent.
It is definitely a salad night with maybe bruschetta, it is tomato season, and I can smell fresh bread. Maybe a squash curry, a lettuce peach chicken something? I’m glad that my brain has started to work again albeit slowly. I feel a chilly shiver go down my spine. The beginnings of heat stroke? As I am reaching for my water again I see her red hair out of the corner of my left eye. I shake my head. I’m crazy. There is no way. I slide along the radishes to get a better look. I am almost sure it is her, not one hundred percent more like eighty-eight percent. Did her individual scent suddenly cut through all the other smells? Is there some chemical link that always tethers us to the women we have slept with? An animal instinct still present but long forgotten? How could I have sensed her? Her hair is in a loose braid hanging over her left shoulder. She’s has a few canary yellow streaks in it. It’s nice to know that some things about people don’t change. I wonder if she got my note that I sent once I moved to the city saying I’d like to see her. I wasn’t sure when I sent it if it was a good idea or not. My heart is thudding, I’m sweating again, and it isn’t the hangover, or the heat. I didn’t expect to feel this way. It’s been fifteen years. I’m married; Julie and I just had our baby girl, Lily. I keep them in my mind like a talisman.
Partially blocked by my wall of radishes I watch her walk to a goat cheese stand. Her back is to me. She has her own cloth shopping bag over one shoulder and a bike messenger bag on the other. Hanging off her left arm like a mutated handbag is a bicycle helmet. I hear her laugh with a woman selling goat cheese. Her unmistakable laugh. Even in college her voice was low and rich, and her laugh, though rare, came from someplace deep inside of her. The round, full notes wash over me and bring with them memories of heartbreak and arousal. She is wearing a brown sundress with some kind of flower, maybe feathers on it. I can see that she too is sweating. The droplets sliding down her spinal column are going to pass through a rough valley of scar tissue whose origin she would never talk about. At a time when most of us were dying to share our pasts with each other in an effort at self-definition, she kept her stories to herself. I had known her three years before I realized that I didn’t know ten things about her past. I felt simultaneously guilty and betrayed. Guilty that I hadn’t asked enough and betrayed that she didn’t love me enough just to tell me.
She moves on. I start to step forward to follow her or maybe talk to her. I’m unsure what to do. She is getting further and further away. She’s rapidly approaching the street where she will melt into the anonymity that defines New York streets. Hesitating has put me in the position of having to call after her. I step forward again. She stops, and turns. She’s wearing huge light green sunglasses; her lips are moistened with lip something or other, and I know from experience that even though her skin is exposed to the sun she is covered in sunscreen. She opens her grocery bag, checking for something. I hear her say to herself, “Nope, I got them. Pull it together Samantha.” She turns and steps into the river of people. Gone. I stare at the gap where she just was not seven feet from me. I can’t believe I didn’t say anything. I can’t believe she didn’t sense me. I can’t believe how much and how little changes in this life. Maybe she’ll call. Maybe she won’t. Maybe I shouldn’t answer if she does. Maybe I won’t be able to help myself. Maybe just maybe I’m nineteen again.