A little prose for measure.

The smattering of frost on the sidewalk offered a soft protest as his boots made their way across the cracked squares, long since split by weeds and lack of attention. He exhaled slowly, the warm breath swirling into a spiraling fog, dancing once around before passing away into the cool autumn breeze that seemed to wheeze and sigh though the trees – a seemingly protesting groan from the aging town as it shook off the dawn and grumbled into first light’s life. Pulling the flap of his black pea-coat up and the rim of his fedora down, he felt as if he were a carbon shadow of the past drifting like a shade across the memory of the place, even as his memory drifted back decades to when he’d mistakenly called this place home.

Black leather gloved hands rose to his paling lips, another drawn out exhale sweeping across their cool, slick surface. Pushing the fog around and through the fingers as if to warm him, he smirked slightly to himself, wondering at his own motives. Was he really expecting to warm the blood that coursed beneath the gloves, or was he, more likely, trying to warm his nerve against this inexplicable apprehension he felt rising unmercifully in his gut. It had been long over two decades since he’d walked this path with any sort of frequency, having long since put hundreds of miles between his sentiments of the place and those he once called friends and neighbors. All too aware of Time’s merciless, ceaseless trudging forward, he shook his head a half a turn and back, chuckling weakly against the dry air. The chances he’d even see anyone he knew – much less any who knew him – was remote at best.  As his hands fell to the dark, comfortable depths of his pockets, his cool blue eyes flitted up to the street sign of the tired intersection he was crossing, marking his position.

The corner of Waverly and Ross. It was a corner like any other – in truth, you could likely close your eyes while putting one foot before another, and were you to open them again in any other small midwest town, you might find yourself wondering if you’d have moved at all. He knew the place, however, and turned to the West, walking another block until he came to an old, rusting chainlink fence that spanned the better part of two blocks. Raising one hand to eye level, he rested it against the twisted metal, staring at the large red brick building across the large field it enclosed. The bricks of the elementary school were deteriorating, much like the rest of this place, too stubborn to accept they were dying, subsisting on the starvation diet of necessity and tradition, even as the world moved on with its life over and around the lonely streets and faded homes entombed within the city limits.

While his eyes were cast over the browning grass of the playground, crusted and shimmering with the quickly melting frost of the morning, he looked into the sepia tinted past where children raced across the field in the rushed minutes of recess so long ago. He could almost feel the press of the swing below him as he pumped his legs in competition for who could soar the highest, and taste the blood on his lip where his good friend Jack had split it with a solid right when arguing over who would take the long haired, green eyed Jillian to the movies. He half-laughed sadly to himself – they both had known that neither had stood a chance compared to the older, more handsome Jeff, but boys, he knew, held on to their dreams – quickly and violently responding to any who might challenge them. They had been in sixth grade, and such matters had been of life importance back then. He remembered how he was preparing to swing back when the teacher screamed her banshee wail across the void at them, urging them to stop. He could hear her call his name almost fresh today as it was back then.

“William? William Messenger…is that really you?”

The soft, feminine voice shattered him back to reality more strongly than any scream could ever have. Turning with a start, he met a pair of soft hazel eyes staring at him from some three feet away. The woman was dressed in a worn navy windbreaker, covering her petite form in far too light a layer for the morning’s cold, supported by tight blue jeans and brown leather boots, all bearing a significant age, and yet seemed well tended by caring hands. Her hands were covered by white knit gloves, each resting beneath her upper arms as they crossed her chest in a desperate attempt to keep warm. While he was prone to notice detail with an almost agonizing surety, he found himself instead searching her face. Tracing her dark brown eyebrows and thin pink lips, he searched his memory for the face which had born time gracefully and elegantly, as if the waist-long chestnut hair that framed her face had protected her from the invisible burden worn around the neck of the people he’d seen on his path here. With a sudden jolt, he placed her – she’d been all knees and elbows back then; the kind of girl who was a little more mature for her age, and thus had liked boys and in the juvenile reaction of ignorant children had suffered for it. She had often plied for his attention, and that of his friends, but they they had often dismissed her as unwonton for fear that if they would indulge their secret desire for her company, their peers would torment them mercilessly. Many nights he had wondered what it would be like to kiss her back then, and while he could strangely recall his fantasies, he struggled to affix a name to those deep, passionate soul that shown through those eyes.

“It’s Liz….Liz Fisher….do you remember me? I know it’s been ages, and I can’t believe you would…I mean, I shouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t…not much to remember I’d think….oh heavens, I’m rambling, aren’t I?”

A soft, sad smile split his lips, whispering a hint of his teeth as he was offered clarity. Liz had been a chatterbox even back then, often dismissed as air headed, though such was quite contrary to the truth. While nervousness often prevented her from offering a clearer form of dialogue, she had been quite intelligent back then, often reading several grades ahead and being considered for honors programs. And yet the cruelty and nearsighted nature of children often obscured the truth of people for the easier, more convenient labels that could be ruthlessly applied in a moment and held for an endless memory.

“Elizabeth…goodness, it must be 20 years since I’ve seen you. Time has kind to you, it seems. How have you been?”

Darting a few steps forward to close to a more reasonable distance for conversation, she positively beamed at the returned recognition. Even though a full grown woman, she struck him as a nervous teenager standing there, her knees bent inward, right foot toeing at the ground, shoulders twisting and turning against the cold and her draped across her frame. He couldn’t help but feel a deep, warm pull at his heart at the mere sight of her. She seemed somewhat fragile and delicate, and yet with a hidden strength – like a river reed that bent in the wind – narrow and bending, but having an invisible integrity that refused to let her break.

“It is you! Of all the people to come across. I hadn’t thought I’d have the chance to lay eyes on you again. What brings you to town after all these years?”

He couldn’t keep his eyes from darkening a bit at the question, though the shadow only flickered for the briefest of seconds before fading back to the warmth that he felt for what her presence really meant to him. Reaching out his hands, his black gloves grasped her shoulders, rubbing up and down her upper arms a few times with a gentle pressure. He purposefully avoided the question, even as she had avoided his. Turn about was fair play, he figured, and such was the dance of familiar strangers in times and places such as these.

“You must be freezing Elizabeth…why on earth would you not be dressed in something warmer? At least come with me so I can buy you a cup of coffee and warm you up.”

Her lips curled briefly upward at the touch, as if it were more than slightly welcome, but faded in an instant later to a distant dispassion that was more than disconcerting. The nervousness of her frame fled in that instant, her knees straightening and her arms falling down her side, he could not sense whether it was anger, fear, or shame that split her features before they became as cold as the frost on the ground. She bit her bottom lip for a moment then pressed past him in a metered rush, as if she were trying not run against all her instincts necessity.

“I’m…I’m sorry…I can’t…I have, um, things to get done….you know how it is…I just saw you and wanted to be sure you weren’t a ghost, you know? But I should really get going. It was nice seeing you…”

She made it about three steps behind him before stopping briefly. Hearing the noise of her hasty footsteps pause, he turned slowly at the waist and neck casting a glance back over his shoulder at her. She was trembling slightly, though he wagered it was not from the quick pick of of the icy breeze. Her shoulders rose, then fell, as a deep breath gave her pause and composure. Turning her head to shoot one greenish brown eye through the cascading gaps of her hair, her voice took on a satin warmth reminiscent of the noir films of old. Her voice held a deep sincerity, as she offered:

“See you around, Big Boy.”

Despite the curiously abrupt nature of the exchange, and the peculiar brevity of the conversation, he found himself whispering back at her in a soft, sad tone of regret, a counter that he felt sublimely appropriate to what seemed a restrained mix of apology, attraction, affection, and acknowledgement.

“Here’s looking at you, kid….”

Her playful smile broke slightly, melting from its playfully waxy, sassy twist to a softer, silken crease before turning and hastily walking down the street to anywhere but there. He watched her fade into memory once again, wondering briefly at the what ifs that inevitably come from such interactions. Raising his fingertips to his lips once again, he exhaled slowly against them, wondering if this momentary interlude had helped or hindered him in the business that lay ahead. He made a quick and silent decision that it was not worth pondering, then moved to place one foot in front of another. It was time he moved on to more pressing matters and dismissed with all this nostalgia. This was not a social visit…he had work to do, and he’d best get to it. As he moved down the street, he drew a pair of amber colored lenses from his inside breast pocket, covering his eyes and locking the doorway to his soul.

“Careless, William…you know better than that. Get on with it.”

~*~*~

(Possibly to be continued…)

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~ by nihilano on September 14, 2011.

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