Friday, September 25, 2009

Ships Passing - fridayflash

Not much to say about this one. I felt really empowered by all the positive comments on last week's #fridayflash and thus I'm here again laying down another one. I was hoping for something a little less moody, but a foggy day and a Zoe Keating song determined what I was writing this week. Hope you enjoy, and see you all next week!


He sat parked in his car along one side of the street. It was dark, the empty isolated kind of dark where dawn is only a few hours off but still being kept at bay. Not that you could tell. There were only the sparse glow of street lights and an all-encompassing fog that had settled over the city that night.

He was buzzed but not drunk. A gathering with old friends as he was passing through was enough to get him wistful and reflective. But they all had jobs or kids or both now and they weren't open to staying out until dawn talking like they had been back in the day. Hell, he wasn't sure he was open to that idea anymore, either. So instead he came here, the only other place in the whole city he could think of.

At this time of night, the street was the only thing in the universe. The well-worn pavement was the only thing holding him up from a fall into oblivion. The fog didn't cut off his universe, it seemed to define it, a world smaller than a block in size, lit from the faint, hazy suns of the street lamps.

He knew that eventually the real sun would come and the universe would expand again. He knew that on either side of this single street were simple two story houses like the kind found in any third year old suburbia in this part of the country. He knew each house like he knew his teachers growing up. He might still be able to name half the neighbors. This wasn't a place people typically moved out from.

Except him, of course.

His head lolled forward and he let out a long sigh. He wasn't sure why he came here. There was nothing but memories, some of them good to be sure but all of them painful. After going so long and so far to get away from this place, here he was again--sitting in a car on this street wishing that life could be .... different.

But it wasn't. Instead it was the same old street with the same old lights and the same old fog that could come down this time of year and really mess with a person. He had always loved this fog in the days of his youth. It was a fog of magic and concealment. A fog that asked for people to come together as close as they could to stave off the isolation.

He sat and stared out at the street as his head slowly cleared. The thoughts in his mind were just a vicious circle of memories and futile ruminations on why life was the way life was. He wished one of his old friends had come along. But he wasn't sure that the conversation they would have had would have been any more fulfilling. It was a lost cause all around. You couldn't go home again.

He started up his car, sitting and waiting and trying to savor the moment one last time. It was late and he was tired now, but who knew when he'd be back through here? As he took it in, tried to get a feel for this one small, insignificant place that meant so much, he noticed a light in the distance. It wasn't the halo of a lamp, but a single tongue of flame off in the darkness, followed by a small glowing dot. Someone was out here, smoking.

He put the car in gear and slowly began to roll forward. As his headlights swept over the fog, he saw that the ember belonged to a person sitting in one of the parked cars on the opposite side of the street. That gave him pause. His reverie had been intruded on by this stranger sitting in their own vehicle thinking thoughts that were probably vastly different than his own. The whole venture out here suddenly felt cheap and self-indulgent.

Still, he didn't want to look like some sort of thief scoping out the neighborhood. Whoever it was had been there before he got there. He suddenly felt like he owed them some sort of explanation. So he slowed as he neared the car, pulling up next to the open window. The smoke drifting out the window was quickly swallowed up by the greedy fog, but it made him feel like this person was a part of the atmosphere, cutting everything off from the reality he remembered and making this night something other.

Their facing windows were open, and he waved as casually as he could as he got close. "I'm sorry for bothering you, I was just driving through. I used to live here. Was in town, figured I'd stop and look at the old neighborhood, get a feel for it again."

The figure leaned forward, a female shape. As she came closer to the window and into the light, he recognized her. For a moment, he almost cried out in surprise. But he just remained rigid as she blew up another thin stream of smoke. "Not much to see on a night like this."

She was looking at him, but she didn't seem to recognize him. It took him a second, but then he remembered how different he looked from back in the day, how much he had changed in the twenty years since he had been here. She hadn't changed, though. Older, a bit more careworn, but still the same.

"Yeah ..." he said slowly. He wasn't going to announce himself if she didn't realize who it was. He hadn't spoken to her in two decades and he wasn't even sure where he'd begin if he had to. Instead, she was just a woman on the street where he used to live. "Well, it's still the same. I remember nights like this. A kid could get into a lot of trouble on a night like this."

She smiled, a thin smile that felt as tired and melancholy as he had felt sitting here. What was she doing here? The same thing he was? He had no idea what she was doing anymore. Maybe she lived here. Maybe she was just passing through like he was. His imagination reeled with the possibilities.

"Yeah, one certainly could," she said. "Still, it's not the same. Back then, it felt so full of possibilities. Now it's just a single tiny street in a city full of them. In a country full of cities. Nothing special."

"I tend to think of it the other way around," he answered her without thinking. "Back then, I was always looking for something more. Something bigger and better. This place was just a stepping stone to adventures. But just seeing the road, as beat up and worn down as it is, and knowing that it's this place above all places ... it's special to me. There's nowhere else I could go to relive the memories I have here."

"You must have some good memories, to be here now," she answered him casually. She didn't seem that interested, just making conversation.

"Some, sure," he answered. "Not all. But even so, I couldn't just let them go. No matter how hard I try or how far I go, they're still with me. And when I was in town, I came here as sure as birds fly south. I figure it's just ... fate."

"Maybe so," she answered, taking another long drag of her cigarette and neatly flicking ash out the window. "I hope you enjoyed coming back, if only for a little while."

"It's been something else," he answered truthfully. "But I certainly don't regret it." He looked at the clock, realizing he had a flight out in only four hours. He could sleep on the plane, but he had to get ready. "You have a good night. And don't be too hard on this whole place. In the morning, it'll go about its business with a bunch of people living their lives, and none of this memory will exist anymore. It'll burn away with the fog. Might as well enjoy it now."

She nodded, though this time she didn't smile. "Have a good night. Drive safe. It's dangerous out there."

"You too," he said, as he rolled up his window to keep out the chill and began to pull away. The streetlights loomed up out of the darkness, one after another, keeping this contained universe the same size and shape even as he moved inside of it. But the car and its occupant disappeared behind him into the darkness, little more than a memory.