The light had been fading fast and she yawned hard fighting sleep. She felt her jaw muscles stretch and burn and her eyes so heavy they could just close in an instant. Her hands were limp on the steering wheel and her gaze was easy on the horizon. The sun had set long ago and the blue in the sky was now murky and cold. Stars on the dark horizon showed the open road. An open road was either freedom or a struggle, she hadn’t decided. She shook herself to jolt the heavy sleep from her mind. Turning the radio up loader she held a cigarette between her fingers and felt on the seat beside her for the lighter. Joni Mitchell lulled and wooed her from the speakers and the lit cigarette glowed warm and bright. She had left so quickly, random clothes stuffed into an old bag and some money from the dresser drawer. The backseat debris was all she had now in the world. She pushed this thought to the back of her mind, it wouldn’t do to be sad now. She had made her stand and she needed to follow this road until it came out at another end. If she went back there would be no future and they both knew it. She had said it first and now they needed to feel it to believe it. They had met years ago, so many years , when they were just children. They were all they had ever known and if she stayed he would be all she ever knew. It wasn’t enough anymore. A dead end job, the bar on weekends and the hot sticky sleepless summers. It hadn’t happened all at once. It was like a little itch. A little niggle that had started a year ago for what seemed like no reason at all. As the days and weeks wore on that itch had turned to a rash that had her full attention. It permeated every situation and even if it was invisible to everyone else, it was all she could see. It was like poison in her blood and she was seeking a treatment. She had wanted to tell him, to explain but it was useless. It couldn’t be explained. It had to be felt and it would not be ignored. She didn’t wait around to see his face. She could imagine the sorrow and hurt changing into that flash of anger. Leaving the house her heart had been jumping out of her throat and her ears rang with the terror of the unknown but once she was on the open, unending road a stillness had descended. Nothing was clearer but everything was possible and it would be ok.
I stood outside for ten minutes before I could get up the courage to go inside. Pacing slowly, hands in pockets, face buried in my scarf against the bitter chill of the night air. Lexington Avenue was humming. Commuters passing in all directions, horns sounding the impatience of rush hour and my edgy figure stalling in a darkened doorway. “Man up” I told myself, “its just drinks and meeting new people”. I have never relished the thought of new encounters. Its not about other people, its how they might perceive me. An older women in a volumous coat lingers a second in the doorway before entering the bar. The warmth is so inviting. “Ok” I tell myself, “it’s now or never, just do it”. Feet of lead crossing the threshold. I am greeted by a smiley man. His hat is pulled low over his eyes so his smile is all I can see, a bit like a Manhattan chesire cat. He ushered me to the nametags and told me to enjoy myself. By this stage that inviting warmth has turned to uncomfortable sweating and I would kill for an ice-cold coke. The power of advertising has always been my foe. I had originally signed up for a running group, but as with all things nowadays that meant after work drinks. I made awkward conversation with a mismatched bunch of people some of who thought we were here for a singles night, others were members of the New York knitting meet-up. The conversation was flowing as well as it could amongst strangers with mismatched interests and even the standoffish grumbling of David, a Hungarian and our newest fledgling chatter didn’t stopper the flow. Then out of the fuzzy velvet shimmer of the doorway curtains stepped Marcuitio. He was the head of my supposed running group but was in fact a chuck Norris lookalike in a velour tracksuit. Even in all black he was quite a sight. He announced himself to the group as a famous director. I didn’t know whether to believe him or whether this was just an excuse for the cap and sunglasses in an already dark bar. Either way he looked more three blind mice than Stephen Spielberg. Only in New York right. Upon hearing I planned to try to run on a regular basis, he clasped my hands in his, the way a priest might when giving his condolences and explained the pros and cons of marathons. I was too busy thinking of Chuck Norris memes to hear any of this but when I did zone back in I realized I was nodding alone to a suggestion that I be in one of his films. For an instant I imagined myself like Rita Hayworth or Audrey Hepburn but then I removed my clammy hand, made my excuses and exited stage left. I figured if I needed ten minutes to gather my courage to enter a bar Id need a lifetime to get behind a camera. I paused on the stoop and looked up at the sign overhead. I might just have left Nirvana but I was pretty sure I had escaped the twilight zone.
The turning of the key in the lock. The clang and scrape of metal on steel ringing out in the dark, shattering the perfect quiet. Rusty hinges announcing the intruder, betraying the stillness of the early morning. Steady footsteps along the dock, sure footed and direct. The moon on the water, illuminating each ripple and casting blue shadows into the darkest corners. The lapping water on the salted pylons came into being and the first sounds of rocking and splashing was audible. This was the moment. Those perfect fourteen steps down the dock to the boat when the world was contained and packaged into a feeling of lightness and refreshing breath. The chill in the air stirred his lungs into reckoning and drafted around his ears. He heaved the bag onto his shoulder and pull down his wool hat. He loved the bracing feeling. This was a new day, a moment separate to all others, the favored ritual. The boat swayed menacingly under his weight but he was sure-footed. He had earned his sea legs over the years but like the rest he had paid fair dues for them. The rope was coarse and stiff in his hands and casting it off was freedom. Steady rowing from strong shoulders. The warm orange glow of lights on the hillside. Soon the world would be awake and buzzing. The hum and rhythm of daily life would come on like a light switch and break through this silence but for now there was this steady ebb and flow. Life is a constant and beyond the rush and excitement is an undercurrent of stillness that if you looked for with a trained eye you could make out in these precious moments. Letting the oars rock into their stirrups, he took out his cigarettes. The match strike, flair of flame and warmth of fire. Smoke on the water and the sun on the horizon. This was solace.