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The World Inside


Title: The World Inside
Author: ciaranbochna
Characters: OC's
Disclaimer: I wrote it, so fair warning there.
Length:  7193
Rating: PG
Summary: I prefer to drop you in without saying...
A/N: This is an original work, all rights are reserved. More gratitude than I can say to caffienekitty for
encouraging my madness since uni days, and giving me endless helpful advice. To suchaprince and mad_teagirl for their support and beta skills as well. Without any of these lovely people there would be no posting at all.



There is room in his pockets for every secret you have, and everything you have forgotten. If you meet the man in the trench coat, you will move through life sideways, and find the space between footsteps. They say that is where he lives. It is where he found me.

***

Some people think that a caramel macchiato is the same as café mocha. I try not to stare at them long enough to make them squirm, but some days it’s hard. I steam the metal pitcher full of milk to 165 degrees. I don’t need a thermometer to tell me when it is ready, and I never tap down my espresso grounds when put them into the head of the machine. Crushing the flavor out of beans before you have even begun – this is why I don’t drink anyone else’s coffee but my own. I’m aware that it’s obsessive, but I know coffee, and I know what you crave before you ask. It’s why Marianne hired me, and why Javawocky attracts people from all over the island, or so Marianne tells me.

I watch Karen’s eyes roll back as she takes her first sip, and tuck a strand of hair behind my ear.

She says thanks and bumps the door open with her hip. None of them remember my name, no matter how many times I tell them.

***

I spend the end of every day on the seawall, on the same bench near the bridge over the man-made lagoon. I am far enough from the lagoon that the noise of children in the summer blends into the sound of gulls and water lapping at the shore. I‘m the only one sitting here in the winter—it takes a blizzard to keep me away. In the snow only my tan shoes keep me from becoming part of the landscape. My white toque, sweater and pants paint me into the snow as I watch the sea. I don’t understand the need to stand out in a crowd.

Maybe I have more in common with the man in the trench coat than I realize. No one notices him until he claims the space beside you.

***

The cat is sitting primly, paws tucked under it, just the suggestion of a tail wrapped around its paws. Its eyes are large, slit in the middle, and the ears are slightly hollowed out. It’s not as detailed as grandpa’s other carvings, but he tells me he made it strong.

“I know how boys are. Most of my toys didn’t survive. I want you to paint it though, whatever colour you like, and give it a name. Then, it’s yours.

I paint it black, with green eyes – careful to keep the green from bleeding over the edges and staining the black. I call the cat Ebony. I love the way my hands smell of pine for hours after I put her away.

***

They say his pockets are endless. That you can find your perfect childhood summer day, and the first pair of sneakers you wore so often they had holes in the bottom. The trench coat man doesn’t give you what you desire, or what you want; he returns you whole, for what was broken. That little rattle inside you hear when you shake a broken clock—he is the only one who can hear it. You can’t find the piece yourself, but you know that without it nothing will turn. I never thought I was broken, but being so forgettable that you don’t have a name. I guess that means I am missing something too.

***

I dig my damp cloth through the grooves in the brass table lamp I am dusting. Marianne tells me no one can see the dust on the lamps (unless they are an inch from it), but I do. I can see the trace of grey on my linen towel, and I can’t leave it on the lamp for someone else to discover.

The story of the trench coat man is the same. Everyone knows of him, traces of him are everywhere, but no one knows how, or when he will turn up.

***

If you look long enough you can find the pattern in anything, just start from the corner and work your way in. The shape doesn’t matter; everything has an edge if you stop looking so hard at the world. Take my favourite jack pine tree. There is a gnarled bit of root protruding from the mat of needles below the tree. If you follow it to the trunk, weave your way through the bark, the bare patches where it has fallen off, and the trailing moss—you will find it. That one spot on the tree that nothing touches, where brown/grey shades of bark and lichen link in the perfect fractal. The centre of the tree. Everyone thinks that the centre of the human body is the heart, but it isn’t. We all keep it secret, even from our closest friends and lovers. After all, when you find the spirit of a thing, you know just how to work your way back and erase its path, one step at a time.

***

I am about to polish the last strip of brass on the table lamp nearest the service counter when I feel it. The numbness in your bones, the taste on the back of your tongue that tells you snow is about to fall.

I walk behind the counter and look up at the man who brought the season with him. I see a bit of red poking from the pocket of his leather bomber jacket.

She holds me tight, and I can’t feel the tip of my nose in the cold. Snow catches on my cheeks, and I rub my red mittens over numb skin. I push my feet under the curl of the wooden sled and hold on as we tip over the edge of hill.

The black and white floor tiles are clean. I should know, I scrub them thoroughly every morning. I can smell the lemon cleaner too. The tiles swirl together until I see grey. I’m gasping, and I hear someone above me talking urgently.

“Are you ok?”

I grasp the edge of the counter and pull myself up. I sway slightly, but everything settles after I blink a couple of times. I stare at across at his (gold?) eyes and plaster a smile on my face.

“Fine. Just working too hard I guess. What can I get you?”

He tells me. I turn around to make the triple espresso, and realize I didn’t know what he would order when he walked in. I pause with the spoon in the freshly ground beans. It is probably the dizziness. I set the water to boil and stop wondering.

***

I don’t always look for the patterns in people, or the world around me. I can lose hours trying to find the centre of the waves in the harbor. I pull the sounds around me, and name them, as my fingers tap against the bench. Occasionally people sit down and try to talk to me, but it doesn’t last long. I can see the words drying up almost as soon as they fall. If the devil is in the details then hell probably has a set of ledgers and a desk waiting for me, but I don’t think we need hell. We’re creative enough in this life.

I don’t know what to do when people smile. At work it’s involuntary. When they smile and say hello as I sit here on the bench, calculating the worth of the world, I don’t remember how to respond. I can trace the corner of their smile to a dimple, follow the crease into their hair and down their neck…but they want simple. I don’t remember when things were easy.

***

It’s supposed to be five below today, according to the weather channel. I’m wearing my navy windbreaker not because I feel the cold, but so people stop asking why I wear short sleeves all winter.

I see him leaning against the railing looking down at the boats in the marina. He’s wearing a sweater this time, though he seems as indifferent to the cold as I am. His sweater is bright green, the colour of new leaf shoots. It shimmers slightly, and almost looks wet as he moves.

I open the door to the shop, locking it behind me. I try to avoid his gaze, but it doesn’t work.

He smiles and says “Morning Andrew.”

I shouldn’t be able to hear him through the glass door, twenty feet between us, but I do.  I nod slightly and pick up my bag, heading for the back of the shop. I smell caramel, and stumble over a crack in the tile.

I want to bury my face in the plate set in front of me. Crepes rolled with butter and brown sugar, melted together into the lightest, sweetest taste I can ever imagine. I don’t remember cutting them, just stuffing them into my mouth as fast as I can.

“Careful Andrew or you’ll choke. You aren’t a duck you know, people need to chew.”

I nod at grandma and hum with happiness, trying not to smile with my mouth full. Her hair is like spun white silk, twisted into curls around her ears. She never lets my plate empty, not until I shake my head and mumble “Full.”

She smiles at me and brushes her hands over her apron. She makes shooing motions with her hands. “Go on, get out there and burn off all that energy before you fall asleep on your plate. How would I explain that to your mother?”

I finish my tea and fling myself at her for a hug. Grandma feels like the quiet just before you fall asleep. Like I will never be cold.

She laughs and leans down to squeeze me. “Go on.”

I scramble over to the coat room and slam my feet into my shoes and grab my jacket. I can still taste caramel on my tongue.

My fingers are sticky, I rub them on my pants, feeling my fingers twitch. I used them to wipe my plate clean after I finished grandma’s crepes. I can feel the press of her hand on my cheek – skin soft as tissue folded and kept in your pocket.

I can taste blood on my lip, and my jaw aches from clenching it. I loosen my grip on the canvas handle of my bag and continue into the back. My hip bumps against the counter as I pass. Everything is moving, and I can’t make it stop.

***

I sit on this bench so I can drive the memory of people away. You can’t use the patterns to control people. People are chaotic. They will cheerfully pick apart the lines that separate parts of your life, the bits that you never want to recall because you can’t shape them the way you want.

***

There is a line up, so I don’t see him until he is in front of me.

“Good day Andrew.”

I think I stand for a full minute before I close my mouth and respond. “Err…good day to you too.”

The man standing behind my customer glares and taps his watch.

The man who knows my name raises one hand, not looking behind him. “George, if you had set your alarm this morning, you wouldn’t be in this predicament. Now hush, and let me talk to Andrew here.”

George shrinks back, eyes wide.

I force myself to move, and take a small bar of organic dark chili-flavoured chocolate from the drawer below the espresso machine. Triple-espresso man returns. But how the hell does he know my name?

It takes me two tries to pop the portafilter into the machine. I smell sandalwood and cinnamon, and the world dims to a point on the counter. At least I don’t drop the cup, and I didn’t quite pass out. I manage to finish the espresso, and hand it to him without spilling (barely).

He pushes the sleeve of his brown suede jacket back, and takes the cup.

“Thank you Andrew. Have a good day.” He smiles at me, and I can smell freshly cut grass.

George steps up to the counter. I smile in relief and grab a travel cup for his dark roast. He mumbles thank you, and hurries out the door.

***

I hear nothing when he sits down, not even the rustle of the fabric. The coat is the faded red-orange of crushed Maple leaves. The lines in his trench coat multiply as I watch them, and I cannot follow their pattern. My eyes ache with denial

I stare up at his face. The corner of his mouth quirks upwards, and I follow the line in his dusky skin to his eyes. His gaze is a whirlwind, and I am thrown aside. I slide along the bench and feel a splinter in my thumb.

His arm snaps out and grabs my hand, dragging me towards him effortlessly. The tip of his index finger sharpens, and he stabs it into my thumb, pulling the sliver of wood out. I gasp and struggle in his grip. He stares up at me, eyebrow raised.

“Perhaps there is something left in you after all, Andrew.” He releases my hand. My thumb is cold, like I’ve plunged it into the water slapping the concrete walkway below.

“What do you want?” I mumble. My voice is faded, like the weathered wood of the bench.

His laugh smells like bonfire smoke. “Wants. Do you even remember what those taste like?” He throws his arm over the back of the bench as leans towards me. His hair blows grey and black against his skin. I can feel something scrabbling in the back of my skull.

“Didn’t your mother ever tell you if you frown that much your face will freeze that way?”

This is the longest conversation I have had in years. “Whatever you’re selling I don’t need it.” I try to get up again, and feel his hand fold over my arm. I stare back at him. His left arm is too long, stretched twice its length to capture me.

The stories never say what happens to anyone he meets afterward, only that they find what they’ve lost. I don’t want any of it back. I yank violently on my arm and twist.

“Sit down Andrew. I think you’ve done enough cataloguing for a while. Now you have to become involved.”  He opens his coat. And it keeps opening, unfolding and growing larger as he stands up, building a room to enclose the sky.

I try to run through the coat, but I’m thrown back as if pushed. The man in the trench coat draws me to the centre of the room and pushes me into a chair. Where the hell did it come from? I feel lightheaded, and realize I am hyperventilating. I close my eyes for a moment and slow down.

“What is—“I flap my hands at the canvas around me, and notice the floor is made of fallen leaves. I tap my foot against the angles of red, gold, yellow and brown, but they don’t move. Makes about as much sense as sitting in a room made from a coat.

“You’re too distracted by the workings of the world Andrew. Nothing in here will lead you anywhere but inside.” He chuckles. “So much more difficult than watching isn’t it?”

I notice he is somehow still wearing the coat. I open my mouth to ask and a blizzard passes over my eyes as he waves a hand. When I can see again the walls are covered.

Most of it looks like trash. Crumpled bits of paper, faded shirts and sweaters full of holes, and coins of every description, and in one case there is a fish swimming in water—sans tank. I run my finger through the water and rub it against my palm. It’s wet. The more important question is how the hell the water and fish are attached to the wall.

“That really isn’t what you should be thinking. Maybe why I brought you here?” He turns around and pushes something into the wall next to him. The fabric moves faintly, almost reaching toward him as he draws away, hands behind his back. He walks towards me, and his eyes brighten. They look like melted pools of amber now.

I back away, waiting to see if the trench coat man will try to add me to his collection. I rub my palms against my jeans.

“I know the stories, and so do you.  Take what is yours and see where it leads you.” The bench appears in the centre of the fabric room; the leaves on the floor curl around the wrought-iron feet to hold it in place. He walks over and sits down, folding his hands in his lap.

I stare at the walls around me. I wait for something to fall on me. I look for a gap in the coat walls, but there are no seams.

I feel the edges of the leaves under my fingers. My hands are too warm but my cheeks are numb. I push myself up.

“I don’t know what the point of this is, but it ends now. Let me out.” I am breathing too quickly again.

He reaches into his coat and pulls out a string of words. One letter connected to the next by the edges of the curled seraphs. The words are stylized, like calligraphy. He reads them to me.

 “Crown all your shadows with blades of dirty light. Let the dirt from stars bruise each secret hollow.” He looks up at me and his orange-gold hair covers one eye. “I collect more than tangible things Andrew. And I am not the one holding you here. “He holds up the string of letters by two fingers, and blows it away. The letters whirl and drift, finding a place on the wall below a kiss-stained post-it.

I collapse heavily onto the bench next to him. What I wouldn’t give to be at work, making the perfect cup of coffee right now. Something reduced to water temperature, perfectly roasted espresso beans and the artist-touched foam to crown the cup. I will never make a maple leaf shape in foam again. The floor is burning my eyes.

What, exactly, is wrong with my life the way it is?” I snap, twisting the fingers of my left hand, concentrating on the wrinkles of each knuckle.

He sighs. His hair is grey with streaks of white over his ears.

“I will say it again, then. You look for patterns, and lose everything important when you do.  You cannot take something whole, without breaking it apart. And you cannot separate what you feel from the indifference you have built.” He presses his finger to my icy cheek, too quick for me to pull away.

“Do you remember the rush as you tipped over the edge of the hill? Feeling your mother’s arms holding you tight as you braced your feet against the lip of the wooden sled? Moments like that don’t need to be divided Andrew. That’s what you’ve forgotten. Now go and choose again, you aren’t done.” The man in coat slouches against the bench, head down.

“Fine. Whatever gets me out of here.” My shoulders crack as I shiver violently. I turn slowly in place looking at the detritus on the walls. The shadows stretch behind me, even though there is no light above me to cast them.

Fragments of songs – wavering light patterns play as I pass. Nothing that sounds familiar. Bright balls of colour –whispering conversations fragmented like everything else. I smell campfires, roasting marshmallows, and popcorn, but none of the memories are mine.  I stop, and study the lines of cotton twill on my jeans. I usually find the tucked spiral calming, but now I cannot follow the pattern. I dig the heels of my hands into my eyes until I see purple and red sparks, then I look around me again.

I shake myself and turn to stare at the man on the bench. His arms are folded over his chest, head down and breathing softly. I guess that means I’m not finished whatever test this is. I snort, and follow along the tent walls, looking for something more. I ignore the stitch in my chest and keep walking, hoping it will unravel.

When I was hired at the coffee shop they told me it wasn’t my experience that made them choose me. It was the way people reacted to me when they walked in. How a man, who never said more than two words to anyone before, told me: “This is the best espresso I have ever had. Where did you study?” How a little girl, who never emerged from behind her mother’s leg, offered me her teddy bear. Her mother had nearly dropped her latte in shock. I told the owners I had no idea what I was doing to make it happen. They didn’t care as long as the customers kept returning. And they do, bringing everyone they know. I still think it’s the coffee. I talk to everyone as best I can, but I’ve never been very good at being social. Apparently no one minds.

I stop in a brightly lit corner of the tent. I squint against the glare and see ice covering the leaves under my feet. The smell of blood. I’m paralyzed.

I don’t have any friends my age until we move to the new house. Adults are better, and most of them like me. Margaret lives next door. She’s older than me, but mom tells me she’s ‘a bit slow, so look after her.” I don’t know what “slow” means. Margaret’s mother brings her over once all our moving boxes are gone. We shuffle and don’t look at each other for a second. Then I pick up my toy crane from the step and she smiles at me. We play with the crane and her toy cars in the front yard, and Margaret doesn’t care if I don’t talk. I like it when she speaks. It sounds like the water lapping the sides of our swimming pool. Her voice goes up and down, and sometimes it snaps when she’s excited. The words are bright when she’s happy, when she throws her arms in the air and grins at me. I’m glad we moved here.

We both love snow. Margaret and I scramble into our snow pants, sweaters, jackets and tuque as soon as the ground is covered in flakes. We forget about our mittens until we hear our mothers calling from the house, when we’re halfway down the stairs. Margaret spins, and falls off the step, tumbling down the stone stairs. I see her arms flying and hear Margaret’s head crack when she hits the bottom. I run down and stand over her, and then I see the blood on the ice under her head. The cold squeezes my chest. My arms and legs feel like rock. I should do something but I don’t know what. Margaret opens her eyes. I don’t know how long I stand there. She sniffs and starts to cry.

I open my mouth and scream for mom. I don’t want to leave her alone. Our mothers come running down the stairs. They both forget coats or pants for the snow. I think their hands must be cold. Mom takes me home. I think my lips have turned to ice.

Mom tells me later that Margaret cut her head on the rock, and she has a lump, but she will be ok.  Margaret’s mom won’t let me see her anymore.  I hear my mom and Margaret’s talking really loud a couple of times, but I still can’t see her. I smile at Margaret through the window, and she waves at me until she’s pulled away.

I come back to myself sitting on the bench beside the man in the trench coat. My forearm aches.

“Did you drag me over here?” I try to snap, but it comes out in a rasp.

“I threw you over my shoulder to be more accurate, but yes.” His eyes are grey again under the fringe of smoky hair.

“If this is some kind of moral lesson I’m not getting it, and I don’t care. I just want to go home.” I cross my arms in front of me and slide down the bench. That word. It has more than one syllable – it has three. I bite my lip until I taste blood.

He laughs. “Are you going to have a tantrum now Andrew? That works as well on me as it does on the unfairness of the world. I can’t force you to learn, or do, anything. I am just returning what you lost.”

“Why? Who gave you the job? Did you ever think I lost some of this on purpose and I don’t want it back?” I get up and stalk off. The temperature in the room drops 10 degrees, and I smell bonfires again. So thick my eyes water and I struggle to breathe.

“I have had this ‘job’ for a very long time Andrew Jeffries. I don’t enjoy dragging any of you here, but it must be done.” He walks up to me. I try to back up, but his arm stretches around the back of my neck and clamps down.

“No. You have done quite enough of that.” He leans in, and I see snowflakes swirling over his tongue.

“I could slam everything you’ve buried back into your skull. You would be a jibbering loony when it was over, but I could do it.” He sighs and removes his hand. I stumble back.

“You have excised your connection to the world Andrew, to everyone around you. I can leave you that way, let you strip life’s pattern from the air without being part of it. It can be useful at times.” He smiles at me and cocks his head. “You could be my apprentice. It’s just a matter of feeling the world with your eyes closed, and your soul cracked wide open. But you would have to feel something!”

His finger touches my chin from halfway across the room. I can’t move, but I feel the fire inside his skin. I used to be bothered by the heat and the cold. It has been a long time since I’ve felt it.

He pulls his arm back into his side. My skin twitches, trying to remove his crawling touch.

“All of this will vanish when you’re done. That is when you will know it’s over.” He returns to the bench and raises both eyebrows.

I growl and walk along the walls of the tent again. I make three passes around the room, and though the shape of the tent changes, nothing drags me into the past. I stop in front of the bench and cross my arms.

I taste smoke and ice on my tongue, but my skin still crawls with a touch of summer. I rub my aching thumb against my jeans.

He stands up, leaning into me and reaching behind my ear. Again, I am helpless to move. He holds the tip of his index finger under my nose. I see a splinter hovering there.

“Never use cedar Andrew. Well, you can, but it might take more lifetimes than you have to find the shape inside and dig it out.” Grandpa laughs and strips a long curl of wood off the Birch block he is holding. “Always carve away from yourself. Never forget that.” Grandpa’s hands are twisted from arthritis and working as a tinsmith. He says he could fit his hands into any tight space (just like a mouse) when he was working. But not anymore. He can take strips of willow and soften them with water, bending and weaving them into baskets, and chairs for our back deck. He tells me this piece is going to be a Kestrel, but I don’t know how he can see it.

“Grandpa pats the bench beside him and I sit, feet dangling below me. “Some people just find a picture in a magazine and go to it. Not me. I know exactly what to do as soon as pick up the wood. In here.” He taps the side of my head and I smile at him. There are bits of dark grey in patches circling the top of his ears. I think they looked like ear muffs.

“When do I get my own knife?” I point at his hand-made knife. Grandpa refuses to buy tools; he says they won’t talk to the wood properly if it comes from a store.

He laughs. “When you won’t run around with it going 50 miles an hour. Or your mother says it’s ok.”

“But she NEVER lets me touch the knives.” I kick my feet angrily.

“She’s right. Until you’re older you’ll just have to watch me. Here, sand the corner of this one.” Grandpa reaches into the box of half-finished animals beside him and hands me a bear.

“You can use the lighter side of the sandpaper and rub it into the corner of the base until it looks like this side. He points to the rounded edge near the bear’s foot. The other side is still sharp.

“Ok.” I mumble, and take the piece from him, getting a splinter in my palm. “Ow!”

“Give me your hand.” Grandpa takes another knife from his leather apron. The blade is tiny, and I can barely see it. The point looks like a needle. He pokes it into my skin and I don’t even feel it, but the splinter is gone. A tiny drop of blood soaks into the lines on my hand.

“There you are. Now sand that corner of the wood until it shines. When you’re done we’ll go get some hot chocolate. I think your grandma needs to be shaken up a bit.” Grandpa laughs.

I set the sandpaper to wood and start brushing it back and forth. I hear the woodpecker in the pine tree in front of our house, and grandpa digging the Kestrel out of the wood in his hands. I watch the pile of shavings grow under grandpa’s feet. I lean against the porch railing behind me and stare up through the Alder tree that leans over the house. I imagine the leaves are part of a wooden panel, if I carve them to fit just right.

“My grandfather had a violent temper. He put a spiked logging pole right through the door at a camp he worked at when he was a teenager. Just because he didn’t like the foreman. But he would sit for hours carving, and he never raised his voice to me.” I flex and open my hands, staring at my perfectly straight fingers.

A clink and chime. Spoon against the side of a cup. The smell of mint.

“It tastes like licking a postage stamp! Why would you drink such a vile thing?”

She laughs. “You’re entitled to your opinion, even if you’re wrong.” I see the tip of her tongue as she takes a sip of the tea. She winces and rubs her eyes.

My forehead is pressed to the leaves on the floor. I dig my hands into them, trying to rip them apart. I take a deep breath and hear my ribs creak with the effort. My eyes water as I struggle to my knees.

My captor crouches so we are on eye level. “Do you remember what you served me when I walked into your coffee shop Andrew?” His fingers curl around his knees. I think he missed his calling as a pianist.

I stare at him. “If I answer, will you open the door, or collapse whatever the hell this place is?” I stagger to my feet and grab the back of the bench.

He sighs. “You can go when you’re ready. This isn’t a school, and we don’t have a schedule. Although if I had a ruler I might rap you over the head with it.” The light in the room dims until the trench coat man, the bench and I form a triptych.

I let go of the bench and stand before him. He stretches up from his knees—I doubt he even has joints. Seasonal eyes swirl orange, red, green and white and I can still see frost in the corner of his mouth. The tips of his fingers burn, and I resist the urge to back away. Every pass of his finger, stretching or an arm or leg, twist of his head; everything exactly as he wants it. It’s what I want too.

“Triple espresso, organic beans, water five degrees past boiling, and a shaving of chili dark chocolate to finish. I would offer you more, but a triple shot is as high as our shop goes. You might even have an entire pot to yourself.”

He smiles. “True. You don’t need a knife to carve out what’s hidden Andrew. But there is more to a person than that. That little girl didn’t offer you her teddy bear because you knew what flavor of hot chocolate she loved. I can view the workings of the world just as you can, but I also know that people are more than the angles and shapes that create them. They are wonderful, frustrating, dark and glorious, and a puzzle is more than its pieces isn’t it? Is it part of Ariel you need, or would you rather have her whole?”

“Stop the armchair philosophy. You don’t know—“ I punch both hands into his chest but he doesn’t move. I’m thrown back against the bench.

Ariel. No one can say that name. I shiver so hard my teeth slam together.

He sits down beside me. My head feels thick, memories compressed and fighting each other. Something is carving long slow curls inside my skull, I don’t want to see, but I am tired of holding on, staying inside the lines.

I see him reach into his coat from the corner of my eye. I smell it before I see the cup. Spearmint-Ginkgo tea.

“She said it was her favourite drink, and nothing compared. I wanted to believe her.” There is a knot of words in my throat. I cough and fragments fall.

“It was the way she touched the back of my hand and the crinkles…around her eyes.” My fingers slide against each other. I scrub my face and watch the water continue to soak into my jeans, falling between the lines of cotton twill.

My hands are numb from leaning on the railing over the lagoon. I watch the tide swirl over the strands of kelp under the water, catching a glimpse of a green crab in the fronds. I push away and head to the coffee shop I passed on the way down. I hear they have a good reputation. By the time I made it back to the walkway above the marina my head is numb. I open the door of the shop and blink as my eyes water and my nose starts to run. I sigh in the heat and get in the line. It’s long enough I start to believe the hype for this place –Javawocky. Sounds like a vague Star Wars reference.

I dig a tissue out of the inner pocket of my trench coat and wipe my nose.Tendrils of black hair tickle my eyelashes. I glace at the tables around me; there are only eight inside, but they are placed close enough that the shop seems cozy. All the wood is stained a shade or two lighter than mahogany. All the trim matches the furniture and the floor boasts an art nouveau mosaic tile. I realize there is only one person ahead of me now—I’ve zoned out too long again. She picks up her cup and turns sideways to face me. I smell mint and something herbal. I’m not much for herbal tea, but the smell is enough to perk me up a little.

“Americano please.” I tell the cashier, digging my wallet out of my jeans.

“You should try something without caffeine, it’s better for you.”

I grab my cup and stare at the woman beside me. “No point without it. And if it can’t raise the dead I won’t drink it.”

She throws back her head and laughs, pushing a curl of honey-blonde hair behind her ear. She grabs my arm and pulls me away from the counter, pointing at a nearby table.

I have no idea what is happening, but her eyes crinkle when she laughs at my expression, and she smells like cinnamon and sandalwood. I fall into the chair and put my coffee down before I drop it.

“My name is Ariel. If you make any Shakespeare jokes I will give you a permanent scar somewhere extremely visible.”

She smirks and I grin back at her. “Then I won’t make them.”

Ariel has eyes the colour of alder leaves, and every time she laughs she reaches for my hand. I think I love her hands.

“Do you want to go for a walk Ariel?” I ask. I am not sure if I am speaking English for a moment.

“If you tell me your name, then yes.”

I blush. I wasn’t sure I could do that anymore. “Andrew.” I dig my fingers into my hair and smile at her.

“Alright then. I guess now that we have coffee out of the way we can move on to the next step.” She raises an eyebrow at me, and this time I reach for her hand.

“I’m good with details. People, places, things –I can rip it all apart and know where it came from, how to put it back together. But I still couldn’t see the clot…”

My throat feels like it’s being shredded. I choke and push my fingers into my eyes until I see blue sparks. I count the sparks and force myself to breathe through the past. It isn’t gone though, I just threw it all into a box and lost it for a year. The seasons stopped without her, everything did. Everything except the searching, trying to break everything down and sort it into

“Trying to find the bits I missed. There must have been something.” I stare at the man in the trench coat. I grab the edge of his coat. It’s warm as the sun on the back of my head in July.

He takes my hand and traces the lines on my palm. “There is no pattern to follow to save everyone we love Andrew. If there were my pockets would be empty. There are so many things to be lost. None more important than the ones who make the world turn, and stop it when they pass.” He releases my hand and turns his head. I watch a feather of fire trail down his cheek.

“I don’t remember what I did before. I don’t know why any of it matters. I just want to sit on my bench and count time until…”

I touch my head to my knees, lacing my fingers under my legs. If I can just pull everything back to where it was. Forget her laugh, the way she always bumped into doors when she went through, how much the kids loved their favourite teacher, the way she looked at me when…

“Tell me I can give it back. Stick everything on your walls.” I wrench myself up, but he is standing too far away for me to catch.

“Do you really want to forget her Andrew? I can’t take anything back, everything you remembered is yours, it comes to you as soon as these walls go up. Take her with you Andrew, she never meant to leave. And she doesn’t want you to join her yet.” He is standing beside me suddenly, offering his hand. I don’t know if I can walk, but I take it.

The tent is gone, and so is he. The wind cuts through my jacket as I sit on the bench staring out at the whitecaps on the water.

***

There is a wind inside me. I feel its edges move against my bones, shaking me from the inside out. I walk quickly, pushing aside the vertigo, the pressure in my skull.

People move aside when I walk into the shop. I angle myself away from them when they get close enough to brush my jacket. I drop my backpack in the staffroom and come back out, nodding at Kim as I move to take her place behind the counter.

“Andrew?  You don’t start for another hour, are you sure-“

I force my head up. I can hear the vertebrae crack in my neck. Kim’s hair is black, straight as blade, past her shoulders. Her pale green eyes stare at me in concern. It’s the first time I remember what she looks like. Her eyes crinkle as she frowns and reaches for my arm.

I jump back and shake my head.

“Ok, never mind. Just let me know if you need anything.” She gives me a final worried glance and moves away.

I clench my fists and open them, shaking my fingers. They are numb, cold.

I start the next order. I want to wrap my hand around the coffee spout. I can feel the heat as I pull the tab towards me, steam rising from the dark roast pouring into the cup. My fingers hover around the steel spout. I press a finger to it briefly and hiss. I turn and slide the cup across the counter toward the customer. I rub my stinging finger against my palm.

“Cup of Golden Green please.” She has short brown hair, pixie-cut, with longer pieces falling over her cheeks.

I nod and take one of the herbal tisane teabags from the drawer beside the espresso machine.

Spearmint, ginko, calendula, and chamomile. I drop the teabag in the cup and pour the hot water.

There are flecks of gold in the white tile. I’ve never noticed. I’m gasping like I’m trying to breathe water. I hear Kim’s voice calling...it might be my name. Red trails over the white tile under my hand. I don’t remember breaking the cup, falling, slamming my hand into the fragments.

But there is the smell of cinnamon and sandalwood. Her hands. Before her voice, I loved Ariel’s hands.

***

I don’t remember Kim driving me home, but I drop my jacket as soon as I walk in the door. I take the box from the shelf beside my beat-up leather chair (Ariel called it the “monstrosity”). I open the box and take out the block of wood grandpa gave me. I know what shape to give it now.

I start by sanding the corners until they shine.



Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
caffienekitty
Jun. 25th, 2012 07:29 am (UTC)
YOU POSTED IT! IT'S GORGEOUS! \o/

I wish I had more coherence for review right now, but my brain's like a wrung out sponge after today.

Nevertheless, this is wonderful, and I hope you decide to unlock it so more people can read it!
ciaranbochna
Jun. 25th, 2012 03:06 pm (UTC)
*blushing so much* Err, thank you:) I don't think you should have read it, given your poor brain, but thank you anyway!

I will think about unlocking it, though it turns out I am still nervy about posting, go figure:P

*careful hugs*
suchaprince
Jul. 9th, 2012 10:01 pm (UTC)
<3
This piece is so lovely and beautiful and just a wonderful wonderful wonderful read!
ciaranbochna
Jul. 10th, 2012 01:09 am (UTC)
Re: <3
I had hoped you would like it, thank you so much!
suchaprince
Nov. 22nd, 2012 01:07 am (UTC)
Re: <3
I had to pop back here and just say that I find myself thinking about this story all the time!

I just get these images from it and it makes me wish I could paint.
ciaranbochna
Nov. 22nd, 2012 02:23 am (UTC)
Re: <3
Oh, well...I don't know what to say. Thank you! I have written a few since them (not all fanfic..lol). Wish I could paint myself.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )