The faces of the painfully unhappy keep walking across my line of sight. They stick out their tongues at the part of me that tries to maintain. They wiggle their noses at the friends that try to make me laugh. Little lines have emerged, once hidden in fleshy pink layers that ignited in the sun, now, while the sun hides behind blankets of clouds, they show themselves, peeking out of deep groves visible only in the centimeters above a mirror. They would scream, if only there were a voice and tenor for tears that have no mask. Tears that call themselves by another name. Pain that masks itself in anger and wrinkled brows.
The rain pours in through the roof, in through the latex paint, in through the holes in my muted dreams that dissipate as the drops splash, sending out their frolicking offspring across the cold linoleum floor. They find a playground in the electronics, they find a resting place among the discarded clothes that never made it to a hamper or a drawer. It could have been an easy death, bare wet feet and a space heater turned executioner. It could have been easy, one lone droplet. They might not have known where to find me, mistaking the corpse for a neighborhood barbecue.
But the chess game continues, and I walk away, while the rain pours in, once again disrupting a mild sense of comfort, an easily shaken illusion of stability. And I am thrown once again into the whirlwind, into the past-life habits of constant movement and trash bags of clothes and home always a doorway away.
The refuge of a coffee shop is like walking into a battlefield. The grinding of metal parts crushes the beans dead, deader than they already were. Jazz vocals blare, played too loudly for background music. Hardly a soul is listening. There are a dozen heads with headphones, half a dozen heads in conversation, steam vessels screaming, orders being taken. There is hardly an ear for the music, hardly a drip of attention to feel the earthy voice or the pitch of the wind. Yet it blasts, full tilt, filling the cup past the brim.
First I try to tune out. Then, I try to tune in. I hear a bassy voice on my right. "we’re not like everyone else." They have their bibles open, each of the three men have their glasses on…they look serious with their eyeglasses, getting their hands get dirty in the word of god. Their leader is an obese black man, a man with authority over the other two white men, one of them also obese. I hear their voices come through the headphones every couple of minutes. "a doctor can help postpone a life a couple extra years, we offer eternal life."
I leave to use the bathroom, when I return, the guy sitting at the table behind me asks about the video I am editing on my laptop. He asks to see some videos on YouTube, and almost immediately, as the sounds start and the rhythm kicks in, he starts asking technical questions about the editing software. Later, he shows me his own video. It’s long, nearly seven minutes of him driving at night. I hear the rhythm, I see the light of the city at night, I see the streaks on his windshield. I feel him at the table next to me, he’s uncomfortable. He tries to talk to me as I’m watching his video. Even he does not have enough patience for his own creation. But I smile when he talks, I don’t know what he says, but it seems to be a joke, and I smile and keep watching and it keeps going and he gives up on talking and just fidgets while I watch. I bob my head.
"That’s really great" I say when it’s over. "I like the editing to the music and I like that I could see the streaks in the windshield and I like that you held the camera still at the stoplights, it really feels like I was there with you driving." "thanks for the feedback, I thought the streaks were a blemish." "no, I think they add to it."
I turn back to my project, the woman sharing my table looks at me and smiles. She has a pile of scratcher lotto tickets on the table. "I hope I’m not bothering you," she says. "I just like doing these, I think it helps my mind, it helps me stay alert." She has a special type of lotto ticket that involves some word skill. "If I win," she says with a Russian accent, "I’ll buy you coffee." "Okay," I say and smile, suddenly feeling a rush of unity, a feeling of strangers coming together. I feel the dream of the original coffee shop fulfilled momentarily. Strangers, meeting over coffee, meeting in a warm space, away from the rain, away from their homes, bound within the confines of four walls, eager to find that which lies beyond, finding an excuse to sit together, away from the rain, away from the cold.