A year ago today I went to take pictures of an abandoned amusement park. There were few other people there. An empty Ferris wheel turned in the wind. Scraps of yellow paper curled through the air. Fragments of conversations quivered in the breeze. I brought white chalk along and wrote a poem on a wall. Something about paper-boats and sailing away in paper-dreams. On the way back I spent a couple euros in an old arcade, an anachronism of faded colour. When I got home it started to rain and I thought of the white chalk and somehow I didn’t mind. I spoke on the phone for a while and said nothing of importance.
The year before I was on my way to class when I caught sight of new graffiti on the wall across from the record shop. I stood and looked at it for a few minutes until I was almost late for class and I had to jog to make it in time. The lecture was on Kant, I remember nothing of it. In the end the professor made a joke and everybody laughed. “Maybe everybody turns Kantian with age,” he said. I went for a coffee after. There was a girl with me who didn’t talk a lot which I liked. We sat at a table in the corner where we could watch everyone but no one would watch us. We talked for a bit. We discussed that cymbal hit at the beginning of Miles’ solo in So What. She told me about a book she was reading. I walked her back to her place and then the long way home. I think there may have been a full moon. When I got home I listened to Blue Train until I fell asleep on the sofa.
The year before I walked around the city. I walked all morning and afternoon until I was tired and cold and my knees ached. In the evening I went to a screening of Jules et Jim. Later I sat by my window for a whole while just staring outside. I felt the wind bite at the facade of the house and the earth crumble away underneath. I wiped my finger in the smudge on the glass and considered the smudge-less finger-sized hole. I had all night so I thought about some things. There were some beautiful thoughts among the many but I was happy to forget them. It was enough that I had thought them in the first place
She calls me. “I’m feeling blue,” she says. “Let’s do something stupid.” There is a trace of resignation in her voice, I feel it bleed into her tone. I press the receiver to my face, long after her voice is gone. Shake it once, twice.
“No,” she says and breathes deeply. Her slender fingers crawl through her hair. “Of course I’m not.” I stare over her shoulder, she scratches her scalp, sun filtering through the curls of her hair. They fall into her face, blurring its outlines.
“I don’t remember.” She drinks from her coffee. We’re in my backyard patio, eating brownies, drinking coffee. Raspberry coloured lips open and close as wisps of invisible smoke escape. Her finger traces the outline of the black and white checkered table. Around and around the squares.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said to me a year ago,” she says. She looks at me eager to continue, her eyes open and soft, as she walks beside me. I look straight ahead. She scratches her arm and says “Okay,” her voice crumbling from within her.
“It doesn’t matter,” she writes on the wall. “Everything is as it should be.” The scratching of chalk on stone echoes through my empty thoughts. She laughs a dark laugh.
“Tell me about yourself. Something you’ve never told anyone.” She is just a voice gliding through the architecture of my memories. Here we lie in bed. There we are grocery shopping. I see it now. The fake romanticism that clings to all things dark like clear plastic.
“Maybe I’ll tell you later.” She pulls her coat close as if she’s cold. “What’s yours?” We walk without direction but we know where we’re going. There are no surprises as the streets smudge and blur under a slight drizzle.
“Don’t always apologize,” she says, a bag in each hand.
“I’m sorry,” I say
We meet below the bridge, hug, mumble some things, and walk along the canal. The water shimmers in grey and green and is crowned with a golden layer of dust. We say nothing for a while, listening only to the shuffling of our shoes on the cobblestones. There is no one else around.
She passes me a cigarette. I inhale and let the smoke fill me until it becomes a part of me and I a part of it. I let it out. She laughs.
“Still a theatrical smoker huh?”
The canal curves further out of the city. When I look behind I can just make out the bridge and the ice-cream shop at the corner. The sky is a pleasant grey. Empty trees frame the canal and their branches arch above us like thin streams of black ink on paper. I run my finger along the rough surface of the wall. I always liked these little moments of stillness. Those do-nothing, think-nothing moments.
“How are you? How was your day?” I say at last.
We exchange pleasantries, speak of nothing important and both know it. We smile at that shared secret, confidantes once again, and say nothing more for a while.
Her waver-thin voice escapes from her lips.
“You look different,” she remarks.
“I’m not. Just older.”
She smiles and looks me in the eye. “I’m sure that’s not true.”
I look at her and shrug. We’ve run out of things to say. Faster than I thought we would. She rubs her hands together and pushes them deep into her pockets.
“You know if I lived somewhere warm I don’t think I’d ever go home. I’d just walk around all night.”
She laughs again. “I can see you do that,” she says. The flow of words halts again. Another small quiet fills the air between us. Conversation was never our strong suit. Or rather, it was never mine.
“You still doing that writing thing?” Her tone is light and mocking.
“I guess so.”
“How’s that working out for you?”
“Oh you know.”
She regards me with something resembling scientific interest. “You know you can’t hide behind paper walls all your life.”
“I know.” My shoes drag along like wounded prey.
Wet leaves mark the stone path, they appear to be scattered without pattern but really there is a symmetry to their asymmetry. They appear to me like a melody; I see a purpose to their place and colour, a harmony of decay.
Part of me wants to move on. Part of me not to give up. We’d been walking for about half an hour and talked of nothing.
“Let’s take a break,” she says and motions to a dry strip of grass. In the distance one of the city’s seven hills lies like a sleeping elephant and we sit down in its shadow. She crosses her legs and runs her fingers through the blades of grass. I lie down on my back and close my eyes. A stream of single droplets of rain begins to fall from the sky and onto my stomach. It continues to hollow me out. I open my eyes. She lies beside me, her hair tied to a knot and her face turned towards me.
“Really hope it won’t rain”
“Okay,” I say and hang up. I wish it was raining. The phone lies in my hand like something living and dying. I shake it, as if that will enlighten me to its mystery.
“Is there anyone else?” I stare over her shoulder. “Are you seeing someone new?” She is a colourless blur in my vision. Her lips part and I see her clear as day. We are outside somewhere, sometime. The sun shines. I think I smile a little.
I cross my arms and lie: “Neither do I.” I fold and unfold my hands and sink lower in my chair. I pick up my empty cup and with it the last few mud-brown drops. Drain it. Set it back onto the table, just so it fits right into a black square. She picks it up and sits in down in the white square next to it.
“Don’t worry about it. I didn’t mean it. Just forget it.” My every word decays once it passes through my throat. I would taste cinder if I were conscious of anything but words. Small crumbles of breath trickle from her lips. She looks down, her eyes soft and slow.
I hold my breath and count to ten. My eyes are alert, watching. I breath and count. My steps. The amount of times she sighs. The cars going by. I read what she’s written and commit it to memory and laugh a dark laugh.
I stretch out my arms and hide my hands under hers. I play with her hair, turning it around my finger. I speak, look straight at her and feel uncomfortable, comfortable. “Something I’ve never told anyone,” I echo. I close my eyes, open them again. “When I was 11 I had a dream that I was waking up. I dreamt I realized that all that had happened previously in my life, all the memories, all the experiences, belongs to someone else and this moment is the first of my life. When I woke up I felt reborn. I felt I was living a strangers life or maybe that a stranger was living mine and I was just watching. I’ve never really felt like myself again.”
“What’s your name?” I ask. We walk all around my neighbourhood. Past the record shop where I bought that Little Anthony record. Past the ice-cream place where I’d spent many Sunday afternoons. Across the bridge. Rain falls ever so slightly.
“I’m sorry,” I say
“Don’t always apologize,” she says, a curtain in her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
The sun begins to set. All colours take on a blue note. It smells like it has rained. Still she lies next to me. The grass is a cold reminder. She looks at me, her face softens.
“Listen.-“ Her eyes search for mine.
“Please,” I say.
“No,” she says. “We have to talk about it.”
I am silent.
“I just-. We can’t just let it go. Watch it disappear.”
“Please. Let’s not talk.”
Her nails grasp at her shirt, pull at it and release it. She looks at me and looks away and looks at me again.
We lie in silence. But it’s better than talking. So much better than talking.
We get up and start walking hoping our footsteps will fill the silence, a silence further exaggerated by the whistling of the wind. We walk apart and through the tone of her step and the nature of her silence I think I feel the colour of her heart. We leave the bank side of the canal and now head towards the hill. Our step quickens with the inclination of the path. I feel the silence take on weight and fill like a balloon.
Four years ago I was at a friend’s birthday party. Someone had spilled their Jack and Coke on me. I was leaning against the wall outside and loud laughter and music splashed out of the open window. I traced the outline of the moon into the bricks behind me. I wasn’t feeling much at all. A girl stepped outside and lit a cigarette. She looked me over and must’ve thought I was alright as she sat down cross-legged on the ground next to me. I slid down the wall until our shoulders touched.
“Your shirt is wet.”
“Yeah,” I replied.
We didn’t say anything else for a whole while. We sat there still as light, only our breath conversing. After a good fifteen minutes she stood up and motioned me with her head.
“I guess so”
She pulled chalk from the pocket of her jeans and together we walked. Every street we walked on she marked with delicate doodles and few lonely shreds of words.
I stop and stand still. She turns to me, her shoulders slumped and her hair escaping from their knot like spider legs. Her gaze finds me, the shadows in her eyes plain to see. I bite my lip.
“Do you wanna just run?”
I shrug. “Why not?”
A smile steals across her lips. “Okay.”
“Okay,” I repeat.
And just like that she starts to run up the path, her coat flapping in the wind like wings. I follow close behind. Air pushes up my lungs, my heart beats through my every cell and blood rushes in my ears. We run until we can’t anymore and the peak of the hill is just within reach. Collapsing into each other, her head on my chest, we smile through our heavy breathing.
“Come on,” she says once we gather our breath, “we’re almost there.” Slowly we make our way up the last few metres, She walks ahead and I trail a step behind her every step.
We climb up to where we could see the whole city below us, glimmering like a timeless sea. Formless and yet full of shape it stretches as far as we can see. Grey smoke gathers around its fringes and blurs the countless little lights holding out against the vastness of blue-black night sky.
I look at her and see her. Dark brown strands of hair cascade around her face and dither in the wind. Her eyes are a kind brown, her lips a thin curl. Cheeks flushed from the cold. I see all the lights of the city reflecting in her eyes. I see myself wrapped in her arms. I see myself lying in her bed looking up at the postcards on the wall; cooking breakfast for her, then burning the breakfast and going out to the café at the corner; picking her up from work, a mustard stain on her sweater; sharing cigarettes and coffee in the middle of the night, her head resting on my shoulder; waking up next to her and seeing her in the morning-light for the first time again; kissing her hair at birthdays, funerals and every other day; holding her wrinkly hand in the park, on trains and as we walk home from our daily stroll.
She watches me watching her.
“Hey,” she says slowly a small breath collapsing from her.
“Hey,” I reply. I want to be there when you fade, I think, and smile.
Joey Bahlsen: Born in Berlin in 1993. Bachelor in Philosophy and Music. Masters in Creative Writing. Man of few words. Loves hot chocolate.