The coffee shop with the sunshine walls closes. The skies are dark with charcoal-colored clouds. Home looms, Nick’s thesis waiting to be formatted with precision. Half inch margins flush with some part of the page or another. Overdue credit card bills demand their due. Graduation looms.
There’s no more time to sit and absorb laughter and dirty jokes. No time to watch undergraduates and senior citizens move with ease and a devil-may-care attitude.
The world awaits.
What will you do, it asks? Nick likes to think it inquires in Patrick Stewart’s voice. Commanding, yet amicable and replete with charm. But truth be told, the world booms like James Earl Jones. Darth Vader himself. Or a very disappointed Mufasa.
Teach? Get a Ph.D? Nick finds that words get stuck in his throat like pieces of steak. He can’t seem to extract them. And he can’t voice the thoughts within him, thoughts his mind organizes with precision.
Ph.Ds are too abstract. Nick wants to create, not dissect and talk theories.
He slinks out the door and through the dark parking lot, full of empty lines except for a Dodge Stratus with mud-caked windows. A Ford Taurus. A PT Cruiser, a little too blue for Nick’s taste. A white Subaru Forester with a Bernie bumper sticker, a rainbow flag sticker, and a cracked windshield.
The world demands dissection. Dissect. Study what’s in the lines. Study the past studies. While away the hours in reaction.
And there’s the student loans. Some chalk the debt up to Nick studying writing, but it wouldn’t matter if he were in law school. The world is predicated on loans, demands, power over one another. Law, business, art, everyone’s owned by someone else.
The last beacon of golden light disappears as Nick steps around the corner, past a bar that smells like armpits and Camels, and what was once an independent bookstore. Now it’s a gaping space with a FOR SALE sign, blood-red letters leaping out, even in the darkness.
Nick takes one step, another, steps drawn out. He feels like a soldier trying to defy orders and be a smartass and he almost smiles. Almost.
Little frame houses line the street, some with barren yards and porch swings creaking in the dark. A broken-down Dodge Stratus lies in the middle of another yard, along with a Toyota Corolla, the vehicles surrendering to dirt and doom.
Nick tries to look forward. But the apartment looms, visible from blocks away, a series of sharp lines, precise angles.
Just then, the moon darts out behind a silver-gray cloud, nearly full. It drifts through another. It reappears, bursting over fleeting patches of ice. Nick can’t help but love her grace, drifting from point to point, making her nightly introductions with a certain panache.
A light breeze blows, then rises a little, oak trees shifting in a nightly dance, a ballet of branches. A labyrinthine network of lives and growth, all acting with such fervent, yet confident harmony.
The moon reappears, almost brighter, as if taking a sort of bow. Here I am, she whispers. What shall we do? The night is young.
Dance, Nick thinks. He used to love taking dancing lessons, trying to waltz to Tchaikovsky, to command a presence. Or the appearance of elegance anyhow.
Nick tries to waltz, arms outstretched. One-two-three. One-two. He trips, landing on his back. One quick fall.
For a moment, he just lies on the sidewalk, feeling the pain. But it passes. His life has always been tripping, tripping, pain and more pain, but he’s still here somehow. Looking up at the moon, a few fleeting stars, the rooftops around him, he can’t help but marvel at this fact.
He rises. So does the wind.
This time he just begins to turn, tentative, uncertain, until he’s made a full turn. And again. And again, but he’s picking up the pace. A few more stars even appear, winking with relaxed cheer.
Dance, dance, they whisper.
Nick twirls in the breeze, letting the bursts envelop him. A few people dart around him, shaking their heads or laughing. They’re faint sounds and shapes. The wind rises, rises, his arms open wider, the wind whistles. He imagines being carried over rooftops and buildings, the world indiscernible shadows. Everything is being released, he’s being carried, he’s not carrying a thing, no computer case, no stack of mail, no voluminous envelopes full of bad news.
Then it all dies.
The moon disappears again. No sign of reappearance. A second passes, a train whistles. Another second. Another whistle. Cars rush up the street, engines sputtering with time and desperation. Then a kind of stillness forms, something heavy, without describable form. A veil.
Nick begins to walk again.
He steps on a patch of ice, a crack assaulting the night, pieces splayed over the sidewalk. He takes another step, and another. His cell phone glows, still functional in spite of the fall. It pings with a reminder of something. He doesn’t know what, just feels its weight jostling his pocket. Nick tries to tuck and then shove it in. No use. He crosses that last street home as the clouds deepen into charcoal shades, silver all gone.