Hollow

She knew that going wasn’t necessarily allowed.

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She could not stand another moment in her small apartment – not with the carnival going on.  The carnival had been in town for three days – tonight would be its last.  She thought, with regret, of the workers waking up on a Sunday as she walked to church, silently unhinging their mechanical rides and sweeping up the small pieces of litter that escaped the trash receptacles.  She did not want to hear the squeak and rub of peopleless rides before she had a chance to enjoy a Saturday night at the carnival.

The town welcomed the carnival every year but she could never attend – the carnival was too worldly for her family – still was, but her family need not know she found the lights, the noise, the smells so fascinating. Besides she was on her own – she needed to make decisions on her own. She would be up early in the morning and get to church early, but tonight she had to know what the carnival was all about

She hesitated at the gate, five dollars was a lot of money to walk around a carnival.

“Half price, half price now until we close down.”

A sign she felt and so put her money down.

She would simply be careful with her milk and eggs – they could last the entire week.

She ducked her head shyly as a gust of wind pulled and fluttered the canopy at the entrance and the ticket taker gave her, what she thought was a wicked grin.

She hurried along the carnival grounds and listened to the sounds of young children shouting with delight as the mechanical rides twirled black against the red-orange sunset sky.  A small family of four walked ahead of her laughing and sharing pink cotton candy. She smiled at their compact and secret ways of knowing each other; the dip and sway of the candy making its way to sticky fingers all, in turn, the smiles upon each face.

She was careful to stay away from the rides but watched the Ferris-Wheel glided several times around against the then darkened sky.  The last of the summer warmth curled about her in a soft breeze that lifted her hair in a gently swaying lift that seemed to keep rhythm with the music being played.

“Do you want to ride?”

His voice was deep and directly behind her. She jumped and turned, then stepped back.  He was tall and slender and she was sure he had some sort of makeup on his face. His eyes were startling brown, golden flecked and when he smiled at her and tilted his head she thought for a moment that they turned red.

“You’ve been watching that wheel for some time. I own this little place – I’ll make sure you have a ride.”

“No thank-you.”

“Why not? This is our last night.  We’ve done very well – I don’t think we will miss the price of one Ferris-Wheel ticket.”

He glided her past smiling and paying customers and walked her up the back stairs, where weary workers, not much older than she, dressed in black and white shirts, stepped aside as they walked by. “She’s next,” and she went inside a small cage seat that swung precariously back and forth and she was lifted up into the summer night sky.

She came back down and he was still there and laughing at her frightened face. “Look straight out, not down, child.”

So she did and gasped at the sight.  Her small town was all alight. She saw the church steeple, the town square and felt she was level with the flag on the courthouse tundra. She twisted around carefully not wanting the seat on which she sat to swing too precariously – yes, just there but barely, the small farm where she was sure her family sat upon the screened in porch.

She swung down and felt her heart lift, she was sure that she could fly forward to whatever direction she chose.

He was standing there again, now smiling and she was lifted away gazing at his countenance.  This time she stopped at the very top.  She tried not to think of the small summer breeze slowly pushing the wheel backward and forward.  She closed her eyes the rest of the ride until she felt herself arrive within the well-lit exit.  A tired young man opened the gate and allowed her to step away unaided.

He was at the bottom of the steps. “Are you glad you went?”

“Yes,” she gasped and felt herself turn red to the tips of her ears and down her neck.

“Come I’ll buy you some cotton candy, looks like you could use some.”

“No, no please, I don’t really care for it. We had a cotton candy machine at church and I thought the stuff too sweet.”

He laughed aloud and she jumped, then smiled not comfortable but liking his laugh all the while.

“What’s your name,” he asked.

“Laurel,” she whispered feeling ashamed – this was no proper introduction.

“Well, Laurel, would you like to see the two-headed chickens or the trapeze act in the big top?”

She looked down and whispered no thank you and hoped he would believe her.

“Well then,” he said soft and low, “why don’t you let me make sure no one follows you home.”

She looked up into his face, somehow kind, somehow not.  He seemed without age and her heart pounded in her ears and her hands clenched around her waist.  She liked his stare and was very afraid.

“But you would be following me home.”

His face softened in the green, then yellow, then red glowing lights.  Touching his fingertip to her soft cheek, she felt a shiver deep down. He had found a hollow place within her brief existence.  She knew he would take and keep it.

Ice in Chicago

The sleet and the snow outside merged into an icy, shellac gray. When stepping into the sloppy mess it went invisible for a moment, then slid away into the next pedestrian’s shoe or boot, with a squish, and a slush, and a grimace of acceptance.

The sleet and the snow outside merged into an icy, shellac gray.  When stepping into the sloppy mess it went invisible for a moment, then slid away into the next pedestrian’s shoe or boot, with a squish, and a slush, and a grimace of acceptance.  The air was intensely cold and I knew that as the wind picked up, slicing over Lake Michigan, no amount of salt or chemical upon the sidewalks would keep the sloshy, miserable mess from freezing and turning treacherous.

I stomped upon the already sodden matt at the door, chiding myself for agreeing to come out on this freezing cold day. Chicago was never a safe city but to compound, the issue was the weather.

The smell of coffee in the agreed upon coffee shop helped, who wouldn’t put their head down and seek warmth?

The coffee shop was new to me, located near DePaul University.  It was a quick bus ride over but even that had its hazards this time of year.  The bus was near to capacity and I felt for a brief moment that I had walked into a doctor’s office waiting room when I boarded.  There were the red noses, the sniffles, the solemn, miserable-eyed stares from just about everyone.  A small child in a red knit hat sat upon his mother’s lap, his mouth open, a yellowing crust hardening below his nose.  I thought of turning and returning to my nice warm apartment.  Instead, I slowed my forward momentum, looking around at those who wouldn’t make eye contact and grabbed a rope.  I refused to think of who had gripped that bastion of public transportation before me.

I hung on as the bus swayed and jolted while we parka-padded humanity kept time to the momentum of Chicago ruts, potholes and traffic as best we could.

On a fine day, I would have walked, actually even on a cold day — but the thought of ice stopped me.  I walked through snow, no problem, rain, that could be pleasant, ice in Chicago, was another story.

Feeling as if half the battle was over after the bus ride, I walked up to the coffee house counter and a young man came forward. I gave a glance around, the place looked clean and the young man across the counter looked healthy.

“I’ll just have a cup of your house and that scone over there — do you make them here?”

“No, we purchase all of our baked goods from a specialized bakery here in Chicago.”  He spoke to me as he poured my coffee and warmed my scone, telling me, via a well-memorized script,  that the baker used only non-GMO flour and fresh ingredients, he even handed me a flyer about the place.  I took it but never read it.

I sat down as far away from the door as I could possibly negotiate and waited. He said he would arrive at around 6:15 or 6:30, depending on how transportation went.  I understood that.  The CTS was usually pretty good — but the weather was a factor.  I looked down at my coffee and scone. I was hungry but not for what was before me.  I understood, our first meeting really couldn’t be for dinner, a coffee shop would make a better excuse for both of us if we took an immediate dislike to each other, he could even glance in and keep walking.

I took a bite of the chalky white scone before me and thought, now would be a good time for him to walk through the door as I fought the dry pastry in my mouth.  I grabbed the coffee hoping that would help me dissolve the mess and felt the inevitable scald on my tongue. I swallowed hard, sat back and tried to blink the tears out of my eyes, thinking that any moment he would walk through the door.

He didn’t.

Actually, I was able to finish the scone, get my free refill and lose myself in the novel I was reading on my smartphone.

When I looked up I was the only one left in the coffee shop and the night was dark.  I got up pulled my bag up to my shoulder and placed my coffee cup and plate into a plastic tub near the counter.

It was 7:15.

The young man behind the counter gave me a small sympathetic smile as if to say — “he stood you up.”

I smiled down at my now dry shoes.  I then walked to the door and opened it to the cold and icy sidewalk and thought window shopping can be cold work in Chicago.  It was a sort of consolation.

 

Her Hunt

She even wondered if she couldn’t become capable of actual love.

The best part of her day is when everyone she works with is gone.  She enjoys her coworkers; she feels no animosity towards them but she enjoys the quiet promoted by their absence.  There is no shuffling, no one sided phone conversations, no opening and shutting of doors, no murmur of business as usual.

She goes about the small office, closing window blinds, making sure all doors are locked and making notes to help start her next morning.  These menial tasks give her comfort in a rushed and bustling world.

Her evening tasks give credence to the fact that she has survived another day.

She has kept to this job for five consecutive years.  She is proud of that fact and she is also proud of the fact that she has maintained her resolve not to hunt any longer.  She often ponders and searches for reasons as to why she hunts at all;  it isn’t her fault. Not really.  Perhaps.

The last successful hunt certainly wasn’t her fault and that fiasco was what strengthened her resolve to retire from all the complications and angst a hunt can and does cause.  She was tired, exhausted really and there he was, ready to rescue her. They all wanted to rescue her.  That was the emotion or reaction, empowering a man to come to her rescue, that was the crucible of her weakness; that weakness which invoked her power. Her prowess.

She had moved from Atlanta to Minneapolis.  The heat in Atlanta was excruciating and she only lasted one year there.  That complicated Minneapolis considerably.  She felt so mercenary in Atlanta.  She had just left Philadelphia and moved to Atlanta and in each of those cities she had fulfilled a hunt and that complicated things.  Philadelphia went smoothly, the hunt lasted three years and basically she tired of it and finished it.  But then she became too full of herself, she did not research Atlanta at all.  The only fact she focused upon was that Atlanta seemed happening, sharp, quick and she was in the mood to fit in.  The heat hit her like a ton of bricks and she got messy.  Minneapolis was just what the doctor ordered.

But Minneapolis proved too fertile a place.  She thought that perhaps she would try being normal and settle down.  Minneapolis would have been the place.  She knew that it wouldn’t happened, even while contemplating white picket fences, still a chance for kids… She knew eventually her weakness would take over.

And what a weakness, her power.  It took a certain type, granted.  There were those who seemed to feel that she wasn’t quite right, those who needed to be rescued themselves– she despised men like that.  Men who either couldn’t find their socks in the morning or needed that deep mental and heart felt connection.  No, those were not her type.  What brought about her weakness were men, prey, who insisted that she needed rescuing.

The sex was spontaneous to them and well calculated to her; the desperate moves, the weak knees, her weeping and his inevitable vitality expanding in his chest and the moving of heaven and earth to keep her safe.

She lasted in New York for almost two whole years but woke up one morning, felt that driving urge to make him beg for mercy and slipped the tiny needle in while he finished his last deed.

She was grateful that in Atlanta there was no beneficiary money – not coming so quickly from Philadelphia.  That would have definitely sent up some red flags to the densest of people.

Philadelphia certainly set her up for life – as wild a ride as that was.  She even wondered if she couldn’t become capable of actual love.  But in the end she needed to feel him drain, fade away, dissipate.

Now, five years later, not really needing to work but needing a place to belong she had managed to avoid the rescuing type.  She tried hard not to involve herself at all with coworkers, there were too many knights in shining armor to go around to worry her fellow coworkers.

No, the more expensive restaurants and upscale bars were the happy hunting grounds.  Certainly no clubs.  The fact of the matter was, however, she wasn’t getting any younger.  She still liked to keep that perfect distance in age but the rescuing type were not frequenting restaurants and bars as much.  Perhaps she was finally seeing them go extinct.

She hoped not.  She had one more move in her.  One more teary-eyed farewell for the onlookers to appreciate and then, yes then retire, dropping her alias and maybe even going home.

Perhaps the hard working delivery man who seems to expand his chest when she signs for deliveries would do.  They chit chat about the weather, he tries to make eye contact with her.  Perhaps she can manage a little sorrow on Monday to see if the fellow will follow after.