An indirect meeting of Him and Her.
Her eyes blinked incessantly from the rancid smell encircling the underground station. Its putrid stench pierced every part of her face and she could feel it leave a layer of smell on her clothes.
He couldn’t stop sneezing. In between a snotty discharge he finally took a glimpse of her across on the opposite platform. As he tried to stare closer and focus in, his sneezes began to subside.
She finally saw him between her watery blinks after he stopped sneezing. He was blurry in the distance, far across the moat of tracks, and she didn’t know why he caught her attention at all. Something about the way he stood there seemingly staring at her.
He noticed her red combat boots the most.
She liked his red jacket.
Both of their trains arrived at the same time. They sat in seats by windows facing the other train and therefore were finally close enough to meet eye to eye.
He mouthed to her “hello” through the dingy windowpane.
She waved back slowly with a smile as the trains took off in different directions.
One year later:
A blinking light on a map above for the next subway stop caught his attention and he remembered what he was thinking before he was thinking this new thought at hand. As the seconds ticked away and the train sped along its course, so did his intention of getting off at the next stop. Just the night before he had realized something he had never felt before. It was a shaking in his chest that felt mushy and malleable and expanded with every thought of her. And he did not quite understand this new state of his emotional fate.
To say he was just a hardened soul does not dare accurately describe what he had been through during the entirety of his life up to this point. But this sensation, unlike the ones before, did not come with a weighted history. It was something new and different and he couldn’t make any sense of it yet.
A blind man blinking stumbled slowly past him and all the rest on the car, chanting in a soft repeated deranged monotonous tone under his breath:
“Feigning doubts. Feigning doubts. Telepathic hearts. Weighted starts… weighted starts.”
How he found her in bed, days before the end:
Dizziness awoke the cat who was swinging it’s tail back and forth on a shelf above their bed. They slept below in relative quietness. He snored through his mouth like a soft wind blowing until the cat jumped down onto the bed and stirred his breath. He turned over and as his hand gently hit the pillow next to her sleeping head, the warm sensation against his fingers awoke him next.
What she saw beneath her eyelids, half asleep, half awake, stuck in a space between now and then:
She couldn’t see anything. She couldn’t open her eyes. She couldn’t even think. She couldn’t even dream. The swelling was expanding. A high pitch sound rang through her brain but it kept her lulled and lost in a blank space, far far away.
What she did earlier that day:
On the subway going to work she had felt a pop in her head on the left side of her inner ear. A sharp pain stung a string of something that felt like electricity into the rest of her brain. She had been battling some form of an earache for about four weeks, but had been ignoring it. After turning 25 the month before, she no longer had health insurance she could afford. And so she ignored the pain that built up a thick liquid inside her inner ear canal and increased the pressure that made her hearing lesson day by day.
She arrived at work with a splitting headache and a distinct ringing that emanated through the caverns of her left ear. Her face carried a weighted strain, but she tried to go about her daily routine as if nothing had happened. She had deadlines to meet, expectations to achieve. The pain in her brain had become something else to avoid, like overdue bills, her dirty laundry, or the argument she had had with him earlier that morning over something about nothing. She could sense every day since they started dating that he could never quite completely open himself up to her; That somewhere in the back of his mind lay some terrible event in time that had scarred his present inability to make her a part of his life entirely. But she didn’t know any details. The culmination of her brain on fire in that moment at work and his distance that was finally beginning to push her away, made it all too easy for her to drift to sleep at her desk.
Somewhere in a never-never land:
Adrift in a hazy place, she discovered a grey weightless fog surrounding her. It stung her eyes, much like the smell she often encountered on subway rides throughout the city. But it did not bring tears to her as you might have expected. Instead, in this unrecognizable land it made her laugh incessantly. The dankness around her poisoned her with giggles that vibrated throughout her body. And it did not take long for her to realize that in this imagined place she was just as much alive as she was dead inside. And it was in that moment that things began spinning around her.
She awoke a few minutes later from an unexpected gentle poke on her shoulder from her co-worker, Alice.
“Hey, you okay?”
“Are you okay? You seem really out of it today.”
“What?” (Pause) “Yeah, yeah, yeah… I’m fine.” She tried to push a faint smile onto her face. “I just have this really bad earache that’s messing with my whole head right now. And I… I just needed to… to rest my head for a bit, you know, to gain my bearings again.”
“Yea, cool. Just wanted to check in on you.”
Alice was one of those rare peers at their office who actually had a genuine concern for the emotional state of the human beings around her. She did not go about her life with the intention of getting something out of others like the rest of the men and women at their firm often seemed to. Marilyn had always sensed that something very awful might have happened to Alice as a child because of the way she fawned over people. To the naked eye, Alice seemed sweet natured out of pure naivety maybe, but to the awakened eye, it was more clear that she went about caring for people because she was seeking attention she must have been deprived of at a young age. Alice lost herself in making sure others were okay so that she didn’t have to see people suffering. Perhaps she did this because in watching others endure pain, it stirred up a past she had trouble facing herself again.
“Maybe you should go home.” Alice suggested. She reached for Marilyn’s forehead to feel her temperature. “You feel a little warm.”
Marilyn pulled her head away. Her neck stiffened and she said,
“Naw. I’ll be fine. Seriously. I just… I… I had to, um… to rest my head for a bit.”
“Have you gone to a doctor about your ear yet?”
“I’ve been too busy. I’ll get around to it eventually though… Ya know, all these deadlines lately. I can’t seem to focus on anything else.”
“Right. Well… let me know if I can help with anything.”
“Yeah, thanks. I appreciate that, but I got it under control. Seriously.”
Alice walked away and the ringing in Marilyn’s ear rose in pitch just the slightest bit.
Later that night in conversation over dinner:
“What? Sorry, I can’t hear you. Can you say it again? My ear is still all screwed up.” She told him.
“I just said that I lost that gig today, the one for the small publishing firm. They decided to go with an intern in their office who has probably taken like one class on Illustrator thus far in their college career. It’s starting to really piss me off the way these people discredit the value of paying for design. The accessibility to programs does not mean you know the aesthetics to properly compose.”
“What?” She repeated again.
“Dude. What the fuck is up with you?”
“What? What do you mean?”
“Your ear. You seriously cannot hear me that much?” His tone suddenly changed.
“Yeah… I dunno. The pressure or something. It’s really off kilter. I feel completely out of whack. Like…like today at work I had this terrible bout of vertigo because of it. Have you ever felt vertigo?”
“No… At least not consciously. It’s possible I had during some drug raged party. But then again, I think most of the world swirled at that point in my life.”
“What do you mean?” She was curious. He rarely revealed this much about his past.
“Nothing.” He stopped himself before he could reveal more. He did this often. Caught his words before they could escape his mouth. Most of the time it was not really to hide anything, or at least this is what he convinced himself of. Most of the time he sincerely thought he had an interest in changing the subject for the sake of better conversation in his opinion. What this ultimately produced in her was a sensation of a wall pushing up from the ground and towards the ceiling, separating them more and more, much like the trains that went in two different directions the day they first saw each other across the tracks.
How they eventually met officially, a year earlier:
After their initial eye contact on the metro, she ran into him again two days later at a Mexican restaurant she secretly frequented around the corner from her apartment. They had a delightful happy hour and it was a place where people came solo to read or write or to stare at the silent TV screens blaring irrelevant sports teams. Everyone in the restaurant would sit at their individual tables ignoring each other, sipping their lemon lime alcoholic beverages and munching on stale tortilla chips dipped in watery tomato paste.
But little did she know, this too was his secret hiding place. He went there usually to draw caricatures of people he had seen around the city earlier in the day. It was a means to release tension from the financial reality that freelancing in a city of freelancers is perhaps the most asinine and defeating conquest any individual could ever consciously embark on. He was poor and out of work more often than he was flowing with creative relevance. The cheap margaritas, pen and paper and the time to sit by himself surrounded by people who didn’t give a damn about his presence, was enough for him to regain some form of strength again. And so it was often that he came to this place alone at least three or four times a week. Time was something he had plenty of.
She however, frequented the establishment less often due to the demands of her work schedule at an advertising firm she half-hazzardly stumbled into after college. She came to drink cheap margaritas that reminded her of a former Mexican lover who ceased to love her after getting deported only a few months earlier. Need-less-to-say, she found comfort in a place she could get drinks at that would reawaken her memories of their steamy nights while she read cheap novellas to try to forget the pressures of her demanding day job.
And so it was to her surprise the most, while flipping through the pages of one of those meaningless novellas, that she saw him walk through the doors. The sun was behind him in the most cliché of ways and this made her skeptical of their meeting again under such an ordinarily coincidental circumstance. He was wearing the same red jacket and she was wearing the same red combat boots.
He didn’t see her at first, and maybe this was the problem that would resurface again and again in the reuniting of these two. She was always present from that point forward and he was always looking for somewhere to hide away to. He took a seat more than a few tables away from her by a window and positioned himself in the direction of the street. He preferred this seat for the sake of conjuring up particularly amusing caricatures of people passing by. She however, preferred a seat in the back of the restaurant so that she could get a good look at the singular souls walking into her peripheral.
She sat and stared at him for a while as he drew in his small notebook. She took special notice of the way he seemed to keep time with the tapping of his right foot. It was steady and rhythmic and for some reason this was attractive to her. She thought perhaps a person so steady in their footing must be steady in their ways.
It wasn’t until he got up to go to the restroom that he finally noticed her in the corner of the restaurant with her head stuck in a small book. She had refocused her gaze towards her pages when he got up, so as to not look like a stalker looming in the dark. It was not her eyes that he noticed first, but the red combat boots under the table as he passed her facing his head closer to the ground than to anything else. And that’s when he looked up.
She awkwardly kept her eyes on her book as he interrupted her.
“Hey. Nice to see you again.”
She peered up and said, “Hi,” faintly smiling.
A year later, as they got into bed just before he found her unconscious:
“What?” She said again.
“Forget about it.” He didn’t want to repeat himself.
“No seriously, what did you say. I couldn’t hear you.”
“Don’t worry about it.” He repeated.
She felt a sudden strike of vertigo again as she laid herself under the covers next to him.
The beginning of the end:
He skipped the next stop. The stop he was supposed to get off at to go see her at the hospital. The blind man blinking walked passed him again repeating under his breath,
“Feigning doubts. Feigning doubts. Telepathic hearts. Weighted starts…. Weighted starts.”
That mushy feeling suddenly hit him again and he didn’t know what to do with him self. So, at the following stop he finally got off, crossed the platform and waited for the next train that would take him back in the direction he actually should have been going in to go see her.
He arrived at the hospital still remembering how he had found her the night before in bed. Blood surrounded the left side of her head and it was in that moment that he had felt the absence of her presence and the shaking inside his chest began.
The doctor stood outside the hospital room writing on a clipboard and looked up when he got closer to the door.
“You’re here for Marilyn, right?”
“Yeah. So any ideas what’s going on with her?” He didn’t even try to take a look inside her room yet.
The doctor took a pause for a moment.
“Well, yes. Actually we do know. It seems she had a ruptured eardrum that was caused by the pressure of fluids in her ear canal from an ear infection she must have had for quite some time.”
“Yeah. She’d been having trouble with her hearing for the past few weeks. So okay… um… now what? Is she conscious yet?” He held back a lot in his words, as he usually did with her.
“Well, no. She’s still unconscious. The issue here is that the pressure that was building up over time, which ruptured her eardrum caused an infection on the bone of her middle ear. Because this went undiagnosed for so long the infection spread to the temporal bone behind her ear, which is a part of her skull and has now turned into a very serious problem.”
The doctor pointed to the area he was describing, just behind his ear. A place she used to love to be kissed. It was her sweet spot.
His breathe slowed. The mushy feeling inside turned to something harder.
“Right now the reason she is unconscious is because she has pressure on the rest of her brain from inflammation of the protective membrane covering her brain and spinal cord.”
His heart rate began to quicken. His ears began to ring. He couldn’t hear the rest of the words that were coming out of the doctor’s moving mouth in front of him. Things became blurry. In his chest grew the sensation of twisting. Instead of butterflies in his stomach, like the ones he had felt when he finally talked to her that first time at the Mexican Restaurant, a rock hit the pit of his abdomen. It settled there and he felt a sudden sense of vertigo overwhelm him. He curled over and puked on the doctor’s shoes.
Michelle Lee Proksell