The next day wastes itself against the harrowed windows, rain lashing against the panes like a wounded animal. As the sun leaves the sky and the rain dies off, I think to myself that I’ll take a walk. Save me wasting like the daylight, I guess.
My coat’s still wet from last night, but my apartment never was the warmest. People pass me by in the streets, ignoring the rain-clad figure that trudges his way down water-gilded pavements. Never been one for talking, so it suits me fine.
I turn down a side street, headed to the park. Sitting out there in the cold is one of the only things that keeps me calm, keeps me sane; feeling that icy grip on my fingers reminds me that I’m still here, that I’m still alive. As places like that go, the only other’s the club, but I’m not sure I can go back there yet. A single day isn’t enough to deal with an encounter like that.
As I get past the soaked highways and find the pathway, the park seems to welcome me again. I know these cracks, I know the leaves; the gentle whisper of the solitary willow as it cries into the lake is like a second home to me. I stroll slowly across the place, hearing the rain fall from leaf to stones, on a blind path towards my regular spot.
As I draw near to the damp park bench, I close my eyes and just listen to the sounds around me. Unbidden, I murmur, ‘Hello, old friend.’
‘Old friend? That’s forward of you, we only met yesterday.’
My eyes open in surprise. There she is again, sat on the bench with a resigned look in her eyes, cigarette smoke drifting through the frozen air.
Well, shit. I didn’t want to have to deal with this right now. I figure I’ll play along and chat back.
‘Nice. Didn’t take you for the fancy type.’
Behind her, leaning against the bench, is a pale blue bike, clearly spattered with dried mud. She must’ve been headed somewhere fast this morning, but I’m not the kind to ask about that. It’s not my business who does what, just as it’s none of anyone’s business how I live.
Sylvia lazily looked over her shoulder, and laughed through the smoke.
‘Didn’t take you for the nosy type.’
I smirk. Now I know why she was so hard to deal with before. She’s just like me; cynical and assertive.
‘Well, that’s fair enough. What brings you out here?’
She turns, face serious. There’s no spark of mischief like yesterday now, just brevity.
‘Can we cut the ‘what brings you’ crap? I didn’t come here looking for company.’
My smirk fades, and I sit on the bench next to her. She’s closed her eyes, tilting her head back and letting the smoke makes trails in the air. I figure I’ll join her, so I look up at the skies; the smoke floats up towards the stars, making fluid constellations on its way up.
After a while, the smoke stops swirling its silken etchings across the sky. I look across, and she’s sat back upright, looking confused.
‘You know,’ she breathes, ‘you’re one of the few people I’ve ever met who would just… accept what I spat at you.’
‘I used to know a whole lot of people who gave me worse. Trust me, you ain’t easy to handle, but you ain’t exactly Katharine Hepburn.’
She laughed, and pulled herself to her feet. From the look in her eyes, I could tell that’d righted her a little.
‘I’m going to head to the club, grab a drink. You coming?’
My smirk came back. Not because she was funny, not because I was amused; it was because I realised something.
‘Wouldn’t miss it.’
* * *
The air was clear, by the club’s standards; a few people hung about the place, littering the furniture, but there was lots of space. Plenty of room for a talk and a coffee.
She sat by the window again. Funny that she chose the same table as before. Guess she figures it’s my regular.
‘Come on, so why were you at that park?’ I ask as I sit myself down. She frowns slightly, then chuckles a little.
‘Oh, no reason. It just relaxes me, that’s all; being so calm and peaceful isn’t something you get all that often.’
I had to agree. All the hustle and bustle of the city could be tough sometimes, when you’re not used to it. Looking around, I’d say this quiet little place is just about right for people like that. People like us, I guess.
‘Gotta say, I sure as hell didn’t expect to run into you anywhere else.’
I lean forward as she picks up her coffee, takes a long sip, and smirks.
‘Glad to see you were expecting to see me here, at least.’
‘’Bout the only place I can expect to see anyone I won’t hate outright. Everyone out there’s too caught up in the river; got no time for the little fish like us, so they just don’t bother.’
She smirks, but it fades like a flicker. Figure she’s got something going on herself, but I ain’t going to push it. Looking around the club, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s carefree underneath. They shine on the surface like sheet of metal, but under that they’re rough as mud.
Guess Sylvia’s the same. I sure know I am.
Silence grows. Don’t got much to say after that, and Sylvia looks like she’s thinking. I take the time to re-evaluate the club, and it hits me quite how ‘20s the place is. In the coffee steam and cigarette smoke the place glimmers like post-war gold, and the subtle smoke-stains on the walls seem that little bit less… intimidating.
A ‘tender at the bar starts clinking bottles together, dried up out of gin, and before long Sylvia’s back to herself.
‘I was serious, you know. I’ve never met someone as… well, plain stupid as you must be to take all the shit I throw at people.’
‘Guess you mean that in the best way, then.’ I laugh.
That smirk flickers again.
‘Whatever way you want it to be. I’m not going to press it.’
‘Seems to me like you press the coffee pretty hard.’
Her fingers are clutching the mug like she’s about to drop it. She catches herself, and puts the coffee down. Plays with it ‘till she’s calmed again.
‘Yeah, I guess I do. Things can do that to a person.’
This time, I’m the one to catch myself. Realise I was about to ask, and remember that it’s none of my business. Her eyes flicker like wildfire for a moment. Figure I touched a nerve, so I back off into my seat. She looks at the door, then stares into her coffee as she speaks.
‘Thanks for the chat, but I’ve got to go.’ She pauses, takes a breath to think. ‘Tough to find good company these days.’
I risk a smile, and she matches one back. I sit back up as she downs the last of her coffee.
‘I’ll let you know if I find some, then.’
She chuckles, and gets to her feet. Sorts herself out a bit, brushes her hair to the sides. I smirk as I say my goodbye.
‘Guess I’ll see you around, then. Maybe you’ll have time to get your hair neat.’
She smiles and turns to walk away. I catch her reply as she moves toward the door, whispered under the smoke.
‘I’m not the type to paint by numbers. Life’s more fun if you smudge a little rouge outside the lines…’