Short Story No. 1
After hours of pacing, Phillip let go of his thoughts and fell asleep.
It was a night anyone else would have forgotten, lost in the memory of parties and dinners, evenings spent out with friends and coworkers, women with whom he’d halfheartedly pursued a relationship. Groups of people trying to have fun, Phillip thought, knowing well that he used cynicism as a mask for actual need. Despite this, Phillip always joined in, existing on the periphery of what felt like human connection. He’d look on at conversations, watching first impressions happen over and over, all the while feeling some twinge to his chest, pulling in at whatever desire he had for touch and its emotional equivalent.
Waking to Sunday’s ambivalence, Phillip rose, stretching his legs with the silent sort of yawn that communicates more than anything audible ever could. He felt profoundly tired, marveling at the ache in his arms, a pervasive sort of fatigue stretching across his body. Phillip had no sense for what time it was, the ambiguous sunlight the possibility of either morning or afternoon.
Phillip sank his feet into the soft carpet of his bedroom, quickly anticipating the chill of the hallway’s wood floor. When he’d built the house for them, it had been a deliberate choice. Only the bedrooms were carpeted, a reminder of comfort when you needed it the most.
Tigger curled around him, a low purr pulsating through her chest. The cat had been a gift from his mother, the thought being that solitude couldn’t exist while in the company of animals. Despite the years spent together, Phillip could only muster a hesitant affection for the cat, offering it the back of his hand in a gesture that acknowledged their coexistence. He’d let it sit on his lap from time to time, only while watching the TV. It was this distance that kept their roles defined. Tigger: The seeking of a love that couldn’t be satisfied. Phillip: The dismissal of love’s possibility.
Coming to the bottom of the stairs, he made the split-second decision to forgo his routine. It always began with a quick turn into the kitchen, a ritual preparation of tea and biscuits that he ate carelessly at the kitchen table. But as if compelled to do so, Phillip walked out of the house, standing on his front step, realizing that he had nowhere to go.
After a few moments, he was overcome with a desire to touch the soft strings of grass spread out in front of him. Phillip leaned down, a careful bend at the knees suggesting age, indicating a fear of inevitable pain. Feeling the grass, Phillip meditated on the stickiness of a single blade. He loved this most about grass, the reluctant slide of his fingers, moving slowly to the thinnest point. It was this question of appearance that Phillip fixated on, the seeming smoothness that presented itself only from far away, the reality of its texture revealed when he made contact.
The revelation was interrupted with the resonant ding of a bike bell. Looking up, Philip saw the biker coming towards him, slowing to a stop where his driveway met the sidewalk. Riding the bike was a small girl, her innocent smile and lack of inhibition doing more to confirm her youth than her size.
Phillip walked towards her, “I love your bike,” he said, looking down at the girl. He noticed first her dress, an impressive smock of patch worked fabrics, the colors sharing no common theme. “What’s your name?”
Though she didn’t seem afraid to be talking to a stranger, the girl paused, as if trying to materialize an exotic name, a name separating her from any other child he’d ever known.
“Lena,” she said.
Lena. There was something celestial about the name, ethereal, a delicacy making her too perfect this world. Suddenly, he wanted to tell her everything.
“I feel lonely sometimes,” Phillip revealed.
The girl scoffed, unimpressed with this admittance of melancholy. “I wish I was lonely. Sometimes, it’s like I can never be alone. Either I’m always with my parents, or I’m with siblings. If not, I’ve always got friends wanting to come over. I’ve started telling my mom I’m going to a friend’s house, but I always just end up at the park, biking around.
Phillip liked her unembellished tone, as if everything she said was fact and not tied to any emotion. “Where are you going? Could I walk next to you for a bit?” Lena pursed her lips, thinking it over, but then acquiesced.
The bike benefited from the ornamentation of red flames set against a black background. This color palette and the way Lena struggled to pump the pedals made Phillip think this was a hand-me-down, passed along by an older brother, too tall for the bike’s seat, too old its juvenile look.
Lena slowed her pace, accompanying the leisurely movement of Phillip’s stride. “You know, sometimes, I feel that way too. Like being alone is what I want, a little quiet, some time to think. But it’s important to learn to share yourself with people, to find something they can share with you.”
Lena laughed at this, the sound escaping her mouth like a thick, beautiful cry. It was a laugh that showed impact, that his words had landed with a fullness that moved throughout her.
“You laugh like my daughter,” Phillip smiled. “I’m so happy we met.”