Off to my right . . .
A few wooden benches in a small grassy area alongside a nondescript building whose very anonymity has repeatedly caught my attention in this town of ostentatious upscale everything. Small groups of people stand smoking and sipping coffee, talking but for the most part not engaging, their words monologues that slip from their lips and flow away, never touching the paralleled offerings of the others. The people stand alone or in small circles into which they lean, avoiding eye contact with one another. Their faces are downward cast, as though their attention has been dragged low by some extra gravitational pull from beneath.
When they walk, they hunch forward, as though meeting resistance, as though time and space and reality are thick persuasive fluids against which they must fight to stand their ground. Their postures are odd only until the realization dawns that they are standing in a river, water unseen but clearly pressing against their flesh, clearly eroding the sand upon which they stand, clearly challenging their hold on this earth.
I know the river, and I know how it invites surrender.
A river of want.
Today, there is a woman I have never seen before, dressed in tight-fitting blue jeans and an overlarge sweatshirt of faded green. She is sitting on a bench, unusual because I rarely see the benches used. She is unique not only because she is sitting, but because she has turned her body to speak to the man who sits beside her, a man who looks as though he would rather be anywhere but on this bench with this woman in this moment. It is so apparent that he does not want to belong here that it occurs to me that I would not be surprised if a bus pulled up to take him away.
He will step onto the bus and out of this awkward encounter with this wanting woman and into his real life.
Except this is not a bus-stop.
And his real life somehow involves this woman.
She is asking him to listen. I am too far away to hear her words, but I know she wants to be heard. I know she is trying to explain, and I see that he has either heard it all before or he is not interested in hearing for the first time. I wish for her that the speaking of the words will be enough; I wish for her that the one who needs to hear her words is listening; I wish that the telling of a story will heal the teller.
She is broken.
She is turned to him, but she is folded up. Her legs are crossed tightly, the lower leg’s foot tip-toed against the grass beneath the bench, the leg above crossed over at mid-thigh and then pulled back to line-up her calves and feet in parallel. Her torso is bent sharply at the waist, and as she folds forward, she holds her left arm curved against her body. Her right elbow rests just above her right knee, and she has brought her cupped right hand back to support her chin. She rests her head so heavily that the impression is that without her hand’s support, she will pitch forward. There is odd movement to her speech, and it takes me a moment to reconcile the cadenced movement with her words; her face rests so heavily in her hand that her head is forced up and away from her lower jaw as she releases her words of explanation.
She smokes a cigarette that is never more than an inch from her lips, cradled as it is between fingers that support her face. Amidst her sentences, she fills the space between them with currented smoke, and neither does anything to clear the obfuscation. She speaks again, her head bobbing in the clouds of her entreatied narrative. She pauses again, sucks deeply on the cigarette, and she seeks his eyes even as she avoids that connection with belying clouds of smoke.
He says something, a short something.
She raises her head slightly and without lifting her elbow, she releases the hand that holds the cigarette. A small unfolding . . . she extends her upper arm toward him, her palm cupped, as though she means him to see what she is offering. Perhaps he might see within her outstretched hand the story she has been trying to tell with her words. Her body is rigid and fearful and defensive, and I wish for the man to understand how much this moment of beseeching vulnerability is costing her. A small tendril of smoke rises from beneath her cupped hand . . . a tendril that flickers and curls and dissipates in the passage of time.
He stands and walks away.
Just like that.
As though he has seen his bus, as though he has suddenly realized he has been waiting for its arrival at the wrong bench, as though his real life is over . . . there.
She does not move for a moment, and then she brings her hand up, brings her cigarette to her lips. She breathes deeply of the smoke and then allows her forearm to cantilever back away from her body. She exhales and then brings her hand back up, inhales, and then releases her arm again.
Nothing else of her moves.
She sits folded and hunched forward, as though meeting resistance, as though time and space and reality are thick persuasive fluids against which she must fight to stand her ground.
Her arm tilts away from her body again . . .
Perhaps a rudder.
In this river of want.