It's Always Cloudy Downtown
2:36 am / Tuesday, Aug. 05, 2008

So, Try not to judge to hard. This is the first short story I've written. Please email me to tell me if you like it or hate it. It would really mean a lot to me to have honest opinions. thanks, Em

It’s Always Cloudy Downtown.

It’s taken me forty-five minutes to reach the Library El stop and I still haven't flipped a page in my book. Seventeen stops pass, I’ve barely finished a sentence. A fellow rider asks about the book I’m reading. He’s attractive, but you lent me this story of redwoods. Since it holds your memories I don’t fully consider his intentions. I show him the cover, and he grins. It’s more confident than the smile you’d showcase.
Anxiety has been hemlocking through my blood since you called this morning. Over Two Thousand minutes since you refused to utter ‘goodbye’, these last seconds until I hear (without the filter of satellites) that rustic squeak in your voice seem vast (like the gaps between each minute mark on my watch have expanded to the length of Olympic swimming pools). I join the commuters intending to exit. The doors open and we take turns pushing off onto the next legs of our journeys.
The low belch of your allergy-cough (like the exhalation of fireplace bellows) answers my speed dial, then.
“What stop?”
“Library. Which way do I walk?”
“Down what street, you’ll need to be a bit more specific, dear.”
“Come down the stairs.”
“Yeah, I get that. Where do I go from there?”
“I’m at the bottom of the stairs.”

I hang up the phone. Straightening my skirt, and wiping the sweat under my eyes I yield to my flaws and begin my descent. I can change little about the way you see me.
I sight you and unruffle. Taking the last seven steps with my face down; hoping you’ll spot me and initiate the reunion. I’m unlucky. I stand near you for a moment, indulging in the musty way air smells when it encompasses you. You search the crowd for my figure, never moving your neck more than a few degrees in any direction. I whistle to catch your attention, but immediately regret it—you’re not a dog.
The sun has stained you to the color of synthetic wood. Your face turns to me and though I’d forgotten the meaning of the word years ago, a warmth of home spreads through me like a double shot of cheap whiskey. You lead; I’m relieved to let you lead.
As we walk through streets stuffed with book-filled tents my eyes draw to titles stamped across hard covers. I long to run my fingers down leather bound spines, letting my grooved skin press into the engraved words there. I approach a booth where I buy a $4 copy of F. Scot Fitzgerald’s short stories. You find a book from the ‘80s on word play for me (You know me too well). The strangers on the street are a set of encyclopedias. I want to read, but the only subject I can think to research is you. Your purchases concern the letter e— environment, earthworms, ethics, and energy.
Accepting the fact that neither of us has superfluous funds to invest in the dreams of packed bookshelves today, our plans change. Crossing streets at the beckon of an LED-lit man, we arrive at the corner of Starbucks and DePaul University. The air becomes thicker, heavier and the cotton in my shirt clings to my skin like the yellow of a banana. You stop to reclaim your sense of north. Looking up--you turn to me and pronounce:
“It’ll rain.”
Our walk lasts a mere 4 blocks more. We come to the outset of another festival, and mimic other blues lovers sitting on bridge leading into Millennium Park. Thunder rumbles and you smirk, the kind of smile only a sense of pride can create: your body can’t help saying, “told you so.” Seeking solace beneath a tree, we find only a fear of ruined books: a terrible way to welcome them into our lives. (We share a strange connection to these artifacts. Books hold not only the words a printer tattoos on their pages, but also the history of the tree from which the wood pulp-pages came.) I offer solutions to this problem, but you stubbornly reject each and opt for swiftly finding a train station. My slippery sandals prevented us from sprinting to our unknown destination; nevertheless we arrive only damp.
We board the train and ride standing in the aisle in front of a pair of twenty-something women discussing weddings and changing friendships. I make inappropriate jokes as we ride, and it pleases me to see you’re not uncomfortable. A couple near-by departs the train and we take their seats. You continue to answer text messages; I concentrate on California redwoods. Tall, straight, strong specimen whose root system threads out like an embroidery sampler.
You are a redwood, hundreds of years grown into a monstrosity: I can’t wrap my arms around you. You’re unfathomable to me. I ask if we can visit those trees someday, and you promise. Somehow I trust the word of a totem.
You exit the train a stop before me. Standing on the platform for a moment and looking at me through the key scratched window, I see your trunk (tall and straight) root itself there. Towering beside brick buildings, you’ve become symbiotic with the environment surrounding you, and for the first time I feel malignant. You make an unremarkably funny face, and sign for me to call you about dinner.
I intend to call.
I ride the two blocks to my station watching the neighborhoods rumble past. In the shade of buildings, or lounging under your canopy I could never grow. To thrive I realize, I need sunlight.

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