Falling into Now


By C. Sarah Duvall

The bite of fall numbed her hands; redden her nose and cheeks as she walked briskly down the dark, empty street. There were times she didn't believe she was here. Times when she woke up from the haze of the past and blinding force of the future to the utterly terrifying clarity of the present. It almost hurt to admit her amazement at the present moment. Hurt to realize that she relied on emptiness to support her life and fuel her ambitions.

She blinked, trying to hold back on the tears that threatened to spill forth. She was never sure why she cried at random times. Perhaps she cried for random reasons, Darfur, starving children, herself...it was all in the mix. The darken streets would hide them, should they escape her eyes, but every so often she passed another person, hurrying toward there destination, out of the cold night air. She didn't want to have anyone see her in such a state. So, she blinked some more and wiped her eyes on the back of her cold shelve.

"What a mess." She mumbled to herself as she rounded the corner and turned onto yet another barren street. The houses in the area were a mix of student apartments, working-class family homes and professors. The odd variety of people, all situated in the same area, nestled against one another did nothing to ease the tension between the families and students. The rag-tag houses boasted only simple security from the bitter wind and rain which dominated the town much of the time. There was always tension and hate, violence and conflict. Sometimes it pained her to watch the news and read the papers, for she didn't see how people could act that way. How they couldn't appreciate life? It made the world seem endless and pointless. Shaking her head of such thoughts, she muttered a curse and she picked up her pace, thinking to get home and finish off her last paper.

A piece of sidewalk, ragged and upturned, jarred her steps and she stumbled. Momentum broken, she paused to glare at the ground then glance up at the sky. The light pollution blocked much of the stars which dotted the black blanket, but one could still make out the major constellations. She stared. Never tiring of the sight. The stars reminded her that she was unimportant in the grand scheme. She was small, insignificant and meager when she looked up. They made her aware that there were others out there, when she lived a world which made her feel isolated. Breathing in and exhaling slowly she managed to relax for a second and absorb, once more the full impact of the present.

Suddenly, the smell of cigarette smoke floated her way and the sound of a footfall intruded upon her simple form of peace. She looked behind her and saw the tall form of a man heading down the sidewalk toward her. The light cigarette burned bright in the night and his dark clothing and silent movements were eerie. He seemed much more a part of the night then she did. He slowed as he noticed her up ahead.

It was wrong. Stopping and staring at him. She didn't do many bold things, but for some reason she was unable to move with her usual speed. She turned and pretended she hadn't seen him.

"Ignore him." The cautious, societal voice said.

Another voice, rising up out of the buried curiosity, whispered, "Engage him."

In answer to these voices, she stared up at the stars, as if they knew what to do in this situation. She felt the cold wind hit her and she shivered. His voice was rough, as if he hadn't spoken in a while, when he stopped beside her.

"It's cold out tonight." Such observation was unnecessary. She didn't need him to tell her this, but they both needed something to say.

"I know. I was just thinking the same thing. It seems to be getting colder and colder. I wonder if we'll get snow early this year?" Her question received a polite nod. Taking a peek at her companion, she saw only his basic features. The color of his eyes and hair were difficult to distinguish, but eventually she decided to say his hair was dark brown and gave up on the color of his eyes. He had a strong jaw, and mid-cheek bones. His hair was to his shoulders and curly. He seemed to tower over her.

"What are you doing out here on this cold night? Shouldn't you be at home?" He took a long drawl of the cigarette he had in his left hand and exhaled a soothing stream of smoke. She wanted to be repulsed by his habit, but found herself taking comfort in the nostalgic feelings that the smell brought on.

Her hand, numb with cold, reached up and brushed aside a strand of loose, frizzy hair. "I was just heading that direction. What about you?"

He stilled in his motions, like an animal listening intently for a predator, "I was out for a walk." She wasn't sure whether his tone indicated his need for privacy or his curiosity at their conversation.

Not that their conversation included much, but then it was unusual, their behavior. Most people ignored one another on the street, when they were unfamiliar with each other. She had stopped though, and had opened up the pathway. He had taken the initiative and now they stood, silent and awkward on a lonely night in the middle of a down-trodden neighborhood. Unsure, she grasped for something to say to cover up the silence, "The stars are lovely, are they not?"

He gazed upward, and smiled, the first time in a long time. "They could be better."

She laughed a spontaneous sound that burst forth with much force. "How do you plan to improve them?" She teased. He smiled down at her, happy to have eased her pain for the present.

"I don't know. Maybe add more neon to them, perhaps rearrange the constellations. I just think we could do so much more with them, but we just let them go."

Her chuckle this time was low and she moved closer to him, seeking a temporary shield from the wind. "Well Mr. Galaxy Designer, if you'll just put your proposal and design outline on the President's desk, I'm sure he'll inform NASA of the changes needed."

His laugh rippled over her skin and lingered in the air, like his cigarette smoke. He took another drag and she took another deep breath, letting the past, present and future wash over her. His next words drew her back. "I'll do that."

A pause. A heartbeat.

The damn voice in her head urged her to make a move, to speak some more, but she was hopeless at polite conversation. The darkness encompassed them and the air ate their skin numb. Neither moved though, as if they were trying to find a way to fill the void, trying to capture the moment and hold on to it. Hold on to the pleasure of another's company. Hold on to the random interval they had come across. There was nothing romantic about the encounter, nothing sexual. The encounter, which started as a meeting of two night walkers, had turned into the meeting of two people, in desperate need of communication with another soul.

Her hand lifted and pushed aside a lock of hair. He didn't move.

His hand captured her chin and nudged it up. She met his gaze.

The emptiness that filled them, drew them together. "I don't know what I want." She whispered agonizingly.

He smiled softly, admiring her features and caressing her hair gently, "Me either. I don't think we ever know what we really want out of life. We just accept what we get and enjoy it while it lasts."

She didn't need an explanation. She knew what he meant.

He flicked his cigarette aside and took a hold of her icy hands with his. The calloused hands were large and produced a strange combination of fear and security within her. She didn't know this man, but their lack of knowledge of each other produced a different type of knowledge.

They began to walk. Walk back in the direction he had come from. Walk back to his place. She felt nervous and giddy. Content and anguished.

He felt odd. Cold and warm. Renewed and destroyed.

The lights were off in his apartment and he didn't bother to turn them on as he unlocked the door. He led her through the living room and to his bedroom. They said nothing. They didn't want to talk anymore. They could talk later. Right now they need physical confirmation. They needed to be alive. Needed to know they were not alone out there, just like the stars.

A while later, he took a drag from another cigarette, she was curled up next to him, dozing. They weren't sure what to say, so they remained silent. The room seemed empty without chatter, but it felt better that way. Felt better to be surrounded by what drove you. She stroked his chest and kissed his shoulder every so often and he rubbed her back.

"I should go." Her quiet voice disturbed the air, heavy with the scent of sex.

He didn't argue with her, simply squeezed her and pulled her closer. She didn't move. They would worry about the repercussions in the morning. Worry about the unfinished paper and last cigarette. Worry about the one night stand and about the awkward breakfast when those things came up.

The past was behind them. It hurt and helped and forced them to transform themselves so they could meet the future. Right now though, as they prepared for sleep, they were in the present. They weren't alone.

She cried softly into the pillow and he kissed her back and neck. She turned to him and felt his tears running down the cheeks she had kissed earlier.

The darkness circled around and they embraced it and each other. With no more thoughts left, they closed their eyes and forgot where they were, who they were and what they had done. None of it mattered. Not in the darkness. Not at the present moment.

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