Thursday, March 20, 2014

Short Story: Falling Awake

Falling Awake
By Lisa (paint with stars)

When I first met David, I hadn't eaten for two days, and my hair was soaked from the rain. Wind-whipped and shaking, I stumbled upon his front steps. There was light coming from the window, and something wisping out from beneath the door... It smelled like warmth.
I huddled in front of that bubble of warmth, knowing it was dangerous, but too lightheaded and weak to think what I'd do if someone came out. My eyelids drooped heavily.
Footsteps came from inside the apartment, then the click of the door opening. I froze up instead of bolting, and our eyes met.
He stopped. I heard him take a breath. But for some reason, he disappeared back inside the room. The door remained open, a thin crack that didn't quite let in the cold, but enough to show an invitation.
I looked back once at the rain pounding behind me, and nudged the door open to let myself in.

For the first few days, David didn't talk to me, or even show sign that he knew of my existence. However, I did come across food and water that mysteriously appeared in the kitchen each day, and I inhaled them as quickly as I could each time. By the third day, I had regained much of my strength and energy. I found David at a desk piled with books and papers, clicketing away at his computer. He had a habit of pushing his glasses up his nose every few minutes. I wanted to say something, but decided it was better just to stare silently at him. A few moments later, he sighed, stretched, and turned to me.
"So, now we're communicating?" David said.
I tensed up reflexively at his voice. But then, I felt the kindness there. He was smiling a little. My body relaxed, and I inched a few steps closer. When he stood up, I immediately shied away. But he was only headed to the small closet behind him, where he rummaged around and emerged with a thick blanket.
"You can use this if you want," he said, smoothing it down on the couch where I could see. Then he went back to work at his desk.

David didn't stop me from going out freely, so I went back to prowling the streets for a few weeks. But I gradually, I began to spend most of my time indoors with David. He went out sometimes, coming back with crackling plastic bags or steaming cups of coffee. Mostly he worked at his desk or slept. A few nights a week, he would settle down on the couch with his dinner and watch TV or a movie he brought home. Those were my favorite times. He didn't mind if I perched on the couch next to him, and with time, I felt safe enough to lean against him a little. When I did that, he would gently touch my hair or pat my head a little, all the while not taking his gaze off the screen.

One night, I heard an unfamiliar sound coming from his bed. Curious, I padded over until I could make out his tousled hair, his quivering shoulders. His cheeks were glistening wet. I looked at him in the dark, and he looked back at me. A shuddering breath escaped him as he moved over to make a space.
I put my face against his, nudging gently at his nose, his tears. As he ran his fingers through my hair, I tried to make a soothing sound to comfort him. Warmth coursed through my body when he reached out to wrap the blanket around both of us. I curled up against his chest, feeling his heart beat.
"Thank goodness for you," he murmured against my cheek. His breath tickled. "Thank you for finding me."

About one year after I started living with David, his lifestyle abruptly changed. He began going out more often, sometimes not coming back until late at night. Our evenings relaxing on the couch dwindled down to once a week, then every few weeks.
It was a sunny afternoon when he brought home the reason for his recent change. Her voice filtered through the front door as it mixed with his, light as a bell on his deeper, familiar tones. He sounded different, energetic in a way that I had never heard. The door opened and she came in first, her face brilliant in mid-laugh. Our eyes met, and she stopped in the doorway. David's hand was on her waist.
"Why, hello there," she said. Her lips curved upward, but her smile didn't seem to reach her eyes.

The woman came over once a week, and then almost every day. In David's presence, she always treated me nicely. But when he wasn't in the room, she ignored me or looked at me with annoyance if I got too close. I began keeping a distance from both of them, but David was so focused on her that he didn't notice. Those TV nights on the couch returned with frequency, except this time it was her that leaned against him. Sometimes, his face pressed against hers for a long time.

One day, I woke to the sound of a heavy thump near the door. When I went over to check the noise, I found David pulling on his shoes next to a large suitcase. Although I wanted to rush up to him, she was already standing next to him, a hand on his shoulder. Pressed against the wall, I could only watch as he started to leave.
Just before closing the door, his eyes met mine. He smiled.
"Bye," he mouthed silently.

With a little click, the door slid shut behind him from the pressure of the woman's hand. She stood there, unmoving, watching him through the small glass window for what seemed like a long while. Then, she turned to me with a smile.
"We're going on a trip of our own," she said.

It was my first time riding in the trunk of a car. The inside smelled strange; plastic bottles and paper bags slid around as the car moved, hitting me in the face. The heavy beat of music strained through from the front of the car.

She dragged me out with my eyes covered. I heard the sound of a door swinging open and then shut. Something said in a low voice that I couldn't quite make out through all the coverings. Movement, and I was finally freed from that relentless grasp. Her footsteps faded.

It was cold and smelled too clean, with undertones of a strange stench I couldn't place. My heart hammered wildly, and I wished hard that I could break out of this place to find David, tell him where I was.

Someone came up behind me without speaking. I couldn't see what they looked like. I twisted my neck and let out a fearful cry.
Something sharp and painful pricked my leg, numbing it.
And then, I felt a steely, heavy sleepiness wash in toward me like a curtain, I could see it rushing at me from a distance, fast as lightning, yet slow as fog. David. I struggled to keep my eyes awake, my mind clear. David. I need to find my way home to him, can't fall asleep. Can't. David David David...

20 years later

"Oof!" The girl bumped into him and lost her balance, landing flat on the sideway.
"Sorry, sorry!" Looking harried, the man reached out a hand to pull her up. She glanced at him. Late forties, long coat, newspaper tucked under his arm. With a tight smile, she quickly got to her own feet.
Already, he was hurrying down the street again. People like that should watch where they're going, really. She sighed and shouldered her backpack, university textbooks weighing her down once more.

Something clattered to her feet. A wallet. Reluctantly, she picked it up and flipped it open. David Johnson. The driver's license photo showed the same tired eyes and graying hair. She looked back down the street, but he was already long out of sight. Well, she didn't have time for this now, she was already going to be late for class.

Around 6 PM, she found herself in front of a red brick building, yellow lights beaming from behind a small window in the door. So, this was the place. She rechecked the address listed in the wallet, and as she did, a small photo fluttered to the ground, landing facedown. She stooped to pick it up.
A striped gray cat stared back at her from the photo. Its eyes looked strangely familiar.
Still looking at the photo, she rang the doorbell. Footsteps came from within, and the door swung open.

Their eyes met.