Simple Words (short story)

It’s a sunny day and there is no city in the entire world as beautiful as Vancouver on a sunny day. Alicia is about to go on break from the little coffee shop she works at on Broadway and Laurel and when she opens the door to sniff the new outside freshness she knows she wants to spend her break looking out over False Creek, downtown Vancouver and the still snowy mountains. Today is one of those special February days when snow is still in the air, there has just been a week of grey clouds and rain and there could easily be another week. For this one fleeting moment, between shifts at work, the world is sunny and rich. The world seems to be a better place. Alicia doesn’t want to squander this opportunity.

Her break is only thirty minutes. The too early evenings means that Alicia wakes up in the cold darkness then gets off work in the cold darkness. That truth often weighs her down, but not now, not at this moment. For this moment Alicia’s mind is singing. She barrels down the hill, over the pedestrian overpass that bridges the ugly concrete of sixth street and is in the faded glory of Creekside Park, which is gleaming like a polished penny in today’s perfection.

Without actively thinking Alicia just allows her mind to flow. She breaths in deeply the wonderful air and feels alive in a way that is impossible to feel at work, that is impossible to feel on a grey day. Moments of life are always so compartmentalized and Alicia without even realizing it is for the first time in too long of a time actually having a moment of true freedom. She has about twenty five minutes left of her break, where should she go? She thinks about it. She’d love to go to Granville Island or the Olympic Village but they are just too far, so what is closer? She thinks she could maybe just walk the seawall until she needs to head back to work but then she sees an empty concrete bench, in memoria to an Annabel Deschutes, and feels like the only thing in the world she wants to do right now is sit on this bench in the shadow of the glass forest of downtown Vancouver with the icy depths of False Creek at her feet, and to think about nothing.

She sits with a contented sigh and begins thinking about nothing, which is of course that space of time when a person thinks about everything. Like an inactive machine suddenly brought to life there are suddenly a swarming of moving parts sirening through her brain. We don’t need to know the details of all this clatter. Suffice is to say that Alicia is a sweet girl. Yes, she has her faults, maybe she should be more ambitious, maybe she should be more brave and maybe she should try to take more control over her life. These frustrating depths are always below the surface of Alicia’s mind, yet, she is so in love with the act of living these thoughts only get her down when she lets them get her down. She thinks life is how you spend your moments and perhaps a lot of the moments in her life are imperfect, yet, this is a perfect one so she shouldn’t squander it.

With an unconscious smile tickling the sides of her mouth, Alicia sits with pure contentment on the bench. This is the sort of moment that will be forgotten in a day yet whose halo provides some of the sweetest memories of life. Alicia would gladly of spent the rest of her break like this and gone to work fulfilled, except, a man interrupts her reverie by asking if he can sit next to her. Without really looking at him or thinking about it she says, “Of course.” The bench, after all, is for everyone and there is plenty of space.

However, once he is already sitting, Alicia feels like a grey cloud has dampened the scene in front of her. She even looks to the sky before realizing it must be the man. What is he doing that effects her so strongly, she wonders. Sometimes a man just being a man spoils the day of a woman, just as a man being a man can make a woman’s day special. This is not the case though. No, what is drifting like a plume of smoke from this man right into Alicia’s face is a profound sadness. He does not look at her, his face is expressionless, yet, a simple glance at the ashen face of the man sitting next to her and Alicia knows that in a weaker person tears would be flowing.

What should I do, wonders Alicia. It is hard to be around someone who is suffering. Alicia does not know him, she does not understand his plight and has nothing to offer him. Yet, he is suffering. Isn’t there something universal in trying to ease the suffering of another? What if Alicia is wrong, what if he is actually not sad? She doesn’t want to be rude. Then he looks over at her and she is shattered, a piece of whatever has broken inside of him falling through his eyes and cutting her. The beauty in fragility makes him for this moment the most handsome man Alicia has ever seen. Their eyes are locked. Alicia cannot look away, while the man is not trying to capture Alicia’s eyes, the emotions blooming from them are just so strong that like magnets they do not let go of Alicia.

After a split second of this the man opens his mouth to say something to her, then stops himself before letting a single syllable falls into the air. He breaks his gaze with Alicia to stare back at the perfect weather that seems to be eaten out of the air into the dark crevices of this man’s face, into the dark crevices of this man’s eyes.

Alicia wonders what he was going to say to her. Her break is almost over though, she knows she has to leave. She stand to gather herself and again the man looks into her eyes, this time however he looks at her to see her. He looks hard and Alicia is paused for a moment. Then, in a strong voice that wavers just a touch, the man asks Alicia something that seems to make all the beauty of the day shatter into a million bits, leaving only the broken cracks disguising what was just a moment ago perfect and transparent. He asks her if she could tell him that she loves him. He just needs to hear the words. Something like this has never happened before to Alicia. She has never told a man that she loves them, yet, why has she kept the words so sacred? Perhaps by keeping love trapped so tightly we forget that everyone is worth loving, that love is universal. Perhaps this man’s sadness is simply because in the coldness of our world he has forgotten what it is to be loved. Like a flower wilting without sunlight this poor, poor man is losing a leaf at a time, blaming himself instead of the sky for his bereftness of love. Alicia looks at him. She wants to touch his face, to kiss him, to be a ray of sunshine in his life that will let him know that the world is more than it is. Yet, she has to go back to work. Yet, language has never been an easy thing for Alicia. If only words could unlock the true emotion of her heart. She tells the man that she loves him. Then, she tells him that she thinks he’s worth loving. He smiles sweetly, the cloud that circles him maybe not dissipating but for a moment sunshine sings through and he thanks her.

Quickly walking back to work to not be late she thinks for a moment of the man. She feels like they shared a moment of understanding, giving to each other something deeper than either of them knew. Alicia feels happy to have met the man. Then, letting the memory slip out of her mind like water from an open bottle, she thinks again about going back to work and is again conquered by all those little cares which own our souls. The memory of the man disappears, and Alicia is ok with that.

Leave a Reply