THE VERY FIRST THING that caught my attention when I woke up was the black shirt. It lay draped over the ironing board across from me, a black, long-sleeve shirt that I had been intending to iron for days, maybe even weeks, but somehow couldn’t find the time or even desire to do it. For a moment though the shirt looked like a dress, a black dress, one of those black dresses that she used to wear. There used to be a woman who would come here, I remembered, she would stay here in this room, and iron her black dresses in the mornings. I loved her in those old days. Back then. Or at least I thought I did. Did I still love her? I couldn’t be sure anymore of anything. But I think I loved her then. It all seems quite faint now. The sound of her getting up in the morning. The sound of the coffee boiling. The sound of her ironing her black dresses. She always ironed her clothes. Always. The attention she paid to her appearance was hypnotic. She once was here, right? That happened, didn’t it? Isn’t that the same ironing board she gave me once? The one she wanted to get rid of because she found a new one? I opened my eyes again. The shirt just hung there, limp and morose. She was long gone. She was gone forever from here. Forever gone. She used to be here though. That part of it wasn’t a dream. In the evening, I went to an Italian restaurant to eat. It had by all measures been a good week. Deadlines had been met, articles produced, interviews arranged, others transcribed, and there had even been some free time, time for socializing, time for writing. The money was adding up, which meant that it had been a successful week. There was a hole in it though, a big black hole that somehow was difficult to fill, even with some answer or explanation for why it was there. If the week had been productive and successful, then why did it somehow still feel like a let down? Wasn’t success in work, or financial reward, enough? I had pushed the ghost of the black dress far from my mind. That seemed the safest strategy. In a world built on self control, where the libraries of self-help books could be seen stacked in towers high enough to reach the sun, towers of books on meditation courses, chakras, healers, angels, and tarot card readings, tomes on psychology and psychiatry, in a world built on the very premise of controlling one’s self, controlling one’s heart, controlling one’s emotions, I had done a commendable job of ignoring any nostalgia or sadness I felt. Yet there was a big hole in the middle of it. I didn’t know what to do about it. I ordered myself some spaghetti and tried to read a book but gave up after a while. Then a stranger approached my table. A round woman with curly red hair. A disheveled look. There was a meekness in the way she approached me that bothered me. She seemed afraid. I’ve long since become accustomed to reading people. The signals I was receiving troubled me. “Do you mind if I join you?” the stranger said. I gestured for her to sit down. “What are you writing?” she asked. I shrugged and said nothing much. “Just trying to empty my mind,” I said. I was writing about the shirt, the ironing board, those kinds of things, but then I started to write about the woman across from me. Her chipped fingernail polish. Her rough hands. The thing was, I thought I recognized her. In the summer, I had met a woman like this, except she had platinum hair. She had approached me and followed me home, asking me if wouldn’t I like to go back to her place and have sex. I had walked quickly home ignoring that woman, closing the door to my home, where my children played inside, looking out the window until she was safely gone from the yard. And here she was, back again. Or someone who resembled her. The owner of the restaurant brought the stranger a pastry and an espresso, and she ate it. Then she excused herself for troubling me and left. Relief was what I felt as she put on her jacket and walked away and out that door. Relief. The proprietor of the restaurant came over to me and said she was sorry. Then she told me the woman’s story. “She’s in a complicated relationship,” she told me. “It’s really worrisome. I am afraid that she is going to wind up dead one way or another.” I nodded to the owner. It was an ugly situation, alright. “She has such a hole inside of her and she will do anything to fill it.” That is how she put it. I nodded, ate the rest of my spaghetti, paid my bill, put my things away, and went on my way. Outside, the street was dark already. There was nobody there. I walked home alone in silence. Many nights were like this now. Empty streets. Empty parks. Empty beaches. Emptiness. Isolation. All you had were some memories, some thoughts, and even when confronted with sympathetic strangers you were still alone and they were too. It was so hard to bridge that divide these days. So hard to get through to someone else, to even tell them you still cared about them very much. There were good things in this life though. I was sure of that. There were. There were wonderful mornings with women ironing their dresses. There was the smell of coffee boiling. There was gold sun streaming through the windows. There were pastries and espressos. These were unquestionably good things. Then you blinked and they were gone.
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