Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Forcing his legs to stretch as far as they could reach, Marcus took the longest steps toward home. He was headed back from his tyrannous job as a dishwasher; the longest job his held, which is nearing a year. With each cough of breath that bellowed out of his mouth came a cool light blue fog that drifted into the air. His clothes were smothered with cold sweat and his apron masked with yellowish grease, while the tip of his hat was bent down in the fashion of not being able to notice his eyes. Marcus walked the streets mechanically, with the sidewalks and views of the houses and names of the street signs stamped on the palms of his hands. There were no mysteries here, only the difference between each hour of the each day which never changed.
As for now, the streets were quiet; it was Sunday.  There was a lack of cars roaming around the streets adding a solemn calmness to the breeze. The houses that bordered the streets had almost all their lights were on, and through the windows appeared persons unknown to him, though he noticed them each evening on his commute home. Birds were rising in formations too technical to make out yet too profound to not look up and stare. Hundreds were flying to God knows where, with Marcus beneath them, his head down, his hands shoved in his pockets, staring simply towards home. From here, he would walk two more blocks, take a left, then a right, trudge up an incline so monstrous that walking up it was the worst part of the day, and after that, he would then find himself home. 
“One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four.” Marcus says with each step. 
Over and over again.
Again and again over. The path from home to work, from work to home, is a job in itself. The time it takes to get one place to another is as important as the time spent in the place itself. 
The sun started falling slowly, as the street lights flickered on. Marcus was halfway up the hill, wondering if there was any food left in his fridge. Of course there probably wasn’t, and he regretted not grabbing something from the restaurant before he left. There is always tomorrow, or the next day. It was nearing six o’clock and a few hours of conscious hunger was not too bad. He would soon sleep.
As Marcus reached his downtrodden apartment, he swung the door open, ripped his apron off, and melted into his couch. The cigarettes were on the coffee table. He grabbed one, lit it, and turned on the local news. There was never anything interesting broadcasted; the real intriguing things he learned were from his coworkers. Stories you didn’t hear on public television because they were unknown by all but the few who witnessed it. A story about a boy who worked in a factory whose arms were chopped off was being shared with the town tonight. While he was becoming more and more focused on the screen, he lost track of what they were actually saying. He was about to light another cigarette when there were three knocks. He hesitated but then eventually dragged himself off the couch and opened the door shyly.
“Hello, what can I do for you?” he said. 
“Hello, yes, hello. I’m your upstairs neighbor, Jane.” She said.
Jane appeared to Marcus as a woman that was sharp, clean. Her smile was endearing, and her presence innocent, though he didn’t care entirely about either of these things. Her light maple leaf eyes is what kept Marcus from sending her away.
“Oh, uh, hi. What brings you downstairs?”
“Well, I just moved in. I’m going around just meeting the people who live beneath me, and beside me. You know what I mean?” She says.
He had never actually got around to meeting his other neighbors, although he’d been living in this place for over a year. He’d seen them walk to and from their homes, to their cars, down the street, to their mail boxes. He noticed them on a daily basis when he, himself left for work. While he saw their faces more often than not, it never occurred to him to be neighborly. It never occurred to him how close everyone actually was and he didn’t actually understand what Jane meant.
“It’s nice to meet you then. I’m Marcus.” He says.
“It is very nice, would you mind if I came inside?” She says.
“I suppose so.” He says, without knowing what to expect.
She stepped aside him and waltzed into the kitchen that was four feet away from the door. “These apartments are all awfully similar.” She said as she was vigorously opening the cupboards searching for something. “But no one seems to put things in the same places.” She found a glass, filled it with water, and took a long drink. As she was standing there, she opens the fridge only to find a gallon of milk and some moldy chinese leftovers and then slams it shut.
“You seem very minimal by the looks of your fridge.” She says.
“Well I never assumed I’d be judged by the contents of my fridge, but you’re probably right.” He says.
He walked over to the couch and sat down while Jane remained leaned against the kitchen counter staring intently at the walls around her. As Marcus watched her he started toying around with his thumbs trying to think of something to say that a stranger might find interesting but could only think of common conversation. “So, when did you move in?”
“Only a couple of days ago,” she says, “I’m still trying to make myself comfortable.”
“Ah, okay. So I assume you’ve been meeting all of the neighbors in effort of achieving this?” He says.
“Yes, what’s the point of having neighbors if no one is neighborly? I’ve made a point to meet all the people that live under the same roof as I do. Most everyone seems kindly enough to live in the same building together. We’re closer than we think.” She says. 
“We may live in the same building, but that doesn’t necessarily make us all living in the same home,” he says, “we all have our own locks and keys. We all don’t need to know one another’s names. It’s not very prevalent.”
“But that doesn’t avoid the fact we’ll probably see one another each day. What’s the point of looking at the ground instead of staring straight ahead? There is no harm in eye contact.” She says.
“You’re right in that aspect. I know your name now, and you know mine. It’s only been few days time, and you’ve met everyone. Congratulations, you’re now mother hen to all the tenants.” He says.
“I wouldn’t look at it like that.”
“Sorry, just what first came to mind. Anyways I have quite a lot to get done tonight, so it’s best you be going.” 
“Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow Marcus.” She says. Marcus watched as she walked out the door, he leaned on the door frame and watched as she walked back up the stairs to her own 700 square foot world. He wondered where she kept her glasses.
He sighed. There wasn’t very much else to do with his evening but he continued on anyways. He turned the television back on and returned to the couch, his concentration on the show had faded again. There are so many people surrounding him this very second. Jane is just one of them who is probably prancing around her apartment right now above his head. Whoever lives to the right is doing god knows what, and the person to the left probably isn’t home. Here he is, smoking cigarettes, in his apartment watching details in the news, thinking this is his world and he is alone yet there are realistically so many people so much closer than he actually realized. Where he lays his head at night there lies another less than three feet away within touching distance. His bathroom plumbing is probably intertwined with another’s. He shares his damn porch light with a face that he can’t seem to remember.
The old woman who lives across the lot who’s always yelling for her cat, is inescapable. Same goes for the Jane and the young kid who lives in the corner. The family’s apartment at the entrance is inexcusable, with their two children running to and fro in the parking lot each day. The people to the left and right have names, and Marcus never thought to ever ask what they were, never cared. A year and half of looking down.

Marcus suddenly puts his cigarette out, grabs the old wooden bar stool next to the counter, and carries it outside. He sets it right in front of his door and sits down. The sun is no longer out; no one is really out. Marcus did not sleep.