Sometimes we need a mysterious stranger in a dark alley.
|I was not interested whatsoever in meeting Jolene after work at the tap house. In fact, I admitted to myself (with not a small measure of guilt) that I dreaded talking to her.
We had been friends since high school. Right from the beginning I was unwittingly assigned the role of therapist and clean up crew for each and every one of the epic dramas she had managed to create for herself throughout her life. Who knows why some people seem to attract these situations to themselves?
Sometimes looking from the outside in it can seem entertaining, like reading a tabloid magazine. Until you become personally involved, then it's not so much entertaining as it is exasperating.
I knew the current Chernobyl meltdown was a product of her recent departure from the house she shared with her soon to be ex-husband. I say current because their marriage had been riddled with nuclear fallout from well before they were even married.
Don't get me wrong, I love her like a sister. She knows me possibly better than anyone else, and we've had some really good times together. It just seems like if I need a friend she's absent, but out of a sense of duty when she needs me (which is at least every other day) I march straight over to solve her problems for her.
I guess it's not really all her fault. I'm probably partially to blame for enabling her helplessness. If I keep feeding the beast, it'll grow, I'm probably not helping her to be more self-sufficient at all. At 42 years old one would think she'd at least be beginning to try.
Also to be fair, my life really didn't have any drama. At all, actually. My job had become a mindless routine on autopilot. My marriage had become largely the same. Yep. Zero adventure was the name of my game.
It was starting to get dark. The fall months seemed to come without warning, stealing my precious remaining daytime after work slowly but surely. Love the sweaters, hate the bedtime at 7 pm.
I looked at my watch and realized it was 5, but the sun was already too low in the sky. I didn't really want to spend any more time than I had to at the tap house, I had a good book and a warm bed to get home to.
I decided to try to save some time getting there by taking a couple of lesser-known short cuts through the city. They snaked through the alleyways between my building on Commerce and 6th ave. It could be dangerous later at night, but this time of day should be fine.
I loved people-watching in the city. There were couples holding hands, and couples walking briskly side by side as if one was perpetually trying to escape but the other kept catching up. Middle-aged businessmen and women preoccupied with their phones. Children walking with their mothers, home from school or aftercare.
Seeing the kids struck a pang of emptiness in my gut every time I saw them. I was not able to have children, and after 6 months of in-vitro, we couldn't afford to keep trying.
Lost in my thoughts, it took me a few seconds to notice the dark figure strolling toward me.
I couldn't tell at first if the person was male or female, but judging by the extraordinary height and angular silhouette it didn't take me long to surmise I was looking at a man. A huge man with a huge swagger.
As he approached, I noticed I was oddly devoid of fear or trepidation. I should've been terrified. The dark alley, his enormity, the overly confident way he strode toward me, all of these factors should've made me want to run the other way. In spite of myself, I kept walking toward him too.
The closer I got, the more drawn in I became. Within 5 feet I was mesmerized and I could see his face clearly. He was gorgeous. Black curls kissed his impossibly long black lashes and framed his pale, chiseled features. His eyes were so dark they seemed black, but they had an internal glow that I couldn't quite wrap my mind around. How could his eyes be so intense and still so soft?
As attractive as he was though, there was an oddly unremarkable air about him. The words "forgettable in a convenience store" entered my mind, it made zero sense. It dawned on me that unremarkable wasn't quite the right adjective. "He's like a chameleon," I thought. "He could become invisible if he wants to."
We stood toe to toe in the alleyway. I had no idea what I was doing or why. "Open your hand," he said softly. His voice sent my spine tingling.
I wanted him to sing me to sleep every night with that voice. All I could do was stare at him speechless.
I found myself wanting to know everything about him. "Open your hand," he said again, softly still but more insistently this time.
He must have been able to detect the trepidation and fear in my face. "Really it's ok, I'm not going to hurt you. I've got something I want you to have."
Despite my clinging fear, I extended my open hand toward him. He rummaged through his coat pocket, and I realized he was very well dressed. He wore a black wool pea coat with exceptionally unique buttons.
Upon a lingering look, I saw the buttons were silver and shiny with some sort of crest on them. He wore dark jeans and classic black oxford shoes. Not too shiny, not too worn. Just right, as if he had them made specifically for him. He wore a demure silver watch and again upon prolonged study I saw it was a Tag Heuer which must have cost him a cool 6 grand. He smelled wonderful. Like a combination of leather and baby powder with a subtle touch of clove.
Before I could formulate any hypotheses on my own he took my outstretched hand into his and gingerly pushed something warm and smooth into my palm.
I looked down to see a glimmer of polished gold and realized it was a pendant with a delicate gold chain. The pendant was an oval medallion. It had engravings of flames and tiny up-reaching skeletons. They looked as if they were trying to escape the fire.
I'm sure my face had to be a mask of puzzled frown.
It wasn't an unattractive piece of jewelry, in fact, it was really quite beautiful. The tone of the gold had a glow from within, shiny but not because of the reflection of any light. "Like his eyes," I thought.
Not a little unsettling, the engravings seemed somehow ancient. The skeletons and the flames reminded me of something I couldn't quite place at first. "Dante's Inferno!" It leaped into my consciousness, and I realized that I had spat the words out loud completely unintentionally.
In fact, I started to feel a little out of control of my thoughts at this point, as if my mind was working but my attention was working on a delay. It felt a little like being really high on some really good hash.
I don't know how long I had been standing in that alleyway gazing at the newly acquired gift warming my palm.
Two things jerked me back to reality: The first being my phone ringing insistently and obnoxiously. "Remind me to throw that bitch into the river..." I muttered to myself. I sounded like a crazy street lady.
The second thing that brought me out of my luxurious trance was the notable absence of the delicious scent of my stranger. I knew he was gone.
Instantly I felt an empty longing in the pit of my stomach. It made my throat tighten, like a child trying hard not to cry.
Memories of childhood (too many to count, much less remember) came rushing toward me. Good Lord what was wrong with me!? I found myself sobbing in this dark alley alone, feeling an intense sense of loss I hadn't felt since my dysfunctional childhood. All because I wanted my stranger back. Now I was sure I looked like a crazy street lady.
After what seemed like an impossible eternity, I pulled myself together.
I looked down at the necklace and traced its shape with my finger. When I draped the necklace around my neck and fastened the clasp the weight of the medallion felt comforting, and it was still pleasantly warm.
I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders, feeling strangely large in my space- regal and 6 feet tall.
I strode from the alleyway into the bustling night.
Holy shit it was night! I had to have been in that alley for at least an hour.
I crossed the street a block away from the tap house, and again my phone began to ring. I looked at the caller ID and saw it was my husband.
There was a small fountain with benches and planters directly in front of me, blocking my path to my rendezvous point with Jolene. I chucked my still ringing phone into the fountain and watched it sink.