The following story is by Abigail Marshall. Abigail is a writer and lowercase romantic based out of Texas. Her work has previously appeared in PressBoardPress. You can follow her on Twitter @thefirstabigail or find more of her work at www.abigailwashere.com
It’s 6 a.m. in New York and the sky is a watercolor blend of pollution and royal blue.
The door to the fire escape slams behind you, always harder than you intended. The aged metal protests against your bare feet in the early hour, creaking mildly, and as you sigh and remove the lighter from your back pocket you have an expectation. You expect that today will be like all of the ones before it, and you convince yourself that there is a kind of poetry to mundanity, to being the manager of Costanzo’s Pizza, and for a moment you truly believe that.
Then you see her, here with you on the fire escape.
“Jack. You bought cigarettes,” she says, and a smile tugs at the corner of her lips.
You look down at the pack, now somewhat embarrassed. You can’t tell her that you’ve picked up smoking to remember the taste of her last kiss. You can’t tell her that Marlboro has become your brand of incense, that your sheets have long since lost her scent and you thought that maybe, if you placed a smoldering filter in the ashtray she’d left behind, it would somehow call her back to you.
So instead you say, “It’s good to see you, Allison.”
The two of you look out across the city, bathed in the blue pre-morning light.
“How long have you been out here?” you ask.
She shrugs. She is beautiful. Her hair seems darker, somehow, but you don’t question it. You are afraid of upsetting the moment; it seems fragile.
“So… what do you think?” She is shy, oddly nervous about your response. It reminds you of your first date, your first kiss, how many questions you had, how little you knew.
You don’t have to ask her what she’s talking about.
“I wasn’t expecting to see you…” The word “ever” suddenly seems callous, despite its accuracy. You smile. “You look good though. Like you always did.”
She doesn’t meet your eyes. The blue light does strange things to her hair, her body. You can see through her, briefly, to the metal railing at her back. Your cigarette continues to burn.
“You graduated,” she says.
“It doesn’t feel like I thought it would.” It’s the first time you’ve said that out loud. “I’ve come to a standstill, Allison. I work at a pizza place.”
She seems unconvinced, you note peripherally, and somehow it becomes paramount that you successfully convince her of your failure. “I’ve got my degree. I was all set to do whatever the hell it is you do with the rest of your life.” You turn to her. “What is it that I’m supposed to do with the rest of my life?”
She laughs, and the sound is bitter. “I’m not sure I’m the person to answer that.”
“Wait… has it been a year?”
“Exactly.” Something crosses her face: a shadow. The sun is coming. “Exactly a year,” she repeats.
You feel guilty. You’d forgotten to check the calendar. But the days have bled into each other, all those indigo nights lightening to blue mornings like this one, and it’s a strange sort of anniversary to say the least. If you’re honest, you’ve been trying to forget it. You wonder if she knows. If it hurts her.
“You have to go?”
“Yeah, I have to go.” She’s starting to flicker in and out, parts of her evaporating into the blue. She’s fading with the remnants of night.
“So, when the sun comes up…”
“Yeah, that’s when I leave.”
“Will you be back?”
“I don’t know.” Her eyes narrow. Post-night streaks of daybreak paint the center of the distant horizon, and neither of you can look at each other. “I don’t think so,” she says.
You try to take her hand, but she doesn’t notice. Your fingers go right through her. Instead, you bring that same hand up to your face and rub your eyes, suddenly feeling very old.
“You were one of the good ones, little light ray,” you say to her.
She still doesn’t look at you, but her expression changes, and you wonder briefly how the physics of her presence works, and whether tears would fall if she cried. Then there is a final burst of sunlight and she is taken from you a second time—not all at once, but in pieces. The sun takes her eyelashes, her wrists, her calves, the space beneath her eyes. Bit by bit she is lost to the light.
And then you are alone again on the fire escape.
You let a gust of wind blow the life out of your cigarette. Then you throw the shriveled ember of it out into the new morning and hope that it will start a fire.