the brown-eyed, spinning space boy

“Nice shirt!”

 

I jumped a little; he’d spotted me studying on the couch as I’d been waiting for him to arrive. I hadn’t heard him enter the cafe.

 

“Oh — haha, yeah! NASA… hi!”

 

We side hugged and then it was quiet for a minute. After pointing out the brick walls, concrete floors, and exposed pipes to him, we walked over to the front counter to place our orders; a hot chocolate with soymilk for him, and a white chocolate peppermint latte for me.

 

We returned to the couch and talked for a long while, holding our drinks close and showing our socks off to each other (his featuring dinosaurs and mine picturing bunny rabbits), and then he suggested going for a walk.

 

“Do you like spending time outside?” I asked hopefully.

 

“Yes!”

 

“Me TOO!” I exclaimed. I felt like a child in summer.

 

So we drove to the park, walked through its wind and sunshine, and then sat in the shade together, a solid block of concrete cooling our elbows and thighs. We talked for another hour, at least — about caves and circuit boards and future games of frisbee — and then he suggested doing lunch.

 

So we rode over to a cafe downtown where I know the staff; we shared a meal and then wandered around. I bought an empty, amber-colored bottle for mixing essential oils and a box of incense; (not)incidentally, his favorite scent.

 

He complimented my hands at the park and my eyes on the amber bottle aisle, and I felt my cheeks flush both times.

 

So this WAS a date! Ha… I KNEW it! 

 

And this afternoon, he texted me, saying that he’d had a great time and would like to go out again, if I was interested.

 

Another great suggestion! I celebrated to myself, dancing in the driver’s seat. I tucked my phone into my leather jacket and skipped into Whole Foods to say hi to my best friend before responding.

 

***

 

“Hey — will you please tell Charlie that I said bye? I want to try to beat the traffic,” I explained.

 

“Sure thing,” Charlie’s coworker said. We’d been able to chat for a few minutes, but then Charlie had disappeared into the back, checking for product.

 

I grabbed a root beer-flavored kombucha and an alkaline water on the other side of the store and then headed toward the checkout line, but I was intercepted on my way.

 

“Heyyyyy, Jace.” Christopher.

 

“Helloooooo,” I sang out awkwardly.

 

“So look,” he began, stopping in front of me. “I read the blog… I can tell that you hate me and I hate that you do…” and from there, we stepped over toward a case of frozen foods so that several dozen customers could make their way past us.

 

“I hate you and I love you, Chris… you know this,” I said, smiling weakly. “I will always love-hate you.”

 

We talked about the breakup; about whose idea it was to do that, and whose idea it was to set him up with someone else… about the amazing duo that we were back then and how that was the thing of it; we belonged in the past.

 

“And I regretted both of those decisions long after making them — right after emerging, alive, from my identity crisis,” I admitted. “But it was too late then. And I’m not an indecent person — I wasn’t going to try to interrupt or disrupt your new relationship.” I paused. “I doubt you’ll ever read the story I wrote,” I continued, “but in the end, Jinx dreams of you coming back for her… after you’d already died. And last year, it was a matter of me facing the fact that sometimes, dreams come true, and other times, they don’t. They just remain dreams.”

 

We continued talking; 10, 15, 20 minutes…

 

“I’m a manager now,” he said, pointing over at his bakery. “And I’ve started playing music in this alt-rock band. I mean, I toured last year…” he shook his head. “I’m doing really well.”

 

“I know you are!” I encouraged him. I didn’t understand why he was saying all of this to me.

 

“Look, Chris — I went on a date yesterday, and he asked me to go out with him again today. And I think I’m going to say yes,” I smiled. “I wouldn’t go back on a second you and I spent together — and I’m so genuinely sorry for shaking your world up with mine two and a half years ago and then not being there for you during and afterwards — but the truth of it is that we’re morally and fundamentally unaligned.” I shrugged. “I’m glad you’re with someone who cares about you and shares your lifestyle and standards, and I’m very glad that you’re happy. I’m so proud of you — of everything you’ve accomplished, and of the person you’re becoming. And if you ever need anything — like a kidney,” I laughed, “or if you ever just want to grab a coffee or whatever, I’ll always be around. I will always love you.” I reached over and hugged him and then smiled my “goodbye.”

 

And there it was: peace. Finally. And for the record… Christopher is a wonderful person; charismatic, brilliant, talented and beautiful. Despite the love-hate that you’ve read on this blog over and over and over and over and over and over and over and OVER again… 🙂 he’s a great guy. And I am beyond lucky to have spent so many years by his side. I wouldn’t call him an ex-husband now so much as a wonderful, old friend.

***

Back at the house this afternoon, feeling as weightless as a soul on the moon, I texted him back. “Roger that on date numero dos, space boy!”

 

And then I wrote a song and ate a salad and couldn’t imagine sleeping at all, wondering how soon I’d see him again… that brown-eyed, spinning space boy.

 

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me and my “furever” loves… GET IT?!

 

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

kindness, badasses, and jackasses

When I was a kid, my family decided to pitch their tent in a quiet little town just a few miles north of Georgia’s southern border… and up there in North Augusta, South Carolina, I quickly befriended two neighborhood kids, who were siblings: Jacob and Rachel.

 

We got along nicely and went on all kinds of small-scale adventures together… picking our way through the twig-and-tadpole woods that encircled our little suburb, skipping to the gas station down the street (where they sold the COOLEST alien lollipops), and sneaking behind the subdivision to explore this creepy, overgrown field that both frightened and intrigued us. It was here in this field that older kids in the neighborhood had stashed a gross-looking mattress, sticking it right underneath a lush and looming tree… I’m not sure what the older kids used it for, but Jacob, Rachel and I would take turns climbing the tree and then courageously jumping off it, laughing hysterically as we bounced onto and off of the soiled mattress. We felt like real badasses back then.

 

But in addition to acting like badasses, Jacob and Rachel were also kind of jackasses.

 

A young cousin visited them once, riding into town with her parents, and while I can’t remember the girl’s name, I can vividly recall her scent. It was genuinely horrific. I don’t know if it was biological in nature or if her parents simply weren’t badgering her to bathe yet, but she gave off a distinctly rancid odor, and Jacob and Rachel were just cruel about it.

 

“We aren’t going to hang out with her,” Rachel informed me as we were standing by the mailbox together. I turned to look over at my two friends’ front door, quickly spotting their petite and shy cousin peeking at us from behind it.

 

I felt terrible. Ostracizing the smelly little girl didn’t feel like the right thing to do — and the idea of blatantly ignoring her while we had our usual fun physically made me feel bad.

 

And while I don’t know how I phrased it (because I was like six), I do remember telling my friends off, preparing a picnic out in my front yard, and then inviting the smelly cousin over to dine with me. Jacob and Rachel were openly disgusted, and I think they felt a little betrayed (because they weren’t allowed to join us), but Smelly and I had a delightful time together, anyways. Looking back on it, I think that we had vegetarian deli-“meat” sandwiches (and that I possibly accidentally ate a bug while I was chewing on mine), but I can definitely remember biting into a sweet, red apple and feeling really, really good about it.

 

***

 

As an adult, I was once again warmed by the innate reward of kindness yesterday morning.

 

I was leaving Urban Standard after a few hours of studying when I noticed a homeless guy tucked into the dark inlet of an abandoned storefront. Our eyes met briefly, and a thought occurred to me just before I passed him.

 

“Hey — do you like chocolate?”

 

“Yeah,” he said.

 

“K… then hang on a sec.” Sliding my backpack off of my left shoulder, I knelt down, knees touching the concrete, to investigate its contents… and after a few awkward seconds, I found it: the plastic-wrapped, heart-shaped box my sweet HR department had gifted each employee with a few days before.

 

“I’m particularly excited about the orange creme flavor!” I’d thanked them via email, but I hadn’t actually opened the box yet, preferring to save it so that I could ‘look forward’ to it.

 

“Heeeeeere we go — happy LATE Valentine’s Day!” I laughed, handing it over to the guy.

 

He accepted the box gently, chuckling back at me. He had a very beautiful smile.

 

And it was just so nice to share the chocolate with someone. I enjoyed sharing it more than I would have enjoyed eating it! The good feeling that followed reminded me of a late-summer afternoon — enjoying a crisp apple alongside a smelly little girl; the vibrant green grass tickling our ankles, and the bright orange sunshine warming our faces…

 

***

 

On days when I’m feeling down, the easiest way to reframe my world view is to get outside of my own head, as it can sometimes steel itself into a sort of prison.

We inhabit these bodies and live in these minds — with their fiction and reality — constantly, rarely pausing to imagine the thoughts, longings, plights and ailments of others… but when you take just a minute to do so — to remember that the pain or anger or loneliness you’re experiencing right now is being felt by many — you don’t feel quite as alone, or misunderstood, or enraged. You suddenly feel this sense of community and this compulsion to practice compassion and you realize – or re-realize – that we’re all just doing the best we can to be happy… to become better and stronger people than we were yesterday, to be kinder to others than they have been to us, and to strike notes that sound increasingly more in-tune with our truest selves. Being kind to and gentle with others is, perhaps, the very best way of showing kindness to yourself.

 

And here’s a parting thought (which is not an original one — I ran across it pretty recently in an article or book that I can’t remember the name of):

 

Every word we speak, action we take, and decision we make brings us into greater harmony with our true selves or places us more at odds with ourselves.

 

And that makes sense, doesn’t it? Kindness is intuitive, really… your gut will quickly tell you – in any given situation – whether you’re being kind or unkind. Going back in time just a little, imagining myself walking past the homeless man with the box of chocolates still in my backpack feels BAD. It would have clearly been the wrong decision. And conversely-speaking, I knew, the very second I saw him, what the right decision was.

You can’t “save” everyone, of course, but when you’ve got an extra box of chocolates lying around, why not share the love? Your gut instinct, or intuition, is an excellent, inherent, and trustworthy guide for good decision-making…

 

For instance: Earlier today, when a cute boy asked me to grab coffee with him tomorrow morning, my intuition immediately answered yes. Yes, yes, yes. 

 

hola! did i just agree to a DATE? who knows! am i freaking out a little? nahhhhh…

 

Still here (and with kind regards),

Aun Aqui

I’d like to love, but…

Yep… it’s happening again. Come this time tomorrow evening, there’ll be cheap wine and overpriced flowers drooping in nearly every person’s humble (or not-so-humble) abode. Sidebar: If you hope for longevity in your relationship, SKIP the prematurely dead flowers and give your guy or gal a potted plant instead! I mean SERIOUSLY — what is up with these poor bouquets of DEATH? Are they supposed to symbolize that your relationship has already peaked and is now slowly wilting away? #thinkitthrough

“And I hope everyone’s Valentine’s Day is without explosive fires,” my professor joked with us yesterday evening as he was dismissing class. The joke was in reference to the creepy ending of my recent short story, When Things Got Out of Hand, which classmates had workshopped just moments before.

 

“You’ve really found your voice,” some of them said. And it was a cool thing to hear — that the cadence of my words had rung true to them.

 

“But this kinda felt like three different stories,” others pointed out. “Like… you’ve got three threads dangling here and none of them are tied together.”

 

And that made total sense… there were three stories within the story: divorce, the origins of an eating disorder, and jealousy. Any way of tying those loose strings together?

Absolutely — my classmates presented several really good and intriguing ideas for doing so… but in this blog post, I don’t really want to keep on talking about the story. I’d rather talk about love, and specifically, about how we sometimes chase after and then revolve around it instead of simply letting it come to and envelope us.

 

For most of us, love is revered as the ultimate thing to have — whether you stumble your way into it or specifically seek it out, it’s like unknowingly building a house atop a secret river of oil: Once you’ve realized what it is, you know that you’ve really lucked out.

 

And then – in addition to obsessing over this newfound wealth – we begin to define ourselves by this love… complimenting ourselves on the strengths, talents, and good looks of our companion — and having a companion, or lover, makes us feel other nice things, too, like being whole, and having worth, and – sometimes most importantly – not being alone.

 

But here’s the thing: You’re already whole on your own, you’re worth just as much as the person you hate and the person you love and the person you admire and the person you think little of (no more, no less), and you are always actually going to be alone. Always.

Because 1. when you die, you will die alone… nobody can feel that pain, experience that weirdness, or see that shit for you, and 2. until the very second that you die, no one will quite understand your mind, your desires, your motivations or your fears to the extent that you do… and while realizing this usually makes people feel deeply lonely, truly, isn’t it wonderful? Knowing that — although the whole world will sometimes stares right through you without feeling anything and that, often, it doesn’t really care about or understand you at all — that YOU get you, and you love you, and you’ve got you?

 

And there’s this, too: The amazingness or lousiness of the person you’re with doesn’t add to or detract from your own inherent worth. Want to be a super great and remarkable and respectable person? Cool… be one! Don’t date one. Or do date one, but don’t think that doing so makes you awesome (or vice versa).

 

I was just talking with a friend about love (#hottopic) earlier today… she’s in her early forties now and I’m in my mid-twenties, and we were both laughing over our predicaments: We go to work, shop for groceries, and fill our cars up with gas… and in the secret background of these mundane activities, we’re both often awkwardly hoping that, one of these days, Mr. Perfecto will just magically be there on aisle 9 or at pump 4 with enough guts to ask us out.

 

“And you see, that’s just it,” I said. “It has to happen like that — organically… in real life. I’m sure that, after several dating app-based dates with various people, I could find someone that I got along with, but that’s not going to be enough for me. I don’t want to date someone who is simply agreeable, or stable, or nice… there’s gotta be chemistry between us. A spark. And I’ll know when it’s there, because I’ve felt it before. But the thing is, that spark is something that you just inexplicably feel — not something you can know about it… you know? It’s not like you can’t deduce a spark from the picture or text on somebody’s online profile,” I sighed. “You’ve just gotta feel it. Sense it. So the real question is, when is this going to happen, and where, and am I supposed to be the brave one who initiates or ignites the spark? And if so, how the hell do you do that?” I laughed.

 

So while I am admittedly passively waiting and half-assedly looking for love, I’m mostly actively living my life… learning a new language, traveling (to Ecuador! In FOUR months!), writing stories, making music and friends, developing myself personally and professionally, and planning a fulfilling and fun-filled future.

 

For instance, did you know that I wrote a book last year and that you can now purchase it on Amazon (old news) OR at your local Whole Foods in Mountain Brook?!!

 

IMG_20180213_185506_120

 

 

So yeah — I’m waiting, but I’ve grown to be good at waiting, and because I’m keeping so busy and having so much FUN, it doesn’t really feel that much like waiting.

 

I meannnnnnnnnnn check me OUT; bein’ all single and whole and creative and happy and stuff!  🙂

 

 

Still here and single af,

Aun Aqui

a pond on fire and an almost-fight

This semester’s creative writing class is already in full swing, and of all the journal entries, character descriptions, and short stories I’ve written so far, two stick out in my mind:

 

  1. Those Stupid Mints
  2. When Things Got Out of Hand

 

So I’m sharing these two pieces below with a bit of background info prefacing both.

 

First Up: Those Stupid Mints

BG info: “Those Stupid Mints” was written in response to an assignment where we were supposed to depict two (or more) characters ALMOST having a fight, but not quite… like, there’s bickering, and there’s some tension, but everything is sort of misplaced and blown out of proportion, because the loaded statements and general heaviness in the air are over a remote control instead of who has (or doesn’t have) control in the relationship. OR, there’s a mother/daughter pair nitpicking over socks on the floor and dishes in the sink when the deeper issue — revealed to the reader or not — is bad grades, a recent diagnosis, or a suspected pregnancy. Something along those lines.

And while this is primarily a fiction writing class, the old adage still applies: You write what you know. So I often (but not always) recycle material – either loosely or actually – from real-life characters, memories, and experiences… and Those Stupid Mints — a short little number that features an unpleasant encounter with an ex in a grocery store — actually happened a few weeks back.

And in the short passage that follows, you’ll discover a girl who is pretty straightforward with her request and a guy who becomes oddly emotional and defensive in response to it. Bonus detail: There’s a sensitive line that I chose to leave out of the workshop version: “I was willing to do anything.” Why would he say that? I mean… what the ACTUAL hell? 

 

Those Stupid Mints

 

“All I’m saying is that if I ever need help, I can find someone else to help me… it doesn’t have to be you.”

 

He shook his head quickly and laughed at me, but not in a funny way. You probably know the type. “Whatever.”

 

“What do you mean, whatever? It’s not a big deal.”

 

He disagreed, of course. “I think it’s insane… you, coming in here and asking me to NOT do my job. To not be friendly. Trying to make me do something that isn’t natural,” he continued to himself in a descending mutter.

 

“I am not asking you to do something… I’m LITERALLY asking you to do NOTHING,” I cried, exasperated. “We haven’t spoken in six months, anyways, so I’m just asking you to please keep up with that. Unlike yesterday, when you said hello to me and I cried for a half hour afterwards. It’s just easier if you don’t.”

 

He folded his lips together in an unsmiling line as I watched one of his nostrils flare. Turning to me, he shrugged his shoulders in a way that tried to suggest I really don’t care, but the almost absent catch in his voice gave him away anyways. “Alright. Whatever. You just keep coming in here, getting your rosemary sourdough bread and that vegan chocolate cake.”

 

And then with those green eyes ablaze, he continued transferring clear packages of soft rolls from cart to shelf, his sidekick name tag catching the store’s harsh lights and then flashing them in my eyes, ruefully.

 

Stalker, I thought, storming off to buy him an apologetic container of those stupid, 10% ginger mints, because I can’t forget that he likes them.  

 

Numero Dos: When Things Got Out of Hand

BG info: This was my first short story of the semester (classmates are critiquing it this Monday — eek!), and in crafting it, I blended fiction, nonfiction, and magical realism all up together (like a smoothie!). I found a bit of inspiration within an awkward conversation I eavesdropped on at a cafe (hey — professor’s instructions!), wove some light fiction into the middle, and then carved my ending out of an unsettling dream I had last week.

 

When Things Got Out of Hand

 

She’s holding the latte with her left hand; I wonder if she’s left-handed?

He’s watching her other hand, the right one… she waves it around constantly; wiggling her fingers, and clicking her wrist back and forth as she paints pictures that illustrate her words. She’s been talking about design, and improv, and what’s tangible and what’s not, and when she speaks, she sounds so sure of herself, so in love with the sound of her own voice… but a minute ago, I heard her saying that a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant she’d tried shared a plaza with other things that weren’t that tangible, which didn’t make sense. Things that weren’t that popular would have made sense; things that weren’t that interesting would have been fine, too. But the word she chose to use was tangible, and I smirked a little after she said it.

Anyways, the guy she’s with has spent all morning staring at her, spending half of his energy listening to what she’s saying and the other half devising interesting ways of agreeing with what’s she saying. I’ve heard him say: “Yep!” And: “Yeah.” And then: “Oh yes. Oh yeah. Absolutely. Completely!” But most recently, we’ve been on a real “yep” spree. I haven’t heard him disagree with or challenge her yet… not even once. Remarkable.

And she’s dressed nicely; tight denim jeans and a soft blue sweater with a distinctly winterlike purple, blue, and green scarf skiing down both sides of her neck, gently crossing over her protruding collarbone. Her thin lips look a bit fuller with two careful swipes of red running across them, and the rouge on her cheeks makes her look even more sophisticated; even more alive.

“Didn’t you order something?” she asks, after an uncomfortable pause.

“Oh yeah — an omelette!” He gets up quickly, marches to the front counter, and I can overhear someone apologizing. Minutes later, the omelette has arrived, the man who ordered it seems to feel like a real hero, and all is well. He asks her to take a bite but she declines.

“Juice fast,” she explains, rolling her eyes.

Ahhhh… fancy, I muse. She and I both sneak glances over at the forbidden omelette as the pair continue talking: 3D printers and the cafe’s sound-bouncing construction were – sadly – the main highlights.  

***

“I think we’ve established that you like fun things,” he says suddenly, maybe thirty minutes later.

Well that seemed out of nowhere, I think, reflecting on our – their – last few minutes of conversation.

“Yes, I do.” Her tone is heavy, but also smooth, like shea butter. If her words carried a scent, they’d smell like incense, and if they had a look, they’d look like tangled bed sheets. Wine-red ones. 

“Then we’re going to find something fun to do,” he states coolly.

Oh god, I mourn on his behalf, laughing inside my head.

“Yes we are,” she murmurs back at him, and I can hardly contain my laughter now. Is she really not picking up on the complete and utter lameness of him?

They’re getting up to leave now — her coat is a hard-to-read gray, and his jacket is black. She’s carrying a pricey-looking purse and he’s got a laptop case.

When they step outside, they realize it’s raining. I’ve been watching the rain pummel the window all morning. Seemingly feeling brilliant, he whips out an umbrella and tries to open it; I observe him, amused. Standing underneath the cafe’s awning together, they eventually figure out how to keep the thing open, and then off they are, to do something fun together.

He’s likely wondering how much more time he’s gotta put in and she’s probably asking herself whether or not she can actually stand his arrogant attempt at coolness… whether or not kissing those agreeable lips will do anything for her at all.

***

It was totally a first date type of deal, I tell my best friend, and we laugh over it.

Could they tell that you were watching them?

Nah… they were too busy sucking up to each other. She was trying very hard to look and sound cool and he was trying very hard to match her. Vomit. We laugh again.

I exit the kitchen and kick off my shoes in the hallway; dingy black Vans. I shrug my leather jacket off, too, and hang it on the spacey-orange coat rack. I bought it off of Amazon last year when I decided to reclaim the house, thinking that a coat rack would make me happier somehow… bidding me goodbye in the morning and welcoming me home again in the evening, like he used to. I’d sold all of the furniture my ex and I’d bought together a few months after we split, and the place had nothing in it for a while, other than your basic appliances and a bed to sleep on. But now, a coat rack, a collection of cheerful plants, and scarves hanging like drapes from windows and door frames.

Turning away from the coat rack, I plunge my fingers into my German Shepherd’s thick, black fur and then give her a tummy a rough rubbing. I watch her jaw drop as she opens her mouth to grin up at me. I smile back down at her, pat her firmly on the back in a “run along” kind of way, and then make my way over to the staircase.

A few minutes later, up in my November Skies Blue bedroom, I’m laying in bed with a book. I try reading for a while but soon realize that I’m just re-reading the same sentences over and over again, waiting for them to register. I can’t stop thinking about that dumb couple.

Are they a couple now? I wonder. One semi-successful encounter… a two-hour long conversation… and now they’re a thing because they didn’t immediately repel each other? Shouldn’t there be a real spark in the air when two souls go ablaze? Or was there a spark and I just didn’t see or feel it?

I proceed to imagine having my own first date with someone someday. A new someone. I indulge myself in wondering where we’ll be; at a cafe, like them, or a park, or a restaurant…

Not a restaurant, I decide quickly, because I’d be too worried about them watching me eating. The ideal situation, I decide, would be a quick dip into a cafe downtown for two lattes and then a long walk around the park. If we’re walking, they’re looking at me less, I reason, and then I feel settled, having sorted this pesky matter out ahead of time. Possibly well ahead of time. I sigh.

Flinging the book onto a pillow, I scoot off of my bed, and over in the bathroom, I flip a switch on so that I can look into the mirror.

And there in the mirror, I catch my eyes first; blue-green, like late afternoon ocean water. My best friend calls them cosmic eyes, and he says it in a nice way, but I’ve always wished that they were brown. Brown eyes are so mysterious, so full of depth… and some of the loveliest things in the world are brown: coffee, chocolate, tree bark, pine cones, pinto beans, German Shepherds…

Through with my eyes, I travel down to my lips (small), nose (too round), and jaw (too round also). I take a sideways step so that I can examine my profile. What an awkward shape, I frown. I lift my wrinkly t-shirt up with one hand, bunching it against my ribcage, and cover my exposed belly button with the other, feeling the warmth of my curvy stomach and the coldness of my bony hand meet, like two opposing weather fronts. My stomach is never flat enough. Never ever ever. But I’ve always liked my hands. My grandmother casually mentioned them looking like piano hands once, back when I was much younger, and I’ve held the unintentional compliment close ever since.

But because of my stomach, I put the scale away months ago… watching it slowly tick upwards from 105 to 117 was just too painful. I decided that I would live with the belief that 117 was where I’d maxed out and fuck it if I was wrong. Since adolescence, I’d read and written all kinds of stuff about eating disorders, but I decided that owning one would be too trendy. It was simply like this: Sometimes I eat, and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes, I eat a whole damn lot. I thought about the guy’s omelette again and let my shirt fall.

Done scrutinizing, I skip down the stairs and poke my head into the living room. My best friend has his headset on and doesn’t seem to have heard me, so I figure that he’s playing video games. No need to interrupt, I decide.

Instead, I mosey into the kitchen and open the fridge; taking a quick inventory, I can’t seem to see past the numbers — two hundred and sixty calories equals x miles of jogging, y number of sit-ups, or z minutes of cardio… and whether it’s a single-serve cup of yogurt or some thick spoonfuls of egg salad, it is really worth it?

Nah. Not today, anyways. I close the fridge, tiptoe back upstairs, and fall asleep on my bed.

***

I wake up before sunrise, feeling that something is off. I blink a few times, shaking the drowsiness off, and slip out of bed, descending those stairs again.

I’m inexplicably drawn toward the front of the house, and I don’t question it. I creep towards the front door, hearing my heartbeat kick into high gear and feeling my sweat glands activating. In the background of my mind, I’m wondering if my best friend is awake, sensing the same weirdness that I am.

I wrap my left hand around the doorknob, molding my shape to its own, and use my right hand to draw the side-window’s curtain aside. The curtain’s pattern, or design, has always reminded me of Indian food. I can’t really explain why. My best friend and I order Indian food every Friday night to celebrate the end of another work week. And what day is it? I wonder, because I’m already tasting cumin on my tongue and curry on my lips, and I can actually feel rich bits of paneer sticking to the back of my teeth.

And now, peering through the window, I can see what’s off; there’s a man outside, standing in my front yard. That’s what it is. His back is toward me, and he isn’t doing anything but standing there. How odd, I think to myself.

And like a crazy person — like one of those idiotic, B-rated movie characters, minus the boobs — I unlock the door and step through it. The man turns around to look at me, but his face is impossible to read; the small amount of pre-dawn light outlines his general shape, and that’s it — he’s thin and of average height with short hair.

I continue facing him until he resumes facing forward, and then I notice him toss something into the front yard.

“My dog will enjoy looking for it later,” I offer, speaking aloud for the first time. My voice sounds bright, unafraid. Who am I?

He says nothing, but bends himself into halves, reaching down and then coming up again with something in his arms. He could be holding a bouquet, or a six-pack, or a stereo, or a plate carrying an omelette. But he does something with his right hand and then I hear a splashing sound, like thick drops of water are now hitting the ground.

He shakes the container, as I realize that’s what it is, and rains the liquid everywhere, and instead of watching from the window this time, I’m standing right there in the rain, watching.

In one fluid movement, he jumps further down into the yard, which has a naturally steep slope, and when he lands, there’s a splash. I realize, with less surprise than you might imagine, that the usually grassy and overgrown yard has turned into a pond. Intrigued by him and by this change in environment, my eyes are riveted on the guy as he pulls out a lighter, because it is light enough now that, though tiny, I can see what it is. I hear and watch him flick the lighter on with his right hand. He pauses.

And then when he tosses the lighter directly behind him, somehow, he lights the whole pond on fire.

At once, things become all dancey and orange — it’s beautiful, really… magical — and I’m so stunned that I’m not even sure if I’m scared yet. I return my gaze to the man’s face and he looks back at me for one hard second before closing his eyes and journeying down, down, down into the water.

A pond on fire, I think to myself, reaching for the front door knob and screaming out for my best friend and German Shepherd.

 

 

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui