I sat on a concrete bench in the shade of the looming, historic buildings on a street surrounded by stories. I’d heard all the stories before. No one takes interest in a girl with a notebook, at least not until she takes interest in them. Accidentally locking eyes with a stranger carrying a backpack, I glance away, trying to be invisible again. I’m a bit chagrined when he makes his way across the park knoll and sits on the far end of my bench.
“Aspiring to be a writer?” he asked after a long moment of oasis-in-the-middle-of-city-life filled silence.
“I am a writer,” I said.
“Oh,” he raised his brows, “What have you published?”
“Not a damn thing,” I smiled.
He chuckled, “I like that.”
We both watched the park people from our opposite ends of the bench. People interact freely in open spaces. Fresh air drives a playfulness that rarely exists indoors. Women pushed strollers and men walked dogs contentedly, carefreely, as if no one was watching. Though, people seem to need a distraction – a prop to give them an excuse to be in public, the comfort of a familiar object. Like a notebook.
He shifted his backpack. “How about you and me get on the train and not get off until we’re as far west as it’ll take us? I’ve got an extra ticket if somebody’ll take it.”
“I’ve never been out west…” I said thoughtfully.
He stood up and slung his backpack over his shoulder, “Then let’s go. My name’s Sam. You can read me what’s in that notebook, and I’ll show you what’s in this backpack.”
I looked down at the notebook in my hand. I couldn’t wear anything in there. I couldn’t eat anything in there. I couldn’t live off of anything in there – not yet, anyway. I looked at my hand that’s supposed to have a metal band on it – supposed to, but it’s heavy, like an anchor. I looked up at Sam. This handsome Sam that is offering me a fantasy on this sweltering southern morning, looked back. He wore an eagerness in his eyes I’ve seen in the mirror. I’ve been known to confuse eagerness for desperation a time or two, though. My own eyes were surely reflecting the images they were seeing, my own fantasy coming to life. I saw mountains, fields of wheat, clay canyons, fingernails and faces grimy from living on ideals. I wondered how far the train would go and if I got on it, if that meant I could come back. I wondered if I wanted to come back. Sam’s eyes shined brighter, as he liked the resolution he read across my face.
“I’m sorry, Sam,” I finally said.
The twinkle in his eyes dimmed. He shrugged a shoulder and smirked crookedly, “Good luck with whatever you’re writing about, then.”
“Good luck with your f… with finding someone to use the ticket,” I said. I had almost said “your fantasy” but that’s something that isn’t supposed to be said out loud or else it doesn’t come true.
He turned away from my bench with a thumb under the strap of his backpack, “You going to write about me in there?” and nodded over his shoulder at my lap.
“I mostly write fiction and poetry,” I said noncommittally.
He smiled and dipped his head in an old gesture, then walked across the square in the opposite direction from where he’d come. I picked up my pen from the grass where it had fallen and felt like I’d lost something.
I hope someone’s got your ticket, Sam.