Abigail wakes up at 6:29a every morning and listens to the birds twittering outside her window for exactly one minute before her alarm goes off. She walks slowly to the bathroom, her feet moving in the same syncopated rhythm each and every day as they travel from carpet to tile and back to carpet again, resting purposefully on the soft fibers of the ochre bathmat she once bought on sale for $19.99. Abigail is in her bathroom for precisely 25 minutes before emerging fresh faced and ready for her day at Freeman & Baker. (Or as fresh faced as a woman of Abigail’s disposition can be.) It takes only 5 deliberate minutes to choose from the monochromatic selection and Abigail is fully dressed by 7a. She has planned it that way, as she has everything else, for Abigail’s world is one built on structure and complete lack of affectation.
Abigail gets in her car of no specific color or brand and drives the 10.8 miles to work. She does not listen to music as she finds the lack of sound calming. Arriving 15 minutes earlier than her co-workers, Abigail parks in a spot all have declared hers. (More often with a snicker than not.) For Abigail’s co-workers at Freeman & Baker long ago decided that Abigail, in her complete embrace of desolate conformity, is, well, to put it bluntly– a freak. Suzanne in Accounting takes particular glee in commenting on Abigail’s distinct brand of oddness to Dawn, the office manager. She does so under the guise of magnanimous concern while, in reality, its purpose is to put these two women at ease. Keeping the fear of Being Alone (that dreadful beast) as far from them as possible.
Do you think she’s ever had a boyfriend?
(it is here that Dawn exhales with a disparaging sigh)
… it’s not like we haven’t tried.
And with their ritual of judgmental, the two women nod knowingly at each other in remembrance of The Time We Tried To Set Abigail Up With Frank in HR. It had been a disaster from start to finish and even Frank, who had never had an actual date prior to Abigail that didn’t involve some exchange of cash, thought his co-worker to be the coldest of women he had yet to meet.
For what they didn’t realize is that Abigail actually longed for the safety of mediocrity. Somewhere late in her childhood or early in her adulthood (she wasn’t exactly sure when), Abigail became overwhelmed by the weight of expectation she felt to be GREAT. She would lie in bed at night and listen to the soft thumping of time as it beat, beat, BEAT its way through the wires of her clock, the rhythm matching her heart as it increased, speeding up, trying nobly to prevent itself from being crushed underneath all that her parents had placed upon her head… That she, Abigail, would somehow raise them from their own lot in life.
This feeling would follow her home, until finally, the betrayal of loneliness became so great at times that she found herself wanting just that; to be alone.
She had met a man once whose burning memory caused nothing but heartache. She knew she should be happy with someone new but her eyes would dull and her palms sweat until she found herself standing on a corner calling him in the middle of the night.
It didn’t happen quickly but in a slow seeping of the will and desire that finds it’s way through expectations. At first, Abigail thought the anxiety was simply caused by the locations; a soulless bar that touted fresh drinks and stale conversation, a dinner party thrown by a well meaning friend with glossy lips and a finely sharpened tongue who talks incessantly of her successes, a chance encounter on the street where Abigail could find no memory of the person whose hand pressed hard into hers with a hello that begged for recognition. Her eyes wandered more and more and her skin itched to be out, out, OUT of wherever she had found herself. Sometimes she would give them one more laugh, echoing warmly but never truly being a part of her.
Slowly, her friends started to diminish. No confrontations were necessary, just a slow dissolve like aspirin at the bottom of a vase of wilted apology flowers. Abigail slowly adrift, farther and farther away from the social anchors that claim us so early in life.
Abigail finishes her day at 6:00pm and after making a clean sweep of her desk, picks up her things and heads briskly for the elevator that will bring her to the gray lobby and the safety of her aforementioned car. But this would be an afternoon unlike others. For an un-expected obstacle that may make some think of grandiose words such as FATE or DESTINY (while for Abigail they really just give cause for fatigue) was headed towards her with dizzying speed.
For on this particular day of no seeming importance, as Abigail steps into the elevator, it is as if her long slumbering senses have instantly been brought awake with an aromatic kiss of soul recognition. The soap, his skin, the delicate embroidery on the fabric of a memory; her nose had detected him long before her eyes. Afraid to turn, she secretly pleads to herself (for Abigail no longer believes in gods or monsters) that it would not be him.
She turns, pretending for a moment that the recollection is slow to make it’s way across her brain. The old shiver of anxious pleasure fights its way up her spine. She fights it back with all she can muster and it makes its way out as a sort of dry anxious cough. (It was a brave battle she knew she would lose even before it began.) Abigail was clearly out of practice. Abigail breathes in deep and exhales his name.
She quickly leaves the building for her car, her hands trembling ever so slightly.
Abigail had struggled so hard to put childish things behind her– Love, Faith, Soul Mates, and Patterned Tights. (Mythical delights, those patterned stockings.) Discarded the way a child discards Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. She had discarded the want, the desire, the need to stand out that she had been told was her birthright. They had lied or she had failed. She wasn’t sure which. The result had left her adrift, locked in her own consciousness.
I think of you sometimes, he says
Oh, that’s nice
Is it, Abby?
Abigail blows softly on her already cold coffee. Arthur, having once known Abigail so well and so intimately (because it is also possible to have one but not the other), knows that he has gotten to her. He decides not to press her but to let it sit there between them- heavy like a molten balloon. It wasn’t so much the sentiment that affects Abigail as she had long since learned to turn that off easily. It is hearing Arthur call her Abby; a name she had so easily shed like dirty clothes at the end of a long day. It is this that strikes a chord long since dusty and, debatably, in need of tuning.
What are you so scared of, Abby?
It is here she pretends not to hear but they both know she understands perfectly.
I said,” what are you so scared of?”
I don’t understand… Nothing I suppose. Do you want me to say everything? Will that somehow make you feel better?
This silences him. Arthur is not a man of confrontation or convictions. In fact, Arthur is aware that may be part of the problem. He knows he made a mistake somewhere but when he thinks on it he really isn’t sure when or how exactly he did it.
While Abigail sits across from this man who once laid claim to her dusty heart, she suddenly feels on the precipice of falling once more, but this time it is not for him but, rather, from him. As if somehow his words, his very being, could force her backwards as she clung to her seat. She imagines it flinging her from this Coffee Shop in a heap of shattered glass.
I really should go. It’s been lovely, Arthur.
Abigail leaves before he can reply; her hands still stinging from the imaginary glass as she passes the window.
Once inside her apartment of order and precision, she locks the door and checks the windows, feeling as if her soul has been broken into.
Abigail wakes up at 6:29. The twittering outside her window seems louder for just a moment but her alarm goes off and she finds her body as her brain hums. Abigail walks to the bathroom, but her feet seem to be moving through sand not her bathmat. Abigail leaves her bathroom but finds she has spent 45 minutes instead of 30. While getting dressed an extra 15 is tacked on to her usual 5 and by the time Abigail leaves her house she is 30 minutes late.
Abigail races the 10.8 miles to work. Suddenly she finds that the lack of sound is anything but calming. Arriving 15 minutes later than her co-workers, Abigail discovers that Suzanne in Accounting has parked in her spot. Suzanne takes particular glee in Abigail’s lateness and makes sure to point it out Dawn who, for a single moment, finds herself feeling concerned before she consciously squashes the thought under the thumb of SUPERIORITY.
She’s late… Shocking. I bet she doesn’t even have a good excuse…
(Dawn exhales with her signature sigh)
… It’s not like she has a life.
But Abigail had once had a life; one that was, it is true, beginning to knock on her windows and break through all her doors.
She begins her day at Freeman & Baker.
Her computer hums and her brain over flows with molecular memory as her fingers touch, softly, to turn her screen on. Her nose suddenly filling with some past smell of designer perfume that once filled her world in a way that was both cloying and comfortable. Her mouth coated with the taste of alcohol as her blood beat with its power. And smoke. So much smoke that her veins were once like sludge as they brought the nicotine to her brain and back again. She was in a haze and it had been in that haze that she had once thought she had found an anxiety filled type of happiness. A Go-Go fire that raged in her soul that only the next drink could quench. How many mornings had she woken up, her teeth the light purple of a Bordeaux Drunk, her chipped nail polish claiming the same color, emerging only to shudder at the sun but feeling alive, alive, ALIVE.
With a swift shake of her head, she pushes aside the thoughts like strands of hair, cobwebs that bind and reach out.
Abigail reminds herself that Abby is no more.
At 2:17p Abigail sees a foreign email in her inbox. She swears softly under her breath. It takes her exactly 15 minutes before she can steady her pulse. It is only then that she will open it.
Abigail consumes 2 Diet Cokes, thirty-two jellybeans, and an oversized bag of Baked Lays before she responds.
Deep breaths into shallow spaces; her hands shake as she types. Abigail believes that the more you move them the less people notice. What do you do when the thread of your life is pulled revealing how poorly crafted it really is after all?
Abigail leaves Freeman & Baker at 6:17pm and walks a block and a half to the restaurant. She is quite sure that it will be the arduous sort of meeting where they will sit across from each other, the air thick with unanswered meaning that neither of them truly understands with eyes avoiding eyes in the off chance they might connect and teleport vivid flashes of sensual recall.
Abigail fights back the mental yawn that ensues and waits at the bar. As time lapses she is reminded that Arthur is good at grandiose gestures. It’s the little ones like actually being there that he has a harder time with. She orders a sparkling water with extra lemon. The bartender, handsome and blond, barely notices her as he slides the coaster on which her drink is perched towards her. She touches it. Her fingers run cold & slick along the sides.
When Arthur arrives he is all smiles and warm embraces. They take their seat and Abigail wonders what to say to a stranger.
Later, Abigail will wonder if it is scarier to find that you have nothing in common, your link only imagined, your love only a momentary fling? Or is it more frightening to find your connection is greater than you expected. Your lives on tracks so parallel you could not have planned it any better.
In a breath, you can speak soft whispers of what the heart wants and the body needs.
She hears a voice scream out and with a shock she realizes it is only her own mind and only she can hear it.
If I could, I would live this life a second time. Give it a second try. I want to cook for you. Fold your shirts and stack them neatly on your shelf. Rest my hand within yours and make love to you beneath a sierra sky until we’re spent. And, when we’re through, I want to curl up next to you in that pocket of warmth that bounces between us. Forget the world and think of nothing but skin, and touch, and love.
But Abigail is no longer young and she remains silent.
When it is over, they hug and in that hug there is no time, only comfort. Lunar strands of silver drops that stretch from fingertips to arm. If she could think back on it, she might sigh sexily or squeeze tighter. But at the moment all she can do is live in awe of how good it felt. A morsel.
She remembered the way it felt to hold a hand meant for you. An extension of yourself you no longer knew how long it stretched because it reached another person and the two of you became a continuation. She thought she would never feel that again. But she did. In one moment, she knew.
Abigail will sleep with him again. She quiets the rumbling of Abby and tells herself that it is only logical and not the result of the tremors that still move her like aftershocks. This isn’t some sappy moment where her inner fire is stoked by iron but from Abigail’s cold white passionless flame that burns brightly with her intent to be the moth chewing stoically on the sweater rather than the nocturnal insect dying by the flame.
They would spend one night alone; like Bertolucci’s Lovers they had found themselves, limbs intertwined, locked in an apartment no longer answering to the names that had been given but only to what they called each other and, ultimately, it was the memory of him that would make her cry. Not because she missed him all these years but because of all the lovers she had once had who had left her as he had and how she knew she would leave him. Abigail had fallen like a skidding drunk but not for the reasons one would think. Not for the love or the belief that was resurrected inside of her. After all, they had once made love to Miles, fucked to Prince, and done everything in between that can occur between two bodies of like mind.
Where are you going?
I’m getting dressed…
(Abigail realizes she had been holding her breath as she inched her way from under Arthur’s limbs)
You never could stay, could you…
Arthur, that’s not true…
(Arthur pulls the covers around him and shifts his weight, filling the bed with his body.)
…Sure it is, Abby…
Suddenly the world shifts and the realization hit her. Abigail was not the gazelle but the lion. The words she spoke, so thinly veiled in her mind, becoming algorithms that only she could decipher. Arthur had not rejected her but rather she had spun a maze so convoluted and complex that only the brave could possibly make their way through it all to get to her lair. If they succeeded, she would devour them whole, throwing their bones angrily against the wall as punishment for not having the tenacity to remain in spite of her bottomless appetite. She had built walls so high and then expected them to climb after she threw them down over and over again.
Abigail understood for him she was the flame. And like that it was done. Abigail had always been the one in control.
Abigail wakes up at 6:29am. The birds still sing outside her window brightly as if the world were a picture frame that needs straightening. Her walk to the bathroom is once again the same reassuring rhythm. Abigail emerges 25 minutes later. She is dressed by 7a precisely as she has always planned to be. Structure, that emotionless friend, has been maintained once again.
Abigail gets in her car, driving the 10.8 miles to work with a smile. Calmly, Abigail parks in her spot. Freeman & Baker returns to its safety a building free of unrequited promise.
She smiles at Suzanne in Accounting and nods to Dawn, the office manager. Mouths open slightly in a pantomime of shock, they lean against each other finding comfort in their respective loss of words.
It had been two weeks since Abigail last saw Arthur but it didn’t bother her in the slightest. At 11:42a, she gets up from her desk and stretches like a cat after dozing in the sunlight.
In the bathroom, she looks in the mirror trying to find someone she recognizes. Abigail is caught between the Alice of the looking glass and the little girl by the brook who dreams deliciously of rabbits and queens.
They detected no difference in her. That secret somehow made her feel stronger and gave her strength through out her day.
She knows there are some people who fall in love only in their heads. Living in a world of thought, convinced that the object of their burning mad desire MUST feel the fire that seems to spark between their fingertips. Wayward glances like flint against metal.
It is this Abigail knew she had felt for Arthur. She had known him before they even met. It was how she would keep him now, long after she had left, in her head where she would be safe.