The old wooden staircase, the black bricks in the wall and the large plants on the sides of the stairs, all gave her the chills when she first entered the building. Her body felt heavy, as if wrapped in layers of questions and blank spaces she couldn’t shed for she knew she’d find them again at the top of the staircase — the questions, wearing his perfume, and the blank spaces, hers.
When in between two floors she hesitated again, she slid down the wall and took a notebook out of her tartan bag. She opened it carefully and placed it on her knees, gathering her hands into fists and squeezing with full force.
I know it by now, it said on the left page next to a drawing, I don’t know how to deal with grey areas. I want either intense black — like a crust over the world to keep me safe in the dark, or unstained white — like the oak flooring in my little studio flat. Like the white canvas of the new beginning. Like the friendly what-ifs that don’t put full stops to my stories just yet.
Mel breathed in and looked up. Somebody was coming down the stairs. She could hear heavy footsteps getting closer and closer to where she was.
But does anybody paint colours anymore?
She took a brief, hurried look at her drawing and smiled at the feeling she got back. It was the sketch of a person in a field, with the stars and the moon going through their chest and out their back to the sky. Every time she looked at it she felt immediately connected to her world — so much hers that it couldn’t be shared with anybody else, not even through good writing. Words are sometimes mere reflections of things that can’t be contoured; force them out and you end up with a shapeless ink stain on your blouse, over your beautiful wild heart.
Her breath became fiery again. She got up and took a few shaky steps, pushing the notebook back into the bag.
On his way downstairs, Gary bumped into her. He was surprised to find someone in the hallway. It seemed to be silent when he locked the door.
‘Hey there, stranger,’ he said, smiling at her with kindness. ‘Do you live here?’
She glanced at him and quickly looked away. She was the kind who valued going internal so much that it was always hard to unzip her skin and step out into the storm again.
‘Nah, I’m here to visit my…’
She seemed a little unsure to him.
‘My boyfriend, I suppose,’ she then mumbled.
Gary thought about it a little, not taking his eyes off of her. The girl in front of him seemed stubborn and a little confused, but stubborn anyway; as if she knew what she was there for without having convinced herself that it was the best decision.
‘I see. Well, since you’re not sure what he is to you, let me just ask you a question before you tell that to him — you might not want to. So, what is it that you want him to be to you?’
‘Ah, the answer to this question always trips me up,’ she smiled.
‘Yeah, they say that women don’t know what they want,’ he laughed and looked at his watch.
She had a nice feeling at the sudden and quiet remembering of her troubled days, when meeting strangers in pubs and talking over beers for hours happened often enough to remind her of the beauty of the unknown — often dressed up as handsome men carrying half full glasses to her table, whose name she would never care to know.
Gary had another four minutes to get to the end of the street and meet Olivia. He could spare another two.
‘Did he bore the hell out of you?’
‘I guess you can say that. He kept trying to trick me with cocktail parties. I’ve almost lost touch with who I am.’
He refrained from asking who she was.
‘Most people are on their way to sorting their lives out by making decisions and stuff, shouldn’t you be doing the same —away from those you already know you don’t want?’
‘Yeah, but sometimes that is me.’
Gary was tall, had short brown hair and green eyes, intelligent eyes of the kind that Mel couldn’t read but wouldn’t stop staring at. And she loved that. He was wearing a suit and a briefcase, which also intrigued her, but she didn’t ask any questions.
‘Are you trying to figure me out as we speak?’ he laughed, and she realised she liked the sound of his laughter.
He realised he liked her seemingly laid-back nature.
‘Not at all,’ she said, blushing. ‘I’m not looking to label you in one of the categories of people I’ve met so far. I don’t do boxes, frames and happy endings. I’d love to know a few things about you, but only the things that you want to put on the table. What you decide it’s relevant about you is probably the most relevant of all.’
Gary felt lost for a second, and wondered who her boyfriend was. But he only had about a minute left, so he decided to ask her something more personal instead, the kind of thing that stays on one’s mind until they can tell a complete stranger and only them about it — if she ever felt like a fraud on her bad days.
‘No, never. You are just as strong as you exhibit. When I’m weak, I’m weak. That’s how strong I am at that very moment. We’re different people at different times. That’s why I don’t believe in figuring each other’s every detail out.’
She said that with a smile, from as far as he could remember, and waved goodbye to him before running up the stairs.
Olivia was angry, but tried not to show it. She knew that Gary would eventually notice and talk her through it without her explicitly asking for it. Yet surprisingly, he didn’t. He seemed lost for words and walked with her with his eyes fixed on the ground.
‘Baby? Is everything okay with you?’ she asked, worried that he might have had reflected at their last argument.
Olivia was light and easy. She wanted to enjoy life without getting in too many troubles, and knew that sometimes Gary liked to start fights on her shallowness in his attempt to change her. She desperately wanted to avoid him going in too deep again.
‘Yeah, yeah, I’m okay. Listen, tonight has been a little stressful for me — family problems and all — so I might be quieter than usual. Let’s just try to have a good time together. What do you want to do?’
‘I don’t know… it’s hard to think of something on the spot. It’s very cold too.’
‘I’m only asking you where you want to go for dinner and drinks, Olivia.’
Olivia frowned and let go of his hand to scratch her head. He looked at her face and didn’t like the confusion she showed.
She could be queen, I suppose, Gary said to himself, so bright and bold and stunningly beautiful — but she chose to be fun instead. The kinda girl who thrives on sunlight, dystopian novels and bubble gum. I hope she never rules the world, I hope she never rules her world. I hope she always stays friends with chaos and lets others draw the lines, for I bet she never even sees them. Boundaries can’t keep her safe, can’t keep her at all. Nothing exists until you acknowledge it. She doesn’t need control, she wouldn’t even know what it does.
This is impossible, he thought. This is exciting!
The second time she entered the building, she’d had her inner lights flashing up for days and nights. She ran all the way up to the top floor and knocked heavily on his door. What was she thinking? She wasn’t. She didn’t need to. When she trusted her senses, she became a lighthouse for herself and could never stray away. Nobody ever questions a lighthouse. She had no doubts in her mind.
He’d had troubles concentrating on the most mundane tasks. Every now and then, he’d be making connections or linking ideas — unrelated to their encounter, of course, when the memory of her suddenly showed up in between them. Then, just as quickly, it vanished the way her real persona did that night.
‘Hello,’ she said standing at the door, swinging a leg. ‘I’ve been missing you a little, so I thought I’d come see you.’
‘But we’ve only met once, haven’t we?’ he tried to laugh. ‘By all means though, have a seat,’ he said, choking on his words, and pointed at the burgundy leather desk chair.
‘Actually, we’ve spent hundreds of hours in my head,’ she chuckled softly a moment later, spinning in his chair, ‘being amazing. If only you could log in and watch. Gary, right? I saw your name on the door.’
From the outside looking in, it was just another brightly lit room. Behind its closed windows, two silhouettes seemed to be having a good time. But on the inside, eclipses and short circuits were taking place. His heart was racing, hers was thunderous by nature, but stopped the storm to catch her breath in between words.
He didn’t know what to say to her, other than mumble a ‘How do you do this…?’
She looked him in the eyes and remembered how much she liked him —
‘My imagination alone is enough to pour dynamite in my veins…’
‘Then why are you here?’
‘…to add some extra sparkle.’
– but didn’t know quite know how to say it to him.