I stare at the ceiling, move the phone to my other hand, push the pillows back with my elbow. Her words are coming slower, she’s sounding sleepy, quieter, making our conversation seem more intimate. And that makes me want to be there with her, instead of here – alone in my room. Outside I can hear the wind blowing and knowing that it’s cold out there I wrap the quilt around me and roll over on my side.
As we talk, there are moments of silence, comfortable pauses, time for one another to appreciate what’s being said. I can hear her breathe, the static of the cell phone, the emotions between us playing out in sighs. She’s miles away. And I’m not going to see her for awhile. How long, I don’t know, but right now I can’t think about it. Reluctantly I tell her I have to go. I’ve writing to do, school assignments to finish, online conferences to attend. Her voice gets smaller. I close my eyes. A blurred image of her face darts through my memory as we say our goodbyes. Sitting up, I shut off my phone. The room around me appears stark, the desk lamp illuminating the emptiness. Seems like I’m always alone, like everyone’s some place else. Half the people that I know are either away, gone, or doing something else, somewhere else.
My laptop sits waiting for me, across the room, glowing on the desk, underneath the lamp. I’ve got too much work to do tonight. Rewrite an essay, finish my semester evaluations, complete this week’s poetry translation. “Le fem, le fem, le fem….” So goddamn French, so foreboding, so futile. I can barely translate my own thoughts into English. Why I have to try and make my clumsy 7th grade French into pretty poetry I’ll never know. Gonna make me a better writer my teacher says. Gonna drive me insane is more like it.
It’s after 2am, the apartment’s quiet. The roommates are asleep. Outside the traffic has died down, the local drunks have left the bars, gone to bed. Even the upstairs neighbor appears to be asleep, or maybe he’s just not home. A lone moped drives by my bedroom window, struggling to get up the hill, the sound of its groaning engine loud, assaulting my ears. Abruptly it stops, then there’s a crashing noise, followed by a shout, then silence. Didn’t make it all the way up the hill.
A quiet night in North Beach is a rare commodity, one that I’m not quite used to, the noise of the inner city having been my lullaby for most of my life. Yet, for me, nighttime doesn’t mean sleep, it doesn’t mean time to watch DVD’s or sit down with a good book. It just means more time for writing, doing my schoolwork, sitting at the computer. Only tonight, as midnight merges into morning and the work sits there undone, I stare at the screen. Instead of writing, I’m thinking of her. Wondering if she’s thinking of me. Is she asleep, the smell of orange blossoms still floating in the breeze through her open window?
On the computer screen a page of writing stares back at me. I reread the last few lines over and over again. With a slight hesitation, I type in two words.
Then stare at the screen again, fingers poised on the keyboard. Miss you is hardly relevant to what I was writing. Yet there it sits, in the middle of the page: alone, defiant, incongruous.
We had started our phone conversation talking about Miracle Whip and macaroni salad. I joked about her not eating, living only on oranges for the last three days. She made fun of me eating french fries with mayonnaise and then we both laughed at the scary foods of our childhood. Tuna salad, spam sandwiches, government cheese, fried baloney. We made sick jokes, gagging sounds and tried to gross each other out. When she laughed it tugged at my heart. When I ran out of things to say, it didn’t matter.
Sitting at my desk I can hear the wind blowing outside. On the computer screen, in front of me, highlighted in the middle of the page, are the words “miss you”. Before I hit delete I pinch the bridge of my nose, close my eyes, and think of orange blossoms.