Standing by the river the expanse of green closed and opened behind James. Whether he was ever really open troubled him. He stared at a single rock, slick and almost merged with the water. Somehow shining blue despite the orange glow of the lights and low-lying night cloud sky.
Night always closed in around you. Dawn opened up. Maybe it was as simple as vision, distance and view that let you see further and imagine further. Night brought you closer to yourself.
The world was asleep except those who defied nature. Battling through a time of rest with the energy additive big drink, big drug, or big thought, no-thought, all-thought remedies gave you. There were some who were forced into the night through desperation. James had abandoned desperation. At least he wanted to believe he had.
The night for him was freedom. The night closed in. He closed in on himself allowing freedom where there was only him to explore the smallness he found. Maybe that was why he took from that girl. Why he drank, slow and long, and why he smiled and stared as he returned the bottle with nothing more taken than what was given but which he hoped had caused her to reconsider.
He didn’t want to leave his sight on the water. He wanted to find some new meaning in its shallow body but he knew staring long would take too much from him. He had all the time in the dark but to find something in that three or four feet of water would demand a lifetime waiting for his reflection to begin a conversation.
He looked up and over at where he had just sat a few moments ago. His vision quickly forced itself away. Looking there would only remind him of what he had done.
A bird chirped in the distance. Just once, then twice, then nothing. A car turned down a seldom used lane illuminating his place with diverted headlights. His eyes followed the green of the field he was in towards a darkness. The colour faded from the growth beneath him as the car merged into the night, pinprick foglights coming to nothing. The growth took its hold over the unused, never-walked, patch of wildness in a city given to order. Past that there was another, rarely travelled, untravelled at this time, road. Silent with a single low lamp attached to a corner shop, not-needed in the night because there were no homes there, only businesses, with their workshops barely scraping an existence for themselves, let alone providing business for the small shop’s owners. It was a store on a street in a nigh-on-forgotten area for low-wage earners, employed in the few warehouses and supply offices, quiet now. They’d only settled there for cheap rents. This whole area was cheap, but without light possibility burst forth. The hidden corners, darkened alcoves, and forever shut doorways had new purpose in the dark, offered the hope of purpose when someone like him couldn’t inspect them and so had to imagine their meaning.
Towering into night he found an edifice, set back, arranged and carved into a hill. Staring at a steep grey, pink and brown rock wall he wondered if he could scale it. If, given years of practise, he could somehow plant the very tips of his fingers, even his nails deep into the rock, or the mortar between the rock and climb to its top. He wondered if having reached the top he could speak of any success.
A pebble itched against his soul. The pebble was as large as the towering stone surface and he wondered if that ambition, to climb and conquer, would build within his chest.
It was wrong that he had taken from that girl.
He couldn’t stay in this place. He would have to find somewhere new and so he coughed. A hacking cough, he tried to clear all bad within him and knowing he couldn’t his shoulder blades contracted to steel his chest but only opened it further. Even then he felt the little pebble grain solder itself to his being. He needed ambition. He needed a belief that was easily found.
He would have to abandon this place. He would have to leave. He could sit down again, in the same spot and punish himself and all he hadn’t done, but he would find no comfort. Maybe that’s what he deserved?
Pushing against the rails at the river’s edge he propelled himself to walk, feeling nothing at first, then realising the dryness of his feet as the sodden grass darkened the mottled black leather of his boots. They grated against his feet, pinched at his toes but on a journey into the night, with rain and cold, quiet, soft shoes were not worthy.
His eye was caught by the glint of a reflection, dull and unnatural, but something to inspect for sheer indulgence of curiosity’s happenstance. Much like the rock in the river he watched he felt foolish in thinking he should go to it but this lay just metres ahead and so he stepped, with patience, seeking out a shining glimmer in the night. Taking an apprehensive breath with each step, he finally stood above what he hoped was a jewelled offering. He now saw it for what it was. Discarded rubbish, unwanted trash, the exact things he knew were the sum of his focus.
Picking up the Coke bottle, as an inevitability missing its cap, he rolled back the label.
– Congratulations. You’ve won a trip to the Dance With Us Weekend. See Reverse for Details.
This was a reason to follow those girls, their winning bottle dropped without thought. He knew it was a small reason, true and valued at least by him as some form of penance, but reasons didn’t always stick. Reasons weren’t always solid. Usually they were a desire. Want was a reason but it was separate to logical reason. A good reason was to give them their winning label. Their weekend away, all expenses paid. This was their night away and this was a reason from him to make something of his and theirs. To make something with it. Right his wrong, to atone for his disrupting their adventure, their beginnings. His actions. They were only young. They deserved chance. He could show them. He tried to take from them. Not everything, of course. Just a small part of who he didn’t need to be lashing out, no-one needed to be that way. Cutting them down. He didn’t even know if he’d had that effect.
He shoved the winning Coke label into his pocket and moved from the little crop of playing field and onto the pebbled edge of the bridge’s walkway.
The bridge was inclined where he stood but set him on a path that followed into the city where his prize awaited and the girls didn’t know they’d won. If he could ever find them. If they even cared. If he knew his mind as well as theirs. The reassurance was every step that brought him closer.
To what was the question that didn’t offer any resolution but finding them would.
He walked along the river, as though laid out for people like him, half searching, rubbing against its banks, seeking new land that was easier, more natural and a neutral player.
Entering the city proper he was on a street with other people. Life was here. He wasn’t sure he was ready for it but the Coke label reasserted its presence as he held it between his thumb and forefinger, rubbing it gently, plastic against plastic. It gave him purpose in this noise of lights, and shining wet and dancing reflections. The city. The river offered no reflection, dark and unknowable, and so he left it as he walked on down this street to a bar where they could be. A place their type would be.
He didn’t know why he was doing this. He asked himself that. Why don’t you know what you’re doing? He stopped. He was very still. It was a strong thought. Loud in his mind. It stood out like a pyramid. A tomb. An old question, and as old as the pyramids and so, being old, almost as natural a part of the scenery that its purpose was forgotten or unknown and waiting to be discovered.
No-one seemed to look at him despite him standing stationary on a street that promised only to get busier as the night wore on.
He felt for the Coke label again. The plastic was tacky from its sticky contents spilling. It annoyed him, twisted and sucking at the palm of his hand. Unlike before when it provided opportunity this time the label offered no resolve. No certainty to his plan. He rubbed his fingers on it harder, willing it to crumple, twist, tear. He wanted to go to the quiet place where each car’s engine roar was a new and welcome sound in the delicate hush, breaking into the solitude of the night. Where each light and lamp post was spaced out, far away and you could map its strength as darkness where the fall-away road surface shone with rain and he could go and be alone but he also didn’t want to be alone.
Turning now would abandon what he’d set out to do despite having no resolve that it was what he’d wanted to do. It was only an idea but following ideas to their end or source brought the insight he had hoped the night would give him. Why those thoughts went through his mind as he drunk from those girls’ vodka and Coke bottle and why they were now stuck resolving as his dreams he had no idea.
It was crazy, he knew, to try to find them. It was crazy to walk into this night-city when he wanted time alone but this was what solitude gave him when he gave it a few moments. It gifted him a goal when those girls came to them and he took from them with coldness. He was not proud of what he did to them but he felt certainty at the time and he could find it again, of that he was sure. If he found those girls. He felt only a sliver of control with his decision.
He saw a pub, well known for indulging students’ fun, the one he’d set his purpose on. He made his way towards the entrance unsure of what this place would bring, but hopeful. They might be there. A young student pub and them young students.
He nodded to bouncer and stepped inside to a scream of sound and light that energised the twisting, now coming surety of his soul.