I would not have said anything. I would have kept walking across the street on my shaking knees, the world spinning around me like ripples in choppy water. I would have gently convinced myself it was a coincidence, that’s all. Some weird deja vu moment, maybe even a ripple in space or time. This kind of thing probably happens often enough that it’s not really a big deal.
I would have walked away without a word to him, just a curious, lingering stare that I’d try to hide behind my sunglasses, and only for as long as it took the crosswalk signal to turn green. I would have taken in his posture, the shape of him. That’s what I remember most clearly, and what first gave me goosebumps.
He’s not notably tall or short. He has remarkably square shoulders, but he carries himself with an ease that softens the line of them--a certain fluidity that I admire. He’s graceful. It sounds stupid. This could describe so many people. That’s what I told myself to quell the spinning feeling that filled my head.
The rest of him matched up, too--the black hair, combed to one side, the squint of his hazel eyes, the pointed chin.
Still, I would have let the city swallow him back up as I stepped in the humming street. I wouldn’t have let that ripple in space or time or whatever become a tsunami.
But he caught my eye when I looked at him, and waved. It was a small, almost secretive gesture, accompanied by a sheepish smile that I had seen before. It was in the one where I told him a joke--or I guess it seemed like a joke when I tried to remember it later in the morning, but in the dream I had taught him an important life skill: how to make a set of parentheses with his hands. Like, not with a pen or pencil, but by holding his two hands up, thumbs and middle fingers curved into little baskets to hold those extra, in between thoughts that needed their own space in a sentence, not part of the main idea, but still too important to ignore. We have finger quotes, why not hand parentheses?
He had appreciated the hand parentheses and left me with exactly that smile before I woke up. He had pretty good teeth, but not perfect. Like, one incisor broke free from the top line, like a little wave. Like, his teeth were not bad enough to quite need braces, so the imperfections just became part of the picture. But more than the anatomy of it, I remembered the openness and sincerity of that smile. It gets weirder. The thing that woke me up was the surprise I felt in the dream when I recognized his smile. I knew that smile like it was something that I saw every day, but it was refreshing, like I hadn’t seen it in ten years. That’s the feeling I was left with when I woke up. Both aching and satisfied.
That was what I felt again when he smiled at me there on the street corner with that open, happy smile like he was actually happy to see me. Like I was not just some stranger on her way to work.
The surprise must have showed on my face because his smile faded as he asked me, “Are you okay?” God, even the sound of his voice was familiar.
My feet felt heavy, glued to the pavement as I answered, “Fine.”
But he didn’t turn away to watch the final seconds tick down on the traffic signal when I looked away from him. I could feel his eyes on me still.
“Sure. You just seemed...upset,” he continued.
I whirled around to face him, my voice a cold whisper as I asked, “I’m sorry, do I know you?”
“No.” There, that smile again, and he shrugged his shoulders in his smooth, easy way. “At least, I don’t think so?”
It was a question, not a statement, hopeful like he was expecting I might reply Oh, yes, you were my server at the restaurant last week, or web’e stood at this corner together five days in the past month. Or I have no idea who you are, but I’ve seen you in my dreams for years.
Maybe that’s how dreams work. Maybe we just recreate the faces we’ve absorbed ambiently, unconsciously. Maybe I’d seen him around the city without ever noticing him. He was dressed for work--a blue checkered button=down shirt and khaki pants. He could work in my building for all I knew.
“I’ve probably seen you a hundred times,” I found myself saying out loud. My voice sounded distant, even to my own ears.
“That’s what I thought!” he said. “You look familiar.” He was still staring at me. I could feel my cheeks start to burn.
He kept a respectful distance, but I couldn’t help but think of long-ago nights in purple-tinted bars. You look familiar, guys would say over loud rock songs, leaning presumptuously close to my ear. I got that a lot. It was a popular pick-up line. I was already with Blake. I’d just lean away and say, calmly but firmly, Nope. I guess I just have one of those generic faces. It was enough to wither their advances.
This was different, but there on the street corner, out of habit or maybe out of self defense, I held up my left hand. “I’m married.”
My stomach flip-flopped when he answered, “Sorry, I knew that. I think.” His nose wrinkled. “Anyway, I didn’t mean it like that. I’m not hitting on you.”
The signal had changed and people were flowing past us like water over boulders.
“Then what are you doing?”
“I’m agreeing with you,” he said, his smile arching higher. “We’ve probably seen each other a hundred times.
For a while that seemed to satisfy him. “It’s nice to meet you this time.”
He extended his hand. The invitation to just reach out and touch him in the flesh tugged at my curiosity. I half expected to wake up before it happened.
His hand was wide and muscular, but his grip on mine was gentle. He cupped my hand between his, and held it for an uncomfortably long time, not in a threatening way, just like he was reluctant to let go. Like a dream you don’t want to end.
“I’m Keith,” he said.
I could feel my heartbeat in my throat as I said, “I’m married,” and broke the seal between our hands.
The light had changed to red again and a new trickle of people had begun to pool around us. I had nowhere to go.
“I know. It’s not like that,” he insisted.
“Then what is it?”
“I don’t know.” He shrugged, that easy, familiar gesture. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. I’m sorry for intruding.”
He turned and focused on the traffic signal that counted down. 12, 11, 10, 9…
That could have been it. I could have walked ahead of him and never looked back. Only, he beat me to it.
In some of my dreams, I’m chasing him, trying to get his attention. We’re at a crowded party and I’m trying to make my way across the room to him. There’s something I need to tell him and can’t.
That’s the feeling I got when he stepped brusquely into the street. I took long steps to stay by his side.
“I’m Katherine.” I said. “You seem familiar too, and I know why. I mean, I know part of it, and I can’t let you get away until I figure out the rest of the story.”
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I've missed you all so much. I don't think I have a full story here. It's a sketch, a beginning of something bigger, but I wanted to get it out there and see some reactions.
Great take on the prompt! I am new to the site and see a lot of older prompts that look like fun! I liked your character development and the dream like flow!
Enjoy reading your work. A Short Story is a tough job to tackle. The muse tickles us a bit - an idea forms - we put pen to paper - we have scenes - more often than not for me the initial end result is more sketch than a story - then the real work begins - what is this thing that came from me really about? If we can answer that question, fill in the blanks, so we provide movement for the character, then we have a story. Once again, enjoy reading your work. drs
Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, some ideas take a bit more thought to flesh out. The arc of this one also seems longer than 3,000 words, but I thought I'd see what my Reedsy friends had to offer on this one. I really relate to that "What is this thing that came from me?" feeling! It's amazing what happens when you sit down and let "creativity" or some kind of inner muse take over.
I love the pace and dialogue. The descriptions are vivid and engaging. This is a great image: "people were flowing past us like water over boulders". You built up a lot of interest between these two characters. Well done!
Jon, I'm glad you liked the dynamic between these two characters. It was fun having them talk around something big that neither of them wants to admit--the fact that they've both seen each other in dreams before. Talking around but flowing past this idea is almost like water flowing over boulders! Thank you for making me aware of that connection.
Interesting evanescent moment with lots of potential. I agree with you that it seems like a sketch with much potential for future work.
Thank you! I think I mean for this to be an exploration of the significant but lesser explored rules that others can play in our lives. I used the parentheses as an early frame for that--something slightly off topic but too important to ignore. Keith and Katherine have discovered an important connection, but are not sure how it fits in with their lives. It has the potential to be helpful and wonderful, but also fraught, and certainly disruptive.
Hey Anne, this is an incredible story, quite a unique take on the prompt, I must say. It's beautiful how you built the uncomfortable scenario between two partially unknown souls graced with a zealous ending. Really looking forward to the second part. Great read!
Thanks, I'm so glad you enjoyed. I'll keep working on it 🙂. Sometimes I have dreams so vivid and seemingly meaningful that I've wondered if they affect/involve anyone else. Thought I'd build out that idea.