The ear-splitting hiss of the kettle jabbed like fingers into my ear. I hated making tea anyways. Tea's fucking disgusting; weeds and poison ivy muddled into scalding water. Whoever associated it with prestige and high class did make me ten times more confident about my Lipton teabag, though. Even bitterly chugging down the pepper water reminds me that I could be royalty. I could have some monarch blood coursing through me as I drink this bitter tar called earl grey.
I get a glance at my balcony. The screen door is always open for the fresh air to hit my face. I get nauseated and abnormally melancholy, just acknowledging the atmosphere I'm standing in. The entire room, with mediocre wallpaper and cutesy bedsheets on the floor, has a weighty and angry burden inside, continuously pushing that hindrance down on my shoulders and strangling me. If there's a lack or more stuffiness, either amount still takes my throat and holds it. Not enough to kill me, but enough to make me uncomfortable.
That's when I noticed the steam begin to ascend, lining the ceiling with a soft veil of haze, wholly overpowering the stuffy air. Cupping my face, grazing over the bridge of my nose, reminiscent of a lover's grasp. A hug from the front, without the other partner worrying about you holding their waist or placing a hand on the small of their back. Just an embrace you can melt into. But in the same way I react to those affections, my eyes start to water before I crane my head the other way.
Nighttime in the city, specifically on a Friday, is something else. Neon signs were randomly scattered around, truly pushing the idea of a bustling city. Many people trip along the sidewalk, laughing. Others casually talk with an umbrella in one hand and their friend or lover's wrist in the other. Navy blue surroundings with a drizzle of stars - a contemporary hellhole and a makeshift dream. An opening to a movie, a closing to a chapter of life.
They had someone. Sure, acquaintances count, but do they? An individual that you recognize, even barely, matters just as much as someone of importance?
Winnie, in the apartment next to mine, two years older (and excessively chipper) is my appointed acquaintance. And she wanted more than that for a while, ever since she handed me my mail when it was delivered to her instead of me. Extreme amounts of invitations, frequent knocks on my door at whatever time, only to talk about something partially funny. And I didn't mind that, but in a different universe, I would actually take up that offer. But at this moment, I wanted anything but friends here. I wanted solitude.
As I stared into the glowing and intense eyes of the city, she was on the other side of the street, directly in front of a small restaurant, with kaleidoscopic advertisements plastered all over the side. People repeatedly came back in and left, nearly knocking her off balance by how many passed her. Winnie's glittery doe eyes, and the two beauty marks on her right cheek, directly side by side, made her distinctive from anyone else: an imprint in my memory. She had an unfamiliar scrunch on her face, hints of gloom fluctuating in her eyes as she watched people traverse back and forth. Rocking on her heels, wisps of inaudible phrases passed from her lips.
She kept swaying until she sneezed, and she hurriedly ran from that street to the opposite, escaping from my line of vision.
Everyone else had somewhere better to go. It's unfair to say that about anything, I realized. We all, technically, have someplace better to go to, but it isn't safe to say where that will be. It is something to find out, and I've been waiting for that my entire time here.
The number of times I've considered getting out of this grimy fuck of a bed, a room, a city — I can't, when it has only been four months. Why would I even consider it? I haven't even tasted the mess of the city, and now I'm complaining about it.
One box was continuously being used for my fake packing, and every time, I would throw random stuff in there as a cosplay of my ambition to disappear. My pillowcase, my phone charger, my hair ties. Just to spice things up, just to psych me into thinking I was moving, so that I could at least be a bit happier.
Winnie didn't take any time to not notice, every time she knocked and asked to come in. All the delays in my packing, the undecided choices strewn inside the boxes - Winnie would walk in and kneel over them, a blend of confusion and a playful tease melding into her expression. "Are you still not done unpacking?" she'd ask, pulling out all the contents of the moving boxes and positioning them where they'd seem to fit. Following the angle of the light and the trendy aesthetic and where the dog shits outside and where the meteor could crash - whatever was brewing in her mind that I couldn't understand. I was the guest on the home renovation show, and she was the interior decorator.
Her idea of my apartment was gradually dragging me further away from myself. I was a stranger in the place I was supposed to be safe. My body felt out of place already, in this strange town, where did it go after her modifications to the room that I see more than my family?
"Let me make some tea for you," she once said. I should be making tea for her, but she had already made herself pleased with her new adjustments to my living space, and she was so comfortable with them that she freely decided to take out two cups. One for me and one for her. Adding to the point that she didn't understand most of my behavior, she should've just taken the kettle for herself and the entire box of tea bags. Maybe that should've been the last time I let Winnie inside my apartment.
But then she knocks again. And I open the door.
"Reina! Can I come in?" That past look of gloom has faded, and her lips are curled upwards at the ends. It was fascinating yet partly startling the way Winnie had shifted in attitude.
Hesitantly, I look at the pot. "Yeah, sure. I made some tea just now. I just need someone to drink it with," I respond, closing the door after she entered. Winnie laughs, but it wasn't meant to be funny. I was not drinking this by myself.
She leaned against the kitchen counter, eyeing my shaky hands that had been struggling to pour some tea into her glass. One incident of accidentally spilling hot water over my fingers and it had ruined my perception. I cannot quickly do the task without fearing it and being overly wary of a negative outcome. Eventually, the tea had been poured. I fumble around for some honey in my cabinets, the sticky bear-shaped bottle accenting the scarcity of cleanliness and care in my kitchen.
I stand in front of her and drink my tea. It tastes sweeter, even though I hadn't put any honey in it.
Winnie's face angled in the direction of the balcony, the multicolor lights passively staining one side of her face, flaring various hues. Mesmerized by the chaos below. A car honked obnoxiously under us, cueing to a noticeably apprehensive man sprinting from the store on the other side of the street. The din had muted after a few seconds.
The silence was the rope hung from my lips to hers, the force between us, with a few sips and sighs peppered aimlessly amongst the room. Painfully, I couldn't start a sentence. I couldn't come up with a conversation, but the worry that ached inside my heart made me recklessly tense and stressed to say something. Lack of words, what kind of host was I? My tea got extremely lukewarm at my dry vocal cords and the absence of conversation.
But Winnie seemed to be smiling, gaping at the outside. It was a soft smile, all lips, but her left dimple was faintly there, like a button.
A stretch in the line of awareness and pure daydream. Not pushing for a conversation, not needing one with the static energy molding through the disgusting apartment and the animated environment outside. She wasn't gonna talk anytime soon, not until her tea was finished. Yet she couldn't replicate this same look, by herself, even having a front seat view of the spectacle down on the ground.
I felt my expression mollify a bit, heart beating irregularly. My eyes watered; a first comfortable stillness with someone.
I pour myself some more tea. The water is still a bit steamy.
Both of us tread over to the balcony, calculated in our movements like sneaky kids taking something they shouldn't. Winnie leans against me, kind of. Barely a touch on my arm, but it has some pressure behind it and there is no denying that.
I don't mind feeling that pressure.
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Hey friend - I'm happy to see another story from you. I really enjoyed it. I haven't seen Fallen Angels, but I do think you captured the 'feeling alone in a bustling city' very well. I took notes while reading through: -I liked the first paragraph a lot. Might be my favourite part. It reads so much like your unique style of writing, and I thought it was great. 'I get nauseated and abnormally melancholy, just acknowledging the atmosphere I’m standing in.' - I like how this line reads Many people trip along the sidewalk, laughing while oth...
hello! i’m so glad you enjoyed this, i didn’t catch those small details so thank you for bringing them up. :) and fallen angels is a good watch, i recommend you see it and let me know what you think! i didn’t really have an idea to expand all of this until you told me, but it seems like an interesting thought. i would need to delve into the main character’s backstory a bit, but for now i was gonna leave it at this. i love this piece though, so i might add more to it for a future prompt. what do you think?
For sure - I'll add it to my list of movies to watch. I think expanding on backstory would be great - something on where Reina was before this piece and ended up here? Maybe a short story for Winnie? I like how you wrote her in this one, and I think there's potentional.
ooh, that’s a good one — i like the idea of a short story dedicated to winnie. maybe i might have a go at it later on, when my idea bubble reappears. thank you so much! also, how’s your novel coming along?
novel is going great, thanks for asking. Some of, if not the best, content I've written - I'm very happy with the concept and mix of genres(ww2 & high fantasy) and having fun with it so far 👌
that’s good to hear! ive always thought that writing larger pieces is a stressful chore tbh, but it seems that it isn’t all of that? either way, best of luck to you and your novel!
i did recently re-watch "fallen angels" and i really enjoy the concept of feeling alone in a bustling city, so i tried to put my own spin on it. open to any criticism. :)