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Contemporary Romance Fiction

I truly hope insomnia never gets to you, my friend.

But if it does happen, I hope it's just every now and then, not regularly, like a few days out of every fucking week—as it does for me.

The doc said it was probably “stress-related”. Well, maybe he was right—if anyone could get stressed because of boredom. Please allow me to clarify. Not all aspects of my life are dull. But the problem is that my work does an excellent job of tipping the scales disproportionately towards boredom. It’s so boring that I'll refrain from telling you what it is. Use your imagination instead. Think of the most boring job ever. Mine is worse.

Luckily, I only work Monday through Friday (as working Saturday would probably be a crime—attempted murder out of excessive boredom). Anyway, the doc prescribed some medicine, but honestly, I don’t like to take it on a regular basis. It feels like I’m sick. So I only take the pills when I’m nearly pulling my hair out from lack of sleep. When it’s not so bad, burning an especial cigarette before going to bed usually does the trick. You know, it lowers blood pressure and all that scientific stuff.

Last Thursday, however, neither the cigarette nor the pill seemed to work. I went to bed around eleven, but nearly three hours later my eyes were still wide open. My room was almost completely dark, except for small beams of light from the street lamps piercing the blinds. Even so, my eyes were so used to the dark at that point that I could make out just about every little thing in my room. So, after a long, weary sigh, I took a friend’s advice. I got up, put on some pants and a T-shirt, grabbed my wallet, phone, and cigarettes (just the regular ones). Before I left, I looked quickly in the mirror, trying to straighten my dishevelled hair. A few minutes later, I was into the night.

Across the street from where I live is the south entrance of a nice park that, unlike most parks in the city, doesn’t close its gates at night. It’s about 1.5 kilometres long and 700 metres wide, so it was the perfect place to take a walk and get tired and sleepy. But you know what’s better? Across the avenue, after exiting the north gate, there’s a cool place called Insomnia (yeah, I know...). They sell the best cookies in town—at least at that time of day. So I think you can grasp my solid plan by now. With that plan in mind, I started my walk.

I know what you might be thinking. “Who, in their right mind, would walk in a park around two in the morning?” Well, just to name a few: dogs and cats; people returning from parties and throwing up in the streets; hookers; the homeless; maybe thieves; and, apparently, people cursed with insomnia, like me. (Perhaps I wasn’t in my right mind, but it was either that or literally pulling my hair out.) But the point is, I didn’t really care who I’d find out there. In truth, I didn’t even think about it. And regarding my safety (in case you were genuinely concerned about it, for which I’m grateful), know that I know my neighbourhood well. Anyway, I just couldn’t stay in my room any longer. After about six months with an undesired partner sucking up my sleep like a bloodthirsty vampire, I was tired of the tedious “waiting for Morpheus’ embrace while doing nothing, watching TV, or surfing the web” approach. I needed something new, urgently. And having a cookie with some warm milk after walking around for a while seemed quite tempting.

So, there I was, walking in the park on a warm summer evening with a full moon and millions of stars painting the night sky. The weather was nice, and the park was basically empty and silent—except for the dogs and cats making a fuss and the leaves on the trees gently dancing in the breeze. It was quite a sight. And it was quite a feeling as well, because it felt like I owned the place. And suddenly I was leisurely walking with a smile on my face while smoking and blowing smoke in the wind.

I grabbed my phone and sent a text to my friend, just saying, “Thanks for the tip.” When I put it away and looked up, the central fountain was about ten paces away— unfortunately no water was flowing from it, which would be nice considering the sheer size of the thing. Beyond the fountain, possibly about ten paces away as well, my eyes caught movement, and then I noticed a woman with a guitar case on her back, walking slowly towards the fountain and seemingly in the direction I came from. The park was well lit, and soon I got a good look at her. What an intriguing, fascinating sight.

She had shoulder-length black hair and delicate facial features. She was wearing a Kiss T-shirt and a casual black unbuttoned overcoat, her hands hidden in pockets. She wore ripped Jeans that looked like they’d been attacked by a lion, showing the smooth skin beneath. Her feet were covered by black lace-up combat boots. As we got closer, I noticed that her neck was beautifully adorned by a small flower tattoo. She also had a tiny nose ring and several earrings in her exposed left ear. And her lips... oh my! Her full, red lips were simply enticing. I felt dull compared to her.

As we gradually approached each other, I also noticed her serious, almost frightening expression, which nearly gave me chills. Reasonably wise, I guess. If I were a lonely woman walking around at two in the morning, I’d certainly put on my scariest look when meeting a stranger, especially of the opposite sex. Anyway, she seemed tough to me. I wouldn't doubt that she had pepper spray in her coat pocket, ready to use without hesitation. With that in mind, I’d rapidly look away when I saw her eyes on me. But she was like a magnet, and my eyes like iron. I just kept glancing, ever so slightly... until the last moment. Until we were side by side.

I saw her glancing too in that moment, because our eyes met. Then she was out of my sight.

Suddenly, I knew that I needed one last good look at her. Two steps later, I turned around, expecting to see a huge guitar case. Our eyes met again.

She had beautiful green eyes. I wasn’t sure of their colour at first, but after staring at them for what seemed like forever, there was no mistaking it. I also noticed sadness in her eyes behind all that hardiness, but I could be imagining things. The point is, after a very short interaction—if you could call it that—I somehow felt like I could make out just about every little thing about her.

“Lost something here?” she asked with a firm voice.

I smiled. I don’t know why exactly. I just felt like smiling. Maybe it was the contradiction. I mean, she had such a serious expression while asking me that, but as a matter of fact, she was also staring at me.

“Do I look like a clown?” Her expression changed a bit, perhaps to annoyance, though I wasn’t sure.

I giggled, then raised my left hand, covering my mouth. “Sorry,” I said in a muffled voice while trying to control the desire to laugh. I dropped one hand and raised the other, bringing the cigarette to my lips and taking a deep drag. It helped. Then I looked at the clouds above as I blew the smoke away, more relaxed.

When I lowered my eyes, she was still there, staring at me with a deadpan expression, probably waiting for some answer or deeper apology. “Are you a singer?” I asked instead.

She rolled her eyes as if annoyed by the question. “No,” she said, “I'm a plumber. I just like carrying my tools in the guitar case.”

I laughed, although I rapidly raised my hand and apologized. For some reason, I’ve always found sarcasm funny. Maybe it’s because I’m really bad at it. But in her case, I knew she’d excel at it. However, when the sarcasm left her lips, besides being funny, it was also charming. I was once again glad I’d started that little overnight trip to the cookie shop.

“I said I’m a plumber, not a dentist.” She narrowed her eyes at me.

“My bad,” I said, still holding a small grin on my face. But while asking if she was a singer seemed kind of silly, there’s actually a difference between being a singer and a guitarist—although I wouldn’t tell her that, of course; I didn’t wanna meet Mr. Pepper Spray, in case she had one ready. “So, where were you performing at?” I asked, trying to start a friendly conversation.

She looked at me with hawk’s eyes, silent for a few seconds. I took the time to enjoy my cigarette, mentally preparing myself for another blow while gazing into a face whose expressions were constantly changing, from tired to annoyed to bored to curious to mysterious. Then she said, “Do you know the Broken Wings pub?”

I nodded. “I’ve heard of it,” I replied, blowing out some smoke. “Do you often sing there?”

“A few days a month,” she said, not sounding very excited.

I was actually surprised she was answering. I half expected her to just turn around and walk away at any moment, without a word.

She looked at the cigarette between my fingers like a child beholding candy. "Got an extra cig I can have?"

I almost asked if she smoked, but luckily I stopped myself in time. “Sure,” I said, taking the pack of cigarettes out of my pants pocket. But then a thought crossed my mind. “But only if you sing a song.” I pointed to her guitar.

She grimaced, snorted, and then turned on her heels.

“C’mon,” I said with a pleading voice. “Just a song. Aren’t you a singer?” She looked at me again with a thoughtful expression. “But if you’re really that tired, you don’t have to,” I said, taking out a cigarette and offering it to her.

She walked in my direction and took it from my hands. “The lighter,” she said, raising the cigarette to her lips. Soon the cigarette was burning and she took her first puffs.

I waited. Then she removed the guitar case from her back and walked towards the fountain, sitting down and picking up the guitar. “You know it's two o'clock, right? Get ready to deal with the cops… I'll say you made me do it.”

I smiled. “Was that a joke I saw just now?” I followed and sat next to her. “We’re right in the middle of the park. Besides, it’s only a song. I don’t think people will bother calling the cops.”

She looked at me while enjoying the cigarette, guitar on her lap but careful not to let ash fall on the instrument. “So, what song?” She finally asked.

I looked around, contemplating the trees and feeling the breeze on my skin, then up at the night sky, and finally at her. I wanted a classic, but not just any classic. It needed to be slow—but gradually building in intensity—and certainly long, so that I could appreciate her voice longer and discover its nuances. I wanted something deep in meaning as well, like the sounds that touch the soul. And as the icing on the cake, I wanted to see her guitar solo.

“Stairway to Heaven.”

She narrowed her eyes but didn’t say a word. She took a deep drag on her cigarette, set it aside. She got ready, with her fingers delicately embracing the guitar strings, then started playing. The melody floated effortlessly, intertwining with the summer night air. I could see her expression transform, transcending mere concentration. It was as if she’d been transported to another realm, completely immersed in the music that flowed through her. Every note she played, every chord she strummed, seemed to radiate passion. Her eyes closed occasionally, allowing her to delve deeper into the song's essence.

I’m not a musician, but she was perfect. I couldn’t look away as she purposefully hit each string, always producing beautiful notes. As she played, it was like time stood still for me. For a while, it was only the voice of the guitar echoing in the night. But eventually she got into the dance. Her voice was soft but steady, not faltering as she sang and effortlessly navigated the highs and lows of the song. Her fingers, always precise. Her voice, as beautiful as the lyrics. I loved every second of it.

But sometimes I saw that sadness in her eyes. It was definitely there. I couldn’t understand why she’d be sad. She had a beautiful voice and certainly wasn’t lacking in talent. I actually got a little jealous when I thought about my boring job and how much I disliked it. Then a thought occurred to me. It must be difficult, this life of playing in pubs. Of not knowing how much money you’ll have at the end of the month while expenses are always there, waiting to be paid. Of so many uncertainties and, possibly, disappointments. I wanted to cheer her up.

“It was amazing,” I said honestly, my eyes probably twinkling. The half-cigarette in my fingers, long dead and forgotten, like hers. “I’m really glad I got to hear you sing.’

She gave me a soft but beautiful smile in return. “Thanks,” she said, putting away the guitar.

“So, for the next song—”

“Don't push your luck, stranger,” she cautioned, eyes narrowing but betrayed by a smile. “People usually pay to listen to me singing. They actually pay the pubs, which then give me my share, but it’s essentially the same...”

I couldn’t help but smile. “Alright then. Tell me when and where your next performance will be. I’ll make sure to be there, hopefully...”

“Tomorrow, which is actually today,” she said. “Twilight pub at ten,” she completed, getting up and slinging the guitar case onto her back. “Be there and I might just let you treat me to some beers.”

“It will be a pleasure.”

“Well, see you,” she said with a wave of her hand, then started walking.

“What’s your name again?” I asked as I got to my feet.

“I never told you,” she said, looking me over her shoulder with an intriguing smile on her face.

“Tell me then,” I said.

“Tomorrow, in case you show up,” she replied casually, walking away. In a few moments she disappeared from my sight.

At first, I thought about walking with her, the cookies nearly forgotten. But I didn’t want to be pushy. I resumed my walk then, sticking to the original plan. As I walked and contemplated the sound of silence, I somehow felt refreshed. Neither tired nor bored. Maybe I wasn’t going to get any sleep that night, I thought, but I didn’t care. I was even grateful for the insomnia because I suddenly had good things to think about. And I kept walking into the night, and I kept smiling as I walked.

May 25, 2023 10:48

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3 comments

Marty B
04:46 May 30, 2023

A midnight rendezvous! The man was looking for a purpose, and a connection to get him out of his funk. I liked her quirky and relatable asides. Fav line: 'The melody floated effortlessly, intertwining with the summer night air.'

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JJM Gudde
13:38 May 30, 2023

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Really appreciate it.

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Ewurabena Anokye
20:25 May 29, 2023

wow

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