She’s just 22. Young yet mature, free, yet trapped. She stares at the job application papers in front of her. They’re just for some run-of-the-mill jobs in the retail industry; a basic start for someone like her — someone unsure. She has absolutely no clue what she wants to do. All the thoughts about her life path morph together into one collective pile of mush, much like the wilting flower near her window. The leaves droop, green intertwined vines looking more like thorns the color of green BeanBoozled Jelly Beans or a cheap fake crocodile scale purse that some old lady “designed” (but really it was bought off the black market for animal pelts, skins, and other weird things).
Papers, papers, and more papers. The white rectangular sheets are covered in words — no, pictures, as though written in some atavistic language like ancient Egyptian. They’re all a blob of drawings and scribbles, and the embodiment of chaos itself, so, of course, she can’t even begin to fathom the vast majority of disorder on each page. It’s too crazy to comprehend.
It’s just a job, they say. Everybody needs money to survive!
(Wait! Money’s important? That’s a fact she clearly didn’t know in a society focused on economy and income. It’s not like she needs that cash to paint over her bedroom walls, the surfaces too smudged that the white color leans towards gray. Or, perhaps, to buy a new plant because she sure as hell can’t keep a flower alive.) She wants a new job; she really does. She had worked at the Lotus Cafe for almost two years as a servant to the rowdy customers much resembling Juror 3 of 12. Working there is more of a bore than a lifestyle. There’s no telling how much longer she’ll last. What if she wants more than survival? What about life?
She could feel something waiting for her beyond the glass window in her room and beyond the waves outside below her. She could see it in the distance — or, perhaps that’s just the reflection of her face looking back at her, eyes ridden with longing like a sad puppy staring through the glass at potential new parents.
There is a knock behind her, gentle yet, somehow, slightly annoying. Stepping through the door is a young man, average in height and appearance. His face is relatively clear but doesn’t glow like the faces of guys on magazine covers. His skin is smooth, but just beginning to develop wrinkles near the forehead and eyes, as though he’s constantly trying to understand something he’ll never be able to. His mind follows the same misleading trail, much like an ant death spiral where pheromones trick ants into walking in a circle for the rest of their life.
“I got you a surprise,” he says, his diction clear and efficient. “I am extremely excited to share it with you!”
She gives him a look that says, what?
With swiftness, he holds out his arm and guides her outside. His gait is led by his lower body, like a Voodoo Doll with a witch pulling his body forward by the two feet. Together, their arms sway faster than the wind, hands interlaced like a shoelace just tight enough to suffice.
Soon they are on the beach behind their condo. The wind, tired and exhausted, walks across the deep blue water, dancing atop its surface where only small, lachrymose memories of its waves carry on. Foam gently washes onto the shore with a subtle noise like a baby sighing (if that were even possible). The stained white bubbles seep onto the sand, grainy and dry, where a desert is beneath her. No, not hot to the touch, but cold and empty, as though starved of rain and sun.
In the distance, enveloped in darkness, sits a shadowy object shorter than her and resting atop the forgotten ground. She takes a step forward, sinking in the grainy sand, and peers at the shadow, with squinting eyes and brows slanted. The wind lets out a whisper, swaying across her rosy cheeks and towards the object, drawing her towards it.
She widens her eyes, adjusting to the lightless night. The bottom of the object is slim with protruding legs, as though it were alive and ready to walk on all fours. It slants upwards towards the sky. Resting on top is a horizontal pole-like object with glassy lenses reflecting the light on the condo, dim and blurry. She glances at him, who gestures towards it openly, and reaches towards it. Her long slender fingers wrap around the cold plastic material, her short bitten nails rough at the edges, and her skin mostly smooth besides the callouses on her palms from hard work.
She looks through the looking glass facing up towards the sky. Ribbons of dark hues lacking saturation weave together to form a giant quilt up above. There are no stars embroidered on the fabric for there is no light gazing down below. The sky is empty and unalluring, so much that the wind doesn’t dare touch its territory from fear of being consumed by the same fate of the lost constellations.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” he asks, with a half-smile.
Her hands drop from the telescope. “There’s nothing there.”
For a second he looks hurt, his eyes glancing to the side behind her instead of straight ahead.
There is silence.
The waves carry on, singing their soft and subtle tune of sighs beside the quiet, questionable wind. Both blend into a sound so faint that it fades into the background, overpowered by the breaths of the young unmarried couple, together for years, yet somehow apart. Their bodies stand atop the grainy sand, the wind between them, and the sky surrounding them.
The gift — the telescope — had been something he wanted.
Crickets chirp in the bushes outside as the day cools down from its raucous disputes. It was a long November day. Yes, the day had scorched the land, the sun gleaming on the ocean from where it sat high up above. Now, with the golden orb halfway through its journey towards the horizon, the air is thin and crumpled as if dried out by the sun. The temperature remains unpleasantly warm, but not blistering hot like earlier. (Oh, the struggles of living close to the equator.)
The sizzle of butter in a heated pan is like a symphony of the cracking and tapping and hissing of a snake. She stirs the pan to spread the butter across its surface, the fatty odor drifting amid the air. Next, she dumps the beaten eggs into the pan, the liquid mixture churning slower and slower till it becomes thick and yellow and dry. She scrunches her nose as the sulfurous scent of scrambled eggs swirls around the kitchen, and then she proceeds to slide the overcooked meal onto a shiny plate. Stream rises from the lumpy yellow food, thin, gray, and wispy like a ghost.
She takes a bite and forces herself to swallow; her teeth scrape against the fork. The taste of bile takes control of her mouth and wrestles with her taste buds. She wonders where her boyfriend is. She hasn’t talked to him (in person) since he bought the telescope; he left to see his family back at home.
She drops her fork as the front door creaks and the air of the ocean, salty and cool, escapes through the crack. Her lungs seem to shrivel, as though struck by a vacuum’s secret attack. Her breaths are shallow and silent, quick and hushed. Her eyes dart towards the entrance where two people stand together as a pair. In their hands, they both carry a woven box the color of sand that is always being stepped on and always obnoxiously hot. A sigh escapes her lips.
“What are you doing here?” she asks in a sharp, orotund voice.
“Honey,” the woman says with a plastered doll-like smile, “you can’t eat alone on Thanksgiving.”
Silence, and then a lie. “I’m not. My boyfriend—”
“You ate with him last year,” her father interrupts. “It’s our turn now.”
Her parents shut the door and a flowery wreath sways against the cool wind of the outdoors till it disappears from sight. Her parents place their boxes on the kitchen table. The saltiness of the ocean is gone, and the room is isolated to the smell of scrambled egg failures and the savory aromas of whatever lies in her parents’ boxes. She watches from afar as they unpack a container with a small turkey, mashed potatoes, a tossed salad, an excess amount of stuffing, steaming-hot rolls, and cranberry-pomegranate sauce that looked too tart.
How prepared they are — how comfortable they make themselves in her home. Her shoulders feel heavy, like Atlas holding the weight of the heavens.
She bites her bottom lip, focusing on the smell of scrambled eggs and how her jaw is slowly clenching. She focuses on the bright colors of the narcissus flower sitting at her windowsill; its beautiful yellows blend together, shadow and light; their hues like little glimpses of the sun. The center of the flower is like a target or magnet of saturation, with deep orange-yellow colors drawn towards the middle and layering upon the lighter colors like a piece of art in a modern museum. It is amazing that this flower could survive, yet the one in her bedroom met Fate too soon.
The parents both sit at the table.
“Come eat with us, honey,” her mother requests.
She frowns and lets out a sigh, the inner corners of her mouth drooping like the flames of a dripping torch losing its light. There is no point in fighting. No point in denying their presence. The dinner cannot be avoided; Fate says so.
Her mother passes the bowl of cranberry-pomegranate sauce. The deep reddish hues of the sauce churn as the wind tiptoes across its surface. She takes a scoop and gives the bowl back to her mother in a swift, efficient demeanor. A clang echoes in the nearly silent room as the bowl hits the table. There is the faint sound of breathing that roams amid the room’s environment, growing quieter and quieter.
Pure silence in the room, pure noise in her head.
“So how do you plan to pay for the rest of college?” her father asks, twirling a fork in his hand before piercing the cooked turkey.
“I’m trying to find a better job—”
“What if you don’t get the job? What then?” Her mother’s eyes glance at her, the color of the ocean’s waves slamming into a cliffside. The movement is so constant that it becomes a daily routine, robotic and dull.
“I will get the job,” she mutters, and then her voice comes down to a mere whisper, hushed and stealthy. “There are countless other jobs in this world.”
Like an empty book, lacking words, the room lacks noise. Silence rings again, constant, making its way through every nook and cranny of her condo. It finds a home in her house. It invades her space — takes control of what is hers. Silence holds power. Emptiness is the key.
She takes a bite of the turkey. How dry and rubbery it is. Yes, there fails to be anything scrumptious, mouthwatering, seasoned, or inviting about it. In fact, the cooked carcass of the bird is like the tar on a derelict road: rubbery and elastic with the faintest taste of dirt. You wouldn’t invite it to your house, so why should she open the door that is her mouth?
The piece seems to stretch in her mouth, making it hard to swallow and consume. She raises her eyebrows to seem pleased, playing the act of a food judge pleasantly enjoying their meal. It is all an illusion—a lie.
A simple illusion. A small lie.
Her parents smile like porcelain dolls, pleased that she is pleased and pleased that the meal is good. They are pleased. Everyone is pleased. They fail to notice that the meal is overcooked; how the turkey seems to stick to its bones, glued there for an eternity. Not even the knife, freshly sharpened and ready to fulfill its destiny, can rip apart the meat with ease.
The house is now empty. There is stillness and there is nothing. Silence rings through from wall to wall, echoing with the same clamor of the front lines of battle. It is stronger this time; stronger than the silence during the family dinner and stronger than the peer through the telescope — the night sky whose lips were too dry to speak and eyes too tired to open.
She rests both arms on top of the papers on her desk, the lamp by her side showering her skin with a wave of pink light. Even the window in front of her is covered with the pink glow of the lightbulb, appearing as though it was stained glass in a church. It is warm and crowded in her room, but the window doesn’t budge. It never does.
As the moon rises, a crescent in the sky, it gleams down on the world below, so far and on its own. She gets up from her seat and makes her way to the balcony. The wind brushes against her hair, a cool breeze much gentler than the heat of her stuffed room.
She stands and watches from high up on the balcony, a world away. Her eyes gaze across the surface of the waves down below. They sway in a calm, friendly manner, white foam bubbles dancing across the ocean like tamed fire near a hearth. Every time the waves hit the shoreline, the sweet melody of life calls out, reaching its hand forward. She can only view the waters down below; she is frozen as if time gave her this duty. And still, the ever-present chorus of the ocean roars like an echoing canyon, vibrating from cliff to cliff and rock to rock as if passed around, too swift and powerful to hear.
There is laughter down below. The beautiful chime of young love that rings like a bell. Wrapping around the beach — vast and mysterious — across the sandy shores is its tune. It plays like a music box. Soft and gently, over and over. Repeatedly. He takes her hand and spins her. The moonlight shines on them like a spotlight and they continue to dance. Their smiles radiate almost more than the moon itself.
There is something so powerful and strong about them. They dance like they are together. He spins her and she starts to tilt, still holding on to his hands. As she drops, still supported by him, the couple appears to be one. One soul, one body; together through time.
The waves dance on the shores and the couple sways on. On the beach, a ballroom dance had begun. Fated motions. Destiny reaching forward. The spotlight shines down on them, a crescent moon — skinny and muted taupe — forever shining and forever watching.
There is beauty in the steps of the dancers. The young couple sticks out among the grace of nature’s gifts. Big and wide smiles are plastered across their faces, just as the Nile River spreads through Africa. Their faces glow with luminescence like a shiny golden apple. Their joy seems eternal — as if nothing can take away their jubilation.
The smell of salt emanates through the air, twirling across her sculpted face, her cheekbones, and the curve of her jawline. It seems to whisper the past into her ear. She glances up at the silent sky, where only the moon looks back at her.
Something has changed. She can feel it flooding her thoughts and pulsing through her veins and deep within her soul. Change has arrived on its chariot, its veil hanging in the air.
The dying plant on her windowsill has resurrected itself.
“Change,” she whispers.