Portland (An excerpt from Flying, Falling)
I decided to stay at The Guesthouse, a quaint bed and breakfast near the University. The lady of the house was working a crossword puzzle when I entered. Her name was Virginia and she wore a flannel nightgown, though I had a feeling she never slept. She was a hawk-owl with large, round eyes that hunted best during dawn and dusk. After I paid, she gave me the rules and a key.
The weather was starting to weigh on me, so I slid into bed wearing a terrycloth robe. I’d found it in the closet and assumed it was left behind. It had a royal ‘R’ stitched into the breast pocket and smelled of cedar. I wrapped my body tight with bed sheets.
You can try this by yourself or with help from a friend. Pull the blankets up over your nose. Stack the pillows on your forehead, but be sure not to cover your eyes. Now stare at the ceiling. Don’t move. Feel your lungs expanding and collapsing. Listen closely to the patterns of your breath. This might make you feel small, but sometimes it’s comforting feeling small.
I woke up to knocking. Before I could get out from under my bed-dressing, the door opened. It was Virginia’s daughter. It had to be, they shared the same calculating eyes. She was eating an apple.
“Running from something?” She took another bite and sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the wallpaper. Before I could respond she started again, “It’s obvious you’re running, or maybe lying low. Which is it?”
“Is this something you do?”
She said, “Ask questions?”
Not in the mood for games, I leveled her with a look.
“When you came in last night, there was something captivating about you.” She bounced to her feet near the vanity table and started pacing. “Some kind of fascinating. A sort of hesitation waiting for interruption. I just couldn’t figure it out. So, I’m interrupting.”
I got up and pulled on my jeans. “I’m just passing through.”
“I couldn’t sleep all night because of you.” She filled a glass with water from a bedside pitcher and handed it to me. “I’m usually good at reading people. Help me finish the puzzle, Mister James of room number three.”
I took a step toward the window. The weather seemed to be hemming and hawing and Krissy was still on my mind, and now, keeping her company, was Virginia’s daughter…
“I’m Abby,” she said.
Abby. We shook hands cautiously.
As I tied my shoes, Abby continued around the room like an investigator piecing a case together. “It’s a girl, isn’t it?”
“I’m just passing through on my way to Santa Ana.”
“Well, you can’t leave without breakfast.” She took another bite of her apple and opened the door for me.
Abby didn’t talk during breakfast. She just held a glass of orange juice in her hand, waiting to drink, watching me suspiciously.
“When are you leaving?”
I didn’t have a plan. “After breakfast?”
“Not good enough. I need someone to accompany me to something.”
“Someone? To something?”
She finished her glass in one gulp.
“It’s not really a gallery, but my friend is showing his work there.”
“If it isn’t a gallery, then what is it?”
“A law firm.” She laughed as she stole bacon from my plate. “It’s close. We can walk.”
Abby cleared the table and went into the kitchen.
Outside, I noticed a wounded house sparrow flying circles around the garden. It seemed to me that he desperately wanted to be a hummingbird.
As we walked, Abby found a curious little leaf on the ground. She picked it up and scribbled the words ‘made by god’ on its underside, along the midrib. She grinned while sharing this with me and set it back down. The wind lifted the leaf back up as Abby spun with the breeze.
She jabbed my arm playfully. “Love is a long-lasting game of tag. It’s a requirement to respect the rules and regulations of this recreational sport.”
“Yes, Mister James?”
“You’re a peculiar bird.”
She curtsied. “Why thank you, fine sir.”
After a few steps she continued, almost reciting to herself, “And whether in practice or league play, never fall out of love simultaneously. It ruins the challenge.”
I only half-listened because half of me hoped that wherever Abby was taking me wasn’t crowded. Crowds intimidated me. Back in Seattle, I had attended an opening at a contemporary museum. The space had been over-capacity and I had stood at the heart of the chaos, staring at the white space between two paintings on a wall as the front door seemed to drift away from me and get smaller by the second.
I steadied my breath as we entered the building and took the elevator to the second floor. Abby held my hand, for support or perhaps to give the illusion we were a couple. It dawned on me just then that maybe I was playing the pawn in a clever scheme to trick an ex-boyfriend. Jealousy can be an effective weapon. Right then I wished I’d known Abby when I was back in Seattle.
Now, this exhibition wasn’t necessarily an exhibition. The walls of the office didn’t display paintings or photographs. Instead, all the office equipment and supplies had been labeled with color-coordinated index cards detailing the title, the inventor, the date, and the materials used. The fax machine in the corner cubicle was designated as follows:
Long Distance Xerography
Paper, Plastic, and Ink
Abby led me to the staff kitchen where the water coolers were filled with wine. I filled two paper cups, handed her one, and cheersed my red to her white. Everyone at the event was wearing suits except Abby and me. Did I mention how much I hate standing out?
Abby scanned the room, playing the role of critic. “What’s the consensus?”
“I like the use of negative space,” I said. I overheard another guest say something along these lines when we walked in.
Abby laughed. “My favorite piece is The Red Swingline Stapler.”
“Mm, indeed.” I smiled.
At that moment, a synthesizer-dominated song blasted from the receptionist’s computer. Everyone started bouncing. Now, I don’t dance. Krissy used to hate that about me. I hated that about me. So, I decided to bounce. Abby and I bounced. The entire office bounced. It was electric. We never wanted to leave the office. That day, everyone wanted to stay at work.
Abby didn’t talk much when she walked me back to my car.
I wanted to say something. I tried. “Thanks for—”
She interrupted me with a kiss on the cheek.
“To be continued,” she said as she started up the steps to The Guesthouse.
Kevin Staniec (@Kevin_Staniec) is an arts advocate, author, and publisher. He is the author of the novella Begin, and a typewriter-based project entitled 29 to 31: A Book of Dreams, which documents three years of dreams following the emotional breakup of a three year relationship.