Bookends by Helena Zindel

They walked down the street, plagued by a feeling of ambiguity that made her eye twitch, made his hands pulse together, pull apart. She wondered if he had noticed the flickering in her left eyelid, wondered if he thought it was unattractive; turned her face away from his. She tried to forget it, tried to be present, but she wasn’t, and wanted to be. She wanted to be better, wanted to be what he wanted. But she didn’t really know what that was. He probably didn’t need her, she thought, probably needed someone shorter. Or someone with red hair. And green eyes. Not tall, with brown hair, brown eyes; twitching eyes. Not me. She walked beside him, swaying her hand closer to his. She hoped he might notice her proclivity for vague signals. But he hadn’t, or maybe he was afraid, or wasn’t interested. She put her hands into her pockets, her back pockets. He didn’t notice.

She walked beside him, still, awkwardly. Wondering if he was happy, if she was right, or if she was wrong. She wondered, and thought, to no avail. Stopped thinking. Stopped wondering. Her eye twitched, stopped, twitched. She heard the sound of her feet on the cement sidewalk, heard them hitting the ground. The sound bothered her; she walked with an easier tread. Now she heard his feet and her feet, hitting the ground with an uneven rhythm; no rhythm at all. He wasn’t listening to her feet, but the thing she was saying; it didn’t mean much at all. Meant nothing to her. She was talking about coffee, exhibiting her pseudo-intelligence with a severe lack of confidence in what she was saying. But still, she said it. And said more. She stopped talking, let him fill the silence with those coveted words, she needed them, needed him. Anything but silence. Her eye twitched, stopped, twitched again.

She began to wonder what she had said, hadn’t said, and wished she’d stopped talking before. She hoped he would talk, hoped she liked what he said. He talked, she listened, but didn’t hear anything at all. She only heard her feet on the sidewalk, his feet on the grass beside her. Her eye twitched and she looked away. Looked at her feet, watched them pass back and forth, again, reprise. She watched her feet, wondered how these shoes looked with her blue pants. They were both blue. Blue like the lilies on her bed sheets. She liked the lilies, their gentle shading and shadows across the stems. She wished her shoes were a different color, wished they weren’t blue like her jeans, wished she’d noticed the unfortunate clash. She hadn’t, and the shoes were blue just like her jeans. He had asked her a question, she hadn’t answered, she asked what he’d said. Do you like coffee? Yeah, except caffeine makes me feel like shit. That’s what she said.

They walked side by side, still wondering what the other was thinking (of them). She listened to her feet and his feet on the sidewalk, in sync now, softly treading on the sidewalk, taking care to listen to what he said. She focused on the words, focused on everything he said and tried to come up with adequate responses. Tried to come up with something. She didn’t feel bad though, when she stopped paying attention to him. She stared at her feet, at the sidewalk. The cement was cracked in a spider-web pattern, like something had been dropped there. She counted four cracks, they kept walking. Her eye twitched, stopped. She tried to step with one foot in each square of concrete, left, right, etc. She hoped her strange compulsion wasn’t apparent to him. It probably was.

She remembered the night they’d met, it’d been dark, it was nighttime, had he seen her? Had he liked what he saw? Probably not, she thought. She wanted him to like what he saw, especially that night, and she wished it hadn’t ended. But she wasn’t sure if she ever wanted it. She was embarrassed at what she’d done, she’d gone after him, sought him out even though she hardly knew him. Cliché. But everything is.

Did she want to know him? She couldn’t tell. She hoped so. She had said a lot of things that night, but she didn’t remember any of them, didn’t want to remember. She had spewed a lot of meaningless anecdotes. But he hadn’t minded her narrative, he’d been listening. Maybe her words didn’t seem pointless to him. She didn’t know.

They walked, feet pulsing on the cement in unison, hoping they’d get lost in another sound. Perhaps they didn’t want to be lost; wanted to be found. Wanted to find someone. Neither of them knew. They wondered what each other was thinking. Wondered if they’d said the right things, done the right things, been good enough for each other. They hoped so. But all they did was hope, not saying anything they felt, not letting their footsteps drift out of sync. Her eye stopped twitching, twitched again, stopped. They thought, but only to themselves, and withheld their thoughts furtively. They listened to their feet on the sidewalk; together. They felt, and felt one another, happy to live something better, better than time. Happy to feel with someone else.

They listened to the sound of their feet on the sidewalk, still in sync; a perfect rhythm. Neither of them talked. They listened, despite the silence, and heard one another with inexplicable clarity. She listened, now, to the silence, and he listened, too. They listened together, heard what they wanted, heard their feet on the sidewalk and the sound of their breath. They didn’t mind the silence, now, and didn’t mind having to imagine, having to guess. It was better than knowing. Better than being sure, of this, of themselves, of anything really. She looked at him through the sun, reflected in her eyes, but she could still look; she could see. Could see his crooked teeth (he was smiling); she knew she could really see him. She smiled back at him, and it wasn’t the honey smile she’d given him before, not assuming anything, not vying for anything. She smiled, and she existed.