(first appeared in Reading Hour (India) May 2013)
A wise man once told me that a ladder is not an upside down hole … so you can see why I am leery of advice. He really was a wise man but I can’t help thinking that on that particular day he was a bit off his game. He might have even been the man who started me on the whole “either/or” game that has been part of my life since I was little. It started innocently enough. If I dropped my ice cream I would think to myself that I would rather have dropped it than maintained control and been hit by a car an hour later. Using this little ploy I always felt that things turned out for the best. As I got older this very simplistic way of looking at things continued. Anything bad that happened was immediately made better by the idea that something much worse could have happened had the original bad thing not transpired. I was never going to win the lottery but I was also sure that I would never contract some deadly rotting disease and this made my very ordinary life seem ok.
I was ok with things.
I remained jealous of those lucky bastards who had experienced true love. I didn’t envy getting laid or dating or marriage. Nope. Not in the least. I envied those moments I saw played out so very infrequently where it was obvious to everyone involved that the two people on the main stage were in the midst of it. Sometimes it was a kiss and sometimes it was slap or a raised voice but it would resonate with everyone as if someone had flicked a tuning fork.
It would hum.
I had never hummed.
Until five minutes ago when she walked in.
I was working as a busboy and she walked in and although I was still a busboy doing busboy things I was really something more. She was a human sparkler and as she walked little bits of light popped and hissed and tumbled to the ground around her and I was sure I was the only one who saw it and if I could only tell her about it she would recognize me as someone special in her life and we could begin whatever it was we seemed destined to begin.
Instead she pulled a gun and hurried all of us in the restaurant into the back room as her friend cleaned out the cash register. By all of us I should say me, the waitress and the cook. It wasn’t a very big restaurant. She tied up Betsy and Paul but stuck me in the walk-in freezer as I followed my instincts and began to explain in greater-than-necessary detail how she sparkled.
She was having none of it.
I looked out through the little round window set in the large iron door, like the kind they have in airplane doors I guess is the best way to explain it, and saw her take one more look in my direction before she turned and departed. At that moment I put my hand against the glass like I’d seen done in so many romantic movies and sobbed. The hand pressed against the glass. Fingers spread like a frozen wave goodbye.
A sob like a hum.
A hum I wouldn’t have traded for not getting hit by a car or getting the worst rotting disease you can think up or even not getting trapped in a meat locker with nobody in any position to let me out and my core temperature plummeting quickly.
Or even not having her come back a few minutes later and kill both Betsy and Paul with quick shots to the head before letting me out and asking if I really thought she sparkled.