The truth was layered thick:
Sylvia did not know why she had left New York, or Liam. Her job. Weekends upstate where everything was bold and green, unlike here where the world withered into a faded brown.
She could close her eyes on any sweltering night in the dark, new city, and see a train snaking the river. See her friends climbing a windswept hill in the orchard, their sometimes-retreat from the city in summer. She could taste sweet doughnut peaches dribbling juices down her chin, and hear echoes of the girls reciting all the poetry about blackberries they’d learned in boarding school. There were many, many poems about blackberries. Sinful, sordid delights. “Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.”
And these, the joyous images that passed through her mind, grew into Sylvia’s longing. A longing that grew into the haunting regret, then anxiety. Always, always anxiety. Was there any other conclusion?
But Sylvia knew why she had left New York, and Liam. She was, as she’d been on those upstate excursions summers before, a cautious adventurer. Craving one thing, capable of another. Her own worst cage. Her own best torturer. Somehow fooled into the belief that by moving you can run away. That by looking inward you can escape.
Sylvia smirked. That wry, faded smirk. That comfortably numb, fourth beer on a Tuesday, intimate with all your ghosts smirk.
Sylvia dedicated the last sip to the Man on the Bridge, whoever he was. Whatever he was about. She’d kicked herself all week, blamed herself for assuming they had something in common: that they were both desperately miserable in this new city. That they were both looking for escape.
She matched the glass to its water print on the bar. Ordered another. At this rate, she’d gain twenty pounds by Christmas. Liam would mention it. She wouldn’t care. She wasn’t going back.
“Can I join you?” — a low, unfamiliar voice. Sylvia looked up, amused. Usually it was men who asked these things, men who were too bold and didn’t know “no,” and deserved the lies she would tell them. But here she saw a willowy woman with perfect swirls of eyeliner and flowing, black hair. She hadn’t heard the woman approach, despite being laden with so many bangles and a skirt lined with coins. She jangled softly with every breath.
“Sorry. Yes. Yes, sure.” Sylvia stumbled over the words. She’d waited too long to reply. How stupid. Goddammit, Sylvia. “I like your bracelets,” she offered.
“Thanks! Great vintage place on the east side. My friends’ll be here in a sec, but I feel so weird sitting alone, right?”
“Sure.” Sylvia drank a little faster to hide her shame.
“So what’re you doing here?”
“Ah, no. I meant here. In the city.” Sylvia’s confused look drove the woman on. “No one from here is from here. Take me, Albuquerque transplant. Came here with my band. What about you? What’s your story?”
What immaculate timing.
The featured image is adapted from a photo by Paul Sableman.