A young brunette slipped on her glasses. If only, to get a better look at him from across the mahoghany table at The Rogg. She liked something about him. Voice? Laugh? The easy distance? Yes. He sat into — into like your muscles have clocked out for the day — the chair, gesturing as he spoke and smiling ocassionally. Half at her, half at his own thoughts. Attracted to the genuity and frustrated by the slight ambivalence, she leaned in as she answered. After a few hours, they moved outdoors with their coffee. Said he liked the Canadian weather. Oh crazy you! And the way he shrugged and smiled and pulled his jacket up his neck further suddenly made her want to rip it off him. Acknowledged the thought, resisted.
Oh, but she did see him again since she always had her way in all things. They visited the quaint Ellicott City downtown twice. He seemed to like quaint things, and nature. Leaves, brooks, and existing to see it. As did she. He showed her Greek grape leaves, music, and the irrestistibly sweaty, warm inside of his truck and my goodness. Was she caught like a fish on a spindle line. He fascinated her. An environmental freak arborist turned bike builder, like a damn Portlander but no… he was spiritual? They shared music for weeks and still she couldn’t get a handle on his taste. An old band player, he was sick of some things but would roll his head back in pleasure and shake and shiver at others. The latter included her voice.
So, they saw each other until he got busy at work. Real busy. He only had the time to go out on Monday nights, sometimes not even that. The girl, having time needs, tried to break it off — “I think we should just be friends” — yes, he understood. He also wanted to talk. He didn’t just want to let her go with a few text messages and a smiley face. Have a nice life. Fuck that. And that was all she needed. Within an hour, she was driving to meet him… She wanted this to work. Did he?
6pm outside an old creepy mansion. Warner Circle park.
He was sick that night — Covid maybe, not a laughing matter — which made the situation more complicated but she didn’t care. She rolled the idea of him getting her sick around in her mouth and decided he was worth being miserable for a short time later. She kept her distance at first, while buying apple cider and lemon bars in a nearby market, but lost her resolve when they arrived at the old mansion by sunset. She parked and met him.
Warner Circle park was hauntingly strange even in the daylight. Hidden deep within a residential neighborhood, you’d think to see kids playing, couples walking dogs.. suburban life milling about, but no. It was eerily silent. A clock of grassy lawn encircled dead sidewalks, a few picnic tables, and a large old mansion. The mansion was an abandoned old person’s home — perfect for Halloween — and had been locked up for years. The house stood majestic, like a wizard observing his domain and scaring his subjects into reverent fright. Perhaps, Mr. Eye of Sauron over here was why the park was so empty. How dreadfully romantic for October.
He slid into a picnic table in the fading light, cradling his cider. Her eyes ran over his face, the kind eyes and long, dirty blonde hair. The black back-turned cap. Could she hug him? she ventured, knowing that might infect them with the virus. “Up to you” ok yes. She sat, facing outwards, and turned right to fit easily into his arms… and something happened.
The hug was a bit too long. Not long like ”oh god too much” and you want to flee. Not long like you haven’t seen a friend in months and you want to squeeze them to death. Long like, you kind of would rather stay right there. Push limits. The hug sent chills down her body. His arms came around gently and settled on her back, so warm. Hi, Hi. When she felt like she had to pull away, preserve dignity, it was slow and his hands moved down her back instead of lifting right off as if to keep contact. Keep her for just a moment. Like, when you hold onto someone’s fingers even when they stop holding your hand. They had already been infected.
She curled coming out of the hug, like an embarrassed child. Wouldn’t look up, knowing her expression would betray her. Because she knew then that she felt something real for him.
They began to talk and talked for hours, subsequently touching on deeper topics. This was different than anything previous. This wasn’t hiking or hanging out under blankets in his truck with the heat blasting, listening to Lana Del Rey remixes and rambling on. This was I want to know I want to know. There was a curiosity, an urgency to it. So many threads had begun over async that she lost sight of the spindle to which they belonged. Bad dog owners, work, horror films, confrontation, anger, religion, past relationships, fears… as if they were climbing a small mountain. Her thighs burned more with every step. Her mind spun. He wouldn’t want to discuss these things to a pulp if he didn’t care right?
So he cared. He gave a shit. She comforted herself with this assumption and tried to bury her ever haunting anxiety over meeting people who cared intensely, and then didn’t. She knew the ’hot and cold’ game very well, and had played it herself. She knew the signs and how easy it was for empaths to fall for controlled love. That waxing and waning with attention and affection.. are the actions of someone deeply insecure, who can’t stomach the unpredictability of real love. They can’t get on the real horse. It’s too wild. Her eyes glance over him frequently, gauging. Was he like that? She decided an ice-fire wouldn’t be here in person with an apology and an explanation for his lack of time to spend together.
Slowly they began to understand each other. As much as you can after one conversation. He was a fairly sensitive, passionate person — much like herself actually — with an aversion to conflict and tendency to explode. Working on the latter. He wasn’t alone in that. He was similar to her father… she always wanted to find someone like her father, without the type B motivation and suddenly busting a nut. Side effect of male emotional suppression, thank you Catholicism. Frankly, she was shocked that he let her into his mind so openly. What about impressing a potential girlfriend? What about looking good for the early stage of a relationship?
Nope, he laid out his horrorshow of problems and struggles on a plate for her to digest. Then asked for a good helping of hers. Somehow, she knew if they ended up together what she was seeing now was what she would get. She adored him for that.
She was stirred.
She was hopeful.
She was looking at him like someone who just spied a lantern in a cold, dark night of terrors.
The sun was going down. Little light rays glinted and scraped over the wooden table, tanning patches of skin and brightening the park colors before being dragged down, down, down. Into the earth. Swallowed and gulped like a fish by a wrangler.
She hadn’t heard anything that made her pause. Reassess. Say wait, is this a good idea? They had different spiritual beliefs — Agnostic and Christian — but what struck her was the absence of a judgmental attitude. He was spiritual but never put that on others. Never judged others. Most religious people she knew would befriend, invite you for coffee, and then depressingly emerge as a sly evangelical who doesn’t wish harm, no! Just to redeem you from your sins! If she had a fucking dime for every time her heart had splashed into her stomach over shrimp dinner at Julio’s, she’d be rich. Oh. They just want to rescue my soul. Religion is not caring. But this boy, who had willingly chained himself to a religion… was.
He believed in demons and angels and influence from the demonic realm on the world, but his demons were his. Nobody can tell anyone else to get their demons in line. She glanced towards the mansion — dementors floating at the windows? No just shadows — real demons walk this earth. They don’t have to hide behind an invisible veil. They’re the religious filth who judge us, the people you hurt, the memories you don’t want to think about. That’s what haunted is. Love is knowing what haunts someone else and loving that away. She broke out of her thought box. Feeling chilly, she grabbed a blanket from the car and then returned to his side.
As she sat down again he leaned, in? Towards her? She wanted him to inch an inch closer. Inches make metres. But he wore a worried look.
So do you think- He paused.
What, are you thinking about? He moved his jaw, trying to knock a cohesive thought free.
What if, you’re dis-app-oint-ed (slowly, every syllable of that word) that being a musician is in my past?
She began to speak. Say ‘pshhh it doesn’t matter,’ as people do when they want to fuck someone. If she just wanted to fuck him, that would’ve come out of her mouth. But it didn’t. She stuttered, fell silent. Mulled the question over deeply with her brain-tongue. He loved music. She also knew music was something that haunted him, because of an injury. He couldn’t play with his old bands anymore. Perhaps, even those good memories had been twisted while walking through a forest of devastation over not being able to play. Yet, no matter how twisted those branches become, like winding steeples on a mansion, they still belong to a person. He was no more or less himself, than he would be with or without those branches.
However, she was just becoming a musician herself and wanted to jam with him, provided he had the courage to pick up an instrument again. Could she still love him if he just listened? Was that giving up a dream? She suddenly felt devastatingly wrong for wanting him to fulfill a dream of hers. Nobody should need someone else to complete them! Nobody needed to be the Jack to her Sally! Yet, this was so much warmer than a nightmare and when he was near she felt like she needed him…oh, his brown eyes. They were on her. She was silent, still processing.
So what if he couldn’t be Angus in her stupid fantasized love duet version of Angus and Julia stone? So what if he felt pain watching virtual concerts? So did she. The last live concert she watched was Michael Seyer’s Bad Bonez in the KCSB Courtyard and it gave her depression. Warm bodies listening to bedroom pop bands on the street didn’t happen anymore. Ever since the pandemic hit, she understood what it was like to fiercely miss a hobby from your old life. Like you miss climbing that oak in your parent’s front yard that you’re not flexible enough to swing up. Maybe you photograph trees now. She knew he’d love music even though how he experienced it had changed, and that was enough. Her lips opened.
Tyler, it doesn’t matter to me. I like you how you are! He looked, really looked at her. Can you still listen to music with me? she asked.
Of course I can.
He smiled. Not a fake or a kind of ‘closed off’ smile, but one that let a few rays of happiness slip out. And she saw his crows’ feet in the dark.
Around them, the park had grown black. He was partially deaf and she had misplaced her glasses. She squinted behind them at a sound — JUMPED. The myriad of innocent shadows had turned into monsters and hideous goblins at a ’glance,’ egged on by the imagination. They both laughed, having mistaken the other picnic table behind them for figures lurking in the dark. There were no figures lurking! How preposterous! Still, the looming mansion of Warner Circle park stared down at them from a menacing mahogany pedestal of spires and broken windows. Old lights crawled and glitched along the front porch, silent as a spider waiting for its prey.
She stared, caught on a spindle of brain-twine. He told her the story of how he’d been exploring the dusty, webbed Victorian porch of the old house weeks before and had seen a yellow light come on… from inside. No figures, no shadows. Just the dingy glow of a lantern. She laughed, shivered. If there was a caldroun spider-mother cooking potions inside that place she didn’t want to know. A realist would’ve said “Bah just a homeless person!” but, something about the place got under her skin. Her eyes shot from a bug-eyed focus on the mansion back to her fingers wrapped around her cider mug. They felt chilly, despite the slight warmth.
Such a spooky night! They were sitting so close now that she could feel the heat from his body, like a radiator. She thought of taking his hand. It’s funny how you only feel that way with some people, right? Blah blah the mystery of attraction. But he still wasn’t sure about her and it was too soon. She held back. They both had built thick, little brick walls of Jericho that could only get knocked down by conversationally chipping with a pitchfork. Those walls were high and god damn she wished she had a bulldozer. He was too good to leave standing all alone. Five years ago, she might’ve gotten impatient and bulldozed the whole thing anyway… but this deserved a chance. Yes. They deserved a chance.
Back in reality, they had only been talking and she realized that she craved his touch like a fire craves oxygen. Intimacy with a person is as unique as the makeup of a single star. It never feels the same as with someone else and can be more intoxicating than the subtlest, strongest drink. He was her someone else, in that moment. She moved to gently rest her head on his shoulder, like a ghost that settles behind your ear to whisper to you. Contact. Isn’t that what ghosts crave the most? Human contact? She listened to him loose all train of thought at her touch.
So… there’s something about, and uh… yeah…
He grew quiet. They were both quiet. And after a couple seconds, he breathed out. Ever so silently, he allowed his head to rest against hers and they didn’t speak. A small surrender. Isn’t that what you need sometimes? To bloody stop thinking, talking, probing, pondering, and trying to figure everything out to the point of strong arming reality into a thumb war with you? Screaming like children insecure about whether a flu shot will kill them or not? Fuck you, fight me bitch. But that surrender. Just allowing what’s happening to happen can be so powerful.
Somehow it was right. It was right, and she drew the blanket around them on the spookiest night of the year, and it was right. No one spoke, and it was more right than words. She wished for the cauldron mother with the yellow lantern to find her daughter, and the ghost-spiders that crept along the Victorian porch to sleep well. She wished for the old mansion to cease its murderous glare just for tonight. A tiny, thin speaker in the back of her mind began playing Birdy’s Let It All Go.