I don’t read much these days, so writing fiction is tough. The expressive vocabulary isn’t there to fall back on. Still, I had a scene in my head that needed to go somewhere.
She was on her way downtown, meeting up with an ex she hadn’t seen in ages. They parted on amicable terms, and had been pretty close since. Sorta. When they were both single, it was great. They could share space with someone else that knew them. They’d been intimate. The intimacy was no longer fiery, but the compassion lingered. Then she’d gotten a new partner, and things had still been fine. They kept hanging out, it was nice to have a male friend who wasn’t her boyfriend. She could confide in him, be there as support for his dating endeavours. It felt ideal. Then her ex got a new girlfriend. It was exciting, but weird. Something hung over their ex-ship that hadn’t before. They drifted apart, saw less and less of each other. Tonight was their first time together in almost a year. They were just gonna watch a movie at his. It was an excuse to hang out, movies and snacks. Would it be like old times? So comfortable with each other? Or were they trying to revive a time that’d passed? Had they sailed beyond a point of connection? Was she just using him for easy emotional labour? Or was that why he kept her around? A friendship born on wanting to feel needed? She hadn’t thought twice about him for months, but post breakup, he popped into her head. Ugh, typical. She shook the thoughts from her head and bounded down the subway entrance stairs. A new song kicked in, strumming bass and bouncy synths. She smiled and cast her mind back.
She was cute. Cute? Cute seemed reductive. She was handsome. Striking? All sharp tangents and bold lines. She was confident and comfortable and smiling. She looked like she wanted to be there. That was nice. They’d been chatting for hours and it all just fit, y’know? She was funny, and probably out of his league. Out of his league? What did that even mean anymore? Did it ever mean anything? At 28, his thoughts constantly questioned rules and structures. This talk of “leagues” was basically just “stay in your lane” by any other name. The boxes only fit if you let them. She was talking about the suburb where she grew up. Remote. All seaside, quaint shops and fishing piers. As a kid she’d bike down to the stores with her friends. On Friday afternoon her mum would give her ten bucks for them to get ice creams. He could see it in her eyes, animated, eyebrows going like crazy. She was right back there. One time, she said, she told her mum that Lindsay and Karen were coming, but didn’t invite Karen. Her and Lindsay split the tenner and got chocolate thick shakes. There was something mischievous about it, taboo. They’d pulled into the park, sat under the big maple and held hands, giggling. Backs to the world. They’d taken more than their share, but they were sharing it together. It felt like they’d earned it. Like it was okay, sometimes. Then they’d thought about Karen back at home. They’d make it up to her sometime. It was kinda nice to do stuff for people, but sometimes it was nice to have someone to yourself. He smiled. It was great just hearing her talk. He marvelled at how vivid her memory was, how open and free she was being a couple of hours after meeting him. A waiter walked past and his date caught his eye. “I’ll have another one, thanks.” She looked back at her date and quirked her head. He nodded. “Make that two. Cheers.” The waiter walked off. She turned back to her date. “What’s your favourite musical memory?” He’d never thought about it. He wanted to give a good answer, sound cool or deep. She told stories well, he could too. Out of his league. He laughed, and it came to him. He cleared his throat. “My father used to spend a lot of time in his workshop. He’d throw on a record and work on little projects. He wasn’t great at it, but I think he just needed to get out of his head. Maybe it was an excuse to listen to music. Who knows? He’d crank it up loud and dance to himself, but time and time he’d come back to his favourite song. Talking Heads – “This Must Be The Place”.”
She walked onto the platform, and the lyrics kicked in. “Home is where I want to be/Pick me up and turn me around”. Images flashed in her brain. Her ex in the kitchen, uncorked bottle of red on the table. They’d supped deep, and gorgeous smells were wafting into the lounge. Garlic and onions, a rich tomato scent. Counters covered in flour. Pasta night. She was idly singing along, just watching him work. He loved to cook and she let him. Her days were hard enough, and he was nice to come home to. Home. She spent so much time staying over. Would they ever move in together? Did she even want that? She loved her own bed, her space, her things staying where she left them. He was a sweet guy, a little daft sometimes, but kind. Always kind. She was back on the platform, watching times tick along the info board. Her head bobbed along to the music. Four minutes. She could wait four minutes.
He sat, deep in thought. This song, every time it threw him right back to his father and his workshop. His father wasn’t always kind, but he cared. In his own way. In his workshop though, he was lost to the music. “OOOOOoh!” His father would bellow. “You got light in your eeeeeyes”. Back on the platform, his heels rising and falling in time. He smiled, eyes creasing. He looked up to the Westbound platform. A lady stood wearing a long yellow pea coat. Yellow? Sandy? Mustard. Definitely mustard. Why did English have so many words? Her eyes were closed and she was bobbing her head, lost to the music. Her eyes started to open and he averted his gaze, blushing. He was lucky he had someone to go home to. He couldn’t live the single life again. He’d forgotten how to meet new people. What were the steps? The song wormed its way back into his head. “And you’re standing here beside me/I love the passing of time”. He darted his eyes back, just for a split second. Her eyes met his, he darted away again. He closed his eyes and focused on the song. He mouthed the words along with it “Cover up and say goodnight, say goodnight.”
She hadn’t needed to think about guys in so long. She was comfortable alone, independent. But for some reason she felt like she had to be in a relationship. It wasn’t even her thought, one of those shoulds that society threw her way. She liked being alone. She could stay up late, sleep in. On her own time. Before the breakup, her boyfriend had been so needy. He was going through a hard time, but when hadn’t he been? She’d helped. She’d tried, anyway. You can only help for so long with someone who won’t accept it. A guy going East looked her way for just a second. He looked nervous. Probably needy too. Shoulds. Fuck “should“, she thought. “Home, is where I want to be”. Byrne’s vocals spoke her mind. Did she even want to see her ex? Was this just another should? A sudden rumble. There was a train coming. Had it been four minutes already?
A rumbling dispersed his thoughts. His train pulled into the station. “I guess that this must be the place” The song’s eponymous line, lining up impeccably. It was almost cinematic. Life imitates art kind of thing. The train came to a halt and the doors opened. He stepped in, still mouthing along. “I find you or you find me.” He had this strange compulsion to look back to the woman in the mustard pea coat. The motion of her lips caught his eye. They were moving in time with his own. “If someone asks, this is where I’ll be, where I’ll be oh!” His eyes widened.
She stared, transfixed, as her mouth kept moving. “Oh! Sing into my mouth”. Nervous man looked shocked, but she couldn’t blame him. What were the odds? This was uncanny. He was standing straight up looking right back, lips mirroring her own. “You got a face with a view.”
Astonished, he hardly noticed the chimes as the doors closed. He simply continued staring, mouthing along. How many songs existed in the world? How many songs were people listening to right at this moment? Hell, Talking Heads had a huge discography on their own. The lyrics poured into his ears as he imagined the possibilities. The train began to move, while he couldn’t. Stone still, but for his lips. “I’m just an animal looking for a home”.
For the songs not only to be the same, but to start at exactly the same time. Was that statistically impossible? The train rolled away, but the guy hadn’t even taken a seat. The moment held him fast to his feet. The words went straight from his lips to her brain. “Share the same space for a minute or two”. He moved out of sight, but not out of mind. Dumbfounded, her lips stopped while her cognisance reeled. Almost dizzy, a flurry of thoughts: Where was she going? Why was she going? Where did she want to be? Did she want to be there? Was there any reason that she didn’t? She liked her ex, right? Did there have to be a big reason? Their history was good. Familiarity was comfort, wasn’t that enough? What was she even worried about? He had a good heart and a big laugh. Maybe she’d pick up a bottle of red on her way over.
He came back to himself and found a seat, still caught by the moment. The outro plugged along merrily. What did his dad always say? “I’m home, and I’ll drink to that.” Home. His wife was back home. She’d been working all day. Tons of commissions lately, but when it rained, it poured. She’d welcome a break for the night. Maybe they could go out to the park with a blanket, sit under the big maple. They’d grab chocolate thick shakes and a mickey of Kahlúa. They could reminisce about warm memories and think about the future. Together. Sometimes it was nice to have someone for yourself. Real connection wasn’t easy to find. You had to take it when it came, right?