When the Afternoon is Said

The day that started out so normal did not stay that way for very long. It was a day that was quite evanescent; it was neither palpable nor intangible in a simultaneous whirlwind. A screaming alarm clock awoke a near comatose Gavin. He threw off the mismatched gray plaid sheets and hunter green quilt, unveiling his still sleep induced warm body. Swinging his legs out of bed, he placed his feet on the floor noticing that he lost a sock during the tumultuous night. Is there peace in a night? Or an unconscious battle? He scratched the stubble under his chin while simultaneously releasing a yawn. He rose, in a bungling manner, and made his way to the door, being quite cautious to step over and maneuver through the mess of yesterday’s brilliance that he left scattered around his bedroom floor.

He stubbed the forefront of his foot on a behemoth sized textbook and cursed his not being more apt in cleaning before he went to bed. “It’s what I get for being a bum,” he mused dreamily as he acquainted himself in his reflection. Gavin steely looked into his own gaze in the reflection of the toothpaste splattered mirror. He flexed a barely existent bicep and grimaced with despair. “God, 5 damn days a week I spend in the gym and I get nothing,” he cursed internally. With a hopeless shrug he grabbed for the well-worn toothbrush jutting out of the glass besides the sink and began brushing his teeth. Now Gavin knew that he was not the most handsome guy. He had few girlfriends, a slim few of them who willingly agreed to sleep with him, and was searching for any way to improve his appeal to the elusive opposite sex. So far, it had been hopeless.

Spitting and garrulously gargling the luke warm tap water, Gavin gave a last, pathetic glance at himself in the mirror and headed to the kitchen to switch on the coffee maker. He made his way to the shower where he avoided glimpsing at himself below the waist when throwing his dirty boxers across the bathroom, clearly missing the laundry hamper that was his target. He turned the water to near scalding and let himself feel the burn. He cleansed himself near raw until he was content. Gavin knew that today was going to be unremarkable. It was a Saturday, midmorning by this time, that he would spend hidden in the top floor of the library, comforted by the physics textbooks that surround him and, consequently, his mind.  If life were as simple as the concepts underlined by the methodology of physics then Gavin was sure that he would not be in the place that he is in now. He would not be alone. He would calculate what was to come. There would be no more mysteries. There would be no surprises.

With a towel wrapped around his narrow waist, he stooped over shuffling through piles of both clean and dirty clothes, both were undistinguishable. He sniffed a t-shirt and deemed it wearable and threw on an old pair of jeans. Tossing his towel in the corner of his room, Gavin smelled the tantalizing aroma of the the fresh brew coming from the kitchen. He rifled through the pile of dishes in his sink until he found a mug that would be passable for use. He poured the steaming black liquid into the chipped navy mug. He cautiously placed the carafe back on the stand and reached for the refrigerator. The door whined with effort as he pulled on the handle emitting both a faint light and an unpleasant smell. There was barely an edible item in the fridge. He snatched the creamer out off the top shelf, opened it, and sniffed it content with knowing that he was not exposed to the foul odor that comes with decomposing dairy.

Gavin tilted the creamer just enough for a couple of plops to jump from the spout into his the mug of coffee. He stood and watched for a moment the billowing clouds in a noir sea of coffee until a muddy color settled. He deeply inhaled the scent of the aromatic beverage and reached for the morning paper. It was his usual routine to pour over the papers, several different papers just to have some sort of connection with the world.   The inundation of information like that of a deluge in a typhoon could be overwhelming, unless that information is streamed into a sense of power. Gavin’s only sense of empathy stemmed from these news sources. He could pretend that the people in the stories, the ones who were truly suffering, were somehow a part of his life. That way, when he read the stories he could feel his heartbreak. That way, he knew he was still alive.

Not long after he finished his cup of coffee, he scooped up his backpack and left his room, locking the door behind him, and headed out to the library.

Gavin hurriedly shuffled down the five flights of stairs and was borne outside into a blindingly bright world. He winced, squinted, and then raised his hand to his forehead to shield his light colored eyes from the unrelenting rays of the sun. It was not long in his trek to the library that he began to feel the prickling sweat under the weight of his backpack. This fall had been unreasonably warm and Gavin was one of those unfortunate people whose sweat glands activated as soon as the temperature jumped above 70. Shifting his backpack’s weight so as not to imbed the moisture of sweat noticeably and sighed a sleepy sigh, he headed on the unleveled brick pathway.

The college campus was quite extensive and Gavin lived in an apartment that was the farthest point away from just about everything. The isolation of the hall seduced other male loners like himself, creating a quasi-monastery atmosphere. Weaving his way through the ghost town like campus, he arrived at the library. Upon entering through the revolving door into the massive library, with its celestially high ceilings and gracefully carved woodwork, Gavin kept his head down and headed straight to the grand staircase where he climbed the groaning wooden planks to the seventh floor. He weaved his way through the forest like rows of shelves containing a myriad of books, cognizant of his heavy breath echoing in the silence of closed books.

Finding his office, Gavin keyed into the door, entered brusquely, and sat himself in front of his computer.

The afternoon storm clouds, coaxed out of their hiding space by the coquettish heat of the day, rolled in shyly. Great billowing clouds, enormous yet weightless engulfed the horizon. Gavin stared out his window, through broken blinds and tangled cords into the great mystic force lingering on the edge of the horizon. His computer sat impatiently waiting for him to return to work. His books screamed in desperate attempts at gaining his attention. His cluttered desk whispered vague insults. None of their efforts could tear him away from the visions of swirling doom separated by a thin sheet of glass.

A once piping hot cup of tea rested in Gavin’s hands, which he rested on the thigh of his crossed leg. The remaining tea had grown frigid in abandonment and the specks of dirt playfully bathed in the herbal beverage. Gavin’s hands remained steady. His legs did not shake. His foot did not tap. His eyes, green by nature, spotted red from the trials of humanity, only broke their enchanted spell with blinking. His heart beat strongly and calmly in the depths of his armored cadaver. He was a man lost.

The sky began to grow darker, giving the remaining light of the afternoon a brilliant shine.  Shadows stretched their cramped bodies and emerged from their hiding spots. Growing and yearning for one another they spread their bodies thin across every surface for the chance of connecting and unifying as one. As one shade of darkness. Like the cretins of the underworld, they crawled out from under rocks and dirty exhaust pipes. Their imprisonment only fed into their will to cover all, to blanket the world in a shade that was tenuously darker, not merely in color, but in every essence of the word. Shadows fell from the concaves of Gavin’s face as he continued to stare fixedly out the window. Along the right side of his face, a gash of a shadow stabbed below his cheekbone. His right eye socket was blackened. The underbelly of his lips provided a solid support for an inconsequential shadow to cling.

The trees, lining the ever twisting road leading from the parking lot to distant lands of somewhere, whipped and danced wildly in the tumults of the storm. Leaves were ripped and flung into the universe by a wind that screamed with the pain of one who has fallen and reached out for a body to brace the fall, finding no one. Trash bins were kicked and thrown into the middle of the parking lot. The first crack of lightning was godlike, brilliant, ebullient, and magnificent. The crash of thunder followed with but a breath’s hesitation. The entire foundation of the library vibrated and gave way to the power and the fury of the irate world.

The chartreuse tea, once snuggled kindly in the protection of the ceramic mug, shivered in fear. With every crash of thunder sent ripples of fear through the tea, inciting thoughts of doom into the infinite drops until they were sent crashing into the glass walls of their holding.

The clouds ran their hands over the top of the sky, moving so quickly that it seemed as if the earth itself had begun to spin faster in the hopes of mollifying the devastation that the storm was to create. A mixture of grey and black, and unforgiving to their ethereal core, the clouds continued to nurture the craze that was about to be born. The wind and rain fed the unborn storm during its short gestation period.

The rain smeared and censored the goings on of the outside world. It was only when the window was covered with such a film of violent rain water that Gavin broke his trance. Blinking, he looked down at his tea mug, which he had seemingly forgotten. He shuffled and moved a few pieces of paper around his desk until a part of his oak wood desk shined nakedly, and placed the mug there safely. He placed both feet on the ground and swiveled in his desk chair while simultaneously stretching his lengthy arms over his head.

A yawn escaped his mouth. Gavin turned to his computer and began to work and to think. “This is really some storm,” Gavin thought to himself as he looked over his shoulder to witness the viciousness of the world outside. He began reviewing the sets of formulas and equations that he had been hired to review. Working through each of the steps, that not only gave the correct response to the test questions but the very ones that keep the world going. The same ones that shaped the world.

And so the afternoon’s time was taken over by the delightful vengeance of nature. The rain served as a constant source of stimulation that kept Gavin at work for hours. It was not until late in the evening that Gavin broke his fastidiousness with another enormous stretch. The world outside was dark now, lit only by the occasional remnants of the lightning that had so terrorized the earth hours before. Gavin got up and dumped out what remained in his tea mug and plugged in his electric kettle to make another cup, having planned to work well into the night the tea would provide him with the energy to keep him alert and free from tiredness until it was time to call it quits.

Gavin stood by the entrance to his office, leaning on the side of the door frame next to the makeshift tea bar that he had created with an abandoned side table and a long forgotten kettle of an employee who once mattered, but like every one of us, made way for fate. He rested his head against the old, peeling wallpaper as he listened to the gurgling drowning noises that escaped the pursed lips of the tea kettle. Closing his eyes Gavin could almost fall asleep in that very position. “I must not be getting enough sleep,” he muttered to no one. Not even to himself.

The kettle sounded that it was ready and Gavin removed his heavy head from the wall and began to assemble his tea mug. He clumsily ripped out a bag of tea from its packaging and plopped it into a mug before deluging it with scalding water. The brilliantly clear water soon was permeated with the brown color of the tea until it was the same color as the dirty rain puddles outside. He tossed two cubes of sugar into his tea and carefully raised the mug to just below his nose, watching the steam pirouette in the air and fog up his glasses.

Gavin made his way to the desk. He sat down in his desk chaired and once again swiveled so that he was facing the window. He propped his feet up on a stack of old textbooks and tried to catch the scenery of the outside world, but it was too late. The sun had already sought refuse below the horizon. The lack of light left Gavin looking at his reflection in the window, broken by the dirty blinds and his own self-worth. He broke the stare that he held with himself and began to turn his attention inward.

How lonesome had Gavin felt these days. He sat there in the well-worn chair, not of his body, but of the person that had occupied his office before, and replayed his decision to accept this job at the local university reviewing physics textbooks and learning materials. He sipped the tea that had finally cooled and held the tea on his tongue for longer than normal before swallowing. Gavin rested his elbows on the arms of the chair, his mug of tea elevated just below his tea.

He really could have gone anywhere. He could have gotten a job wherever he pleased. He could, instead of sitting in an office that still had wallpapers that were favored in WWII and making a meager paycheck, have a lofty penthouse and ego. Something had held him back. Something had stopped him.

He mused angrily about the present nature of his life, sipping his tea with an uncanny elegance meanwhile. As the minutes stretched longer into the hour, Gavin began to feel his head long for the support of the chair. He slumped deeper into the cushions and rested his head. He nestled the now cold and nearly empty mug of tea into his lap. Sleep soon overtook him.

Gavin woke suddenly to what he thought was the sound of a heartbeat. His eyes were bleary from sleep and a heavy fog had settled in his mind. His knees cracked as he bent them and lowered them from the stack of textbooks onto the floor. He rested his mug on a large stack of papers and turned towards the clock on his wall. It was nearly three o’clock in the morning. Gavin stood and searched for his backpack. He found it peering up from him from under the bookshelf that took up the entire wall of the left side of his office. He bent over and dragged it across the floor and began to pack it with papers and books that he had to mail into professors all over the country.

He was reaching across his messy desk when a figure passed in front of the window to his office. Startled, Gavin drew his hand quickly back and knocked over the mug of tea, splashing the few remnants of tea like rain drops over the various papers on his desk. Gavin knew that the library was locked at midnight and that he was of the few that were allowed to remain in the library after hours. He wiped the mixture of sweat and tea off his hands and onto his jeans. He sat his backpack into his chair and made his way to the door.

The age and weight of Gavin’s office door gave it the right to groan unforgivingly. Gavin peered his head out of the door way, looking first left then right. He saw no one and deemed it safe to step out of his enclosure. He took a couple of steps out of the office, cautiously. His movements were slow, but his eyes raced manically looking for the figure that he thought that he saw upon his awakening. He noticed he was crouching slightly and straightened his thin legs and torso so that he reached his full height. He saw no one.

“It must have been a dream,” Gavin muttered as he took a confident step towards his office to collect his things.

But then, it happened again. The sound of a faint heartbeat whispered in the near silent library, its echoes absorbed by the books that were so desperate for the attention that they deserved.

Gavin was sure that this time he was not hallucinating or dreaming. He was fully awake and fully alert. He removed the glasses from his face and cleaned the lenses with his t-shirt and swiftly placed them on his nose again. He turned towards the direction that he thought he heard the heartbeat come from. It was so faint though, “how can I be sure it came from this direction?”, Gavin thought.

He passed row after row of books as the library grew longer and darker. He craned his head to the right as he looked for that being, that figure, that possibly could have been making that noise. He was about to turn back to his office and just leave, figuring it was not worth his time getting tangled in the knotty arms of the library at this hour when he saw a figure through the open spaces of the bookshelves. He swallowed hard and followed the being.

Gavin and the unidentified person both turned down the same row of books. Gavin remained in the shadows of the shelves, waiting to identify just who this person that was haunting the library was. It was a woman with red hair like that of a Titian painting. She was wearing a long white dress with elaborately embellished beading and a drop waist. The woman was very tall and thin. Her feet pitter pattered on the old wood floors of the library since she was not wearing any shoes. As she made her way towards Gavin, he could hear her softly humming.

She raised a pale arm towards her mouth and sank her teeth into the flesh of an apple. She ran a finger along the row of books, sending shivers down their spines. A bit of juice  from the apple rolled over her lips and gently made its way down to her chin. She gaily wiped her face with the back of her hand and took another bite into the apple, the crunch now echoing in the dark library.

The woman was about to take another bite into the apple when she spotted Gavin. The apple remained raised, close to her lips. She stopped walking and looked at Gavin. She smiled sweetly and turned and fled down through the tunnel of books. Gavin followed her quickly and yelled out “wait a minute! Hey, you! Wait!”. But wait she did not as the soft tinkling of her dress and her soft giggles continued down the long row of books. She turned sharply when she reached the edge, removing herself from Gavin’s sight.

Gavin came charging down the tunnel of books and turned in the direction that the woman had so determinedly went. But he found himself staring only into darkness instead of seeing the red haired woman. Gavin stopped running. His breathing was labored and his forehead crinkled into confusion. He looked all ways from his standing point but saw no one and heard no one. He spun in a circle twice looking for a clue as to where the woman had run off to.

Gavin decided that it was hopeless and that he was ready to go home and leave this eerie situation. He made two steps toward the row that he had chased the woman down. Something caught his eye when he gave a last glance before plunging down the tunnel again. It was sitting on a shelf that was missing books. Curious, Gavin stepped towards the shelf. He squinted until he could make out the object on the shelf. It was the woman’s apple with two bite marks in it.

He picked up the apple and noted the imperfect bites.

A heartbeat rang in the distance.

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