This Day and Age

A short story.

 

 

 

The park bench was cold and wet, and leftover rain dripped from the trees above, making little wet spots, blurring the words on the page as the book created a protected little warm spot on my criss-crossed legs. Next to me, a man sat, not looking at anything. He was wearing a gray trenchcoat, the same color as his hair. He was sitting and looking, but not at the same things as I was. I was looking at the stream of people who marched their daily lives down the gray streets, none of them running into the other, a big sea of gray and white colors, gray clouds overhead, clear drops falling from the sky, green leaves trampled and yellowing on the ground. The people all appeared prehistoric as they hunched over their electronic devices, protecting them from the falling water.

But the man next to me wasn’t looking at that. He was staring almost into space, eyes focused on some indeterminate point. But I knew he wasn’t thinking. He was listening for the start of the broadcast. The daily broadcast that people listen to or watch. The antique-looking, silver-rimmed glasses – the new style – sat upon his nose, and his eyes were focusing on the images flashing across the little screens, not even an inch from his face.

And he saw nothing of the world. And the sea of gray did not part, as the Red Sea did for Moses. And a woman walked up next to me, and looked a little confused.

“Sorry ma’am, would you like to sit here?” I asked politely.

“Why, young man, what is that that you’ve got there?” She said, hardly bothering to look up from her cell phone as she tap-tapped into it. It was as though she hadn’t heard me.

I looked down at my book, with a sigh.

This Side of Paradise. F. Scott Fitzgerald.”

The man next to me did not seem to notice the change of atmosphere around him.

The woman looked up from her device. She glanced down at the book, and looked back up at me, pulling a smile that so forcibly reached her cheeks, I wondered for a moment if her face would crack in half. Perhaps the pale gray porcelain of her cheeks would splinter, and the bottom would fall off, to reveal the whirring machinery, like the device still held in her hand, instead of a brain; with zeros and ones instead of words and thoughts.
“Well.” She finally said. “How… lovely.” And as I watched, the fake smile broke down piece by piece, and her eyes clouded over, turning as unfamiliar as night. She turned back to her device, and turned around, as though she were going to sit right on top of me.

I swiftly got up and brushed some clinging raindrops off my light-colored blue jeans. She sat down right where I had been.

“Sorry to upset you ma’am…” I mumbled. Her glazed-over eyes seemed to stare right at me, but when I moved my hand, they did not follow. She no longer registered my existence.

I was invisible. And as I walked away, book in hand, many other eyes set in pale, gray faces hooded by gray coats, also ceased to see me.

And then I was running. It always unnerved me, the way their eyes seem to turn black and rotten. It made me think of all my flaws; my love of books, my love of color, my creativity. I was running, and the stream of people began to part for me, and for that one second I was Moses, and the sea was not red but gray, and I felt something like sadness, but I was proud too.

And then I was falling, and hitting the soft wet ground with a heavy thump. I opened my eyes, and there was someone below me, who I must’ve hit. And then her eyes were open, and they were blue, and wet, and shining with untold stories. They did not cloud over as they focused on my book, which I had hugged as I ran, and had become sandwiched between us as I fell. And I looked at her book, and my fingers felt numb because they were squished between This Side of Paradise and Harry Potter, which she had been hugging as we collided. And as we looked at the books, and our eyes did not glaze over, there was this perpetual moment where the air was clean, and her coat was red, and there was just us; one tangled spot of color in the sea of gray. And then I stood up, and helped her up, and she smiled, a proper smile. And I smiled back, and the rain continued to fall and the sea of gray swept around us, and even then I wasn’t looking at the sea of gray, I was looking at the world, which seemed very, very bright.

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