If the eighteen different alarms, set by the three different women in this house, and snoozed at five minute intervals, had not awoken me, it certainly would’ve been the angry, howling December wind that lashed out against the four walls holding up our roof. The days of the sun being up bright and early like the rest of the people in this house have been long gone, so it is still dark outside when I finally sit up against the green-brown satin couch in the living room. I can hear the tap running upstairs and some murmuring; Mother and my oldest sister, Percy (Persephone but she hates the link between herself and the Queen of the Underworld, my fickle, stubborn sister, insists) are talking to each other, though the words are inaudible and drowned out by the screeching wind.
Still groggy, I turn on the television, rubbing my eyes to wake up. The seven-o-clock morning news tells me nothing that I don’t already know; meteorologists say that heavy winds are coming in from an arctic storm that originated in Newfoundland, Canada, but had quickly swept through the States and ended up, at last, on the border of the Pacific in Southern California. Expect rain and possibly thunder.
‘They said the same thing yesterday,’ Percy says, walking down the stairs and plopping down next to me to watch the news. ‘Something about the storm of the decade.’ Her glossy, straight brown hair is tied up in a loose bun, her eyes still red and puffy with sleep. She sighs. ‘What are you doing today?’
‘Work,’ I reply, stretching. ‘But later on, around six.’
‘Lucky,’ she says, sighing as she stands up. ‘Be glad you don’t have to go in now.’
Though she’s younger than I am by a year, she’s always held a steady eight-to-four job at a legal firm with Mother; Percy started when she was sixteen, just helping Mother with paperwork and filing and the like whenever she’d bring home work documents, but after about a year or so, the firm decided to hire Percy part-to-full time while she kept going to school and she stayed there ever since. I can hardly blame her; working at a law firm for nearly a decade has to look good on any resume, regardless if you’re applying to flip burgers at McDonalds or make coffee at Portfolio’s Coffee Shop. That’s just a gold mine of experience.
I make coffee for her and Mother to pour into their tumblers and offer to whip up a few fried eggs for them but they decline; the office usually has a box of some kind of breakfast pastries already waiting to be eaten upon arrival.
‘Thank you, though,’ says Mother as she descends, at last, in a pencil skirt, her hair conditioned and smelling like cucumber and honeydew, and a grey blouse. ‘Do you need a ride to work? I’ll be home around five-thirty or so.’
‘I think I’ll manage,’ I say, and Mother kisses me on the cheek.
‘Make sure Diana eats,’ says Percy before turning to look at me. ‘Thank you for the coffee. We’ll see you later.’
Awake and somewhat bored, I sit back down, watching Mother and Percy through the window as they fight against the wind while heading to Percy’s car, a small, four door Kia, and taking off moments later. I sigh, looking around. Being back was a strange thing for me. Often, like now, I’d stare at the ceiling while laying on this couch wondering if my years abroad travelling with the wind were just a dream, as though I had just woken up from a six year long dream and nothing had changed.
But everything had changed. My step father is no longer in the picture, and gone with him are the dark thoughts, the strange madness that plagued the house. Mother had faced down La Cegua herself, the horse-headed demon that, according to Abuelita, chases after all those who can see her. A creature of shadow, of myth, of fire and darkness. A monster of our folklore. Sure, it’s all a game, at least for the past twenty years that’s what I’ve been told. But even with that, I’m not so convinced that La Cegua wasn’t real; she comes in many shapes, many faces, many names, many forms. Mother banished her from her house, and as a result, Roberto relocated to his brother’s a few cities away. No longer was the gut churning fear that I would feel when coming home knowing he was there present, neither was the threat of violence and alcohol, of judgment and a set of fresh scars along my arms and the arms of Percy and Dee.
Though our house is dark because of a lack of windows, it feels brighter, more open now. Tranquility replaced oppressive fear. Posters of beer and car convention calendars were replaced with prints of Paris, of Rome, of The Starry Night and Le Port de Trouville. Assembled model toy cars were done away with and in their place were totems of Eostre and Itzamna and the horns of Dionysus. A Mayan calendar hangs on the wall by the fridge, and a fragment of an Egyptian Book of the Dead scroll hangs behind glass by the entrance. An ivory carved wheel from Shanghai depicting a merchant sitting in a carriage being pulled through a beautiful garden sits prominently along the giant chest in the middle of the living room that served as a coffee table.
Mother has taken her house and made it her own after twenty years. This finally feels like home for us. And for that, I am grateful.
I wake my youngest sister, Dee, around nine in the morning and make her a plate of scrambled eggs, two flour tortillas, and a few sausage links. Still half asleep while eating, I offer her a cup of coffee.
‘No, thanks,’ she murmurs, mouthful of eggs.
‘Do you have work today?’ I ask, taking a sip. I like my coffee black, rich, and thick, with enough acrid bitterness to really jolt you awake.
She nods. She works at a pet store down the street, but I suspect that if it were up to her, she wouldn’t do anything but stay at home. Mother told me that she gave Dee an ultimatum early this year; it was either enroll into school, or get a job. But Dee had to choose one. So, she went with working at a pet store, which I think fits her nicely. She’s always had an affinity for animals.
I watch as she eats without bothering to wipe her long, dark, matted morning hair out of her face. I feel the urge against my palms to push her hair back, but I don’t; she hates being touched, from what I remember. Instead, I look to the creature licking my bare foot, my dog, a beautiful, slightly reddish, chocolate brown dachshund named Galadriel (Mother is a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings, if you can’t tell by now) that was rescued from a trash can. She was apparently thirty pounds when Mother first found her, bloated, full of worms, her ears nearly half-eaten, and blind in one eye. After a few months of shots, therapy, and lots of love and comfort and nourishment, Galadriel returned to a happy, ‘normal’ state, at least that’s what the vets said.
From what I can tell in the last six days, she still has a bit of trauma. She runs to hide in the bathroom during storms, hates any doors slamming, and barks madly in fear of fireworks or things that go boom. In fact, with all the racket the storm is making, I’m surprised she is walking around the house so carefree. She should be cowering in a corner and whimpering by now.
‘I think she likes you,’ says Dee, taking her empty plate to the small kitchen sink and setting it down. ‘She doesn’t warm up so fast to people. She doesn’t even do that for Percy, and Gale has been here for two years.’
I take ‘Gale’ to mean the dog, nodding as I continue scratching Galadriel behind her ears.
‘Well,’ I say, sighing. ‘I don’t have work until six tonight, so I’ll be home all day.’
‘Why don’t you go explore?’
I turn my head to study her. ‘Where?’
Dee, her large, brown eyes studying her phone intently, clears her throat. ‘You work in Belmont Heights, right?’ I nod and she continues. ‘There are a lot of cool places around there, like the candle shop and the book shop…you still write, don’t you?’
I’d like to think I still try. Of course, writing in this journal doesn’t really count much for me, but I’d like to still think that I am a writer and I do want to get published one day. ‘I do,’ I say, and she nods.
‘There’s a place called the Library Café a block away from where you work. They have lots of books on bookshelves and couches and furniture. I’ve been there once with my coworker, Laurie. I think you would like it.’
I study her as she talks. Together, we have Abuelita’s dark skin, though our eyes are more like Mothers. I’m the only one who has inherited the maternal curly hair gene, however, a fact that neither of my sisters will ever let go of. Her eyes, though, are full of sadness, regardless of how hard she tries. I know she’s been getting better. If only there was something I could do to help her out…
‘Anyway, you should explore,’ she says, on a final note. ‘I know moving back has been hard for you, but if you stay home all day, you’re going to be miserable. This isn’t New York, Lucas, but there are still things you can do to keep yourself busy. I mean, look at me,’ she trails off for a moment – I can catch her thoughts quickly nosediving into darker waters – before she comes right back up to the surface and offers a small smile. ‘I’m doing the same thing. I’m trying.’
Sometimes, my sisters surprise me with how much they’ve grown. I sometimes forget that we’re all adults, and as a result, we hardly think like kids anymore.
I take her advice and head out two hours before my shift starts, with my black, Moleskine notebook, a few pens, a copy of A Moveable Feast, and my headphones, all in my backpack. Ten minutes in an Uber ride later brings me right to the entrance, and as I thank the driver and step onto the curb, I study the place. The doors are wooden and glass, the interior wallpaper painted a dark, forest green. Cautious and quiet chatter fills the air, floating just above the sounds of clinking dishes and milk steaming. The café is rather large, but still quaint, a strong feeling of intimacy. Beneath the scent of mocha and coffee beans and buttery pastries, I can almost detect another, familiar, woodsy smell. Lavender, maybe? Or mimosa. The smell of coffee is too strong for me to narrow it down. But it smells warm and inviting.
Colorful couches, of scarlet red and burnt orange and lime green, line the walls of shelves and library books, small, wooden coffee tables are peppered throughout. Handwritten signs are scattered around the pastry case (all fresh pastries, but from a quick glance behind the register, they have to be bought from somewhere; their back of the house looks way too small to function as a bakery), seven coffee urns with different types of coffee are displayed on the counter, and a kind looking, shorter, older Asian woman stands at the register, pooling the tips from a yellow, plastic cup.
‘Hello, dear,’ she says, her smile flashing brightly at me.
I order a cup of coffee, black, and she nods when I tell her I don’t need room for cream.
‘Thank you, dear,’ she smiles again. ‘The wifi password is password, no capitals.’
Funny, I think, as I thank her and stroll over into the main room. Conversations don’t immediately halt when I enter, but I can catch a few looks, half-hearted attempts at hiding their curiosity over laptop screens, hushed glances from notebooks and phones. They’re probably the local regulars, sizing up every foreigner to enter their little secluded community.
I take a seat over in the corner next to a dusty piano that looks as though it hasn’t been used in the last decade, adjusting the small wooden chair so that I can comfortably sit down. The table is a bit small but since I’m the only one using it for writing I don’t mind. I spread out my notebook and pens, open it to a blank page, and stare for a moment.
And then, I write:
Carson Fletcher had always been a man with an affinity for appearances.
Dissatisfied, I strike the line through with my pen. Good writing takes time and cannot be forced, I remind myself. Good writing can rely only so much on discipline.
‘Is this seat taken?’
Startled, I look up to the owner of the voice. He’s tall, about six feet tall, my height, with a mustard yellow beanie over his shaved head. His warm brown eyes are unexpectedly piercing but I can’t help but fix my gaze on them. ‘No,’ I manage, extending a hand to the empty seat across from me. ‘Please.’
‘Thanks,’ he says, plopping down on the chair, and glancing around before smiling at me. ‘All the other seats are taken, I wouldn’t normally do this.’
‘No worries,’ I say, kindly. ‘You get to meet someone new. Why apologize for that?’
‘I didn’t apologize,’ he says, slyly, his mouth curling into a small, half-smile.
I’m not normally taken off guard. Usually I’m the guy with a response to everything and anything, whether joking or in arguments. But here I am, without defenses, without weapons, without armor. ‘Nicely done,’ I cede, grinning.
‘Noah,’ he says, extending a hand. ‘I live down the street, but I love coming here.’
‘Lucas,’ I say, shaking his hand. ‘Nice to meet you.’
‘What are you up to today?’ he asks, eyeing my notebook and pens.
I study him, as his chocolate brown eyes study me. His eyes, bright and radiant, full of fire, are those of a wandering soul, searching for something, anything, interesting. His skin is like dark vanilla and his freckles like cinnamon, covered with a hoodie and skinny jeans, their colors intentionally dark, as though he wears them for the sole purpose of fading into the background, of being unnoticed. But I can see him clearly.
‘Writing,’ I said, shrugging. ‘Or at least, trying and pretending to write. You know the process. Part of writing is actually staring at the screen and waiting for that staccato burst of inspiration.’
He laughs, the kind of laugh a four-year-old kid has when he finds out that he got a puppy for Christmas. The glare of his ultrabright smile is so intense, it makes me want to wither like a neglected tomato vine. But I sit up, strong and tall. I won’t be taken down so easily.
‘I know the process,’ he admits. ‘It’s why I don’t write. Instead, I come here and watch others write and hope that one day their passion will bleed into me, you know?’
I nod, still studying him. I try reaching for his thoughts, reaching to read anything, anything at all, but I can only sense a strange, addicted sort of madness, intertwined with laughter and kindness.
His eyes flicker between me and my copy of A Moveable Feast. ‘You’re a fan of Hemingway?’
I nod, picking up the book and flipping through it. ‘The first time I read this was in Paris, about four years ago. I used to be a Fitzgerald guy, but…something about the way he writes just feels magical.’
‘You’ve been to Paris before?’
I nod again. ‘Yeah, I love Paris.’
‘That’s so awesome,’ he says, smiling. His eyes fire up; he’s intrigued, he wants to know more. ‘Have you been anywhere else?’
I smile. I tell him the story of my travels with the wind. I tell him about layovers in Greenland and Reykjavic and the Sphynx of Giza and the Acropolis in Athens. I tell him of the olive fields in southern Italy that I worked in for a month and of catching the final rays of the aurora borealis in Kiruna, Sweden, living in New York and Rome, my mad dash, my own personal journey, following after the changing wind.
‘You’re so brave,’ he says, biting his lip. I can feel a cloud of warm thoughts bleed off him and into the air, with flecks of red and purple. ‘So that’s where you’ve been all my life.’
‘Well, I’m here now,’ I laugh.
A rumble of thunder rolls through the sky, and the gentle tap of rain against the roof and the doors somehow freshens the air in the café.
‘Do you like Hemingway?’ I ask, absentmindedly.
He doesn’t even miss a beat: ‘Almost as much as I worship him.’
I can’t help but smile.