The Heart of Things
Compulsion lead her to step on each fallen, crumpled leaf as she walked down the seemingly forgotten path. The sound satisfied her, and each crunch sent a tingling sensation from the bottom of her shoe to her entire body. The pavement was laced with the remnants of summer, and the barren tree branches swayed nakedly in the wind. Depending on one's disposition, Fall could paint a beautiful story of transition or a depressing tale of things gone too soon. She reflected on these ideas, and realized that she was uncomfortably suspended between both. As she crossed the street, she noticed a raccoon flattened into the road. Streaks of red and loose pieces of fur were the only indications that there was once a life in this pile of guts. She stopped in the middle of the intersection and took a thorough glance at the dead animal. Normally, she'd have walked passed it and just sighed with a twinge of sadness. But today, perhaps inspired by the facade of decrepitude in the trees, she stopped and stared. She was arrested by one of its eyes that was still intact--wide open. It reminded her of her grandmother--minutes after she died. The dullness of her eyes and her crusted mouth, wide open--comfortably a corpse more than a person. "But what makes the difference?" She wondered. She looked up at those deceptive trees, on the precipice of some sort of conclusion, and walked on.
She was on her way to meet a friend for coffee. But was rather early, so she strolled to pass the time. Once it got too cold to justify the walk, she popped into a used book store. She quite enjoyed the atmosphere of these types of stores. But was, admittedly, not much of a reader. The air of intellectualism and literature was alluring to her, even though she hadn’t finished a book in years. It would always start the same. She’d revel in holding the book. Smelling it. Excited by the description on the back. She’d pop it open and would intensely read the first few pages. But prose almost never kept her. Her eyes would tire. Perhaps her imagination was limited, and she preferred the worlds of cartoons and anime. Whatever the reason for the disconnect, her compulsions did not extend to finishing boring literature. She had crushed countless leaves on her journey to the cafe and would, inevitably, devour every inch of the sandwich she was going to order. She followed failing relationships to their very end and would pick and clip every fingernail until they were all the same size. And yet, she could not commit enough to a single book for more than a few chapters. She plucked a book from one of the shelves and examined it. Hardcovers were her favorite to hold. When determining if she’d ever actually take a book home for a half-assed attempt at reading, she relied on obscure titles and nice cover art. She stood there with the dusty book and felt its weightiness. “The Heart of Things” lined the cover in thin white letters. Intrigued, she read the back, but assessed that she wouldn’t lose herself in the story, so she placed the book back on its shelf. She looked up and began to observe the university students ponder through their choices and her eyes followed them to the cash register. The old man behind the counter seemed to be a perfect match for the atmosphere. He wore a black turtleneck and jeans, that were no-doubt purchased at a consignment shop. The frames of his glasses were round and sat on the bridge of his nose. She wondered if he had to look down in order to see through them. His wispy white hair was tied back into a ponytail--the balding center revealed a shining scalp that he wore like a crown. She wondered how many books he’d finished in his lifetime and gathered that he was making silent judgements at each person’s choice as he checked them out. She imagined him wisely asserting that “you can tell a lot about a person based on what they read”. She wondered if that was true.
Growing bored of the book store and chastising herself for being so early, she marched on to find another distraction to kill the time. She’d forgotten that it was cold outside and grumpily debated going back to the store for warmth. As she walked and crushed leaves, a man came into view holding a cup and standing outside of a restaurant. His hood laid over his head, secured in place by two scarves. He was toothless and his eyes revealed that he’d seen more in this life than he’d like to remember. She silently walked passed him and wondered if the people around her were consciously ignoring him in the way she was, or if they just didn’t even register that he was there. There were a few who mouthed “sorry” to his requests for help. She never quite knew what to say in those moments, but tried her best not to say “sorry”. She couldn’t imagine how many times he’d heard that, and wondered if he even distinguished the difference between responses that were all a form of “no”. But today, compelled by those solemn tree branches and some other accompanying force unknown to her, she doubled back and placed a five dollar bill into the man’s cup. She tried to give earnest eye contact and fished for some encouraging words. But the only thing she could think to say was “Good luck to you”. Giving homeless people money rarely made her feel better. Often times, it made her feel worse. At once, she could feel the weight of the hopelessness of the world...in front of her. In the form of a toothless old man who has been on the blind side of the universe. And how flimsy her small money was. But in those moments, she tried not to focus on what she was giving, but how she gave it. It seemed more important to acknowledge him. To look at him. But even that approach had a touch of condescension. There was no winning, so she had learned to just mindfully ignore them. And would reconcile that feeling within herself as she walked passed.
She mulled over this thought for the rest of her walk, as she finally approached the cafe, ready to meet her friend. She looked at her phone and was amazed to see that she was now five minutes late.