For what, I do not know: A short story

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When she passed by my window on Christmas Eve, a mere shadow, a palette of colors in a glass pane of condensation, I stopped eating and stared. The party flowed past me as the laughter and conversation fell on ears that no longer cared for them. I was alone on an island, searching for the sails of a ship from a bygone era.

It was as if a dream from a dream had marched in front of my eyes. So I stared at the window as if it were a strange sight, eyes wide, mouth closed and askew, wondering to myself what I had just seen. Something tugged at my gut — a wish, a memory, a past.

I stared.

And I followed it. I loosened my coat and scarf from the rack in the hallway. 

“I’m going out!” I called out to no one in particular and everyone that needed to know. I fiddled with the lock, sliding it out of the way on my third try. I gave the doorknob a twist and let the cold of the street wash over me.

I found myself out on the street, slightly underdressed and waiting for that certain je ne sais quoi that had summoned me here to begin with. I glanced up and down the silent street, hoping, for no reason I could name, that I still had a hope. A purple coat flapped in the breeze and I turned into the wind, leaving my footprints in the snow behind me, as I followed in the path a stranger.

I can’t say it wasn’t creepy, following someone in the dead of night, but it was the end of the year. If you’re going to choose a time for magic, there aren’t many better options. So I followed.

I glanced up and down the silent street, hoping, for no reason I could name, that I still had a hope.

The stars were coming out in full force from under the clouds, winking through the clear cold. I walked under street lamps, letting the path of that almost-familiar stranger lead me on.

We passed Churchmill Road, Alberr Strass and the train stop, but as much as I sped up, she — whoever she was — kept just ahead. Farther than a voice could carry on a cold winter’s evening, but close enough to make out the color of her hair tie.

The white elastic band held her hair, which was black, but not quite. Had it been day, it would have seemed as black as the night, but now that it was night, it was clear to see that it wasn’t. Dark brown, like the depths of a forest. She didn’t turn around.

We passed the local convenience store, Julia Street and the market. We were approaching the river as snow began to fall. The dust drifted down through the starlight and electric lamps, white and silent and vanishing into the night. The streetlights came in longer intervals, spreading their glow into ponds of light speckled by the shadows of snowflakes. Still, she kept going.

We reached the river and she turned upstream, leading me through the quiet of the dark toward the song of the slow-moving current. I pulled my scarf up around my nose to keep it from getting too pink. I zipped up my coat to ward off the incoming cold. The river swam by, pulling my thoughts with it, dragging me back to the warmth of the party I had come from.

Who was she? Where had she come from? Why in hell couldn’t I remember what I knew I knew about her?

A bridge slunk out of the night, stretching its frame over the dark waters. It was a narrow passage, wide enough for two travelers over the smooth banks of the riverbed. She turned again, and I leaned out ever so slightly to catch a glimpse of her face. In the snowy moonlight, I caught only brown eyes as she disappeared into the shadows beyond the streetlamps. 

The snow had settled on me, flakes hiding in my hair and sitting on my shoulders. I hurried, finally beginning to run, leaving a cloud of white behind me. If she made it to the other side, I would lose her entirely.

I reached the bridge’s entrance as the wind began to pick up, drawing a curtain of snow across the river. The oncoming storm was beginning to blur everything, blanketing the world and wishing it a good night. You could only just see through it.

The oncoming storm was beginning to blur everything, blanketing the world and wishing it a good night.

“I’m sorry!” I called out, squinting through the snow, “I’m sorry, but do I know you? Have we met?”

She stopped for a heartbeat. And then another. I stood frozen, alert only to the figure in front of me and the rhythm of my chest. She turned her body slightly, so that I could see just one of her eyes. Her gaze sliced through the snow, and for a moment it was just me, my heart and that singular eye.

“Have we?” she asked.

“I —” I paused, running one hand through my hair, “I don’t know.”

The idea of a smile played on her lips, and for a moment, for the barest second, I thought I saw a tear in her eye. But it had to have just been the snow.

“Maybe,” she said.

“How can I know?” I asked, raising my voice against the wind and the cold.

“You can’t,” she replied.

I paused. The snow fell. A smile came to her lips and then left. The streetlight flickered. She turned and walked toward the edge of the bridge. I took a step forward. The snow twisted above me, following the breeze through the air in spirals and knots while the river ran beneath me.

“Wait,” I called again, and she stopped, turning halfway once more, “Have a great new year!”

I waved as her silhouette was swallowed by the night.

 “You too!” echoed from the way she had gone.

I took another step forward and paused.

“See you around, I hope,” I whispered to the gathering cold.

I waved again as she faded into the growing opaqueness of the snow.

I stood for another heartbeat.

Then I shook myself, shrugging off the snow that had accumulated on my head and shoulders, and pulled the scarf up over my face again. I turned and walked back the way I had come, and an old newspaper flitted by my ear, blown up and away by the wind.

Jasper Kenzo Sundeen is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].

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