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When I first heard her name, I had no choice but to follow her. Immediately I felt like a criminal, a stalker, but it wasn't like that. No, not really. I was simply entranced by a name not by anything perverted, not like those freaks that you hear of on the news every once in awhile who stalk and stalk and then flash their willies at you and run. All the same, I knew what I was doing was wrong, there was just no stopping myself. Her name, etched in the color of daisies on her uniform, begged me forward.
She was a sprightly one from what I could see. I kept my distance (at least what I thought was my distanceÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€I had never done this before) and was often obscured by tens of tens of busy faces. Through the swirling Manhattan rush, her golden hair bounced here and there between passerby, pedestrians, and plain people. But it wasn't just her hair; it was all of her. She was dancing with her walk and laughing with her strut. She carried herself with the air of a woman who had every care in the world, and every care was free.
An umbrella exploded in my face. I nearly lost an eyeball, my left one, my favorite. Reflex kicked in and reacted for me. It jerked my head back with (pardon the pun) breakneck speed and brought me dangerously close to whiplash. The man at my side smiled and managed a sorry, then kept moving. I stood, catching my breath and mentally calming my heart. I watched him walk away. Considering a deep grab bag of vulgarities I mumbled the winner under my breath. Looking up, I squinted in the light. One raindrop fell from the sky and she was gone.
As it began to come down, my pace quickened. Although I've been known to enjoy a good, sporadic drenching from time to time, this was not the right time; nor was it the right rain. I darted my way through the drops and headed for the subway. Amongst the rail riders, I couldn't help but make an observant sweep of the crowd. A man with an obnoxious comb over was looking very nervous that someone might be looking at his obnoxious comb over. Other people were mostly standing still and looking down the tunnel. I searched longingly the lonely faces.
That night I dreamt I knew her, I'd always known her. She was right there within my reach and yet, just an inch out of grasp. She shadowed me through grade school, through high school, through life. I felt her presence everywhere, this girl I couldn't see. Was she real or was she a want? Was she a lady or a fleeting image of unbearable, untouchable desire? I grew old in my dream. My hair became white and snaky. I died on a brisk, windy morning and she came to take me home. Her face led me back to awake.
I put my pants on, had a shower, cereal, and did my routine morning bullshit. I arrived at work on time, performed my job well (decent anyway) and continued into the night. I could go into more detail about my day but honestly, you don't want to hear about it. And nothing there even interests me, so we move on. The diner that she works at is a block away from my office. Being that my refrigerator consists of three moldy bananas and a juice box, I convinced myself that her diner was the healthiest option available. It made sense.
"You liked those blueberry pancakes yesterday, dintya?-
"Care for somethin' else today or are ya gonna stick with the pancakes?-
"OK sugar, comin' right up.-
Wendy. Her name was Wendy. Lousy, generic Wendy. My waitress (with the enchanting name) was gliding across her section, smiling cheerfully and spreading warmth. I made a mental note to sit on her side of the restaurant next time.
But there wasn't going to be a next time. I came to my senses. Stop the harmless stalking. I snatched up my coat and made for the door.
"Hey hon, dontchya want your pancakes?-
Walking away from the restaurant, I thought, "Why not just talk to her? She's not going to bite. It would make more sense than trying to follow her around the city. And it might not end with a restraining order either."But who was I kidding? Those were the thoughts of someone with balls. The last girl's attention I held for more than 30 seconds was a nurse at the clinic, and I was discussing an unpleasant rash.
I leaned up against a phone booth and stared down at my feet. My shoes were scuffed and I cried on them.
"Are you all right?"I wiped the shame from my eyes and looked up into hers.
"You're the blueberry pancake man, aren't you? Why are you crying?-
"I wasn't."Instinctively, or as if to prove some unknown point, I wiped my face again. "I'm not.-
"Well all right then."She smiled at me and I knew that it wasn't just her name after all. Every line, every contour in her face embodied what I knew from the start, from her nametag. That she was the only one for me. "OK, bye.-
"Well that's a strange thing to say."It certainly was. Why had I said it? It didn't matter. It was said and the only thing to do about it was try to manage some kind of damage control.
"Listen, Phlox..."I stopped. Having said her name, I was stuck there in its embrace. "Phlox."I said it again. I was suddenly afraid that now that it was out there, I wouldn't be able to stop. "Phlox.-
"That's my name! Don't wear it out!"How could I? The name wore her like the perfectly clung sweater on the cutest little dachshund.
"I followed you.-
"Yesterday, after you got off work... I followed you for a couple of blocks. I don't know why I'm telling you this. I know it's incredibly creepy. I wasn't trying to be. I just...-
"You just what?-
"I was just overwhelmed by your sublime name. I know that doesn't even make any sense. But..."God, I was disgusting. I couldn't even look at her. Any chance that I might have had was blown. But still, why did she come over to make sure I was OK? The thought left a door open (if only slightly) somewhere.
"Um, OK, I have to go now. Please don't follow me."She walked away, afraid of me. She had every right to be. I was crushed but I deserved it. I deserved far worse. If the universe were just it would have rained hot ash on me. I would have burned into the concrete beneath my feet. I would have blinked out of the world, melted into the pavement. The people on the street would see my demise as something that they understood. As if people like me disappeared like this all the time. That's how it should have been.
But it wasn't. I watched her walk away with a longing I hadn't felt since my youth. She was Ms. Edgerly, my kindergarten teacher. She was tall and sweet and she always smiled at me. She taught me how to write letters and I used them to impress her. I wrote her name over and over again.
After Christmas break, we returned to school and she was gone. Our new teacher was Mrs. Haworth and she told us that she missed us all very much but... she was so excited to tell us this... she had gotten married over vacation.
Ugly, old Mrs. Haworth. The rose was not as sweet. It had only been a week but the transformation was astronomical. She broke my heart.
I resolved then and there, as Phlox began to fade into the crowd that I wasn't going to be left behind again. She had to know how I felt about her. I couldn't let her go. It was love. That pure, childish emotion that I felt for Ms. Edgerly was back now, in shining new form. I refused to let it slip away. This time, I was going to be in control. The pursuit began.
Back at my apartment, I planned it out. The insane don't ever have a plan... or if they do, it's usually for world domination or how to make Feta out of Gorgonzola. Not me. I laid it all out so it made perfect sense. I would wait no more than 6 days. I would casually walk past the diner when I knew she was working. I would walk slowly. I would not strut but there would be an importance in my step. I would turn when she saw me and I would wink at her. I have a killer wink.
She would recognize me as the handsome devilfish that got away. She would see the error of her ways and drop her coffeepot to the ground. She would run through the diner smiling and removing her waistcloth. I would hold the door open for her and she would fling herself into my arms. We would fall over laughing over the silliness of yesterday. We would walk off into the sunset, holding hands like old lovers do. Lots of people have that. And so would we. It's not a selfish thing to hope for. Dreams do sometimes come true. I hope.
That night I dreamed of the morning. My plan was executed to perfection. The walk happened in slow motion and I perceived it all from outside of myself. A breeze, made for me alone, brushed my hair across and then out of my face. I looked like a rock star in a Schwepps commercial. Her body quivered. My wink was an exquisite blend of flirtatious flutter camaraderie and intensified, sexual come-get-some intention. She dropped the coffeepot she was holding and charged the door. As she ran, she began to change. She turned into a vicious Rottweiler and I woke up
screaming soundlessly. The yell was dry in my throat and entirely encompassed in my brain. I was sweating from my ankles and dimples. The dust beam of light shining in revealed the ugly reality of my apartment, of my life. I remembered who I was and secretly wished that the nightmare dog had dined on my flesh. I got up.
Naked, I walked to the bathroom, urinated, and stared in the mirror. The chip on my shoulder was there, as always. The shadows of my past clung to me. The demons of my present taunted me. The razor was shiny.
Thought about it. I definitely did. If I weren't so afraid of the pain, I might have done it, too. Death doesn't scare me. Pain, on the other hand, destroys my ability to live. I wake up every day of this life in serious emotional pain. It floors me from morning til night. I don't know where it comes from. Can anyone pinpoint exactly?
Yes, I know that I should probably do something about it. What? Get a job or buy a fish? A stranger once told me I looked like I should get some psychological help. A fucking stranger.
Across the street from her diner, I looked in. No sign of her. I paced back and forth a bit. Smoked a cigarette, two, three... on lighting my fourth I stopped. Someone was coming out. I ducked into a phone booth and peered out. It was a punk kid in a trench coat picking at his teeth. I secretly despised him as he walked on.
I crept back out of the phone booth, vaguely aware that some passerby were aware of my stealth movements. "How stealth could they be then?"I wondered ironically. Back to the diner. No Phlox. Damn.
Twenty minutes went by. I was getting restless. Where the hell was she? Had something terrible happened? The range of horrendous possibilities was endless. I couldn't take it anymore. I crushed my final butt on the pavement and crossed the street.
I opened the diner door a little too forcefully. The bell above it rang a little too loud. Everyone looked up from their meals and I tried my best to smile at them all. It must have looked ghastly.
A waitress came over to me. I wondered if she recognized me. I didn't think so. I took a chance.
"Hi, is Phlox working today?-
"Well, she was supposed to be in about half an hour ago...-
"Yeah, that's what I thought.-
"Can I help you, sir?-
"She must have found out already.-
"Found out what?-
"I'm her brother, James. Our father..."I'd never acted before in my life but this part came so naturally. I choked up as easily as if the emotion was real. Surprising even myself, I had to have come across as sincere. "He died two days ago and I didn't want to tell her over the phone. She must have found out somehow. Damn relatives.-
"Oh you poor, poor man. When you see Phlox, please tell her not to worry about us here. And send our deepest sympathies."The woman would have shouldered any emotional outburst were my character struck by one.
"Well that's just it, you see. Phlox and I haven't spoken in over a year. I must admit, it took a bit of investigative work just to find her diner. I don't suppose she's told you about me?"
"Oh, actually, no, not a word I'm afraid."My hangdog expression pierced her heart. "Wait here, let me get you her address."
Jack fucking pot.
Standing on the corner outside her apartment, I wasn't thinking of my own depravity. I was well past that. The thought that I might scare her wasn't an issue either. Because you know what, I think she liked it. In the one, brief moment I had with her there was something there, unspoken between us. It was not my imagination. It was real. Even though her lips told me not to follow her, her eyes had said, "chase on.-
If I was crazy, then she was crazy too. And I was going to be damned before I let her go.
A little girl opened the door from the inside.
"Do you live in this building, little girl?-
"Yup. Are you here to fix the water?-
"Um, no. I'm a friend of Phlox's. Do you know Phlox?-
"Phlox?!? That's a funny name!"She laughed and her laugh was music. When I tried to pass her, she blocked me with her tiny body. "I'm not apposed ta let strangers into the building, though.-
"Oh, it's OK. I'm not a..."but I was. I was a stranger, a stalker, and a villain. The shame hit me hard and I fled.
"Bye stranger man.-
As I ran from the truth of what I had become, I looked back over the course of my life. Was I having what I had heard people refer to as an "epiphany-? If so, was it supposed to hurt as much as it did?
My entire life was filled with myself. I was forever obsessed with my thoughts and egocentric perceptions. Annoyed by all forms of human contact, I hated outside opinions and feelings. I'd always known I was a loner, but now I saw what that meant. For the first time, truly, I remained utterly and miserably alone.
The pain was worse than I'd ever felt. I started to inexplicably hear Meat Loaf in my head. YOU GOTTA BELIEVE IT! AND I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR LOVE AND THEY'LL NEVER BE NO TURNING BACK! This was the soundtrack of my desperate steps. I ran and I ran but I couldn't outrun the fat bastard. When the female singer began her lyric, I started to weep. Crying and trying to run out the madman, the cheesy love song destroyed me. This was it. This had to be the end of me. I couldn't get to the razors fast enough.
I tripped and fell and cracked my head on the pavement in front of my building. Blood poured into my eye. I took the stairs two by two. The cold warmth of release called to me. Outside my door, I heard movement. Something moving. With crimson vision, I stepped in and saw her, my angel.
"You really need to finish what you started. You've got a lot of learning to do."She stood there in her silk with her rope and her grin.
"Phlox."I managed, "Who are you?-
"That's another thing, Barry,"she mouthed, "I hate your fucking name.-
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