There was a slight wind on the dock. It ripped at the lake water and tousled the tall grass surrounding the beach in small waves. Each stem flickered back and forth, like an uneasy light that had been exercised for many years.
The lake was completely flat, yet imperceptible waves had creased its face as if someone had pulled at the edge with their finger, like the water was an untidy bed sheet that needed straightening. The morning was warm, the sun not up yet, but the wind was cool, a foreshadowing of autumn in the late August weather. The sky was not clear, yet it lacked the cloudy disposition one associates with obscurity. It was, instead, gray, the type that isn’t seen by the eye at a sleeping hour like this. Long Island would wake up to pinks and blues, or purples. One person might even catch a streak of orange as they are buying their morning coffee or donut. The remains of a cinnamon sugar doughy dream would ghost their awed mouth as the sun blossomed from the horizon, the fiery orange emanating from the newborn sky. The hurried young woman sprinting to the arriving train would peek out from under the calamity and see the streak too. Even the spunky dalmatian down on Abraham’s Landing Road would dance in the wake of the sun.
But, now, the sky was gray.
There were two figures on the dock. The first was a petite, fragile monarch butterfly with its wings tucked in. The butterfly did not flutter around the dock in frantic, little movements but rather perched itself on the edge, staring into the water at its minute reflection. The stillness of the creature was reflected in the person sitting next to it. The man’s arms were shrouded by a thin sweater, also gray, but not as clear as what circled above him. It was a shade darker, though it became lighter around the distressed sleeves and button holes. His arms were intertwined, his hands stuck under his elbows as an extra source of warmth, even though the day was beginning to warm up as the grayness began to subside. Untucking his hands and placing them on the dock, damp with dew and yesterday’s rain, he pushed himself onto his feet.
Each hand slipped into a pocket when he stood up. The left fell in peacefully, but the right touched something that he had forgotten was there. There was an uncalled for tightness crawling up his throat. He pulled out a piece of glass, one that had been smoothed over by years of contact with sand underwater. It was green- the type that normally came out of beer or old Coke bottles. The glass was just long enough to be placed on his fingertip and rest there without swaying. He turned it over twice, feeling its irregularly smooth countenance and rubbing its curved edges. And then, without warning, the tightness growing in his throat jolted to his stomach. It was a fiery, raw pain, and it ripped at his insides, drew all strength from his legs. Spin. The beach was spinning, but he couldn’t remember any report of a hurricane. The invisible finger no longer tugged gently at the edge of the blue sheet. A hand instead slammed down on the lake in fast, tumultuous strokes. He found himself back on his knees.
Hands down. Head down. His fault. No.
The glass. It didn’t fall through the cracks of the dock. It didn’t tumble into the blue.
He frantically searched the dock. The small space had no walls, but there seemed to be giants closing him into their hands. There was no glint of green, nor smooth, nor dry element gracing the wet dock. The raw flames burned in him again. He was losing breath, fast paces, in and out and in and out andinandoutandinandoutinoutinoutinoutin and he was beginning to lose focus and
In. Out. In-
Oliver juggled his phone and the small cup of tea elegantly in his hands as he turned the lock to the door in front of him. He readjusted himself to the dim atmosphere. The lights were turned up just enough to douse the room in dark yellow embers. He walked quietly over to the opposite wall and turned up the lights to aid his vision. Illuminated before him was a small, brown shop, neatly cluttered with everyday items. Mirrors, chests, two plush armchairs sitting in either corner, and an uncountable number of jewelry and accessories adorned the many empty spaces of the antique shop. Sitting in one of the armchairs was the shop owner, Mrs. Collins. She was exceedingly small, her tan leathered skin acting as another layer of clothing instead of something part of her body. However, she was not wrinkled and cracked as what comes with age. The only crevices ran from the sides of her eyes, highlighted when she spread her lips wide. The veins running through her arms and face traced out the seventy-nine years of her life in violent blue. Her white hair, tied in two small braids ending just past her collarbones, was thin but not frayed. She took pride in maintaining what was left of her beauty, and Oliver expected tips on the preservation of his youth to dribble out her small, lipsticked pink mouth when she woke up.
“Good morning, Mrs. Collins.”
She opened her eyes, and two, sea green orbs stared blankly back at him. She mumbled something incoherently, stretched up out of the armchair, and placed the gaudy purple and yellow glasses around her neck on the tip of her nose.
“Morning,” she responded groggily. Her voice was clotted by sleep, the single word almost curving into a question.
“You should do something about that mop of yours,” she commented expectedly and attempted to sound concerned. “I have tricks that will blow your mind!”
Oliver walked back behind the service counter and sat on the white wooden stool.
“I’m sure you do. Tell me more after we close.”
Mrs. Collins had returned to her original perch on the armchair, arms now folded as if to shield herself from the cold air circulating the shop. Not a minute later, however, she stood up and marched up the stairs to her apartment to put on a small sweater. A jingle of keys, then muffled meows began to trickle down from the room above as the door atop the stairs opened. Mrs. Collins lived above the shop with three cats, but Oliver was never given the privilege to meet them because Mrs. Collins kept her company locked upstairs while the shop was open, and he had never been invited to shadow her up the steps to the pungent apartment. The antique shop below her home had been running for about ten years now. Mrs. Collins once ran the shop with her husband, but Mr. Collins had since retired to watching the news every morning and drinking bitter coffee. Instead of giving up on the business as a whole, Mrs. Collins ran the antique shop as a way to keep herself busy.
Oliver had worked there every summer with Mrs. Collins for the past three years. He grew up in Long Island with his two sisters and parents until three years previous, when he left for college in the city. Though involved in a deep love affair with the tall buildings and ceaseless hustle of New York City, Oliver never failed to return home each summer to his parents and the antique shop. It was thrown onto the corner of Main Street, a flourishing coffeeshop on the right side, a deteriorating mechanics store on the left. Perhaps the popularity of the coffeeshop prompted their success, or the lack of it in the mechanics shop, but either way, the antique shop enjoyed a sliver of fame. It was not the visage of the shop, nor was it appearance of the objects they sold, however, that kept their customers coming. Oliver knew that their business linked directly to the way he told stories.
And they weren’t just any stories.
Behind each item, a grotesque, dramatic tale lurked, and Oliver made sure he never told the same story twice. He knew the look of disgust that people wore when they were confronted by an old drawer in the corner of the shop. They couldn’t help but recoil when examining its chipped edges, hastily chafed with sandpaper for a smooth finish, those far from any beauty standard set by drawers before it. But he knew how well it would sell if he told the story behind the chest of drawers. Was it a cherished item of the mysterious count from Great Britain who hid millions of euros from his family inside of its now barren trunks? Or was it once a possession of a South African prince, who folded his luxurious silks and alluring jewels into the depths of its wooden sea? Either would fascinate anyone. He loved watching the figures of the story dancing in the dark pupils of a customer. It was like, if the client bought the item of the count or the king, they too would resume the practice of the object’s previous owner. By four o’clock, Oliver had sold the items of world war veterans, infamous crooks on the streets of Jordan, professional assassins and Peruvian drug lords. Mrs. Collins was upstairs by the time the shop closed around five, finally tending to the abundant meows of her cats in the room above. Oliver was beginning to pack up the few things that remained to be stowed in his canvas bag when the door opened.
He looked towards the door. The figure standing to the right of him stood casually in the doorway of the shop, his silhouette illuminated by the dying sun in the clear sky behind him. He was tall, with curly brown hair and dark skin. Oliver threw a smile to him, which the man in the doorway captured and flicked back with a thick, syrupy grin. The man began to walk around the shop, his glasses glinting with the yellowish dull that had blanketed the shop that morning.
“Can I help you with anything?” Oliver asked, almost out of a wish to hear the man’s voice resonate throughout the shop.
Shaking his head politely, the man continued around the shop, stopping slightly here and there, but resolutely continuing around the small space until he rounded to the counter Oliver sat behind. He held out a hand, and Oliver finally got his wish.
“How much is this?”
He held a small pocket watch. Taking it out of his hand, Oliver quickly scanned his memory for a tale he had yet to tell.
“Twenty five dollars. There’s quite a story behind it too, if you’re interested,”
“Is there really?” he laughed. The smile was saccharinely oozing with a kindness that Oliver felt inclined to catch with the tip of his finger.
Oliver felt presently aware of the short proximity between them. He looked into the magnified brown landscape just below him and a sudden flutter in his abdomen rendered his exploding smirk hard to retain. Quietly, Oliver described the Englishman to whom it was once a daily importance; the intimate dependency the man had on it ended tumultuously in murder and other twisted evils to which Oliver did not delve into too greatly, as to keep the customer in the dark of something that did not really happen. As he spoke, Oliver had the faint impression that the man was exclusively interested and completely guarded against the fantasy dancing in front of him. His immediate interest was entirely present, eyes glazed over with excitement, but they lingered on something ghostly, something unviewable by Oliver’s eye. Oliver wanted to hold a match to the man’s eyes and let the flames dance in them until nothing but a smudge of ash was left, his astonishment omnipresent in the small shop. He wanted romantic ballerinas and awkward tap dancers to juggle in his pupils alongside a feigned character from Europe. Just as Oliver finished his fictitious extravagance, he pleasingly observed the noticeable change of disposition in his customer’s face. The exclusive interest had returned, and Oliver wondered if he had imagined the wariness, or if it had merely shifted to a different part of the man’s eye.
“Is that the craziest story in here?” he asked, now allowing the syrup to trickle from his peeling smile into his throat.
“You wouldn’t believe the other ones.”
He laughed again. Oliver felt a comfortable warmth envelop him. Jumping as the grandfather clock in the center of the back wall began to groan, Oliver suddenly felt a small tugging of panic in his stomach. His breath, for whatever reason, began to weaken. Feeling stupid, Oliver smiled shakily.
“We normally close at five,” he said, reluctantly.
“Well then, I’ll get out of your way.”
Oliver tightened the muscles in his left arm until they were stiff, a precaution to disallow the instinctual reach that pulsed through his body as the man began to walk away.
The faded glint had returned to the stranger’s eyes.
“Normally I go to the coffee shop next door on the weekends. If you’d like,” Oliver threw another smile, toothily and recklessly “you can come with. I’ve enough stories about these objects to last a few cups of coffee.”
He felt the foolishness crowd his face like a bloody sunrise. As if by accident, the man divulged a peculiar readiness to follow Oliver into another day of dark brews and false stories. He uttered a promise to meet Oliver on Saturday, and signed his dedication with ten numbers. The disgustingly devoted smile on Oliver’s face never recoiled until he returned home and fell asleep.
The two had become inseparable since the coffee. Oliver hadn’t much of the actual drink in it, but rather transformed his brew into a cloying milky dream. In a nervous attempt to intertwine their fingers, Oliver had tipped the small cup of milk off the table and it tumbled gracefully into Ezra’s lap. The embarrassing tipping over of the milk, though making Oliver’s apologies jittery and beyond human comprehension, rendered Ezra fond of him.
“It’s nothing to worry about!” he had comforted a nervous Oliver. “I’ve always wanted this design on my pants. You’ve saved me a lot of money!”
They couldn’t go a few days without seeing each other. June was the perfect month for extravagant journeys to the beach, though most of the time Oliver was working, so Ezra found joy in the dances with the customers in the antique shop almost as much as Oliver did. The summer cooled down to crunchy browns and effervescent oranges, then to crisp blue, to pastels, then into summer again. The cycle continued, with and without them. However, it wasn’t until a year later when Ezra realized, sitting on a barren scrape of beach decorated by beach glass, sprayed in the mouth with saturated ocean water, he wanted the cycle to go on with them as a curve in its circle. But he couldn’t find a way to word this elegantly. When Oliver told Ezra he was in love with him, Ezra stood dumb, the sticky smile plastered to his face. Oliver began to laugh, tracing the hint of detachment that lived in his eyes back to the day they had first met. It wasn’t that he was bored, and it definitely wasn’t that he lacked what Oliver consumed. It was the restrained armistice Ezra had promised with his heart not to meddle in affairs that wouldn’t plunder him in a day to come. The act was so natural that its dominance slipped past him even when Oliver was around. Oliver knew the blankness like any callus on the palm of his hand. It wasn’t a detached blankness, but rather a bitter shadow. Invisible armor to guard from past burns and cuts. Oliver knew, and he didn’t bother to take back his truthful words, because Ezra’s consciousness had returned with abundant enthusiasm. It had taken Oliver six months to cut each stitch in his blanket of insecurity until the hole was big enough for Ezra to do it himself. It was the day Oliver told Ezra he loved him when the hole began to grow, and it was the day Ezra sat on the beach when he began to undo it himself.
Yet the world had decided to rapidly eradicate any hope Ezra hungered for in their life together.
The accident happened four years later. They were blissfully in love, just having moved into a small house near a secluded beach. The boys had strung beach glass on a piece of ribbon and hung it on the rear view mirror in their car, the radiant sun sending youthful streams of greens and blues alongside its yellows in the mornings. Their dog, Washington, was a grizzly bulldog who hated the water, but loved rolling in the sand. He was sleeping peacefully in the backseat when the two began to argue.
“Ezra, didn’t I tell you specifically to remember Washington’s leash?” he wasn’t very angry, just bothered that Ezra had forgotten to do something so simple that Oliver had reminded him to do multiple times.
“I’m sorry, okay? I told you that a million times,”
“My parents aren’t going to have a leash. They don’t have a dog,”
It was stupid, such an insignificant predicament, and Ezra knew that his argumentative attitude was the one who diverted his eyes just for a second from the road.
“We can go buy one in town,”
“You know we don’t have the money for that right now. You know that,” Oliver reached out to touch Ezra’s hand.
“I don’t need you making me feel worse than I already do,” Ezra pulled away.
“Fine,” Oliver pulled away, hurt. “That wasn’t my intention anyway,”
He knew his anger was unjustified, and that he should just apologize.
Yet Oliver was the one who did so. Ezra looked over to him, shrunken in the passenger’s seat, tired from waking up so early to embark on their trip. Now he held out his hand, just grazing Oliver’s arm, his hands soliciting a response. Oliver slowly moved his hand to meet Ezra’s. Grateful, Ezra looked over admiringly at the beautiful person sitting next to him. Oliver did not meet his eyes. He was looking ahead, scared.
It was too late.
Guilt wielded such an immense force over him that he did not feel any pain from the impact first. He felt no sting nor scrape nor liquid falling from his body. What he did feel was a subtle gnawing at his chest until it was hollow, or pumped with regret and blame. They collided, and the ground began to shake with chaotic vibration. The silver body tumbled over and over and over and over and over again, until it stopped neatly in the grass paralleling the highway. There was no indication that the earthquake had stopped, so when he pulled himself out of the wreckage, and saw no dark haired, sweater-clad boy mirroring his frantic actions, Ezra cursed whatever ungodly creature had saved him instead of Oliver.
Sporadic inhales and exhales wracked his shaking body. Peeking out from the front of the car was a hand. Ezra saw nothing but it and he slumped over, despite the unbearable pain in his shoulder, his leg. His head was pounding as Oliver’s face came into view. He dragged Oliver’s away out of the incinerating mess, losing all capability to breathe, powerlessly attempting to save something out of his reach, hoping…hoping…
“Oliver. Oliv- oh my god Oliver,”
Oliver was shadowed by a dark red stain on his stomach. His face was painted with the same color, dark streaks running down his nose, from the top of his head. He was still breathing, but nothing more than what was absolutely necessary, and Ezra guessed that he couldn’t alongside the pain. Ezra sat next to Oliver, trying to suppress the burning coming from his throat. He dragged a dark strand of hair away from Oliver’s bloody face.
“You’re going to be okay Oliver. You’re okay. We’re okay. I’m sorry. I’m so, so, sorry,”
He was so in love with the way his cheekbones jutted out, the way his eyes sat symmetrically apart from each other. He loved…
It was barely a whisper, but it was enough.
“I love you so, so much. Please. I love you, Oliver,”
Nothing. Another plea. Nothing.
There wasn’t anything to hold back his tears now, no facade to restrict any feelings. He couldn’t use his familiar mask to distract the cars driving by. Didn’t they know how lucky they were? How safe they were in their cars? Ezra was feeling faintness consume him. He remembered lastly the faces of two women…
“Oh my god, someone call an ambulance…!”
Too many tubes and medicines, and doctors in pale waistcoats, patients donning light colored dresses. Ezra was happy to be out under real blue again. The grayness had subsided, and, as predicted, he faced an abundance of vivid colors that scrubbed the morning sky. It was too pure, too early for him to recall anything from that night, but it was in moments like the glass in his pocket that made him swallow the world in one gulp, submerging himself in doubt and guilt, or the fact that it was all his fault. He couldn’t escape the incessant screaming that numbed his head. He needed to, but two months later was hardly any time to recover from losing someone. He couldn’t do anything without more time.
But what if time was the exact thing he didn’t want? Ezra wanted nothing of his future if he couldn’t spend it with Oliver. Him, and the five other dogs or ten other cats they promised to give each other, tied with multicolored bows, on the other’s birthday. Him, and the sweaty winters when Ezra wore too many layers to subside Oliver’s pleas. Him, and the silver band packed into a pair of thick socks stuffed in a pair of black shoes. Him, and the surprised look on his face when Ezra told him about the Japanese emperor who had owned it before him, and how Oliver would become just as royal if he took ownership of it. Him, with Ezra, the two devoted to each other as a wave is to a shoreline, and how one will never refuse to greet the other with love.
The orange glow of the sun began to peek the horizon, paving the way for a resonant blue, cloudless day. Any prelude of color was being sucked away by the emerging sun, and Ezra consented to be carried away with the disappearing colors, holding the ghost of Oliver’s kiss tender to his lips.