My apartment was either blue like the streetlights or orange like the sun dipping below tall buildings in the evenings. I was in an empty city, absent from car horns and the hissing of buses when they make their stops. There were mostly light gray cement and glistening surfaces. Here and there you’d see a tree with leaves that seemed so synthetically colored, green and symmetrical, hanging from upright branches, hanging from tired ones. Evenings here were simple, contradictory, and frequent.
I only saw two people on a regular basis, my friend and the shopkeeper at the local convenience store. My friend and I would go there around 7 p.m. at least once a week. There were plastic lawn chairs and tables placed outside, for convenience. We sat there for hours at a time, sometimes enjoying cold beers or lukewarm cups of yogurt.
The chirping of the birds had gradually quieted and the sounds of insects soaring into the bug zappers that hung on opposite ends of the storefront replaced the momentary silence. My friend leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes, and tilted his chin upward. We sat to the far left of the store’s entrance.
“You know,” he started. “I wouldn’t mind living in space.”
“What makes you say that?” He shifted in his seat.
“I’m just thinking. I don’t think I’d mind it. The silence, the solitude.”
“Well you can find that right here.”
“Yeah, yeah, but think about it! It’s space! It’s this huge thing and no one really knows a lot about it.”
“What would you do if you went there?”
“I guess I’d just float around and take pictures…maybe.”
“Why the pictures? You might not come back.”
He turned his head and darted his eyes toward me. His lips formed a slight frown.
He closed his eyes again, chin tilted upward like before, his frown still there.
I suppose I had jostled him out of his fantasy.
“I’m just saying. Isn’t it dangerous up there?”
Simultaneously, we gazed at the darkened sky.
He smiled quickly, excitedly.
I was no longer invested in this conversation. What’s the point of fantasizing about a dangerous place? I stayed silent. After a few minutes, I went inside to buy us two cups of yogurt. As I looked down and reached into my pocket for my wallet, I felt as if someone was watching me. I looked up to find the shopkeeper staring at me…or through me. She did not break her gaze.
I looked at her, my mouth ajar. Why was she staring at me like that? I’d been in here dozens of times. I slowly walked to the back of the store where the dairy was located, breaking eye contact. This place was cramped. Canned foods and miscellaneous items filled the shelves. Cat food, screwdrivers, hard candies, and toothbrushes. Brown boxes were stacked at the end of each aisle. I guess new shipments had recently arrived. The ceiling was low, and the aisles were narrow, such a contrast to the big realm of space we were just talking about.
I went back to the counter, set the two cups of yogurt down, and waited for the shopkeeper to ring up everything. This time she avoided eye contact. It was taking a little longer than usual. I suppose she had to manually type in the barcodes. I looked at the wall of cigarettes behind her. I wondered about the new flavors.
I came outside and rested the yogurt and two spoons on the table. My friend murmured “Thanks,” still sitting in the same position I’d left him. Before I could peel the waxy cover off the small white container, he asked me,
“What would you do if you went to space?”
“I wouldn’t,” I retorted.
“But if you did, what would you do?”
I thought about it as I held the spoon between my lips.
“I’d look for the sun.”
He turned to completely face me. He seemed curious and a bit surprised.
“What do you mean?”
“You know, the sun. I’d look for it.”
“Well, if I wanted to go to space, I’d figure out what I need to do to protect myself from the sun.”
I ate more yogurt. He sat back in his chair. Sometime during our conversation, he had leaned forward. He tapped his box of cigarettes against the table. Pulling out a cigarette and lighting it, he inhaled and coughed lightly.
“So you’d only look for the sun if you could live to talk about it afterwards?”
I eyed the cigarette. He dragged his chair backward so the smoke wouldn’t brush against my face. It made little difference. I could still smell it. He continued to stare at me in a manner similar to that of the shopkeeper.
“I don’t know,” I said.
We only met in the evenings around 7 p.m. at this convenience shop. We had only seen the sun set into night. Mornings did not happen here.
“You know! Tell me.”
“I mean, sure. I’d like to tell someone about the sun if I found it.”
“But what if you knew that once you found it, you couldn’t tell anyone about it?”
He put out his cigarette and reached for his cup of yogurt. I looked at my empty cup.
I only have one clear memory of my childhood. It’s of my mother. She was a short woman with short thick hair and a soothing laugh. Back then, we lived in a small apartment on the outskirts of the neighboring city. I came home from high school one day and found her sitting in the living room, staring at the television. I yelled, “I’m home,” but she did not move. When I moved a little closer, I realized the television was off. I called her name, but she still didn’t move. I stayed where I was and kept looking at my mother and the black television screen. I was too scared to move closer. It was so quiet. Eventually, she turned towards me. Smiling, she said, “Oh my son, you’re home!” Before I could respond, she opened her mouth to say something else, but I could not hear her. All I could hear was the piercing cry of cicadas. The memory fades after that. I barely remember my mother’s voice now, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sound of a million cicadas and the sight of her lips moving to muted words.
My friend was looking at me and asking me questions. I realized he was still there.
“Hello? Anybody home?”
“Yeah. Sorry, what did you say?”
“I was asking you if you were okay.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine.”
He looked at me, unconvinced.
“Anyways,” he continued, “About the sun, would you still want to find it if you couldn’t tell anyone about it?”
The answer seemed clearer now. “Yeah,” I responded.
“Hmm. Let’s go. I want to show you something.”
I looked at him skeptically, but followed him as he made his way down the road.
It was even cooler now. The stars were out and the street lamps had flickered on. Their soft glow lit the way. I was lagging behind. My friend called out to me. I quickened my pace, noticing that we were approaching a dead end. Before I could ask where we were going, my friend turned and swung his legs over the guardrails on our right. We took careful steps down the small slope and continued making our way through the shrubbery. It was dark.
“Here it is.”
I could barely make out what he was pointing to, but it looked like dry remnants of a small pond. He picked up a small stone and tossed it into the dirt pit below us. I imagined a stone skipping across a surface of water.
“This used to be filled with water.” I looked at him and scoffed.
“Yeah right,” I said, already turning to walk back.
“Really! Well, at least that’s what my father told me.”
I stared at his silhouette in the darkness. He never mentioned his father to me before. I wanted to believe him. Maybe, just maybe, this was an old pond.
We stayed there for a few minutes, standing in silence. The sounds of crickets and wind surrounded us.
“Alright, let’s go,” he said.
We walked back, past the convenience store, which was now closed, toward our homes. We said our goodbyes and agreed to meet again the next day.
As we walked in opposite directions toward our apartments, I heard him yell, “Think about today!” I turned to see him in the distance, walking away and whispered “Sure,” forgetting that he was too far away to hear me.
When I got to my apartment, it was blue. The light from the street lamps and the glow from the moon poured in through the windows. I lay in my bed and stared at the ceiling.
“Think about today,” I whispered.
I feel asleep for a few hours before jolting awake, sweating and grasping for breath. It was still night, and I was still tired. I had dreamt that I was stuck inside a room that shrunk in size at the end of every hour. I think it was the final hour because I was pinned between every wall. Before the room could shrink one more time, I woke up. I sat on the edge of my bed wondering what the dream was about. I walked to the kitchen to grab a bottle of water and gulped it down. As I made my way back to my bed, I froze. If there was a pond, and someone did not manually drain it, that means that it dried up. And if it dried up, that means that there was heat. A lot of heat.
“But it’s only ever cool here,” I whispered.
The sun. That must mean there is a morning…that the sun does rise. Right?
I hurried to bed, eagerly awaiting the next day. I wanted to speak with my friend. Was that what he was trying to show me? That morning and day actually existed? I woke up the following evening just as the sun dipped behind the buildings in the distance. I got dressed and rushed to meet my friend at the convenience store. It was minutes before 7 p.m. when I arrived.
I went inside to buy us each one cup of yogurt. As I placed the containers on the counter, the shopkeeper smiled at me and asked, “How are you today?” I looked at her, startled. We never had a conversation outside of "Will that be all?" and "Yes, that’ll be all. Thank you."
I went back outside and waited for my friend in our usual spot. It was almost 7:30 p.m. and he still hadn’t arrived. It felt darker than usual. I continued to wait, hoping he would come, exhausted or something, pouring over himself with details about how he overslept or forgot about our meeting today until the last minute, but that last minute never came. I tossed the sweating yogurt containers into the trash. The condensation that had gathered on the cups quickly dripped onto a crumpled flyer advertising a plastic doll. Below the picture, the words “Adopt me,” screamed in a mellow blue hue. I began walking home.
I was less excited than before. My previous excitement about supposedly deciphering my friend’s message began to feel comedic...like I was the tail end of my own joke. I turned around and looked down the road, in the direction of the empty pond. I had little desire to visit it again. The street lamps had already been shining and buzzing for about an hour.
I reached the door to my apartment and as I slipped the key into the door, I heard a faint rumble. I paused, frightened. I slowly pulled my hand away and quietly walked down the hallway towards the stairwell, leaving the key where I had placed it. I pushed through the heavy door at the end of the hall and stood at the base of the stairs. I stared at the dark sky through the large window in that empty and cramped space. I knew, somehow, that I would never see my friend again. I would not go to space, and things would remain the same; the evenings would come again, as they did.
I walked back to my apartment and listened for the shuffling and rumbling I had heard before. It was still there. Taking a deep breath, I gently unlocked the door, pushed it open, and closed it behind me, thinking, that at least I’ll have one more chance to tell someone I made it home.