Eugene’s lips tilted to the side with a juicy twitch, his teeth opening and chomping as if on an invisible cigar. The stale scent of tobacco, sweat, and moonshine hovered around the spot he stood. He rubbed his meaty hands together, stained slightly with yellow. Now Pete wondered if those stains were caused by nicotine or by Grey Poupon. Eugene lurched forward and moved past Pete, his malodorous cloud lingering a bit and finally dissipating as he swung open the large metal door and slammed it home behind him. Pete heard a collection of rattles and sliding metal as Eugene bolted and locked the door.
Pete sighed, knowing he should get back to his post behind the glass counter, but he took a moment longer to wonder what was going on behind that door. A small shimmer of light dimmed and came back again behind the little peephole that looked out into the hallway. Pete gathered up his self-consciousness and hurried back behind the counter, slipping on an apron that was a little cleaner than the last.
Now standing on the familiar spot of linoleum, scuffed black by Pete’s shoes in front of the Espresso machine, Pete could see Francisco through the front window with his notebook under arm, his notebook splayed with pages jutting out randomly. Francisco was looking down at a couple of pages in his hand, like he was rediscovering them in the aftermath of the Eugene. Usually when he got tossed out, Francisco looked up at Pete afterwards to get an extra dose of self-indulgent pity.
Francisco often told Pete it helped him write better in the afternoon.
Outside the paned glass, Francisco hugged the notebook tightly with the inside of his arm and looked at the pages in his hand. There was something there, some words that vibrated in his mind. He wasn’t quite sure what the words meant, but they started to echo in his whole body, increasing in tenor and force. After a few seconds, the thrumming went from a dull pulse to a deafening roar. Francisco wondered if anyone else could hear it, but instinctively knew it was internal. He was in danger.
Slowly, but immediately, he had to force his arms to crumple up the pages of the notebook because he couldn’t take his eyes off of the pages on his own. He succeeded and thought it was over. However, in the aftermath of this resonance, Francisco had a curious feeling take the place in his chest. The beat that had vibrated his heart, like skin stretched over bones, dulled. The silence took on a tangible quality. When he had visited his great-grandfather’s cabin on the edge of the mountain lake he had experienced something like this. He could no longer remember the name of the lake, or the place of it on a map anymore, but there was a similar tangibility to the early mornings there. He would rise before his parents to go out and look at the waterfowl skimming across the placid surface…to see the fish jumping up at the flies, darting against the reflections.
In the midst of this silence and calm that filled him, he realized this had never happened as a result of the green opaque bottle before. Was it the concoction, the visions of Rachael, or getting thrown out of the store? Had he hit his head on something? Or was it a combination of all of the above’s morning inventory?
For the first time in a long while, Francisco decided to stop thinking.
It was if there was suddenly some organ or muscle, so long held in check, that had life redirected to it. At first it was painful, like when a leg or arm falls asleep and you can’t even feel it … then you move it so the blood can get back to it.
He became aware of the shifts that he had been encountering beneath the surface of things but had ignored, like time had been slowing, stopping and jumping forward. Not only that, but the flavor of the segments of his life between these stops had been different, like they were written by different people in some unseen hand. Some of the segments seemed longer, some mere moments. The stops in between them could have occupied years or minutes. If the world was on pause, who would be there to notice it? If his life froze like a movie during someone’s bathroom break, how would Francisco know?
The opaque drinking from the green bottle…the tenderness of making love to Rachael, despite his own callousness to it…blackening up his journal pages with a Sharpie and the ones that are not yet blackened. His child. New life. He had a sense of time, and of light passing through space, colorlessly. Then hitting something and releasing a full spectrum of light. More than that, Francisco acknowledged colors he had never seen before. The passage of time folded in on itself so that it felt like he had lived an entire life and then came back to where he was. The words that connected these things separated and became thoughts without words.
Francisco wondered, “Is this possible, to wonder things without words?”
And then that was it. His mind slowly shifted into gear and the strange organ eased off. It wasn’t like before, as if that strange organ was denied its lifeblood, but it was humming quietly in the back of his consciousness now. Francisco was unsure if he was happy about this. He thought he had been getting along fine before. Now, there was something else. The realization that had come over him was exciting, but also a little deathly. It was a mercy his mind took back the controls when it did. He couldn’t have handled much more epiphany.
Francisco looked down at his watch. It was an hour and a half since the rain stopped and he had walked down to Pete’s coffee shop (if that’s what it really was). Surprisingly, he was no longer in front of Pete’s store, but in front of an old, out-of-place brownstone building. The other houses on this street were made of red brick, wood or granite. He didn’t remember walking, or even the sense of moving. He couldn’t even remember what the black sharpie marks on that page had read when this had all started. Slightly, and with caution, he uncrumpled the notebook page he held in his hands and looked down at the words….