Brown spends time in the neighborhood library, using the dictionary, thesaurus, and encyclopedia. Brown checks out documentaries and foreign films to watch on DVD. For work, Brown spends time in a corner coffee shop, brewing and pouring steaming liquid into paper cups for morning-fresh workers trudging to the El.
At home, Brown enjoys a view of the city and keeps a tabby cat. The cat purrs when Brown’s key enters the lock. There is one chair, two windows, and one vista. Brown sits with the tabby, reads the mail, and completes the day’s crossword puzzle. Brown cooks with Asian spices or garlic and herbs for Italian. The neighbors wonder what sort of person must be behind the door of Apartment 607 eating such exotic food. Brown’s neighbors do not see Brown. Brown leaves the building very early in the morning and returns home in the middle of the afternoon, when they are working or sleeping or out on the streets buying or selling crack cocaine. They do not know that it is their mysterious neighbor who calls the police on them when they cause a disturbance at the coffee shop, or that it is Brown who leaves stale goods behind the shop.
Green rides an electric bicycle all year long. Winter weather does not stop Green. Green rides along the lakefront of the city, in the city streets, and once along the side of the expressway, but never again after that. Green goes to movies, attends concerts at local nightclubs. The city offers opportunities to see the best movies and supports a community of avant-garde musicians and artists. Green will sit out even the most inept musician, hoping to hear one good riff, a glimmer of promise. People will talk to Green at these concerts, often drunken, but sometimes sober. Green is polite, cordial; the people walk away without an exchange of phone numbers or e-mail.
Green’s dachshund waits under a blanket for Green to arrive home. The dog loves Green and obeys requests to not bark so much and to wait until they are outside to urinate or defecate. Green doesn’t stray far, so the dog isn’t left alone for very long, and in nice weather Green takes him to the coffee shop where they both can sit outside in the sunshine, though the dog will often stay under a blanket where he is most comfortable.
It is winter when Green first notices Brown, first takes note of Brown’s hair, nose, and smile. Brown serves Green’s coffee with a genuine smile and a soft-spoken pleasantry. Green thinks: Brown hair and brown eyes and brown skin. Comforting. Earthy.
Green sits, plugs in a laptop, and writes a software manual. Green faces the window and tries to not think of Brown. Brown may have more charms, more tantalizing traits with which to torment Green. Green writes and gazes out the window, hoping to steal a reflected image of Brown cleaning or straightening tables.
Green will think of Brown often. Wishing that the ideas of Brown are just a passing fancy, Green realizes that there may be more than ideas at stake, the heart is involved. Green begins a haphazard pattern of visiting the shop to work, then avoiding it to escape the sweet torture of Brown’s face. Green visits the library, seeking asylum. A terrible gravity brings Green back to Brown; heavy chains drag Green’s heart.
Brown does not think of Green in the spring, when Green is accompanied by the black and tan dachshund. The dog sits outside with its master. Brown notices green eyes brought into high relief by a green shirt. Brown compliments Green’s eyes, which alight at the comment. Brown breaks the ice:
“Nice dog,” Brown says.
“Heh, thanks, Dachshund,” Green says.
“You can tell by the wiener shape.”
“Oh, yeah, of course, stupid me,” Green says, then returns to writing a grant proposal.
Brown wipes the remaining tables and Green continues writing, both dissatisfied with their encounter. Brown wishes that Green could find somewhere else to write. The heartache is too much. They remain silent, aware of each other’s every movement. Green takes a deep inhale which Brown feels as a soft breeze. Brown works behind Green, every position mapped in Green’s heart.
Brown thinks of Green as often as Green thinks of Brown. Brown knows they would make an excellent couple, an intuition Brown has one morning after handing Green a coffee, feeling warmth and a hint of flirtation from Green. The thought of them as a couple is in Brown’s head, a thought shared by Green, for several months. Hot coffees turn into iced coffees and Green goes through several projects sitting at the coffee shop, stealing glances, hoping for relief from the pangs Brown inflicts with each movement.
The seasons begin to change again. Green wears a light jacket in the morning, orders hot coffee, and again begins leaving the dachshund at home. Comments pass back and forth between Brown and Green about weather, the dog, and bicycling in the cold.
It becomes moving season, as they call it in the city, and Green has found a new apartment. It is bigger with a better view. It is one El stop north. The new building has a coffee shop on the first floor. A small, well-stocked grocery store is across the street. It’s a great new neighborhood.
On moving day, Green stops at the coffee shop to see Brown. Green purchases coffees for the hired movers and informs Brown of the move. Green tells Brown that the new apartment is only one El stop away, that nothing will change; in two days they will see each other again.
In three days, Green pays Brown a visit. The coffee shop seems unfamiliar; they’ve added a new set of easy chairs. The music is different. Green orders one of the complicated drinks from Brown, to increase the time they have to speak before the space shifts, before they stop being merely server and client and any extra words fall in the land of the personal. Green finds a table but has nothing to do.
Green sits. Green completes the crossword puzzle, folds the newspaper, and leaves.
Hobie Anthony was raised on the red clay of Georgia, cut his teeth on the hard streets of Chicago, and now roots into the volcanic soil of Portland, Oregon. He can be found in such journals as Fourteen Hills, Fiction Southeast, The Rumpus, [PANK], Wigleaf, Housefire, Crate, Ampersand, Birkensnake, Word Riot, Connotation Press, and many more. He earned an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. He writes experimental novels.
Lead image: “coffee stain” (via Flickr user Roger Karlsson)