Work had been a bit easier than in previous days, but I was always startled by the slightest flicker of the old lights in the bookstore. I feared it would be the final outage each time, and my paranoia flared. My shakiness died down for long periods of time, and I was able to act somewhat normally.
My head was filled with a sooty flood that was drowning my spirit. I hadn’t been able to feel anything other than that grey depression for too long, and I was ready to give up. Going back to my apartment meant only returning to loneliness and eventual nightmares about the city. I was walking a helpless path home, and wishing I had somewhere else to go.
I veered from that path so that I could visit the park. The light was failing, and I knew there would be a few minutes of dusk before the street lamps would turn on. As I walked down the path toward the bench where I had left the book, I felt suddenly apprehensive about what was around the next bend, who the person sitting on the bench would be. I didn’t want to raise my hope, but I felt deep down that she would be waiting for me.
I walked around an old maple and the bench came into view. It was vacant. I felt a sense of defeat, that I tried to rationalize with thoughts that made sense, that she had left another letter in the book, or hadn’t been back to check on it. I couldn’t push aside the disappointment that my intuition had been wrong.
I reached the bench and sat down under the big oak that shaded it. I reached under the bench to retrieve the book, but my hand didn’t find it. I kneeled before the bench and felt around on the ground under it, finding mud and grass, but not the book. This frightened me and made my eyes swell with tears. Someone else had taken the book before Tainn had come back. Could I get another message to her?
“Berit, I have your pages here,” a near-whisper broke into my desperation. I looked around, not spinning, but glancing over everything around me as quickly as I could. I still didn’t see anyone or any sign of life at all. I counted it as losing my fucking mind, because that made the most sense, with all things considered.
I looked along the path and appreciated the darkening of the park. In my dreams the previous night I had seen the park on fire, lit up with the rage of an arsonist. I had watched the molotov cocktail streak through the air as it left his hand and saw it burst, filling the park with fire and smoke. It had been violent and senseless, and reminded me of the rusted man.
I knew I should get home, and hurry to the street before I was mugged or had worse happen. Even with all the nightmares and impobable terror, I remembered the very real and present dangers. The city dark is no place to be alone.
I felt something tap the crown of my head. It was firm enough to get my attention, but it wasn’t the blow that my imagination had created, filled with warnings of violence. I froze and heard the soft voice say, “Berit, turn around.”
I turned nervously into a blue gaze. The pair of eyes that met mine were a summer sky blue, lit and glowing in stark contrast with the dusk’s grey. There was vitality in those eyes, and a wise clarity as well. There was no doubt that Tainn was there with me.
What should have been the first thing I noticed came quickly after leaving the thrall of her eyes. Her face was upsidedown, and dark hair was streaming towards the ground. A gentle smile was on her lips as she whispered, “Sorry to startle you. I have a habbit of sitting in trees. Well, hanging from them as well, as you can see. It’s nice to meet you Berit.”
I stepped back and looked up at her. She was hanging by her knees from one of the large branches of the oak, disarming and wild in her faded, ragged jeans and brown felt jacket.
I let moments pass in silence before croaking out, “It’s nice to meet you Tainn”
I laughed. My nervous voice, Tainn’s strange perch and the absurdity of the situation as a whole mixed into a final eruption of good humoured releaf. It had been many weeks since my spirits had lifted like this, and the grin on my face matched the wide one hanging in reverse before me. It felt damn good to be laughing, and the momentum carried on irrationally.
Tainn pulled herself back to the branch and climbed down the tree while I was doubled over. She stood beside me patiently until I had composed myself. “Sorry,” I mumbled.
“Sorry? Laughing’s the least harmful thing you could possibly do,” she joked. “Here’s your book,” she said, handing me the book we’d use to correspond, “It’s getting dark. Do you have time to talk for a while?”
She was right. The street lamps had come on during my laughing fit, and the chill had intensified, cutting through my clothes on a strong wind when I was still again. “Yeah. Can we walk back to my place? It’s not far.”
“That would be fine,” she answered, “You said you wanted me to help. I think I will be able to. I’ll tell you some more about how my nightmares ended, if that’s ok.”
I glanced at her and nodded.