Book by Didion by Mike Lee

I stand at the window. I know I am leaving soon. I don’t want to be kept waiting any longer.

I live in a hotel. This window overlooks the ocean. As I stare out into the sky, my mind is crowded with paragraphs constantly being edited. I cross out a sentence and rewrite it.

This is all coming down to precisely what to say when Stephan enters the room. How should I choose to open our conversation? How he will respond?

Behind me, I hear the kitchen clock ticking to the hour. Chiming its claim on the current situation portends toward destinations unknown.

In this hotel where I have resided for the last five years, I live to ignore the past and medicate when necessary. Yet, whether the morning was cloudy or sunny, the view upon my now aging world remained reliable: the sea, the bright yellow sandy beach, and the rows of alabaster hotels.

This, along with conversations with friends, strangers, the prostitutes who stroll near the town square, and the anti-depressants prescribed by doctors, hold that patchwork me together. The latter provides essential glue. Not as well as needed, but I can deal with the hallucinatory nightmares about closing memory doors because they are inaccurate when waking up.

But I fear that one morning will come when I believe otherwise.

I am in desperate need of peace.

For now, I am the architect of my subconscious. I am a man with a past living in the present with a lack of faith in the future. Perhaps I never had belief.

This is what my hell is. I make no case otherwise. I exist until the fading of the final overture of the last symphony. Nothing more needs to be said about that. The quality of my existence is framed in this. As nuanced as Foucault and as cryptic as Baudrillard, until I stare out the window. I see this as the mirror of my mind reflecting the world.

We met in a café in Greenwich Village. But, of course, everyone met in a café in Greenwich Village, but this café no longer exists. They all closed by the end of the 1990s, and when I was last in Manhattan, only Café Reggio remained.

I recall staring ahead at an empty table, then looking down at my notebook. Then, suddenly, I glanced up, and there I first Sylvia.

Long blond hair cut in long bangs right on the eyelashes, wearing green and gold silk drawstring pajama pants, black patent baby doll flats, and a white cotton blouse. Sylvia was out of place everywhere but here, in this lower Manhattan duchy of bohemians. 

She was already comfortably seated, reading the novel The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.

Sylvia died when our son Stephan was young. He has no memory of her, relying on photos, letters, and my receding memories that come and go like wisps of smoke.

I told him stories when he asked, but never when I first saw her. Today would be that day. Even then, I was a citizen whose only state is often of anxiety. But I remember maybe not so when I see her again. If I ever do, I remember.

Funny, I saw Sylvia the very next day. This time wearing a beret, black leather boots, and turtleneck, again reading Didion.

I let go of myself, and we talked. Glad I had bought the book and read it the night before.

“It is time.”

“Yes, I suppose it is.”

My bags are packed. My hotel days are over. No more park benches at the square, enjoying the brittle kindness of friends and strangers.

I stare off into 30 years of rolling waves bringing in the azure sea, frosted with white-capped rip tides. My gaze leads down to the candy-striped umbrellas and children playing in the sands.

“Your mother, Stephan,” I murmur.

“Who, Dad? I didn’t hear you.”

My arms stretch forth into the air to grasp her face to liberate Sylvia from the sky.

“That woman reading.” I pause.

“A book.”

Feeling falling.

Falling in love again.

Mike Lee is a writer and editor at a trade union in New York City and the chief blogger for Focus on the Story. His work appears in or is forthcoming in Ghost Parachute, The Quarantine Review, Drunk Monkeys, and many others. In addition, his story collection, The Northern Line, is available on Amazon and other online bookselling outlets. He was also recently nominated for Best Microfiction by Ghost Parachute.