No matter how many years passed, he would occasionally turn up. The phone rang once sometime after midnight and she heard the screen door creaking before dawn. She rolled over and kept sleeping, he wasn’t going anywhere. When she woke up, she knew he was in the bedroom off the back porch, the telltale signs that he had arrived were all around; a pile of change on the counter with a couple of guitar picks, worn boots and his brown jacket that had seen better days. She started the coffee, picked up Kat who was sitting on the counter looking out the kitchen window, walked back to what she considered his room and stared at him, sound asleep.
It was by chance that they had met in an alley near Yesler Street. It was the first dry night after a month of Seattle rain and she couldn’t help but wander the streets, searching for something she couldn’t explain was lost. She was social enough to be asked to hang out with others but she preferred her own thoughts to their superficial shit. At some point she realized she was being followed, it wasn’t the first time. Ever the old soul, she was aware enough at 22 that she looked good in her jeans and being alone offered others an opportunity, or so they thought. On occasion out of boredom and loneliness she would lure them in and although she let them think they were having their way with her, she knew otherwise. It wasn’t that difficult setting the stage, making it happen, she had been doing it for years. She understood her life had been mapped as a child by abandonment and lies of others. When those who were supposed to be watching didn’t, she had wandered, lived, even thrived.
But that night she hadn’t been in the mood for the cat and mouse game. She’d needed air and space. She’d needed the voice in her head to scream a bit louder than usual. The dark alley had given enough cover to shake the wolves tailing her. After they passed she’d stayed and removed a small black notebook from her back pocket and a dull pencil from her jacket and had begun to write.
“He knew I was home the day he packed the garage. Our eyes met, I was on one side of the kitchen window, he on the other. He never waved, never looked back, just took his tools and left. I guess they were important for rebuilding his life and at least with the garage empty, there was enough space to house my never ending pain. When he had cared to look again I was….”
Somewhere mid-sentence she sensed she wasn’t alone. The wolves hadn’t double backed, this was a different energy. This one had watched. He was less than a car length away from her on the other side of the alley, standing with one leg bent at the knee so his foot was flush against the wall. Through the darkness she knew he stared, but she had continued writing. She’d heard him rustling through his pockets, heard the unmistakable noise of the lighter and the air he drew in to encourage the cigarette’s slow burn. “Salinger writes in a bunker.”
She had smiled, knowing this was a completely different type of wolf, maybe from her pack. “That’s all Holden asked of him.”
He had drawn in another breath, “Yeah, I suppose.”
She had nodded, “I never could catch them all either.”
Then he had smiled, a worthy opponent, “It’s easier to let them fall.”
When they left the alley, under the street light, she realized she recognized him and his music. Musically, he was on his way up but alone in front of thousands. She wasn’t impressed by his popularity but she was curious about his notebooks. He found her habits a bit eclectic and eccentric and although he saw the glimmer of recognition in her eyes, it didn’t seem to faze her a bit either way. He had walked her home to her dingy apartment, kicked his boots off by the door, drank her last beer and fell asleep with his head in her lap. She wasn’t waiting for him when he woke up but there was a note and a key tied to an old piece of string. “Sometimes time and space collide. I am alone but not lonely. If you have a problem finding the right key, use this one. It is what it is.” This type of closeness worked, the silence, the space, sometimes more but most often less. Their conversations were long and winding, their friendship deep and wide. She laid no claim to him other than knowing she was his witness, his proof of life. He carried her secrets, the ones she used to leave in the alley. It was never about building a relationship together, more like picking it up and carrying it along in this lifetime from long ago.
Twenty five years later, here he was. They weren’t getting any younger, but neither had changed. There had been a few new keys along the way, each tied with string. The old ones hung on a rusty nail by the back door behind an old sweatshirt. His notebooks collected dust next to hers on a forgotten shelf. His callouses were a little thicker on his fingers and she knew the underside of his right arm was as smooth as the wood on his guitar, somehow they shared the right key and the music had polished them both.