A wicked pink radiated from Timothy’s exposed, freckly skin. The sun reflected relentlessly off the skyscraper windows he squeegeed for a living. It was back now with malice as he emerged from a subway tunnel. The job was just a placeholder to pay the rent but he cherished those slow-motion moments when he was high up, watching the business-casual bees buzz below. Now clocked-out and still new to the city, Timothy couldn’t make up his mind on whether he wanted to finally visit the park by his apartment, or just watch the next episode of The Otter Woman.
Baking concrete warmed the soles of Timothy’s sneakers on his trek down the bustling avenue. The city was steaming; he felt like a cooked clam. Timothy slowed, realizing he’d just echoed the dialogue of his favorite gender-dissociative family-man, Marcel. He thought perhaps he needed a new hobby.
Shaking his head, he ducked out of the heat and into a bodega across the street from his apartment. On his march to the refrigerator section he glanced through an opening in the shelves and beheld a snippet of a cartoon mini-skirted otter. Marcel boasted his curves from the yellow t-shirt of a short blonde.
He stopped in his tracks, heat flooding his cheeks. His sneaker scuffed the tile floor, intoning a chord of flatulence into the god-forsaken symphony that was Timothy’s existence. Their gaze linked through the crack.
Her eyes were jade; her lips were ruby; his lungs were lead.
What was Timothy to do?
Choose the path (left or right) you think Timothy actually followed.
Just then he noticed the lovely selection of cheese snacks in front of him. White cheddar, jalapeño, Pepper jack…Timothy waited until the girl left the aisle, watching her pay for the items in her red shopping basket. The cashier asked the girl if she needed help carrying her bags, as if he actually intended to leave the store with her. She politely declined in a warm leather voice.
Timothy sighed, cursing his noodle arms, his sunken chest. He tossed some cheese snacks in his shopping basket to justify his lingering and migrated to the refrigerator section. After that untimely sneaker fiasco Timothy need to be refreshed. He wouldn’t allow himself to wade in his own embarrassment.
A peripheral flash of yellow ensnared him. He gravitated to the source of that alluring color, wresting open the glass door. The lemonade was his for the taking. Goosebumps erected on his skin when the icy air caressed him. He tucked the lemonade in his basket and approached the now-stoic cashier.
Stepping out into the sticky air, Timothy traveled in the opposite direction of his home, to a nearby park with green wooden benches. From the shady corner bench Timothy had a decent view of both the park and the streets, teeming with passersby. He had a seat and dabbed the sweat beading on his brow with a bleach-stained shirt sleeve.
Arranging the foodstuffs next to him on the bench, Timothy espied a condensation droplet trailing eagerly down the beguiling bottle.
His tongue clacked against its adobe roof. It was anxious to taste the sweetness of his beverage. Cheez-It’s be damned. Clink—pop!
A mist came off the liquid’s surface like some sultry lemon nymph.
Timothy brought it hastily to his cracked lips, letting the lemonade flood his arid mouth. He closed his eyes, taking three or four greedy gulps before stopping himself. He was entranced.
Children’s helium-steeped cackles wafted from the monkey bars. A couple pushing a stroller argued in hushed tones. Across the street, on a bench, a businesswoman with a (presumably) lukewarm coffee stared idly at the changing traffic lights. In a doorway near her a pale gothic girl spread open a white lace parasol and gave it a spin. On the third floor of the neighboring building a bald man watered the herbs in his window plot with a coffee mug. His bath-robed wife was visible behind him with a wooden spoon in hand, apparently requesting he have a taste. The man twisted to oblige her and untwisted with a comical grimace.
He had to smile. From up high, mirrored in soapy glass, the busy bees were just part of the hive. Now he could see each individual honey comb, that each little bee had varying stripes on its back and odd specks of pollen on its wings. In his stupor Timothy cherished the benign proximity.
He swigged his lemonade, melding into the bench.
“That wasn’t what it sounded like,” Timothy ejaculated.
“Hey, it’s a perfectly natural body function.” A smile saturated her brown-sugar words.
“I swear. Have a whiff if you don’t believe me.” Timothy could have slapped himself. Was it possible to start off with a less sexy topic? He thought perhaps next he could bring up human trafficking or the embalming process.
Those yellow curls twirled like Cinderella and she was gone. Her tinkling gait crescendo-ed. With an exuberant grin she came to him. Marcel go-go danced on her t-shirt with every jostling step.
“All I can smell is that cashier’s obnoxious cologne,” she whispered, leaning toward him in clandestine familiarity. “It’s attached to my nostrils.”
“Classic mistake. One spritz—good. Two spritzes—,” He shrugged. “Three—who do you think you are, the king of France?” Timothy seized the opportunity to lean into her too. “I like your shirt, by the way.”
Her eyes flashed like metal in a microwave. “Are you an otter-er too?”
Timothy gleaned her scent, redolent of petrichor, moist dirt, and citrus blossom. He was entranced. She was magnificent. “Yes,” he managed.
“No way!” she jumped, extending her hand for an enthusiastic shake. “I’m Anna.”
They purchased their drinks from the king without ceasing talk of the show. Anna said she hated Siobhan for burning all her husband’s miniskirts. Her sister Penelope was a royal bitch for snooping on Marcel while, as usual, Craig was only acting out to get his parent’s attention.
“It wouldn’t have happened if Marcel was just herself from the beginning,” Timothy said.
“It’s really hard to be yourself when you feel like everyone is demanding the opposite. I understand why Marcie didn’t say anything. I just hate that she didn’t choose to come out for herself,” said Anna. A droplet of sweat trickled happily down Anna’s neck, glinting first from behind her ear and pooling at her clavicle. “Where are we going?”
“I was just kind of following you,” said Timothy, shrugging. They had already taken a turn about the block, wending like salmon up a river. The sun made her incandescent in its waning light, her flaxen ribbon locks divine. He inhaled sharply, mustering his courage. “Listen, I think you’re cool. My apartment is right over there. Do you want to get takeout and watch the new episode with me?” His miniature cactus was just barely visible from an extra clean window on the fourth floor. Anna’s expression soured.
“You’re nice,” she said, hands raised in protest. “I just don’t like you like that.”
“Why not?” He slumped, cursing his slender stature, his inflamed complexion.
“I volunteered to smell your fart in a convenient store, for starters.” Her eyebrows knit, forming a blonde scarf on her forehead. “And I have a girlfriend.”
Clink—pop! Timothy snapped out of his stupor. “I’m not good at picking up on that kind of stuff,” he admitted to the sidewalk. Timothy balled his fists in his shorts pockets.
“Wait.” Her face had honeyed; she clutched an elbow. “You can just watch the new episode tomorrow with me and a big group of friends. You’ll like them. Give me your phone and I’ll put in my number,” she said, situating her free hand between them.
He conjured his phone and fed her expectant palm. As strangers streamed by them, Timothy took a half-step closer to Anna so as not to be swept away in the current.