by Hobie Anthony
Brown spends time in the neighborhood library, using the dictionary, thesaurus, and encyclopedia to learn new things. Brown also uses the computers to see what books are available on subjects such as African History and Quantum Physics. Brown checks out documentaries and foreign films to watch on DVD at home. 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 train.
At home, Brown enjoys a view of the city and keeps a small tabby cat happy and alive. The tabby cat begins to purr every day when Brown’s key enters the lock on the apartment door. There is only one chair and though there are two windows, they both face the same vista. Brown shares this chair with the tabby, reads the mail and completes the crossword puzzle from the day’s newspaper, each word falling into place like water in a fountain.
Brown cooks with spices from Asia or with lots of garlic and herbs for Italian dishes. The neighbors often wonder what sort of person must be behind the door of Apartment 607 eating such exotic food. Brown’s neighbors do not see Brown, since Brown leaves the building very early in the morning and returns home in the middle of the afternoon, when they are either working or sleeping or out on the streets selling or buying crack cocaine – in the cases of Mr. Williams in Apartment 601, Ms. Clayton in 608 and each successive occupant of Apartment 604. 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 makes sure to put the stale bagels and muffins neatly bagged and in easy reach in the alley behind the shop.
Green rides an electrically powered bicycle all year long. The weather does not stop Green from zooming off on the motorized bike. Green rides along the lakefront of the city, in the city streets and once along the side of the expressway and 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 of a guitar or for that glimmer of promise, which novices often possess, but often do not recognize or cannot adequately cultivate. 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 number 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. A comforting color, brown. Earthy.
Green sits, plugs in a laptop and gets to work writing a software manual. Green faces the window and tries to not think of Brown any longer, for fear that Brown may have more charms, more tantalizing traits with which to torment Green. So Green writes and gazes out the window, hoping to steal the reflected image of Brown at the counter or wiping a dirty table.
Green will think of Brown often after this day. At first thinking that ideas of Brown are just a passing fancy, Green soon realizes that there may be more than ideas at stake, that the heart may be involved by now. So, Green begins a haphazard pattern of visiting the shop to work then avoiding it to escape the torture of seeing Brown. Green sometimes visits the neighborhood library instead, the homeless mostly sleep quietly and Green leaves before the place becomes a day care for local latchkey kids. A terrible gravity brings Green back to Brown; heavy chains drag Green’s heart.
Brown does not start thinking of Green until the Spring, when Green is accompanied by the black and tan dachshund. Brown notices a pair of green eyes brought into high relief by a green shirt. Brown compliments Green’s eyes; they seem to gleam in the affection. Brown comments on the dog to break the ice:
“Nice dog,” Brown says.
“Heh, thanks, Dachshund,” Green says.
“You can tell by the wiener shape,” Brown says.
“Oh, yeah, of course, stupid me,” Green says, then returns to writing a grant proposal.
Brown continues wiping the sidewalk tables and Green continues writing, both dissatisfied with their encounter. Brown wishes that Green could find somewhere else to write to ease heartache. They remain silent, each aware of the others ever 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 begins to think of Green as often as Green thinks of Brown. Brown knows they would make an excellent couple, an intuition which comes to Brown 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 under a blanket. Comments pass back and forth between Brown and Green about the 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, and with a better view, but further north at the next El stop. A coffee shop is on the first floor of this new building. A small, well-stocked grocery store is across the street. It’s a great new neighborhood.
On moving day, Green stops into 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 mounts the bicycle and pays Brown a visit. The coffee shop seems unfamiliar, they’ve added a new set of easy chairs, and 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 sits, with no work to do, nothing to do but sit with the newspaper.
Green sits quietly, completes the crossword puzzle, folds the newspaper, and leaves.
HOBIE ANTHONY is a Portland, OR writer who lives under the radar, behind the hedges, and at your backdoor. He holds an M.F.A. from Queens University of Charlotte and has been published in such journals as Wigleaf, Gloom Cupboard, and The Los Angeles Review, among others. He is currently at work on a novel and more short stories.