Fiction: “Palo Alto, Early Summer”

Palo Alto twilight, by Arenamontanus on Flickr (CC by-nc)

I can’t sleep, so here, have some fiction.

Speaking of atlases as we were, this is a story I wrote three years and another life ago (or two? I’ve lost count), as a way to map out one possible future.

My own life has moved past it, but it still lays out a path someone else might take. Maybe even a future me.

For this story, for me, the change of it is not so much something the character undergoes, but between myself, now, and the ‘I’ of the story. I don’t know if that will work at all for you, too, but I hope it does.

“Palo Alto, Early Summer”
by Kellan Sparver

The sunlight casts long golden shadows through the Roman blinds as the early summer day sinks slowly into summer night. I get up from where I’m working, on the brown leather couch, set my laptop down, and stand at the open patio door for twenty minutes or more, watching it set, and feeling the breeze ruffle the day-old stubble on my face.

At last the sun slips behind the houses across the street, and I turn from the door and go out the other door, the front door of the apartment. It’s on the other side of the house, already dipped in cool shadow. As I leave I turn the porch light on, but then I step away from its cone of light into the shadows at the side of the house, as I do every night. Some things are best kept away from electric light.

I like sandalwood incense because it is cheap, easy to come by in this area, and smells nice. I take a stick from the narrow brass holder I have mounted to the door-post, light it, and lay it askew in the salver below the small stone lantern — my shrine to my nameless deity of travel and the crossroads. Next I replace the tea light in the lantern and light it. I place the disposable lighter in front of the shrine, next to a small pile of loose change and a pair of weary but serviceable tennis shoes. Occasionally some or all of these small things disappear, and I replace them with spares from inside — some traveler needed them more than I. Straightening, I murmur a brief and mostly wordless prayer that my beloved might be returned safe to me — the only sign, to an outside observer, that today is in any way different than other days — and then I go inside.

His plane is due in in an hour or so, and commuting to our apartment will take at least another hour. The warmth the late-afternoon sun kindled in the house makes it a bit too hot to cook yet, so I make myself a sandwich with some deli meat and cheese and the last of the head of lettuce I picked up at the farmer’s market a week ago, noting it on this week’s grocery list in passing. I sit at the kitchen table to eat it, and when I finish I brush the crumbs into the trash and put the plate in the dishwasher. Then I return to the couch and my work.

An hour later, I get a text from him that his plane has landed.

Half an hour after that, I stand up once again for a break. Night has fallen, and the air is getting cold and the house dark. Rather than close the door, I kindle a small fire in the hearth, turn the lights on low, and move my laptop to the armchair, which is closer to the fire. Rather than sit down, though, I go into the kitchen and set the table for two. Then I set a pot of water on the stove to boil, for pasta, and start to warm some cream as the base for an alfredo sauce while I dice vegetables.

He opens the door quietly, as he always does. He’s the kind of person who can slip into and out of your life without either of you quite noticing, so we each make a special effort to pay attention to the other. The fettucine alfredo is bundled up in the oven with the light on to keep it warm, and I’m wiping my hands on the towel by the sink as I finish with the dishes. He sets his suitcase down, comes to me, kisses me, runs his thumb over the stubble on my jawline.

“How was your trip?” I ask, and we make the usual vague pleasantries.

Eventually we run dry of things to say. As we have been speaking, his facing-the-world mask has fallen away, and now he finally looks at me, soft around the corners of his eyes. “I missed you,” he says.

“I missed you too,” I say, and kiss him again.

I pull the fettucine alfredo out of the oven, and he moves to the sideboard. “Wine or water?” he asks me. “Water,” I say, and he takes down two glasses and fills them for us. We move together like a well-oiled machine, gears locked perfectly, teeth nesting with teeth.

Dinner is a quiet affair.

After dinner, he puts the few dishes in the dishwasher and starts it. I go out the front door and say a prayer of thanks before blowing out the candle in the lantern. As I close the door behind me I reach and turn off the porch light. The god or goddess of the crossroads will forgive me my inhospitality tonight.

His arms circle me from behind, and I consent to be held in his embrace for a long while, standing there swaying gently back and forth. “Come to bed, love,” he says.

I turn around in his arms and kiss him. “I love you,” I say.

“I love you too.”

Copyright © 2014 Kellan Sparver. All rights reserved.

The cover image is “Palo Alto twilight″ by Arenamontanus on Flickr, used under the terms of its Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 license. The image is used for illustrative purposes only. All persons depicted are models, and no endorsement or association is intended or implied.

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