I wake up to the smell of burning coal. It reminds me of childhood visits to my grandfather in Vienna. The beautiful stone buildings, traveling by train through new landscapes, and that smell. Damp, smokey, European fall.
I open my eyes, the sky is blue. I remember it’s April. The smoke is coming from a small charcoal disc in a dark blue ceramic vessel by the open window. He must have been up earlier to light it, but he’s sleeping now. I hear the sounds of the outside world, garbage being thrown out behind the Indian restaurant, cars in the distance, people arguing loudly in the street below but I don’t feel bad about it. I feel alive.
I get out of bed and look around his apartment. There’s stuff everywhere. I try to categorize his possessions: Tall piles of old books, paintings of fairies and trolls that look like they’ve been collected from cheap hotels, all sorts of small and large statues. On the heavy wooden desk there are lots of news paper clippings, some large seashells and a collection of beautiful, metallic green feathers. Categories I don’t find represented are: private photos, plants and musical instruments. At the bottom of one of the bookshelves I see an object that does have sort of an instrumental look to it, but it reminds me more of an ancient torture device than something you could actually play. I move closer. It has a handle and an oval frame with bars going across it, all in some darkly colored metal. I reach out to touch it.
“Good morning!” He calls out from behind me. My heart jumps.
I turn around. He’s sitting up in bed, his amber eyes look wide awake. I wonder how long he’s been watching.
“It’s an ancient Egyptian percussion instrument. Used in sacred rituals.”
Suddenly I feel faint.
“Everything in existence needs to be shaken.” He says. “Do you know who said that?”
I can smell the Indian restaurant through the open window. It’s already warm outside. My clothes are on the floor.
Ralph was always late, I was always early. It didn’t matter. I should have had something to eat at home. I could have had some french fries if my brother hadn’t tried to defrost the fridge earlier this week, ruining everything in it.
“It’s all right that my life is always like this.” I thought.
I knew I probably wasn’t more awkward than most people, I knew it was just a feeling.
Looking at my phone, I realized I had waited half an hour for him to show up. He always did in the end. Show up. While I contemplated walking in to the shitty falafel shop and getting a shitty snack to keep me alive, I noticed something strange. I didn’t immediately recognize the sound as meowing. But then I saw them emerging from the subway. A sea of cats, there must have been at least twenty of them. They were all running. But they didn’t look scared. They looked like they were going somewhere. As I stood there and watched them go up the street, I suddenly had the feeling that I wanted to run with them.
Just as the last cat disappeared, Ralph showed up. I decided not to say anything.