Settling,
by Grace Schafer Perry

   The fog hovering above the grey water lapping up against the pier reminded him of her arms. She, all blonde hair like softened straw, defined rib cage, and crooked teeth, held him like greyness. Her heartbeat was hollow, her smile upstaged by the forced satisfaction in her eyes. She reminded him not only of the fog swirling around her beating heart, but of his own greyness, his age, dry wrinkles clashing unmistakably with the porcelain skin that clung to her biceps.

  

   She was a painter. She painted fruit, bread, rarely people. Her work was published in a local vegan restaurant cookbook, which he kept, even after it was over, dog-eared on the curry recipe with her illustration of the broccolini.

 

   They ate together, sipped Italian soda on their balcony overlooking downtown San Francisco with the pigeons and her cat. They read to each other, felt warm and gooey during laughter or love making.

 

   But 57 was too old to have kids- he didn’t want to anyways. His greyness was absolute, she yearned for sun, even rain, snow, or hail, something else. He began to feel it in her embrace, her love slipping away, glowing clouds after rain illuminating the things that were once covered in shadows. She wanted a child. And she wanted him. The two simply did not go together. 

   

Hannah Sy - Giants of Glass and Steel

   On Monday mornings they made plans for the week over black coffee and flaky pastries, cable cars and electric scooters whirring past the cafe Trieste and stirring up the fog. Their plans concerned their relative happiness, consisting of only the things inside their range of control: Dinner at Skates on Wednesday or Friday? Does the cat need to go to the vet this month or the next? Never: I want a child and you do not, what should we do?

 

   Like a spontaneous joy ride, there was no destination in mind, only the mirage of a drive with no ending that grew more and more blurry the further it went on. 

   He knew that one day her fog would settle as his had. When she finally left him, he tugged at hints of relief following fits of pure emptiness, feeling neither happy nor sad. He grappled constantly with the absence of emotion, content, at least, to contain inside himself all of the ways in which he would never be enough. On Mondays he sat where they always had, in the front window of the cafe Trieste, flipping through browned paperbacks, newspapers, and the cookbook, occasionally. He wondered what time felt like at her age, picturing her driving over the bridge and into blue skies.

.    .    .

  Despite consistent attempts to cover it up, her daughter knew that she was unhappy in Berkley. The endless stream of passive aggressive emails that filled her inbox with subject lines “Your Cat Keeps Peeing on My Flowers,” and “Please Do Not Leave Large Garden Tools Outside of Your Unit,” had begun to take a toll. When the bathroom pipes began to leak droplets of water down into the apartment below, the sticky note complaints on the front door combined with the uncomfortable lack of eye contact in the shared laundry room let her know that she was no longer fit to live there. The child watched painfully, curiously, as her mother found close friendship in the television and spoke romantically of her past, stories ending in “It's just not like that anymore.”

   She reflected fondly on previous lovers, illustrating each story carefully, slowly, as if attempting to relive them. Each one unfurled similarly, all ending in solitude, brokenness, greyness, the inconvenient desire to find something new. 

   “But all of this has brought me to you, Rosie,” she would reassure the child.

   On certain Mondays, when she could not bear to step foot into another class of rowdy elementary school children, they would drive to San Francisco, a chance for her to enhance Rose’s comprehension of the beauty in her past by bringing her to the locations where her stories had actually occurred, certain parks and restaurants jogging her memory of details almost lost in the clutter of her brain.  Rose would lean out of the window, eager to soak up the magic of the city that her mother so passionately spoke of, never understanding why one would leave such a place.

    “I bet the people I used to know still sit there,” she would say, slowing down and squinting out of the window.    “It’s unhealthy to settle in one place for so long,” she would add quickly, as if they hadn’t lived in the same two-bedroom apartment for sixteen years, turning a blind eye to each new snooty neighbor and sudden increase in the cost of our homeowner’s insurance. 

   Among the benches reminiscent of first kisses and names carved into the sidewalk, she was intentional in her desire to at least catch a glimpse of him, a living, breathing, memento from her past.  She liked to see him sitting there where they always had, in the front window of the cafe Trieste, flipping through browned paperbacks, newspapers, and the cookbook, occasionally. 

   Although her mother believed that she was secretive in her repetitive visits, Rose too began to count on seeing this man, even if she was not completely aware of his identity, from her view in the passenger seat. Nestled in the front of the consistently overcrowded storefront, he was as much a part of the café as the round tables and flimsy chairs that lined the sidewalk. 

 

   The Monday that he disappeared from his usual spot, Rose began to make sense of her mother’s recent cycle of sporadic breakdowns, followed by extensive phone calls with old friends from the city.  She had looked over at her mother, whose vision was fixated heavily on the road in front of her, absent of the glow of happiness that usually rose to the surface when passing this corner. The unoccupied chair, sitting eerily alone in the usual crowd of people, echoed her mother’s Facebook notifications, “I’m sorry for your loss,” and newspaper clippings that read, “In Memory of,” sprawled alongside the crumpled tissues atop her bedside table. 

   “It’s hard to find love these days, Rosie. Things just aren’t the way they used to be,” she said wearily.

     As they drove away, Rose watched the empty seat closely, remembering how he had looked there, never a change in posture or genre of book, his image sinking comfortably into the city streets, like her mother relaxing into their weathered couch after a long day of work, or fog settling over the hills after a blazing sunset.