XIII – William’s POV
It is not a common occurrence for another person to interest me.
I realize how arrogant this makes me sound. And perhaps on some level, this is true. But spending every last year of your life in wretched, small, artificial places will do that to you. It will either turn you into a self-fulfilling prophecy, telling you you’re conceited or self-important and punishing you for seeing potential in yourself, or it will turn you into one of them: Another narrow-minded citizen, conforming and restricting yourself to fit within the confines of small-town culture because you’ve grown too comfortable there to grow any further.
I often wake up in the morning and wonder if this is what life is supposed to be: Disdaining the people you see, the job you do, the spaces you move through and inhabit… existing in a constant state of fluctuating hatred for everything around you. It’s a chronic question. But I realize that it only arises out of bitterness. I know that there is no such thing as “supposed to be”. Questioning whether something is “supposed to be” is useless. It’s a coping mechanism, letting you believe that something is wrong, or not as it should be, and allowing you to aspire towards whatever you think should be. It is only helpful at distracting you from the truth. There is no “should be”. There is only what is, and what you do with it.
It is not a common occurrence for another person to interest me. But Audrey interested me.
Perhaps it’s because she is a foreigner here- a living, breathing cardinal among paper sparrows. Perhaps the fact that she looks and acts and speaks differently from everyone else around me is a draw in and of itself. Perhaps she does possess something remarkable or unusual, and the remarkable and unusual I possess was able to recognize it instinctively.
I can only speculate at what it is about her that so effectively piques my interest. But my interest is piqued all the same.
The shop was quiet when she walked in that day. She always chose to enter when there was no one else around. I appreciated that. I look up at her from behind the counter, all too ready to delay the tasks I’m required to do here. An interesting person is a puzzle, and the prospect of finding another piece, however small, is infinitely more appealing than any more mundane chore, even with the blessing of solitude. I wait for a question, or a reason for her arrival, but she only smiles in response.
“Is everything alright with the room?” I ask.
Her expression falters for a flashing second. She glances down at the nails on her right hand. “Yeah, it’s fine.” She looks back up, looking pleasant once again. “Just saying hi.”
“Ah.” There is something she’s not saying. Perhaps she’s just trying to be polite. Perhaps, like everyone else here, she sees directness as a faux pas. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think back to the other morning, when she asked about the noise being made by the “renovation workers”. She is a terrible liar. I have to wonder if what she isn’t saying has anything to do with the noise she spoke of before.
She speaks again. “It seems slow in here.”
“An astute observation.” I dislike small talk.
“I meant, it always seems slow. Does anyone ever come in here?”
“Ever”. If only the answer were “no”. “Occasionally. But not often. I grab the knife at my side, sliding the blade out of the sheath and slicing open the box of cards in front of me. “The customers are more often tourists than locals. That’s why I took the position. I enjoy the solitude and I don’t particularly like the people here.”
“Oh… I’m sorry.” …Wait. “Am I bothering you?” Oh, no. It only occurs to me now that that may have been a reckless thing to say.
“It’s the locals I don’t like,” I say. “You’re fine.” You’re fascinating.
“I’m honoured.” she jests. I’m relieved that I haven’t put her off. It’s far too easy for me to do. “Why don’t you like the people here?”
“Many reasons.” I know my answer is curt. I don’t care to elaborate. Not on the memories or the disappointments. Not on the true character of this town, which would disrupt her willfully idyllic perception of it. Not on any of it.
As I begin stocking the cards on the display near the counter, I still feel a creeping sensation like guilt take hold of me in the silence. Because there is silence. I have made her uncomfortable- I can feel it. I do not look back at her to see what type of discomfort I have caused… I have an irrational fear of looking back and seeing a look of pity on her face.
The quiet stretches, but it is not the empty space that disturbs me. It is the feeling of discomfort radiating from Audrey.
Perhaps I am imagining it. But I won’t turn around to confirm this suspicion. Instead, I look for something, anything, to disrupt the quiet with. I look at the cards in my hand.
“Tell me. Are you more of a dog person, or a cat person?”
What a ridiculous question to ask. In my quest to fill the silence, I just had to use the most trite thing that I could possibly think of.
“…Um… A cat person, I guess?”
“They say you can tell a lot about a person based on which they prefer. Apparently there have been scientific studies.” Stop talking, you imbecile. “I can’t speak to the accuracy of these claims… But you’re correct.” I drop the cards into the holder. Why are you still talking? “Cats are the superior pet.” Bravo. Congratulations on making a fool of yourself. I hear the floor creak around her. Wonderful. She’ll be leaving, now. And I can’t blame her. “Before you go,” I say, hesitant to turn around, “Would you hand me that sticker gun?”
There’s one sitting on the counter, somewhere. I know I left it there. I don’t genuinely need it, but at this point, I refuse to end this interaction by looking like a complete idiot. I hear her stepping over to the counter and picking up the gun. I turn to accept it from her, accidentally grazing her hand as I do. The feeling is faintly disruptive.
She turns to leave, and by way of farewell, I say, “I’m glad the room is treating you well.”
Will she bother coming back next time, unless she needs something? I certainly wouldn’t. I suppose any impression I may have given of being a vaguely intelligent or interesting individual is gone, now. “Are you a cat person or a dog person?” What in the precise hell is wrong with me?
“It is… for the most part.”
…She’s still here. Of course. I didn’t even notice. It never ends.
“It is a little lonely, though.”
…This doesn’t happen.
Surely, she isn’t… Oh.
What am I supposed to-? My God. Pull yourself together.
“Perhaps you should get a cat.”
The floor creaks. “Perhaps I will.” She is walking out of the room.
She is gone. I find myself held in place.