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The fish is dragged from the sea in a spray of salt water and slammed onto a wooden dock. A black fishing net entangles him for a moment until he accidentally wiggles out of it. He is free. And that terrifies him more than his inability to breathe.

“She loved me once,” says a shaggy-looking man on stage at the bar built semi-parallel to the ocean. “I wrote this song about her, but I don’t listen to it anymore.” He puts bright orange earplugs into his fuzzy ears and strums his guitar.

The fish flops across the dock, grows legs, and steps wobbly up to the bar’s counter to order a glass of water. “We’re all out,” the bartender tells him, “we only have beer.”

In a corner sits a girl with hair so blonde it’s almost white. The fish sits down across from her and smiles. “I’d never thought I’d sit in a bar with someone before,” he tells her. She stares at him, mouth gaping, bubbles leaking out and floating away over her head. He likes her immediately and decides to never leave her side.

“I lost my ocean,” he tells her. “I have legs now. I can’t go back. I’ll follow you.” The girl agrees, happy to have attention, even from a fish she never wants to be friends with.

The man on stage is still playing but no one is listening to him, not even himself. He realizes this and smashes his guitar noiselessly on the ground. Then he asks the bartender for a broom and carefully sweeps up his mess. He digs the earplugs from his ears and holds them carefully in one hand as he steps over to the fish’s table.

“You’re an idiot,” he tells the fish, flicking an earplug at him. The fish doesn’t mind too much. He knows he’s an idiot, but now that he’s found the blonde girl, he doesn’t have to think about anything ever again.

The musician looks over at the girl. “I don’t know what to tell you,” he says to her, flicking the other orange earplug at her face. He turns to leave, waving happily at the pile of broken wood and string he’s left on stage.

The fish looks at the girl. She looks at him looking at her. A tsunami arrives and washes them all into the ocean.

 

 

 

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We sat in a row on the ground in the backyard of someone’s house at someone’s halloween party. We were watching two costumed people fight with fake swords — I think the female version of John Snow won in the end, somehow; I’m not sure how you win a fake fight.

The backyard belonged to a house that belonged to a group of college students — anyway maybe that explains why the backyard was only patches of grass and the ground was mostly scraggly dirt, large rocks, a spare desk chair, and an old couch that everyone was avoiding. Most people were standing anyway, looped into circles of hand-made-costumed art majors waving clear plastic cups full of questionable mixed drinks around in the air as they spoke. My little group — three girls sitting on a row of lumpy rocks — cycled between watching the sword fight, chatting, and gazing around at other people.

I was in town from out of state, visiting my friend in her city for the second time in as many months. It was November 1st, and I had just  Mega-Bussed my way south for 8 hours, Halloween costume shoved into my backpack.

As we sat in our little artsy row, another person came to join us. And his costume was confusing but very good and I had to ask him what it all meant and sometimes that’s the way homemade costumes and art both are.  And the four of us continued the chatting and watching and gazing cycle. And really it’s not entirely true that my friend was the only person I knew at the party, because I had met this boy before, a month earlier, during my first visit to the city.

The rest of the party happened and then ended, after John Snow won the fight and we all got up from the rocky, dirty, chair-y backyard and danced in the room that is usually the dining room and drank more questionable drinks made by two college kids dressed as a werewolf and the universe. And the rest of my visit happened, happily, spending time with my friend and exploring the city she lived in which was slowly becoming my third favorite, after my hometown and Chicago.

I remember at one point during the next day how I found myself with nothing much to do for a few hours, as my friend was working on a project for school. And I could have done a lot of things with that free time. And I remember thinking about the boy from the party, the intriguing beautiful artsy boy, and I wondered what he was doing as I was sitting around (writing this), and if he would agree to get coffee if I asked him, or just wander, or chat, or gaze at other people somewhere in my new, third-favorite place.

These were all things I thought about but didn’t do. And I Mega-Bussed back home and his name was added to the list of “Cool People I Should Have Hung Out With.” Almost a year later, and that list slowly continues to grow. Of course the other list, the cool people I have hung out with, is much longer, but there are names that I’ve missed, people I’ve missed out on, experiences I haven’t had, for no good reason other than I was too afraid or too unmoved or too lazy, or a cycle of all three. And that’s no good. That list exists but it shouldn’t. This is a true story but it shouldn’t be.

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I woke up suddenly. My head jerked upright from its place against the window of the airplane. The woman sitting beside me noticed and immediately pointed to small package of peanuts tucked into the pocket of the seat in front of me. “I saved these for you,” she said in a Dutch accent. “And this,” as she handed me a napkin.

“Thank you,” I said. This all made me feel bad since I had been trying to avoid talking to her from the beginning of the flight.

“Where are you from?” she asked me.

“America.”

“Ah, are you going home?”

“No, I’m going to Munich.”

We were landing in Amsterdam. And she was the one going home. Not me.

A week later I was back where I had left from, and the time that had passed between the two points of time, the leaving and the returning, didn’t seem to matter much in the bigger picture. But it really did. Everything was different.

Because the world is bigger, I wrote.

The world is a very big place. From Asia to Europe it takes 12 or 14 or 16 hours of flying, depending on where you find yourself going to and coming from.

There is this beautiful fountain in the middle of Salzburg, Austria. There are horse heads in it that spit water into the sky, and the water falls down into the fountain, splashing the carved webbed feet of the strange water creatures that are almost horses, but really something else entirely, something that only exists in that pond. In that place. A tiny fountain world. I left a coin there, tossed it in, wishing something I can’t remember now, just wishing something.

Fountains make wishing seem easy, but you don’t really need them. They don’t really help. You have to go there, wherever it is you’re going. You have to go there on your own. But maybe a fountain is what you are looking for. A fountain that holds the worlds’ only water horses. A fountain that my 20 euro cent coin is living in.

I am looking for some other fountain, some other place. Maybe I am looking for a building, a beautiful building that I want to go on looking at. Or maybe I am looking for a park, a park where a tree grows that’s been growing there longer than I’ve been alive. Or maybe I’m looking for a person. A water horse, golden sunset, great green park of a person. Or perhaps they are many people. A park full. Yes, that’s it: a city and a park and people. What a small world I am looking for. Maybe I’ve already flown over it. Maybe I’ve already sat next to it.

There is a man. He is walking toward me on a long dark path. He could be young or old. It might be a woman. We will pass each other and we will not speak. And the path will still be long and dark.

Let’s go to the rose garden and not take a single picture. We’ll weave past the smart-phone-slingers and we’ll run, colors blurring until there are no colors; until there is every color. The roses — don’t touch them, just smell them, and try to remember the exact shade of pink that no camera could capture anyway.

Death might surely be coming for us soon. And we’ll lie in our beds surrounded by all of the plastic containers we’ve emptied in our lifetimes. Our vision will blur at the edges like it did we when were running past the roses in the garden; we’ll see every color — we’ve seen every color, while we’ve been running — and then we will see nothing.

On the long walk home from the garden, we’ll walk into the city center, and through. The lights will glare down on us, from every angle and corner, every color that neon comes in. The lights they flicker, and drop, and loop, and blink. The signs they politely and shyly and cunningly ask you for every penny you have — every 99 cents. And we will give them most of everything we have, we will leave it all here: some of it drops from us as we run, some we left quietly with that man we never spoke to on the dark park path, some leaves from our eyes as we smile at little dogs and little children and at strangers’ backs as they hold hands with other strangers that they love.

In August, one sign reads, the roses will droop and their petals will fall to the ground. The pinks and reds and purples and yellows will all fade to brown, the same color, the same shade. They will be swept up — this is a tidy city, after all — and dumped into a clear plastic garbage bag and left at the same street corner as the convenience store you bought a candy bar from two weeks ago. Brown and brown and brown, buried unnaturally in the earth. Us, too.

Two dogs are sniffing at each other on the walking path. One is white, a tiny fluffy creature, the other black, with short hair, also small. Their owners smile politely at each other, earbuds in, tugging on their leashes. They do not want to say hello, unlike their dogs, even though they are the ones that are able, and they would very much appreciate if their furry companions would ignore every other living creature around them, as they do. And eventually, I’m sure, the two small dogs were pulled away, but I did not stay to watch it, and you do not, either. We walk away. We do not smile when they can see us. We do not speak.

It is hot, tonight. It will be hot all week. The sun will shine down on us and on the pink roses in the rose garden in the park. The bright light will burn the corners of the flower petals; bleach them, turn them a shade lighter than before. No one will take pictures of the roses by the end of July; they will no longer be beautiful enough for Instagram; no amount of photo editing could bring back that shade of pink; there will be no more selfies.

When we reach our home, we will jog up the flights of stairs to our apartments. We will close the door behind us and enter a dark space. Lying on our beds in silence, we will close our eyes, think of the pink we’ve seen, of all the pink we’ve seen, of all the colors. We will think of the old man on the walking path, the one who we never really saw. We will think of the tiny dogs that wanted to be friends. We will think of all the people who do not see the roses, only take pictures of them. We will try to picture the exact shade of pink on those pink roses in the rose garden in the park. We won’t be able to, and the color won’t be the same tomorrow, when we go back. The sun will have been shining down, the color lost, the day over, gone, wasted.  What a waste of a rose garden, you are. We are, us happy snap-backed photo snappers. We tiny dog owners. We tiny home owners. Tiny life livers.

Tomorrow night we will all go back to the park. We will walk quietly along the cement paths. We will weave around those who walk slower than us; let faster walkers pass. We will march in a small, green and flowery parade, fancy tennis shoes squeaking under bright lights. The roses in the rose garden in the park will be there, too. And the small dogs. And the strangers who will stay strangers. And we will march and then march home. And we will close our eyes and everything will go dark.