the short story project


Emily Gorrion-Wood

Eyes of the Universe

“I’d never heard of you before this morning.”

My eyes flutter open following the clear voice that rings through my mind. It’s cool through the window I accidentally left open last night, too chilly for the summer skies soon to come. It wakes me more with a shiver, and I pass a small frown to the wind as I curl the covers tighter around my exposed skin. Minutes of fleeting nothingness and quiet fall away before I convince myself with a groan and a sigh to get up.

The wooden floor is nice to the touch, but the tiles prove to be what I need to become alert. I enter the bathroom and pull my head upwards to the mirror and to my disheveled self. I look into my wide eyes and hazy complexion, staring for a moment, hardly blinking. But the peace is broken as the faucet runs and skin meets cold water. Cleanliness begins to seep in and a little more breath enters me at the feeling.

Within my routine, the morning plays out quiet and without rush. I open all the windows in the living area and close the rest of the doors to the house, letting the thunder of the ocean swarm just the main room. The kettle cries and I beckon to its call, a hot fruity aroma dancing upwards as the scent and taste of peach warms me. I position myself on my charmed window seat, hearing the bird calls of the early hours. It’s the stillness that brought me here; the isolation from the bustle of town; the serenity of nature enveloping you each and every day. My parents were skeptical but supportive about the move—said I shouldn’t separate myself from civilisation, that “it’s not good for someone like you to be alone”. “Someone like me?” I wanted to spit back, but I held kind face for their sake

It’s not that I haven’t been misunderstood. I haven’t been heard.

So in the afternoon of late August, I finalised the move and trekked forward. I’d been on other adventures before, other enticing endeavours that life had to offer me. But this one? I finally felt free. But as all parents typically are, they were right. Even in my perfect haven, my house upon the hill on the eve of the unending ocean, loneliness followed me. It doesn’t get me down, nor do I give it much space to have thought. But I feel it when I crawl out of bed. I feel it when I have to remind myself to straighten my posture because I’m often unaware of its weight.

I feel it the most on my charmed window seat, a cup of hot peach tea in hand, staring into the bright and beautiful blue abyss.

The sweetness meets my lips again and I sigh back into the cushion. Even with the slow draw of each morning, the closest town twenty minutes away still calls me. I can hear my manager spilling orders to the two coffee machines myself and my co-worker stand side-by-side at for 5-6 hours a day, depending on when we have our break. And as much as I’d love to let this scene take hold of me, never letting me come back down to reality, I know the rent on this place won’t pay itself.

* * *

I shuffle through the café and pull my apron off the hook at the back, heading straight to the coffee machine. It’s something I’m all too familiar with: the smell of the different roasts of beans, the whirring noise mixed in with orders relayed across the kitchen behind us, the chatter of the customers. A change from my home serenity, but an atmosphere that I still enjoy.

“You’re on time,” I hear a voice beside me and I blink out of my thoughts. Dakota pours cold milk into a tall plastic cup with chocolate syrup and ice.

A smirk draws my lips up as I take the single coffee lid on top of my machine, scanning over the order scribbled in gold. “Who orders an iced chocolate at 9:00 in the morning?”

Dakota doesn’t answer, cupping a lid over the drink and popping a straw in, placing it on the countertop. A young girl reaches up and takes it before moving quickly over to her parents enjoying a hearty breakfast on one of the lounges.

“See the sunrise this morning?” Dakota asks as one of our other co-workers passes another order over. I shake my head. A smug look feeds through on my friend’s face. “The one time you don’t see it.”

“What was it like today?”

Adding new coffee grounds into the filter, Dakota offers me a glance. “Otherworldly. Like it was straight from a book. I took photos if you wanna see later.”

I shake my head again, placing the finished drink on the counter and calling out the order. “You know I don’t like second-hand experiences. Especially sunrises.”

Dakota shrugs. “Suit yourself.”

The morning draws out and the café fills up. The young girl and her parents enjoying a quiet breakfast are replaced by university students, businessmen and women holding casual meetings, and labourers ordering coffee for their entire crew. My parents were wrong, I’m not alone: the sounds of the world accompany me everywhere, all in different forms.

But I’m also accompanied, too, by the stresses that come with days like this.

Dakota and I limit our chatting to almost null, pieces of other conversations filling my mind rather than my own train of thought. But when I do have a moment to stop, breathe, and process, I look across the café to the wide mirror splayed upon the wall. I catch my reflection from a distance, and I’m filled with the same sensation from this morning.

* * *

Midday meets me kindly. I have to bring my hand up to shield my eyes from the sun glaring down on the town square. I was distracted this morning, somehow, and forgot to grab my sunglasses on the way out the door. I forgot to pack quite a lot, actually. In fact, I don’t even really remember the drive to work now that I think about it.

I unwrap the salami panini I quickly purchased from my own café and sit by the fountain, overlooking the space through squinted eyes. A few high school kids that were let out during lunch hang around the cobblestone-paved square. Some are grouped near the ice-cream parlour, others on the other side of the fountain and laughing hysterically at whatever joke isn’t funny enough to laugh that hard at. I finish the panini too quickly, realising I never got to savour it. What else did Dakota say was in it? Rocket, tomato, pesto paste, cheese… My mind goes blank as I look at my surroundings. Most of the kids have moved on, with a sparse few still strolling around.

How long have I been sitting here for? And why can’t I remember most of the last few minutes… Or today? I chuckle at the thought of how I feel, only being able to relate it to a character in a movie or a novel, remembering dotted moments only of what was written.

My eyes wander across the square before I look up to the fountain behind me. My gaze follows the water trickling down into the pool below and I meet my reflection for the third time today. I stare and stare, knowing that I should know what I look like. However, I feel like I’m meeting myself for the first time. I’m made up of features only I can describe, a smile that belongs to no-one else. But my features feel rewritten, or rather that they haven’t even been drafted yet.

That’s not even the strangest part, because I know I’m looking at more than myself.

I turn back around to face the square in front of me. Customers, students, workers: they file in sporadically, filling the cobblestone. I dig out my wireless earphones and begin my most listened-to playlist. But I tune the volume down to a low 3.

I take a breath, smile, and I give a quiet, “I know You’re there.”

Your eyes must widen themselves, at my acknowledgement of You. You that I cannot see but can sense all the more.

“I don’t know how.” I look around, adding in a slight sway to add to the act that I’m pretending to be deep in the music. “But I know You are.” I sneak a look back at the water behind me, staring back to not one reflection but seemingly two. It’s like I can taste the utter confusion emanating from You, more than I did the panini.

You don’t respond. Or You try to, but I can’t hear. I can’t even see You. I’d think I was mad if I didn’t believe it was possible in some twisted way.

“So, are You in control of this?” I say, stepping into the indefinitely ridiculous reality of life as fiction. I look to the ground before standing up. “Or are You as in the dark about what’s going on as I am?” I’m overwhelmed by Your confusion once again. I can sense it far more than I can feel the fabric of my work uniform. You give no answer and I give an amused smile. “I guess I’m just rolling with whatever’s happening right now. There’re too many adventures I’ve missed out on… Life’s hit me with a lot, so I tend to just take whatever comes.”

You seem to give a low chuckle at my perspective. It’s the first thing You do, and the first instance we can relate on.

“How long are You around for?” I make my way around the fountain slowly, hands wringing together. I hope You can’t see my nervousness.

You don’t seem to know the answer to that question, either. Maybe You’ve come across this path before, or maybe this is the first time You’ve stumbled upon it. Whatever the case, silence is all I receive from You. You’re not a talkative one, or maybe I’m not one to give much room to speak. All I know is that I’m going to have to be the one to take the lead here. For now.

“So, You can read my thoughts too, I guess?” I say aloud.

You can. You are right now.

“I prefer to speak, if You don’t mind.” I remember to keep my voice low so it doesn’t appear I’m speaking to myself (which is exactly what it could be too, I haven’t figured that part out yet). “Makes me feel like I’m speaking to a ghost, an angel, at least something.”

My watch beeps and I jolt to a stop in my stroll. “Break’s over.” I pull my earphones out and tuck them closely into my pants pocket. I cast one look up to the sky, trying to find You in the clouds.

I’ll see You after work, my mind formulates. I know You heard it.

* * *

The day fast-forwards to a minute before my shift ends. Dakota headed home an hour before me, but I start at 9 and finish at 5. It doesn’t feel so long with You here.

My manager closes the café before I hang up my apron, grab my few belongings and head out the back way to get to the town square. The sun’s hanging quite low at this point. Summer warmth wraps around me and I smile at the comfort, lazily wandering along the cobblestone as the market lights come on at the darkening hour.

I pull out my earphones and pretend to dial a contact on my phone. “Are You still there?” I ask as if I was speaking to a friend via phone call.

You’re smiling. I know You are. You’re curious to speak to me again.

My hands find my pants pockets as I direct my stroll to the ice-cream parlour. “You like dessert?”

Of course You do, everyone does. Or maybe You don’t and You just want to humour me.

The line isn’t long, and I’m slowly encased by the cold flavourful tubs behind the viewing glass. The flavour I always get calls to me again. “What flavour do You like?”

You answer. I can hear You now, and I try not to make my shock too obvious. “Really? I mean, I’ve never actually tried it before, so I can’t judge. But still.” It’s Your turn to judge me and I stifle a laugh. “Fine I’ll try it. But only tonight.” I reach the front of the line and relay the order, taking one earphone out to be polite towards the cashier. I can feel Your envy upon me as I’m handed my purchase and I take it outside.

“You want some?” I joke, knowing this whole thing has been a little trivial. I feel it myself: You don’t have to tell me that. “I know it feels a little stupid, but I just want to get to know You. Whoever You are, whatever You are.”

Sneakers meet stone across the square before I make myself comfortable. The park bench just in front of the town-square garden bed serves as an appropriate people-watching spot. An orange glow paints the sky, mixing with the fairy lights strung across the square.

“Who are You exactly?”

You don’t answer this time. I think You want to, but You don’t. Or maybe I don’t hear You.

“What if,” a smirk tugs at my lips again as I contemplate, “We don’t even live in the same universe? Maybe I’m actually in space, on another planet identical to earth, just located elsewhere. I guess that’s up to You to decide, though.” I swallow a spoonful of ice-cream before letting my train of thought flow aloud, “If I can’t see You, then You can’t see me. We could be whoever the other wanted to be, really…” I trail off, something pinching at my heart. “That’s kind of exciting, actually.”

You agree. The mere idea that we could almost entirely fabricate each other to compliment one another is exciting. Unfair to anyone else, but we’re both not thinking about anyone else right now.

But what scares me, just in the slightest, is that although I know my world, I know my appearance and my interests, my habits, my dreams, my secrets… All of that could change because of You. You who I’m starting to figure out is a witness to my life. Not in my life, but rather around it, above it. You read who I am and You determine the path, almost.

I know You can read my thoughts, but I decide to say aloud, “At least You’re not the writer. I wouldn’t like to meet them.”

The excitement becomes quiet within me and I look over my surroundings. The square slowly fills with townspeople indulging in the markets, and the orange glow fades to twilight and violet hues. It’d be calming and quite beautiful if dozens of possibilities, conclusions and ‘what if’s?’ weren’t circling through my head, each vying for my attention.

You ask me what I’m thinking about. You can sense the worry in me.

“I’ve only lived here for a couple of months,” I begin after finishing my ice-cream, disposing of the rubbish after wiping my mouth. I start to make the small trek back to my car. It’s getting late. “But if this has all been written, authored and fabricated not by You but another like You… What does that make me?” I’m overwhelmed by the tension between us. It started off as curious and exciting, and now new potential logical realities are setting in. I feel myself start to become emotional, but I wave it off. “Sorry, I ruined the moment.”

You frown and instantly and quickly console me. It’s not either of our fault’s, but I’m hauling the blame on myself. I saw life waving a flag of adventure around and I followed it. Life hasn’t done right by me often before, so why did I think it would now?

I feel a kick and a hug all at once. You’re annoyed that I would think such a thing because of what life has done for me, namely give me such a quaint and quite perfect place to live in. You also empathise with me for my concern. It’s not an ideal predicament to be in: for one to question the state of their own reality.

Something pinches at my heart again. My time with You is coming to an end, isn’t it? Before it’s even begun. But I push the fact out of sight, for now.

The drive back home is more pleasant than I could ever admit to another soul. While heading to town invites the warmth of company, filling my often silent space, going home invites a relief that I could hardly explain if I tried.

It’s warmer that You accompany me during it.

* * *

The sand softly kicks up under my feet as I squeeze my jacket around me. The ocean breeze is chilly, but this here is my favourite spot to be: quiet under the stars as the low thunder of the waves thrum against one another, where the town ambience far behind me and out of earshot. Having absence of all sound but my breath and the ocean is my favourite sound at all.

I’m glad I could share this with You.

I feel my heart beating quicker as if I had just been jogging. Ignoring it, I settle onto the sand, unaffected as it transfers to the bottom of my work jeans. I know You’re looking over the ocean too from somewhere, over the absence of light that allows space for the body of water instead. The sky is like a thick black blanket that stretches over all that I can see above, dotted with silver rhinestones that gleam without melody.

I look up to it, to You.

“I feel like You understand me, more than most have.” I chuckle. “Who am I kidding, I don’t even know who I’m talking too…” I murmur, trailing off. The wind washes over me and I feel a presence to my left. Without looking I know it’s You. I can hear Your breath beside mine and nothing else.

And when I do look, You steal my own.

Your form appears transparent but whole nonetheless. You mimic my position, knees pointed upwards with arms draped around them, slouched into a lazy and comfortable position. With eyes that reflect a thousand glimmering planets colliding, causing a mass explosion of colours and wonder, I’m captivated entirely as they stare into my own wide ones.

But Your smile. It’s faint and soft. Genuine, real. It’s been reserved for me, and I don’t know why You would do such a thing.

The water suddenly rushes up and folds over my feet and the bottom of my pants. The tide doesn’t reach You and Your eyes are on me as I do nothing but continue to stare at Your form. I eventually feel how uncomfortable I physically am, beginning to shiver at my new state. I should take my jacket off and sit on it, or move further back, or head up the hill and home.

“But I’d rather let the ocean take me. Washing away in the waves would be far less painful than losing You.”

The words leave my mouth before I can stop them. I said that aloud.

“You did.” It’s the first audible thing I hear You say. Your tone is so smooth that I’m reminded that this can’t be real. I look to You again and reach out to touch Your face, but I draw back just as quick. I’m scared either one of us will fade away, revealing the reality to the dream I feel I’m in; the lie of my life that has been written.

But as I draw back, You draw in and our lips meet. I’m suddenly warm as the ocean settles for this. You defied all logic for this moment, for me. Two worlds that are impossible to collide become one for a few seconds before You pull away. Your breath is hot and it’s all I can feel.

You shuffle closer and we look back to the stars, neither of us knowing what to say or where to go from what just happened. I’m just an idea in a tale and You’re the reader of my life. You place Your hand atop mine that’s between us. But who says we can’t make it work?

Everything that flows through my mind, You hear. But for the sake of wanting to feel like I still have some privacy, I speak up. “You could stay here.” I feel You look at me but I don’t want to meet Your eyes. “We could stay here. In this moment, in my perfect house on the hill. I wouldn’t mind the company with each sunrise,” a soft chuckle leaves my lips and I naturally glance over to whom I’m addressing. To my dismay, You don’t mirror my quiet content. You’ve felt this before: the pain of knowing You have to leave. With others, with a place, a memory or a dream.

Or even with me. Has this happened between us before?

I swallow. I’m not the kind to get emotional, to outwardly show that I am. “Make sure You come back. Even if I don’t remember, please promise me that You will.”

Pain glazes Your glance towards me.

But I just smile. Maybe I have been here before, I think, and I remember again that You can hear it. This time You don’t want to meet my eyes.

“I’d never felt such joy as so before today, before You,” I breathe.

The ocean stirs and the stars gleam down on us. I think this is the end; that my time with You, in this new awakened and confusing but beautiful reality, is over.

But I recall the last moment of my dream earlier today, the faint whisper of a funny line. I lean closer to You again, my wide eyes smiling into Your universal ones, full of beauty and adventure.

My other hand goes to Your cheek as I speak up again, “I’d never heard of You before this morning.” And in a second, I wake.

The chill before an oncoming summer wraps around me. The window is still open. It takes a moments, minutes of fleeting nothingness, before I convince myself with a groan and a sigh to pull myself up and into the day.


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