What would your good be doing if there were no evil, and what would the earth look like if shadows disappeared from it? After all, shadows are cast by objects and people. There is the shadow of my sword. But there are also shadows of trees and living creatures.
– Mikail Bulkagov
Standing outside of Ballard Coffee Works, peering through the window, I see her. Gretchen. She sips her coffee that matches the stain of her hair as she scans the room with her scrutinizing eyes. I used to swear there were little red flames in the mahogany irises when she was mad. We have not talked in six months since she told me that I was a psychopath holding her back in life and that she found someone else to love.
I subtract my gaze and multiply my focus onto the world outside, a crow bathing in a concrete puddle. He dips his head downwards then gives his feathers an epileptic shake, allowing the water to trickle. He does this twenty times. I shift my gaze back to her; she is pasted to the book in her hands…The Master and Margarita? That’s definitely my copy: paperback, the corners curled in with reckless care, the frayed edges of the spine. An aqua background highlights the cover art, a dark figure of a cat with a serpent’s tongue, turning his head around while wearing a suit. She is finally reading it eh? Took her long enough. I squint to get a better look at how far she is in the book. Looks like there is about twenty or so pages left. She thinks she wants to be a writer. Ha! She does not read or write nearly half as much as I do. She really lacks taste too, one of those readers that gets off from those overdone modern love stories. I want my book back but confrontation is not my strong suit. Despite my hesitation, I venture inside.
The baby blue walls harmonize a welcome with the cashier’s greeting. I ask the cashier with bubblegum hair for a 12-ounce breve as my hands reach for my pockets. I pull out a dollar seventy-five, shit! She bears a sheepish grin.
“You guys probably don’t take EBT…”
“You know, like food stamps?”
“Oh, no… we don’t.”
I ask her if I can use the bathroom, she nods. I slide away and sit down on a table, on the opposite side of Gretchen’s energy field. At this point, it appears as if she has finished the book, she puts it down. Five minutes later, a man walks in and sits across the table from her.
He is probably about five foot six. Looks like an old pair of sneakers, wrinkles crowd his forehead and acne scars embellish his cheeks. He has this goofy haircut, long on one side short on the other, like a rotated mullet. Looks like a schmuck. He sits opposite from Gretchen and she beams at him while he yaks away. This must be her chosen love. They talk for about twenty minutes and she desperately clings to every utterance escaping his mouth, a familiar sight. He then gets up and leaves. The aftermath of their interaction leaves her in a glowing daydream; she smiles to herself and there are the little flames in her eyes. Disgusting.
She snaps out of her daydream, stands up abruptly and heads towards the bathroom, leaving the book on the table. Meanwhile, I am patiently waiting, calculating my approach. I can slyly walk over and snatch it from the table right now… too late. She returns to her table and for some reason the interior of my mouth now tastes like wine too sweet. As she sits down, I make my way towards her and our eyes finally meet. The little flames fade.
“How are you?” I say, as if guilty of some crime, the crime of spying on her.
“I’m fine… how’re you?”
I take the seat opposite of her and feel a tremendous amount of discomfort, like my nightmares of being held gunpoint down in Mexico City.
“How are you liking the book?”
“I found it absolutely marvelous.”
“Great, that’s wonderful… Can I have it back?”
“But of course that would be the only reason that you would approach me. You want me to give you something, as if the entire world owes you something, doesn’t it? Because of your mother’s death. Well it doesn’t. I gave you everything; I cooked for you, cleaned for your sorry ass, helped you in school, and all I got in return was glib phrases of love and rough sex. Goodbye, Jasper. See you in hell.”
She whirlwinds herself right out the door. I decide to walk to the nearest bookstore and see if they have any pocket-sized copies I can get for a five-fingered discount.