Andrea Sisson

The Face at the Edge of the Aqueduct with Water for a Mouth

“I’ll have just those two apricots.  Yes, right there - the smaller one.  Yes.”  She steps out of the tiny shop to meander the cobbled road.  She plans to take these two apricots to the window of her friend.  Gabe will be asleep, as she follows the aqueduct’s stream to the mirage of sleeping thoughts lingering out his window.  She’ll call for him, “Gabe, Gabe!”  His head will pop up like it always does, a buoy for just a minute, while his eyes begin to focus.  He’ll squint, smile, pretend to discover who is there, and will raise his finger, just a minute. She’ll wait on the edge of the aqueduct, bite into her apricot, and feel the sweet pinch in her cheeks more than they already are.  She devises this plan as she passes the salmon pink shop fronts; the timeworn shops look only big enough for just her head to peak in.  She makes a turn with the stream where two women sit, aged, sun-kissed, lip-sticked, just as they have every morning for years.  She’ll sit on the aqueduct not long until Gabe joins.  He will sit with me, and we’ll share this morning treat.  This is how it will be, how the Italian current will allow it.  

When she does in fact reach the window, she shouts her friend’s name, but is kept waiting.  She’s having trouble distinguishing the mirage of his sleeping thoughts from the rest of the dust in the air and does not see a head pop up in at least two or three shouts.  I’ll try again, “Gabe!” Still, no bobbing head.  Dusting off the gray stone, she takes a seat on the aqueduct edge no matter.  She’ll wait a few minutes - maybe he’s already on his way out.  She ponders where Gabe could be.  He had been there every morning since, waking with her shouts.  It is just chance for him to be there or not to be, it doesn’t mean one thing or the next; but that’s not how it was here, it’s not how it’s been.  If her feet took her to buy these two apricots, and took her to the open window, then he was supposed to be there.  It’s how it was here.  

        For the past five weeks she’d been learning to string into this current that sort of moved time along. Everything here seemed to have a reason, so purposeful that at first it struck her as ridiculous, too obvious.   A few weeks before, after a long day she was riding the train home.  This particular train was quite empty, she was glad.  Often the train heaved along, packed, un-breathable of people, standing with knees buckling and breaking with each twist of the track. This evening, she was not only able to sit but to sprawl a bit, her chin resting on one knee, the other outstretched invading the seat next to her which luckily, was unoccupied.  She noticed a tourist-type couple, middle aged, catty-corner to her.  The man peered out from under his ball cap at the sea beside the track. The wife had her neck bent to place her head on his shoulder.  A moment after noticing this couple, something started pressing her to talk to them.  Over and over something was pressing, “talk to them, talk to them,” when there was no apparent reason besides this nagging from a something.  She was tired, yet comfortable, and so often disturbed from reflective thought on her train rides, so she decided to take advantage of the quiet and enjoy her own silence and thoughts instead.

         It came time to change trains, and when she stepped off the car, she noticed her connecting train home was just about to chug off.  It may not have mattered any other time of the day, except at this particular time, it was the last train of the evening; the next wouldn’t be until morning.  She caught it last minute, and sat breathless pressed against the window, as she recognized the couple running to catch up; running to catch the last train of the night.  “Damn it!  I should have sacrificed my insignificant moment of silence to talk to the couple.  We would have talked and I would have known where they were headed, and they would have caught the train.  We would be on this last train together.”  To her, it was more of a coincidence than just simple coincidence, for not many took this small train to the secluded town where she was staying.  It was rare that anyone would head this direction and most of all she had known that there was some reason to speak to these travelers.  It wasn’t a huge deal; they would find a cab or wait until morning, probably enjoying a fine time themselves, but the fact stood that she had the distinct inclination that was pointing to this single connection with the couple.  Something was nagging, something was pressing her to bind that connection with the reason meant to later be learned - yet she ignored it.

 

She was learning to string into this current and she followed it to the window of Gabe morning after morning.  She had shouted his name time and time again, waking him from sleep that otherwise would persist until afternoon.  He had always been bobbing at that window after her calls, and they’d walk the wall that fully encompassed the town, and discuss everything about the world.  These were two that existed because of this town, and for this town. They existed just for the reason to walk and talk of the world that they were both ripping apart and putting back together.  They were teaching each other how to deny society, all the while learning to be a part of it - how to deconstruct it ever so constructively. They were each other’s devices of tapping into a code.  He was her understanding of falling in love with the world, and her understanding of how this country worked.  Tomorrow they would leave for home, and on this near to last day, Gabe was not there.

         

She had wandered back down the aqueduct, leading to an entrance onto the edge of the wall, all the while reasonably certain that she’d run into Gabe, or at least someone who had seen him, unburdening her of this sideways feeling.  Feet fiddling with the cobblestone and nibbling on one of the apricots, she eventually reaches a sloping entrance onto the top of the wall without any familiar encounter at all, again an odd surprise.  With any time spent in this town, visitors would start to realize that they were going to run into whoever they were looking for, or those looking for them.  If it were a case in which you did not know who you were looking for, you’d soon run into them, and find out.  Not many had phones, and instead of worrying when and how to meet again, you’d instinctively shout out, “I’ll just catch you later,” and know it to be true.  It may have had something to do with the small scale of this place but coincidences were too great to credit only to size.

The wall sat older than anything she had ever touched, so old, she couldn’t ever exactly guess or remember, but medieval she was sure.  She’d walk her hands along its surface, feeling its history, all of its stories.  This wall was a wall that had always guided the people of its town, protecting them so strong, so militant, but was now covered in grass, grass and vine up the walls.  The grass from beyond the city slowed as it neared the wall and began to bend into the dip of the now green moat, continuing to climb right up the side of the wall, bending again to disperse on the wide road atop, and then rejoining the army of blades jumping off the inner side onto the backs of cycling nuns.  Indeed, there were nuns, nuns that cycled and circled the top of this wall to oversee their so holy, so unchanging town.  Her eyes following the cyclists as she reiterates over and over the plan, the plan she had known would work.  She lays on an edge, one apricot balancing on her stomach, one already inside.   She remembers the way this wall had pulled her legs along, how this wall had spun her around and around for miles, her eyes fixed on marble mountains.  Never before had she thought herself capable of the enduring five mile run, but she was convinced, it must have been that current pulling her legs, her lungs around.

She is drifting, just like she has so many afternoons, is drifting; half sleep, half thought.  It occurs to her the words of a local, referring to the people of his town.  Their minds are as closed as the wall that surrounds them.  The phrase had struck her ironic.  She had never been surrounded and protected by something so mass, and for her, things get stirred up and opened in this wide pot.  It was just that, a wide pot without a lid, open for the introduction of many ingredients - open to overflow, to spill, and for her to absorb.  However, she had to admit, that if she were stuck inside these walls her whole life, she’d surely be eking to get out.  The wind is rushing over her flat on the edge, playing with the idea of pushing her off, but just enough to toy with her.  She hears a voice grabbing her from deepening sleep.

“Well hello Ray” she exclaims, with a slight English or Italian or just foreign twang to her voice that she has picked up these few months.

“Did you ever find your camera” Ray asks.  She had lost her camera, a week before, not far from this spot where she was resting.  She had been quite shaken about this loss of what seemed irreplaceable.  She’d gone back days and days trying to find it, knowing, hoping that someone must have found it and would return it to her.  She had now become conscious of the fact that she was not getting her camera back.  A few days ago she was analyzing nooks of the elderly wall and had come to an understanding.  More can be seen simply with eyes.  She could vividly breathe in an entire scene, and feel more of what it really was, than a picture could later give her.  She had understood that really seeing, really seeing anything new would change her perception from that sight forward, and that she needed no picture to feel that, to live that change.  

“No Ray.  Haven’t found it, but its ok,” she replied as he fluffs his red hair.

Besides his red hair amongst a sea of Italians, Ray was known for his epic stories, his epic tales.  He was South African and for what she could decipher, had spent the last decade or two of his life in travel. Ray was that guy whose age you couldn’t tell.  They’d try to guess, “24? 32? No way 40! No, not 40, no way. 30?”  A man of such travel, he had so many tales, and the way he told these tales, silenced anyone within earshot.  He knew things, a certain process of life; a way in which the world filtered, and aided it’s occupants – the way it turned and turned and turned.  His stories were so precise, focused on surrounding a lesson he had been taught. Right off the bat, you’d swear his stories to be an elaborate fabrication.  Ray kept a certain distance from most people.  He seemed to have placed himself in a role of observer and advisor, always perking up when time called for conclusion, a theory, a perspective.

“You know,” Ray began, “the other day, I sat reading just around the bend on a picnic table, as I tried to overhear, these two Italians complaining. They were complaining about memory, you see, and that they didn’t have enough.  I had to turn to see these two; had to turn to see who these two were without memory, who had such young voices.  When I got a good look over at them, I realized they were fiddling with a camera.  I had to just grin, should of known. I just wanted to shake them and yell that our minds are capable of endless memory.  If we exercise it enough, instead of living through a lens and from a photo, we have the capacity to hold it all.”  Ray continued, “You know, I’ve lost five cameras in my life.”  She smiled warm and steady at this.  Of course Ray had lost five cameras in his life.  Of course in all of his travels, he has only few tangible photos, the rest in his distinct memory.   Inside she was rapid, loving Ray and loving this place, as she was already missing him, missing it.  She knows that she will have an excellent memory.

Contradictory to initial thought, the longer you let the Italian current reel you in, the more Ray’s tales became real.  You could compare this to the reading of horoscopes.  Ray’s stories would become an exact understanding, or personal interpretation of what you were, at that moment, experiencing.  It became customarily unison with the completion of each story, for the group that was engulfed in the tale, to close their eyes and nod in sheer comprehension and odd-like connection to each other. There was no other way to explain Ray but that of a teacher, of a collector of listeners, of no family but of a child of this massive Universe.  She had no real connection with Ray, no real moment of attachment to the traveler, besides each separate moment when an understanding was made.  This distance was normal for Ray.  A man of such travel has parts here and there, people here and there, making it a bit difficult to really connect with others.  He’d always left with little notice, and with time, would lose people without notice.  

 “Well, what are you doing here?  Would you like to go for lunch?”  

“No,” she answers. “No, I think I’ll stay here.  Thanks though.”  She had momentary forgotten of the absence of Gabe.  She turned, straightening upright, no longer needing Gabe on this last day.  She peers into the gradient of fuzz on the apricot tight in her palm.  She had thought that the current had been disrupted on this day; on this day that Gabe was not at his window, but of course the current, with its face at the edge of the aqueduct, had a different plan – it had intended her to bind the connection in herself.  

Ray nodded and began to farewell as she quickly added, “Have you happened to see Gabe today?”  

“Nope,” answered Ray, “Want me to tell him you’ve been looking for him?”

 “Yes, yeah could you?  And can you give him this?” She handed Ray the apricot and watched him head off down the edge of the wall.  Tomorrow she’d be leaving.  Tomorrow she would leave this town, but she would now have an important part of the world tucked into her luggage.  

She scoots herself off the wall’s ledge and feels the grounds’ impact jolt inside her feet and dance through her legs, up her torso, and out the tip of her nose.  She watches it sprint from her nose and into the dusk that is now beginning to form from the marble in the mountains. She reaches for a branch of a leaning tree above her, is able to latches on, and lets her body hang.  She allows her legs to be gently yanked by the friendly stretch of gravity, and she fells her spine grow as it cracks.  The sudden crave of peanut butter catches her off-guard.  Maybe it was the remaining smell of the apricot she had eaten, reminding her of apricot jelly, and in that, reminding her of the peanut butter she’d match with that jelly.  She feels a tap behind her knee, drops and turns to Gabe who is enjoying the sweet apricot fruit.  

“Oh good, Ray found you!”

“I ran into him just a few minutes ago.  I thought you might be here.  I walked all the way around the wall, and of course you are here at the end, right by my beginning.”  

She ruffles the top of Gabe’s head, “So we leave tomorrow.”

“Yes we leave tomorrow,” Gabe nods, “but before we do, would you mind trimming up some of my hair?”

“Of course.”

                        *        *        *        *        *

She found herself, some months later, on new ground, in a new city surrounded by not marble mountains, but something more rigid, static, dead even.  They were heavy masses that blocked out the sky - that really, actually put blocks in the sky.  She had decided to run just like she had on the ancient wall, but this time instead of round and round, she had to weave.  She had to weave from B to 7th, to A, to 10th, past the lost park, to C on the river, but she could not find the water.  She could not find a path - she cannot hear it.  She thought she had strung into the current. She thought she had followed it into beautiful clarity, into an understanding relationship, but now she was hanging onto the end of a reel that was getting stuck in the grid from C to 6th to B to 8th.  She trips on the trail of her string as she crosses back over A.  She trips and she tries to breathe out one of her vivid memories - just one of her vivid memories.  She cannot.  She calls for her friend in the world to guide her, to whisper, to lift her up into the sky, where she could hitch-hike a plane out of this place.  She cannot and as she weaves she begins to weep.  She weeps because she has lived beauty; she has had it radiate out from inside of her, and now she is pale, and her hair is black and she is pale.

She is confused – could it really have just been that town?  She knew it was in her, she knew she had this bond, a strong bond to the world.  She had discovered the most important relationship needed in life, hadn’t she?  It was more important than what humans had taught her; they had only helped her gain the access to this important bond of a current in which she had learned to live.  She thought they would be together forever, and that she would hear it forever.  She tried and tried to listen over the rushing that was now all around her, but the noise was too loud.  Where was it telling her to go, to do, how to breathe?  She must not let her surroundings affect her like this, but she could no longer live innocently this way. It was unbearable now that she had seen the way things were supposed to work and living without it, was eating her.  It ate her as it left her hungry.  Always starving although she had eaten always deprived, starving although she was full.  And she was not growing more understanding but confused, and cynical that she was left in this confusion.  How could the world go from so big yet so familiar, to so small, a vast stranger?  How could, from across the globe, she feel so close to everyone she loved, but now, physically close, feel so far?  She thought that this relationship to the world would ensure her grounded, would ensure her understanding and communication, but she did not think of the consequences of only loving the world.  She had not known that in forming this passionate relationship with life itself, that it was equally important to keep others in her life as well.  She thought that in understanding the world, she would understand herself, but had started to forget the rest of her race.  Now she was here in this cold place, where all that was here, was her race.  All that was here was pure evidence of their existence, and of their physical capability to tear apart the world and build it back up.  Her and Gabe had done the same, but internally.  Now, everywhere she looked, her world was in camouflage, unable to be seen.  She was without it, and without any other stable relationship to others.

She ran along, and ran but had to do something.  She had noticed a corner of the pavement quite oddly peeling, as she curiously slowed her pace.  She bent down starting to pick at it, and was able to get a grip on an edge.  She peeled then pulled until enough came loose to begin to lift as stones crumbled heavy off the side.  She now had the ground in her grip and she could suddenly feel something telling her what to do.  She heard it and it was obvious what must be done.  She was quite weak in the arms, but after two or three grunting lifts, she was able to unhinge enough of the concrete to begin to roll. She had to lift up high, then force a fold, all the while shoving the giant, leaning masses of blocks into the crease.  She rolled until it was all in her arms and she bent over, crouched with it against her chest.  She hung her head and panted her exhaustion as she remembered what she was standing on, and rose in a rush.  She had expected to see the familiar brown and green of the ground, but instead there was a sort of strange styrofoam pressed under her feet; the remains of the manmade environment, but as she looked closer, little green sprouts of grass were beginning to break through, cracking apart the white foam.  She was watching grass beginning to grow again and she cried on the ground.  She cried because now it was up.  “All of us roll up this city!  Roll up this city and lets start again!”