The Romance of Unconnected Lives
Christmas came and went. As did the rest of the winter months. Not much of any interest happened in the lives of either Matt or Jane until a few months later.
It was early spring in the year following ‘the incident’ and Matt was out for a walk. The flowers were in bloom and interacting with the slight breeze to put on to the world a gentle ballet of colour. Red, pink, blue, yellow, and white danced among each other. The few trees dotted around the park acted as the orchestra, rustling their leaves in time with the movement.
The days had been lengthening now for about four months and the heat that came with it was beginning to warm the city. Life after the cold, wet winter was beginning again.
The last few months had been good to Matt. Not in any way that rested upon good fortune or luck, but in a way that meant the good days were better and the bad days – for there are always bad days – were not so bad.
He had buckled down over the winter and produced what those who read it were calling a brilliant novel. Rex, changed back from The Tales of Rex to just Rex, was completed not too long ago now, and Kyle had found a publisher before it was even complete. In fact, the process which usually took months of editing and sorting had been fast-tracked to get the novel on the shelves as quickly as possible. It was all to keep the image of Matt alive and in the public’s mind, at least according to Kyle.
All this hustle and bustle meant Matt was busy, very busy. Usually a busy schedule like this would drain the energy out of Matt, but the routine he put in place not five months ago had done its job and Matt found he had more energy than ever. He wrote every day; it didn’t matter what it was. He read every day; it didn’t matter what it was.
Consequentially, Matt had more energy to devote not only to himself, but to Rex, and the novel soon found itself being pushed through the publishing process. It would hopefully only be another month or two until the book began to hit the shelves.
The first proof copies were to arrive today.
Jane too, had been having a good few months. She had begun – roughly the same time as Matt – to amend her schedule and focus more on herself. She was not in any way egotistical so she had no fear of spending too much time on herself, but a little, occasionally, was required.
Much to Anette’s surprise, Jane had decided to take a holiday. Well, it was a few days off – four, to be exact. But for Jane, that was a holiday. During the Christmas time, from the 24th to the 3rd, work at JRR Investments would calm down considerably. Usually, while the other staff were enjoying their own holidays, Jane would work. There was always work to do. But this year.
She even went out on New Year’s Eve with Anette. Truly, this was a changed Jane.
Though the gala had gone well, the rest of the quarter did not and the winter months were somewhat rocky for JRR Investments. But, whether due to her rest acquired from holiday or some unknown force that aided her, Jane took it in stride, never wavering, and thus encouraging those who worked underneath her. Things would be fine.
Yesterday, the latest quarterly report came in. And things were fine.
As Jane walked along leisurely, she thought about the past few months and the future too. There would always be a bad day, week, month, or quarter. That was the nature of what she did. But she knew where she stood, and she knew where she wanted to go. Things wouldn’t always be fine, but that was ok.
A bird caught Matt’s eye as it flew into the tree. It was making a nest high up in the branches, safe from the people down below. There were several birds, aside from the pigeons, that had adapted themselves well to city life and seemed to prosper in such a metropolis.
Matt paused for a moment to watch it as it flew back to the ground, searching for tiny twigs to build its nest. It was incredible, he thought, how much life lived in the city when you just paused for a moment to look. Undoubtedly there were countless insects and animals he didn’t see, and probably never would see, save for on documentaries. He liked the idea of never fully knowing what was out there, what existed beyond the unseen corner.
Matt was walking on the path that cut directly through the park. It was tarmac and so wasn’t as nice as walking on the grass itself. Had Matt been wearing flip flops, he would have taken them off and walked barefoot through the grass. But he wasn’t so he didn’t.
The park itself wasn’t particularly big and couldn’t justify the entirety of one’s walk. But it was still a pleasant detour to take as one was walking through the city. It was walled off and so gave a nice illusion of isolation. If you shut off your ears from the surrounding city noises, you could almost believe yourself to be in the countryside somewhere.
But it was nice, and a welcome break from the city itself.
Matt’s phone buzzed in his pocket. It took him a moment to realise it was a call and not a text.
“Guess what? Guess what?”
“You’ve decided to quit your job and follow your passion to become a mime?”
“You said guess!”
“Weird. Anyway, I’ve got your proof copies!!!”
“Seriously? How do they look?”
“Really good. I love the artwork on the cover. Wait a second. If I were a mime, why would I call you? Mimes can’t speak.”
“Yup. Well, I just wanted to call and say I have them. Hurry back and we can go over them and see what’s good and what needs changing. Peace out.”
And just like that, the random interruption was over.
Matt put his phone back in his pocket and continued walking.
Mimes can’t speak. What a weird conversation. Matt knew the proofs of his novel were supposed to arrive today, but he didn’t actually think they would. This was exciting. Usually, the editing and finessing of the novel was done by someone else and Matt had little input. But because of everything that had happened he ended up much more involved in this stage of the project.
And it turns out he very much enjoyed being involved in this stage of the process. There was so much to learn, so much to get involved with. The design on the book that Kyle had praised was done by an artist friend of theirs. Matt had known her for years and approached her about designing the cover two months ago.
She was happy to do it, and so these books now held her image. The book itself was the standard paperback (the hardbacks were a different design) but the dark, leather red of the cover gave it a rustic feel that seemed to age the book appropriately. Matt’s own name was printed small on the bottom of the cover, a choice Matt made with every book after his second one had borne his name in bold, giant font bigger than the title. He wanted the book – not his name – to sell, so he made sure that with every other one of his books his name was printed small and on the bottom of the cover.
Above his name in black italics was the word Rex. Matt had toyed with other ideas for the title too. Desert Mist had been another one that had made its way quite far along the selection process. It referred to the hallucinations caused by the mirage of the desert, but it seemed too up for interpretation, so it was abandoned.
Above the word Rex was the black silhouette of a cowboy hat and a Colt Peacemaker. That was it. Matt preferred simple designs on his books. He never understood the layer upon layer of trees and people and moons and random objects thrown onto the covers of other books. And whereas before he didn’t always have much say in the presentation of his book, now that he did he intended to use it.
The excitement at the prospect of his new book quickened Matt’s pace briefly before he slowed down again, breathed, and continued his relaxed walk. He would have time to see the books later. Now he was relaxing and clearing his mind, strolling through the park on a lovely spring day.
He continued down the diagonal path to the street corner 200 meters in the distance. He was going to enjoy this time.
Jane had just finished a glassblowing class. It was something she never thought she’d do, but once she started she could not get enough. The class itself was on the other side of town, but it was a nice spring day and she thought she might as well walk back. She had nothing to rush back for and the sights and smells of spring filled her with excitement. She loved the springtime.
Like the archery, Anette had talked Jane into attending this class. It was in an old brick building whose interior had been divided into two unequal parts. As you walked in it felt as if you were going back in time. The old brick building, the smell of hard work and molten glass. The veins of the building were seen through the presence of pipes and support beams running visibly along the walls.
But as you walked in, to your left, was a small cut out section done up to look like an art gallery. Here were displayed some of the most incredible pieces of glass Jane had ever seen. Layer after layer of bending and wisping colour, rising and falling, twisting and turning in the glass. She got lost simply counting the colours. Some were polka dot vases – how on earth one made glass polka dot, she didn’t know. Some were giant marbles, the shades of blue crashing into each other like waves trapped in a crystal ball.
Jane stepped carefully, in fear of knocking the base and sending one of these masterpieces crashing to the ground. Without a doubt, Jane’s favourite display was a simple blob of glass. It was just white and see-through. The colours had been rested sporadically upon each other like the layers of a giant sandwich and then flipped on its side so the glass looked like it had been melted into the floor, like lava oozing out of a volcano, like silly putty pressed against the ground. The top had then been sliced cleanly off and displayed so that the layers of the sandwich were visible from above. It was so strange, and it was one of the most incredible things Jane had ever seen.
All the displays were positioned in the cut out to the right. Fancy lights hung from the ceiling and display cases for the smaller items rested on shiny, white boxes. Despite seeing the whole place when you walked in, your eyes were drawn to the displays and it wasn’t until you dragged your eyes from the beauty of the glass that you saw the back of the building. Three hell-drawn ovens sat against the back wall, glowing amber with molten glass. The two men who worked here wore sleeveless shirts, shorts, and thick, black gloves that made oven gloves look like those disposable, thin, powder-free, vinyl glove things you see in the doctor’s office.
With only a space of two or three metres separating the front of the building from the back workspace, Jane wondered how they managed to keep the front so cool. As you ventured from the front door to the back, it felt like you were walking into a wall of heat. A “fridge” – which was still hotter than any oven – stood to the right of the furnaces. It was used to begin the cooling process so the hot glass didn’t shatter into a million pieces.
Inside this building was a whole other world.
As she walked down the street, she thought about the glassblowers’ building. The wall to her left and the steady flow of traffic to her right acted as two sides of a cocoon. All she could see was in front of her and so her mind required little energy to take her where she needed to go. The rest was free to think.
Jane had thoroughly enjoyed glassblowing. It was hot, and she felt a little out of it now, but the buzz of life going past helped to revitalise her consciousness. This was the third lesson in a ten-lesson scheme. She still hadn’t made anything yet, though that wasn’t surprising. The first few lessons were designed to get the students comfortable with the different techniques required in glassblowing: the slow, deliberate turns of the blowpipe; the administering of different colours of glass to get the desired swirls and patterns; the shaping process.
Jane learned that the long stick thingy that the glassblowers used to shape the glass was called a “blowpipe”. She learned that the main furnace, the one in the middle, was simply called “The Furnace”. It held the molten glass used in all the sculptures. The two furnaces on the sides, one for each of the workers, was where the shaping happened and where the glass was preheated between each step. She couldn’t remember their names. The third, she did remember, was used to slowly cool the glass before it went into the “fridge”.
Next week, Jane and the others were informed, was the first week they would actually be allowed to create something for themselves. Jane wasn’t expecting much – her ambition surpassed her skill to the nth degree – but she was excited and looking forward to the challenge.
As she walked and thought about next week, her mind was elsewhere and not concentrating on the path ahead of her. Occasionally, she would look at her phone to double-check her directions. It was a sharp left at the coming street, down two blocks, then she should recognise it from her now almost daily runs to the gym.
She put her phone back in her pocket and continued walking. What would she make next week?
Matt’s phone buzzed again.
“Also, the publishers called again. They want to discuss advertising options and what we had in mind. You want to talk about it or do you just want me to run with it?”
“Um, let’s talk about it later this afternoon. I know you usually just run with it, but I’ve been more involved in the rest of the process this time. I might as well go the whole hog.”
“Sounds good. Hurry up. I’ll head over to your place now. Don’t worry if you’re not there. I have a key.”
“Works for me. See you soon.”
Matt picked up his pace and then slowed back down again. He had begun the second half of the circle back to his house and didn’t need to hurry. At least not while he was in the park; once he left the park, he would pick up the pace again.
Underneath one of the trees nearby, a woman was sitting reading a book. Was it one of his, he thought jokingly. He looked around and realised four out of the six closest trees to him had somebody sitting underneath, reading. Could any of them be reading one of his books?
It was weird: Despite six books under his belt, he still couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that someone somewhere – in fact a few someones in a few somewheres given the sales figures – had read his books. It was a strange consideration and even now, years on from the beginning of his writing career, the thought of it brought him excitement.
To his left, Matt noticed that two of the poles in one of the railings had been bent out of place. He laughed slightly at their asymmetry. Perhaps he should bend them into proportion. For the briefest of split seconds, a true jiffy (a unit of time Matt had learned was 1/100th of a second), Matt entertained the idea before realising how foolish he would look.
Not to mention the fact that if he got into trouble, his reasoning wouldn’t exactly be one that inspired confidence in his accuser.
So he left it alone and continued on his walk. The park was almost over and he would soon have to get back to the rest of his life. But for now he strolled along, enjoying the sights and the sounds around him.
As Jane checked her phone one final time to double-check she had the right directions, she noticed Anette was calling. That’s weird, she thought. She must have accidentally switched it to silent. Wondering what other calls she might have missed, she put the phone to her ear.
“There you are. I’ve been trying to reach you. Have you received a call from the glassblowers?”
“Um, let me check.” Jane looked at her phone’s screen and saw four missed calls. The first three were from the glassblowers and the fourth was from Anette. “They have, yes. I’m so sorry, my phone must have been switched to silent. Is everything alright?”
“You left your purse there.”
“What?” Jane stopped and looked in her handbag. The purse wasn’t there. “Yeah, it’s not here. Alright, I’ll head back over.” She turned around and walked in the direction she was coming from.
“No, don’t worry about it. I’m only a block from them having coffee. I’ll grab it now, take a taxi, and meet you at your place.”
“Really? Are you sure? I don’t want to ruin the rest of your day.”
“Ruin my day? It’s a Saturday. I’m not doing anything.” Jane could hear through the phone the sounds of the café, muffles of conversations, and whispering mood music playing through the speakers.
“Alright. If you say so. No rush though. I’m walking home so I’ll be a while. Are you sure this isn’t a problem?”
“Not at all. I’ll pick it up now and head back. If you’re not in, I have a key.”
“Thank you so much.”
“Don’t mention it. Although I’m a little disappointed that I’ll be seeing you again. I’ve had enough of Jane for today.”
“Please, nobody can ever get enough Jane.”
“Whatever helps you sleep at night, honey. I’ll see you soon.”
Jane turned around and continued walking in the direction she had been going. Had she gone back to get her purse, the added time of the walk back would mean she would almost definitely have gotten a taxi. Now she could continue to enjoy the daylight and the sun. She was only about fifty metres from the street corner she needed to turn down. There was a park just beyond this wall – according to the map on her phone – and she might as well walk through it, at least partially, on the way back to her house.
Matt sighed; the park was almost over. Just a few more meters of pretending before the city hit him again. He debated turning around and just staying in the illusion but decided against it after a few minutes. One must enjoy the moments of tranquillity while they last and embrace the chaos when it comes. Plus, he wanted to see the proof copies of his book. Matt quickened his pace.
Jane checked her phone one last time. She was almost at the corner where the sharp left turn would take her into the park. Once there she could slow down and relax. She could breathe, letting the birds and the trees and the flowers sink into her soul and rejuvenate her spirit. Jane quickened her pace.
It was nobody’s fault, really. Both of them were walking fast – he fuelled by the excitement of getting home and seeing those books; she fuelled by the desire to escape the commotion of city life and reach the isolation of the park, where upon arrival she would slow down and enjoy the stroll.
Neither knew that not looking where they were going when turning the corner would result in both of them being knocked onto the street and into the path of the 144 bus that runs every nine minutes (unless it’s rush hour, in which case it runs every five minutes). And quite frankly, had the wall not been there, Jane would have seen Matt exiting the park and accelerating sharply down her path, and Matt would have seen Jane turning sharply in his direction. It was all rather unfortunate.
Had the bus been on time – coincidentally, it had been slightly ahead of schedule thanks to the lack of commuters at the previous stop and now was whizzing along – then the light at the street crossing, which was green, would have been red and would have caused the bus to slow down to a stop in order to wait for the traffic running parallel to it.
As it so happened because the bus was ahead of schedule, because there weren’t many cars on the road (it was a Saturday), and because the other cars were driving at speeds slightly higher than the limit, so too was the bus. Had the colliding strangers actually collided, they would have surely been knocked into the path of the fast-moving bus, hitting the front of it and definitely not living to tell the tale.
Had it happened, it would have been nobody’s fault.
But it didn’t happen.
Matt realised when he entered the park that this was the place where – approximately eight months ago – he had collided with a stranger and almost killed himself. But he was also in a particularly good mood and life had settled down, so he forgot about it while he was walking. As he reached the street corner, he began to accelerate and begin the journey back to his house.
At this moment, he remembered and slowed down considerably. He looked up from the ground and towards whatever may appear as he turned the corner. He wasn’t going to have a repeat of last year.
Jane, too, was aware while she walked alongside the wall that divided her and the park that this was the fateful place where exactly eight months, three weeks, and two days ago she had collided with a stranger and almost killed herself. However, her phone conversation with Anette ripped the thought from her memory. Now she thought only about getting to the relaxing space of the park.
Until she got to the corner. Then the thought came racing back and she slowed to a crawl. She straightened up and raised her eye level to meet whatever – or whoever – it was that might be turning the corner. She wasn’t going to have a repeat of last year.
The 144 bus drove past the street corner and on to the rest of its day.