Insight: A Short Story Inspired By Raymond Carver

The elevator doors opened and he stepped out into the hallway, after a glance to see if anyone was out there, a slow craning forward of the neck. There were two ways out of the apartment building and he chose the back way, nodding at the security guard as he pushed against the metal handle of the door and out into the back alley behind. It was an in between street, with one way traffic sheltered from the sky by the high rise apartments on all sides, and served only as an entrance to car park lots from behind.

He walked along the street, his hand in his pockets. It was evening time, and the light had mostly faded from the sky, and street lamps streamed from overhead. He could feel his legs, stiff and reluctant underneath him, opening up for the first time that day. With that thought in mind, he rotated his neck in a slow circle, and rubbed his right shoulder. He glanced up. A man was sitting on the balcony above him, but in the dark he couldn’t tell if he was looking down at him or not. A car idled out of an underground parking lot up ahead on his right, and lumbered slowly passed him. He stared at the windows, which were black and tinted opaque. The car slowed, and the window on its passenger side opened. He bent his head and peered in.

“Hey buddy,” the driver said. “You got any insight?”.

The man looked into the back-seat of the car. There was no one there. The driver was staring at him.

“No,” the man said, and walked on quickly. Behind him he heard the sound of the window whir as it closed up, and the engine of the car growl as it moved away. He continued walking down the alleyway. There were dumpsters out on the road , full and spilling over, the lid not shut but resting halfway down on the black bags inside. The smell made the man wrinkle his nose. He walked further on and stopped to tie his shoe against the base of a street lamp.

He came to the end of the alleyway and out onto the main street that ran perpendicular to it, and turned onto the side walk, and walked to the traffic lights, and stopped. There were two other people stopped at the lights, an old Asian man, and a young woman with mid length hair that had a pink streak through it. They stood and cars streamed by, and the lights didn’t turn, and he slowly became aware that the woman was looking at him. He kept his eyes straight ahead and felt his lips fold into a tight line, and then the lights changed and he crossed the road. Again he was at traffic lights, and not it was just him and the woman. He didn’t want to look but he turned his head left to check for traffic and found himself staring into her eyes. She was looking at him with curiosity.

“Have you got any insight?” she asked. He stared at her.

“You’re the second person to ask me that today,” he said. She smiled.

“Well, what did you say the first time?” she said. He waited a moment as he thought.

“Nothing,” he said.

“That must have been rude,” she said. “At least we’re having a conversation about it. You know?”

“Yes,” he said. “I suppose.” He turned back to the road. The lights had turned green, but the countdown was at 4 and fading fast, orange numbers that ticked away and left him on the wrong side of the river.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “We missed the crossing.”

“Its alright,” he said. It was, he thought. “I’m in no rush,” he said, and smiled.

“OK, you keep your eyes on the lights, and I’ll talk, that way we wont miss it,” she said. “Where are you going?”

“To get a pizza slice,” he said, his eyes on the traffic like she had said. She made noise as if she was spitting out something she had not intended to ingest, but without urgency, as though she was resigned to eating at least some of it now that it had made it as far as her mouth.

“I wouldn’t if i was you,” she said. “They are just awful for you. Do you know what trans fats are?”

He did know what trans fats were, and didn’t feel like talking about them as the evening faded from the air around him like seconds ticking down on an electronic orange light, but he nodded anyway.

“They’re in pizza?” he asked. She nodded vigorously.

“They’re in a lot of things,” she said. “And they clog your cells up. They make them heavy and the body’s defences cant clear them and they eventually overload the cell and it dies.”

He didn’t know the exact mechanism of how trans fat was harmful to the body but he was almost certain that she hadn’t described it, but he nodded anyway.

“I’m going to a place down the road,” she said. “It has egg rolls and sushi and vegetables. And it does great smoothies. Come with me and I’ll show you.”

“The lights have turned,” he said, as he started walking. She followed.

“Its just down the road,” she said again.

“I really shouldn’t” he said.

“What shouldn’t you do?” she said. “Not get pizza? Go somewhere new? See something else that you’ve seen on other evenings in times gone by, evenings like this one. Were they all really that good that you have to repeat them?”

He laughed. “I’ve had lots of different types of nights and evenings lately” he said, but he followed her anyway.

He wasn’t quite sure what the shop was for exactly. It was for food of course , that much was clear. But it didn’t stick to any particular type very well. There was a glass case full of things that looked like sandwiches, but weren’t. He ordered a coffee, and she ordered a smoothie. There was a couple in the corner on high stools, looking out the window, and a lone man typing furiously at a laptop in one of several booths. The woman ordered from the slight, spectacled man behind the counter, and slid down into a booth. She beckoned to him and he slid in opposite her.

“This place is a little strange,” he said as he sat down.

“Everything is a little strange,” she said. “What’s your name?”

He told her. Then he asked for hers, out of politeness.

“Jane,” she said. Then she looked at him with that curious look again. He began to feel awkward.

“I really shouldn’t be doing this,” he said again. She nodded in agreement, but her eyes were distant, and he thought that she was looking through him, into him, but passing all the inner parts like a sea swimmers stroke brushing aside a gentle wave as he headed out from shore , and on through to wilder seas beyond.

“We shouldn’t be doing anything,” she said. “If you want to think about it like that.”

He didn’t know how to respond to that, so he asked her if she was from here. She laughed, and looked at him properly again.

“No one is from here,” she said. “I’m not from here. Are you from here?”

“No,” he said. “I’m from somewhere else.” She nodded.

“No one is from here,” she said again. “Look around.” She gestured at the street outside. It was dark now, and cars and pedestrians passed by behind glass. “Not even the people that are from here are from here.” She sat back, and lapsed into silence. The man from behind the counter dropped the drinks in front of them, smiled and walked away. He walked out the front door of the building and disappeared. The coffee was black and in a very small cup. The smoothie was a vivid green and looked very cold. The sides of the paper cup it came in were sweating.

The man pushed the coffee away.

“I’m going to go,” he said. She nodded. He didn’t move.

“So,” she said. “Have you got any insight?” She looked at him in that way again, as if she really wanted to know the answer. He didn’t know what to say, and pulled the coffee back towards him as the steam rose slowly from the black liquid.

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