ife is like writing a novel – a bumper sticker platitude perhaps, but that doesn’t make it any less true. In my case, the plot had started off well enough, but soon became convoluted, wasting chapter after chapter on relationships that went nowhere, unresolved conflict, dead-end threads, and sketchy motivations. The question is, what do you do when you realize you’ve got a lousy book on your hands? You’re really only left with a couple of choices: you either go for a major re-write or you start fresh. I guess in my mind, seeing Lyla again would be my final stab at editing past mistakes. To say that the idea made me nervous was an understatement. Still, in a way it all felt inevitable, as if my brain had clicked off somehow, relinquishing the reins to fate.
Dialing her at work, I got stuck in a frustrating exchange with some marble-mouthed lunkhead at the front desk who mistook me for a delivery boy. It was as if I was on autopilot, my voice a disembodied drone – Jesus, I could’ve been speaking Portuguese for all I knew. After a while I was able to make myself understood, and was transferred to her secretary at which point I hung up. Shaken and stirred, I paced around the apartment debating the best way to approach the situation. Arriving unannounced at her place of business was a move that could backfire in myriad ways. That being said, if I called beforehand, there was always a possibility that she might give me the brush; this type of blatant rejection would no doubt be exponentially more difficult to execute if she was obliged to look me in the eyes while she did it. After weighing the pros and cons of both options, I figured it would be better to just drop on by.
Once I’d finalized my plan of attack, I spent the rest of the morning preparing for the main event. My biggest concern was how I was going to make myself appear presentable. Covering up the years of careless living – not to mention general entropic decay – was by no means going to be an easy task. I’d have to do what I could with what little I had left. After quaffing my usual vat of black java, I ran a hot bath – determined to remain submerged until my skin regained at least some semblance of a healthy pallor. The next thing I did was scrape away the hoary thatch of week-old stubble from my face. Nowadays it seems everyone’s all about the facial hair; you can’t even walk down one city block without careening off the chin pubes of some tatted-up hipster dweeb with wine corks stuffed in his earlobes. Of course, it would figure that beards became such a hot commodity after mine had already turned as grey and scraggly as the tail end of a geriatric schnauzer.
Inspecting my handiwork in the bathroom mirror, I let out a sigh of relief. So far so good, I thought. As I stood there primping, it struck me that my hair could also do with a fast trim. Not wanting to spend any extra scratch at the barber, I grabbed some scissors out of the kitchen drawer – an old squeaky pair I’d purloined from the office – and began snipping away. It was a major error in judgment on my part. Each time I would chop one section off, another would spring up in an uneven tangle. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t get it to look right, and by the time I was done hacking away at myself, I looked like Shemp from the Three Stooges. Attempting to stay calm, I slathered on a few handfuls of styling gel and hoped for the best.
Years of routine had worn an indelible groove deep in my psyche; life had become habitual, skipping along in an endless loop like the B-side of a long-forgotten 45. Somehow, the events of the past few days had bumped the needle, and with one jarring scratch, the song was over; now it was time to flip the record.
I rummaged through the closet and retrieved a second-hand suit I’d purchased a few months earlier on Ebay when I’d been delegated to take the minutes for our bi-annual company retreat; they just had me Xeroxing documents and fetching coffee for everyone. I’d gained a few pounds since then – too many liquid lunches and late night tuna melts – now the pants dug into my waist like a 19th century corset. After a brief moment of despair, I solved the problem by cutting a couple of stealthy notches in the moth worn cloth with my stolen scissors, which I then covered up with an old belt. Fatigued from my MacGyvering, I took a seat on the edge of the bed and lit up a cigarette. It was creeping up towards lunchtime; I’d have to get a move on if I wanted to catch her while she was still in the office.
When I left the apartment, I was primed; my every motion felt fluid and rehearsed, almost military in intent. Scanning the city landscape with a thousand yard stare, I marched ahead, ramrod straight. It was only a klick or so to the perimeter, a vehicle would be unnecessary. Off in the distance, a rustle of dark clouds kissed the edge of the horizon. Not cold enough for snow, a chilly rain seemed more likely.
Passing by a hardware store, I stopped to check my hair in a cheap-looking standing mirror they had price-tagged out in front. My heart sank. The midday sun stabbed through a break in the haze, revealing to me every odd, chunky, asymmetrical clump I had inflicted on myself with those goddamned, bargain-bin sheep shearers. Licking my palms, I tamped down the stray tufts to minimal effect. It was no use, I’d just have to make sure to stay out of direct light, and keep my eyes open for any available spill of shadow I could find. Stuffing my hands in my pockets, I kicked a medium-sized shatter of ice that had been lying in the middle of the sidewalk, sending it off with missile-like precision into the oncoming traffic of Madison Avenue. I was aggravated with myself for being so self-conscious. Jesus Christ, everyone gets old and sloppy, I’m sure Lyla was no exception to that rule. Grumbling my way down a few blocks, I remembered how she used to get a charge out of needling me about the way I dressed or pointing out some physical imperfection of mine – the size of my nose and ample love handles were favored targets. She’d always do it in a light-hearted way, but it could get to me, sometimes even lead to a fight. In the end, she’d always manage to escape my displeasure with some snappy epigram that would never fail to leave me laughing. She was one hell of a funny girl, that Lyla, she could joke her way out of the stickiest of situations.
Reaching out after so many years of radio silence was going to be a risky proposition; there was no way to predict what her reaction might be. I could only hope she wouldn’t feel as if she’d been ambushed in some way, or that I’d backed her into an emotional corner. A light touch would be essential in ameliorating any potential apprehension on her part; I’d have to play off my sudden appearance as nothing more than a benign, off-the-cuff, flight of fancy. If she were to pick up on any sense of desperation on my part, the whole enterprise could blow up in my face like a prank cigar. When I reached the entrance to her office building, my nerves had gotten the better of me, and I seriously considered the idea of continuing on to the nearest bar for a couple of steadying shots. I was winded and my throat felt like it was coated in sawdust. After a brief moment of contemplation, I concluded that I could do without the whiskey breath; it was bad enough that I’d be barging in on her at work wearing a cheap suit, looking like I’d fallen headfirst into a hay thrasher. Taking a running cannonball, I dove in and registered at the lobby. The next thing I knew I was hurtling up 12 flights – 12 flights back in time.