The crowd was unfamiliar to me, and so was the place. I stood waiting in line, along a long brick wall. Everyone seemed familiar with the routine; I, however, was nauseous and close to tears. The time finally came, and we shuffled in, one by one, bags checked, body scanned, visitor tag issued.
After more waiting, I got to see him, a wide plastic wall between us. He looked thrilled. I wanted to punch him in the face. I was short, curt, angry. Enraged, even. He smiled back at me with a hazy charm of earnest, dead-eye promises.
My hands shook, my mouth was dry, and my ears roared. The space between seemed to ebb and flow like a funhouse mirror, his mouth moving and the lies dropping to the floor, like elephants I refused to see.
Other visions reflected to me. Water rushing down a mountain stream, its crisp snap on my feet, his cool kisses and ice cold beer. Secret places in the woods and magic deer that revealed themselves in the mists. Laughing dinners and cigarettes on the patio, lazy enveloping smoke in my eyes, under twinkling stars and summer promises.
A ring – such a pretty ring; an antique. I wore it proudly, and shyly. It had been so long since something had been on that finger in earnest. It wasn’t long before the ring went back to the store. With tears in my eyes, I gave it back to the sales clerk, because it was never really mine after all, that and hope. She looked at me with such sympathy as tears streamed down my face and clouded my vision as I ran out and away.
With such conviction, behind the plastic and a sunny, bright orange, he told me over and over how things would change, how he would be different, how he’d made a mistake and it wouldn’t happen again. A remorseful smile. His smile, though…that smile said it all. A child, thrilled to be the center of attention on the merry-go-round, knowing it spun around and around him, delighting in the tinkly rolling chaos of the calliope.
I left, hollow, and cried dry tears. The mountains mocked me, their winds whispering and sneering behind my retreating back, the music fading in the distance. I left that strange place with an unfamiliar heart. And that heart, now locked away, was surely prisoner of its own hopes and dreams.
The mountains still call to me, sometimes, and I hear its soft music, charming like a seductive lover, caressing my ear, trying to pick the lock to my heart. No, I say. No, I won’t be running off to the circus. No, my heart is mine.
Kristine M. Jones is a higher education and library professional who has also spent time in journalism and social work. (These fields have more similarities than you might think!) When she's not being a career Renaissance woman, you can find her being creative, snuggling with her pets, reading graphic novels, and watching classic Universal horror films.