By Megan McGinnes
She doesn’t know how she let herself get to this point. Jen’s hair, originally tightly wrapped in her usual bun, is free like a cascading waterfall of chocolate brown over her shoulders. She chucks her cell phone into the nearby wood. The wind dances around the bottom of her dingy, black skirt, but Jen doesn’t seem to notice. Instead, she inhales deeply, throwing her head back, taking in the scent of lilacs and the cheap wine still on her breath. She wants to run; to skip; to dance. She is out of control. She quit her job and lost her grip on reality. Yet, in the face of life’s animosity Jen feels the most intense feeling of delight. In this moment, Jen might transform into a bird, finally free from gravity’s cruel pull. It is a fresh start, a new beginning. Carpe diem.
He fumbles with his keys, trying to unlock the door. James is still buzzed with the excitement of the night. Or is it early morning? His mind racing, he runs his fingers through his ruggedly messy, blonde hair; as if it will keep his head from exploding with thoughts of her. Finally opening the door, James sees his tiny apartment through different eyes. It is no longer haunted with ghosts of the past; the air is no longer thick with burden and grief. He walks over to the corner next to the only window and sits at his abandoned easel. The smell of gasoline and the Pizza Palace from the floor below slowly seeps into the room. The somber streetlights stand alone as the rest of the street is silent with serene slumber. James keeps the window open, the frigid air a constant reminder that this has not been a dream. With the back of his wrinkled, blue sleeve, he wipes away the dust and cobwebs of the easel, picks up the charcoal, and begins to draw for the first time in three years. Carpe diem.
“Sensible.” That would be the word most people would use to describe Jen. She would also be described as a “hard-worker” or “devoted employee” It’s too bad—that is all anyone could tell you. I mean her tightly, pulled back hair; long, lackluster skirts; stern, painted-on frown; and screw-the-world attitude did not make Jen the “Ms. Congeniality” of the publishing firm. She got there early, worked late. Jen truly wanted to write, but did not believe she had the talent. She didn’t date much or go out with friends because she would rather stay at home, curled up on the couch watching Grey’s Anatomy and eating Oreos. Work at the publishing firm consumed her, acting as filler for the emptiness in her life, an emptiness Jen was blissfully unaware of until the night that changed her life forever.
James hit the snooze button for the third time. The house was cool with morning, but wrapped in the cozy, flannel sheets, James felt no desire to move. James finally forced himself to break from his cocoon. He stubbed his toe on a box of old photographs and drawings as he attempted to make his way toward the bathroom. Surprisingly, he was thankful for the pain in his toe. It helped him forget about the constant ache in his chest; as if someone had taken a scorching coal and left it in his heart to slowly kill him from the inside out. This relentless pain had been steadily torturing him for three years since his fiancé died. Everything acted as a reminder. James could not even draw without becoming nauseous. He was an empty shell, a sorry excuse for life. He did not know that his routine “Thirsty Thursday” visit to Louis’ bar later that evening would instill in him a renewed sense of being.
Jen sat at the bar checking her emails on her phone, sipping on her second glass of cheap wine. She never drank, but work had been hell. She glanced over to the handsome, blonde man with empty eyes who slid onto the seat next to her. He ordered straight whisky.
Plopping onto the bar stool, all James wanted was to numb the pain. The straight whisky burned his throat. He ordered another. Next to him sat a tightly-wound girl with chocolate brown hair. He thought she would look nice with her hair down. With the second whisky kicking in, he turned toward her and said hello.
Jen could not breathe from laughter! The blonde haired stranger’s dark sarcasm was shockingly funny. She had just told him all about the publishing firm and the horrible accounts of her day, which now seemed trivial. The foreign smile on her face felt lovely.
James laughed so hard that he cried! He had not enjoyed himself this much in so long, yet he continued to cry. The tears would not stop. Soon he told Jen of his fiancé, the live coal that was constantly burning inside of him, and his art that he’d abandoned. James felt Jen’s reassuring hand on his knee. He finally controlled his emotions. “Look at us!” Jen exclaimed. “Two sloppy drunks wasting our lives away! So much for all of that seize-the-day, carpe diem crap.”
They snickered, then suddenly looked away from each other, feeling the sting of truth. James paid the bill and both slowly wandered outside, self reflecting on all the time they had wasted in their lives. They turned to each other to say goodbye, but no sound escaped them. Nothing needed to be said. The look of gratitude shined almost as bright as the neon lights on the Louis’ sign. Two strangers in a bar, never even learning the other’s name, had somehow touched each other in a way no one else had been able to. They turned their separate ways, forever changed. Almost down the street, the silence of the night was broken with James’ cry to Jen.
“Hey!—Carpe diem, right?” He exclaimed.
“Yeah, Carpe diem!”