I had never considered occupying the space of my bed in any other way than the fetal position. Perhaps I am too fitted in maternal comforts, or desperate to offer myself protection, but uncoiling my body hadn’t posed itself as an option for nighttime coziness. So rigid I lay, hunched back to the wall, the curved inner portions of my feet finding the grooves of each other, elbows pressing in the sides of my stomach, prayer positioned hands cradling my head. The womb hadnt prepared me for much of the world, but it did prepare me for this — to be still for awhile.
This is a position to last the ages, I thought. A position for the history books. My internal dialogue has a tendency to dance on the legs of clichés, if only to relish in the grandness of empty statements. Who could even consider laying a different way. Tell me, who?
We sat on a park bench. On a wooden park bench, at an appropriate distance from each other so that people could not confuse us for lovers, or even friends, or even acquaintances. For all the observing pedestrians knew, we were two lonely people renting the space of a park bench because the night called us nowhere else. It was a man sitting next to me, if that wasn’t clear. A man with a square jaw and close set eyes. A flat mouth, lips spread but that didn’t change the expression on his face which would hesitate in quiet amazement at the ability to craft thoughts, to get lost in them, to assemble and know all while being able to keep full possession of those thoughts.
“I’m probably still scared of the dark. I curl up with my computer at my feet. The brightness of the screen is enough to light the room, letting me know what is there and what isn’t and if something is where it shouldn’t be.”
“A computer. That’s a very expensive nightlight,” he said.
I looked up at the sky and ,despite being in a city which chose to shine because it too was, perhaps, scared of itself, I could see the handle of the Big Dipper. I pointed up and told him to look past the still green branches, to look past the lamps lighting the pathways of the park, to squint and try until the stars presented themselves.
“I see it,” he said.
“It’s the only constellation I know. I see it all the time when I sit outside of my house.”
“When I lay in bed, I have to touch all four corners,” he said. “My arms have to be able to touch the top two corners and my legs are spread, touching the bottom corners. I take the up the entire space. I have to do that for a bit before falling asleep.”
“You’re a starfish,” I said.
“A starfish, maybe that’s it.”
We still looked up, craning our necks, taut skin creasing under the stress of bending. My hands were cold and I wanted to push out my hand to this person renting the night with me and hold his hand, if just to say, I am a sea creature too. I didn’t, of course, but the thought crossed my mind more than once and each time it came back, slightly stronger than the moment before, I rubbed my red and white palms together. I wanted to touch him to make sure that he was real and that I was grounded enough to accept the presence of another person.
Instead, in silence, we looked at the sky and I thought about how if he was a starfish, sticking for permanency, I was a seashell struggling to untangle myself. Each of my bends awards themselves with yet another bend, always encircled, with the impression of sea faintly washing around me. I thought about being on a beach and waiting to be found. I thought about being jostled by waves and that it will always be a losing battle finding another shore. And how a starfish can sail on the back of a turtle. I imagined us, a seashell and a starfish, hurtling through the stars and that we would never have to contend with the fact that night passes. And without the night, without the ocean, we could be some other things. I thought about how easy it was to look at the sky, pleading with the clouds to allow me another sight of the stars, and about a bunch of things that really made no difference when really I just wanted to hold the hand of a stranger.