I had an accident on my walk into work. Not really what you would ordinarily call an accident: I didn’t walk into a fire hydrant, I wasn’t blinded by the rising sun. It was March, and daylight savings time had adjusted the span and stretch of the shadows that fell between the clean and dirty loading docks at the rear of Blessed John Licci Hospital. Something about the way the shadows were long and tender and dark made me think of Carmen. My gut flopped and tightened, as if knotting itself. That was the accident, the way my gut reacted when I thought of her. Like I had mistaken Carmen for someone I was in love with.
The sun rose above Blessed John’s blue H. Light struck the weary brick façade, giving the old hospital a glow I only noticed on almost-spring mornings like this. The bronze statue of Blessed John on the lawn was half-covered in snow, his hands fused together in prayer. I hoped he was sure about whatever it was he was praying for, to have been cast in perpetual prayer like that. The way he faced the sun, everything on his left side had melted away, leaving one eye to watch me j-walk across the traffic circle and into the building.
I took the same doors in, the same staircase down, nodded hellos to the same people I always did. Everything else was same except for the new knot I felt that sat between my heart and my ribs.
As Blessed John’s Facilities Department Assistant, I ordered parts for the boiler, made coffee in the morning and took minutes at our weekly team meeting. I was one of two women with an office in the basement. Carmen was the other.
My office was in the basement, a renovated closet next to the boiler room. It smelled of diesel oil and the floor was almost always tattooed with coffee splotches. My dirty rectangle of an office had no windows. Shift engineers trudged by my doorway yanking their pants back up over their ass cracks three times a day: break, lunch, break.
I looked in the mirror hanging in my rusty locker. I tugged and tousled my hair, tried to fluff some life back into it. My toque was necessary but gave me hat head.
“Hey!” Carmen said, knocking on my door. The sound plowed through my chest. “How was your walk in?”
I shut my locker and re-tousled. “Oh. Not bad,” I heard myself say. She grinned, tossed her black hair away from her face, dropped into the chair across my desk. She crossed her legs and complained about the run in her nylons already and asked me what I thought about the new eyeshadow she was wearing.
“What colour is that again? Evening prune?” I said. She laughed.
“Midnight plum! Ha, prune,” she said. “You’re too funny, Sam.”
Sam, she called me. Sam, as far from ornate a name you can have, but she said it in a voice that made it sound mysterious and luscious and not at all every day.
She darted off for her meeting; the smell of her vanilla hand lotion lingered. When I looked up from my desk I saw her there as if outlined, like someone had taken a yellow crayon and traced around her shoulders and head, her neat hips.
I took off to the bathroom. I scrubbed my hands and felt like I should scrub the insides of my eyelids and the lining of my stomach and brain and every other part of me that reacted so violently/lovingly to her presence.
What was this? A crush? Was that why they called it a crush? All your insides crush together?
Lunchtime meetings were akin to torture. Cookies were always a consolation, so long as you were there in time before they were eaten up. I arrived and helped myself to a shortbread, half-covered in chocolate, and settled in the back of the room to take notes and blend in with the furniture
The meeting room’s windows were translucent, allowing for light but obscuring the view to the woodlot outside. I twisted my wedding band around my finger, my skin plain and white beneath it. Outside, birds chirped and the wind howled. How weird it was to hear birds chirp the same time the wind howled.
Men with ties and a few sturdily dressed women leaned over the conference room table, looking over the drawing describing where the proposed new wing of Blessed John would spread its shadow, where patterns of light would fall in summer, fall, spring and winter. It was easy to calculate: given that the sun was reliable, and that the new wing would be fully realized in another four years or so, we could expect these shadows, just as they were diagrammed. According to the drawings, the five p.m. shadows would fall right over the sidewalk I took home.
The meeting room was disastrous with sounds: growling stomachs, a code blue buzzing through the PA, the arguments in mostly jargon. Jargon as good as puffing out your chest. Yes, listen to me. I know all these words, I also learned them in planning or architecture school or wherever it was I went. Do not doubt me when I know the same jargon as you.
I listened for the clicking of Carmen’s heels and the swing of the door opening and closing. It always seemed to squeal differently when someone showed up late: screechier, more tattle-taley.
I drew clouds in the margins of my notebook. A few fat raindrops. I drew a stick person with sunglasses about to get obliterated by these fat raindrops, swept away and then swallowed whole. But then if it was cloudy out why did the stick person have sunglasses on? Were they just used to putting them on that it didn’t occur to them not to wear them? I drew another stick person, sans glasses, her (assuming the stick person has a gender) arm around the sunglasses-wearing stick person.
Carmen eventually appeared and gave a disappointed frown to the empty cookie tray. She inched next to me and whispered “What did I miss?”
I shook my head and handed her the cookie I hadn’t eaten.
Carmen flew into my office as if pushed by a gale force wind. She seemed to show up like this all the time, somewhat off balance, hair swinging in front of her eyes, cheeks pink. “Ready to go?” she asked, doing up the buttons on her jacket, her fingers slow in a way that made me notice how plush her fingertips were.
We walked outside together. The sky was so thick with snow that the only thing I could see out the slit of my hood was the sidewalk. Carmen went on to me about how she took her snow tires off too early. “Did I really doubt that it would snow this March?” she laughed.
“Sure,” I laughed along.
“You probably think I’m nuts.”
“Um… nuts. Mistaken, maybe.”
“Silly me,” she said.
Silly her. “I guess, considering we are in Canada and it does snow in March,” I said, and gave her shoulder a nudge.
“I bet your husband made you keep your snow tires on your car,” she said. Her shadow fell against mine onto the sidewalk. Our shadow-middles pooled together.
“He did,” I said, looking out from between my lapel and my scarf. She stopped at the crosswalk towards the parking lot as cars flew through the slush and barely slowed to let her cross. I counted the snowflakes clinging to her hair as they melted. One fell on her collar and before I could stop myself I brushed it away, grazing her cheek with my thumb. She blinked and patted my cheek as the big knot in my gut tightened for a moment before loosening all the way. I could breathe.
“You’re a sweet girl, Sam. See you tomorrow.”
I watched her cross the street, waited until she pulled out of the parking lot. I carried on down the sidewalk, the orange streetlights buzzing to life and throwing long shadows all the way home.
Nikki Donadio is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers and holds degrees in English and Adult Education. She currently lives in Newmarket, Ontario and is a Master of Arts student at the University of Gloucestershire. Her short fiction has been featured in Plenitude and Gertrude; her poetry in Borealis, Her Heart Poetry, Typishly and Soliloques Anthology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nbissett22.