by Crystaline Brown
Early winter fog covers everything, tucks into each corner and seam of city blocks and rocky, rolling hills, and I speed up four flights of stairs on my way to class. I count each step.
I notice this girl walking ahead of me, her strawberry ponytail and backpack. She has a narwhal keychain. Her backpack has a cup-sized side pocket and, because she is probably insane, she has placed inside of it not a water bottle or coffee tumbler, but an actual to-go cup. It’s a venti-sized paper coffee cup with a pop-on plastic lid. With each step she takes, the cup ascends. The movement is slight but perceptible. I am an eagle. She must not feel it, or she thought the side pocket was shaped in such a way that it would securely hold a venti-sized to-go cup during her commute. Oh, the naiveté.
Elated, I can’t believe what I’m seeing as we make our way up a set of exactly seven steps and walk quickly across the square. The cup will fall at any moment. People with backpacks and lunch pails and umbrellas dangling from their wrists, even a couple athletes on those strange glowing hovercrafts, are traveling in all directions across the square. Class will begin in twelve minutes. I never take my eyes off the cup. I think my class is in a different building because her velocity begins to change, but I must see the cup fall out. I follow her instead, staring at the cup.
I feel guilty. But not really. No one will notice. Because no one ever notices. Because people are imbeciles. I’m staying far enough away that my gaze will not trigger a reaction from others. It would be soul crushing if someone were to realize what was about to happen and ruin everything. “Your coffee cup is about to fall out of your backpack,” they would say.
We pass underneath a leafless elm. The branches are massive. Would it be some sort of prophecy if under this great tree her coffee were to plummet to the floor and splatter its milky brown contents all over the bricks? I’m running out of time. I nervously check my phone. Five minutes. The cup must barely be sitting inside the side pocket.
She stops, suddenly. I stop. Her head whips around and her eyes meet mine. I blink and look up at the tree. Shit.
She takes a deep breath and walks over to me. I pretend not to notice. But then she is right next to me. I turn towards her and she reaches out, gesturing awkwardly with her hand.
She leans closer to me. “Hey,” she says, “Do you have a tampon?”
Of course, I do, and I’m always happy to help a sister out. “Yea,” I say and take off my backpack. I retrieve the tampon from the compartment in my backpack which I refer to as the ‘tampon pocket’ and hand it to her. “Thanks,” she says.
I see everything in slow motion. She reaches behind her and attempts to put the tampon in the backpack pocket, but instead she knocks the coffee cup out of her backpack. The rush of pleasure that I feel as this happens right in front of me is bright and full. I actually make a sound, a grunt, partly out of shock but mostly pleasure. She jumps and steps back as the coffee goes everywhere. It’s on my shoes. It’s on her pants. It’s all over the ground in a great spatter. It’s just black coffee, not even with cream or some disgusting flavored syrup. The smell floods my nostrils and I resist a smile.
She looks at me, embarrassed. I immediately take off my backpack again and get some tissues. “Oh, my goodness,” I say. “Here, take some of these.”
She begins to dab the coffee from her jeans. I lower my face and try to hide the fact that I’m taking in deep, drawn breaths, savoring the smell.
“You know a narwhal’s horn is a tooth,” I say, “It’s obscene. A giant tooth coming right from its head.”
She looks at me, confused. “Aren’t you in my environmental data class?” she asks me.
Things are getting complicated.