By Wayne Scheer.
Elvin Arcade lived in a two bedroom ranch house on a street filled with alternating two and three bedroom homes, each looking almost the same and each lined with box woods, trimmed exactly three feet tall. A community ordinance required the use of a yard stick.
The neighborhood association banned all planting other than what they considered appropriate. They also required approval before painting a house and the front doors had to be white or a sober shade of dark red.
Elvin never felt confined or rebellious. He lived his life within the established parameters.
One morning, while eating his oatmeal with raisins and walnuts, Elvin glanced out his kitchen window and saw a young woman skate by wearing nothing but pink tights. He rubbed his eyes and stared as her tight, pink derriere sashayed out of sight.
Not quite believing what he had seen, he called his neighbor who lived directly across the street.
“Gloria, did you see that?”
“The woman in pink tights.”
“She was skating. Naked.”
“I thought she was wearing tights?”
“Well, yes, she was. But she was topless.”
“Was she wearing a helmet?”
“Then call the neighborhood association. There’s an ordinance against that.”
He hung up and continued staring out the window, waiting for the woman in pink to skate by again.
He waited. And waited.
After finishing his oatmeal and washing the bowl, Elvin decided to do something which for him was akin to running off to join the circus. Instead of going to work, he got into his Ford Taurus to search for the vision in pink.
Like a dog chasing a car, he had no idea what he would do if he’d found her, but he felt compelled to search.
Up Elm to Oak, he drove. Down Cedar to Maple, he drove some more. He finally reached Main Street. Would she dare skate down such a busy thoroughfare during morning rush hour, her breasts exposed? He turned left, drove a few miles and turned around to drive in the other direction.
No topless woman on skates. No pink tights.
Instead of beginning the routine of his day, Elvin felt a need to do something else out of the ordinary, something spontaneous. He pulled into Starbucks and ordered the most bizarre sounding item on the menu, a Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino, feeling certain the skater in pink would approve.
The sugar and caffeine made Elvin lightheaded. His mind wandered to the time his older cousin, Belinda, had taken him to a skating rink. Although he spent most of his time holding on to the railing, a little girl urged him to let go. And when he finally did, he felt genuine exuberance. Every time he fell, the girl encouraged him to try again until he began skating on his own. Although he must have been moving at a pace slow enough to frustrate a snail, to eight year-old Elvin he was flying.
He laughed and screamed and sang along with the music without knowing the words. When Belinda took him home, and he ecstatically recounted his exploits to his mother, she grew angry with Belinda.
“He could have broken a leg, an arm, or worse,” she shouted.
He never skated again. Even as a teenager, when his church group went to the rink, he didn’t dare put on skates. Elvin put down his Frappuccino, his hands shaking. His heart pounded like it had decided to stop playing back-up to his other organs and take a solo. Without conscious thought, he pulled out his cellphone and did something he hadn’t done in the four years since graduating college and going to work at Finch Financial. He called in sick.
It surprised him how easy it was. After telling Beth, the office manager, he wasn’t feeling well and needed the day off, he attempted to describe a series of symptoms. She interrupted him.
“I’m sorry to hear that Elvin. I hope you feel better tomorrow.”
That was it. That was all it took to free himself for the day. The last time he took a day off was in the fifth grade when he induced vomiting in order to stay home and study for a geography test for which he felt unprepared. The next day his mother composed a note detailing his symptoms. Guilt-ridden, he wrote an extra credit report on the human digestive system.
Perhaps Mr. Finch would be interested in a paper on the effects of caffeine on the heart? Elvin laughed out loud, causing the young woman at the next table to turn his way.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes, thank you.” He felt his face flush.
“That’ll make you giddy.” She pointed to his Frappuccino. “You need to build up to a drink like that. Perhaps a Toffee Mocha Lite?”
She extended her hand. “Hi. I’m Cassie.”
Elvin took her hand, noting how soft it felt. “Elvin.”
Desperate to keep up his end of the conversation, he said, “This is only my second time in Starbucks. The first time I just ordered coffee. But I had a strange experience this morning, and I can’t focus.”
The caffeine reduced his customary reticence to share personal details with a stranger. “I saw a woman skating down my street wearing nothing but pink tights.”
Elvin watched Cassie’s eyes widen before breaking into an uninhibited laugh, far too loud for the small room. “Nothing but pink tights?”
He feared her laughter was directed at him. For some reason he didn’t understand, he wanted to continue talking to her.
“Maybe I just imagined her.”
“Do you have that kind of imagination?”
He didn’t know what to say.
Still laughing, Cassie stood up. Under her short, rainbow-patterned dress, she wore pink tights.
Instantly, he recognized her, and thought of her small, firm breasts. Trying not to stare at them, he sipped the remains of his Frappuccino to steady himself. It dribbled down his chin.
Cassie took his hand and said, “Let’s blow this joint.”
“What do you mean?”
“I heard you on the phone taking the day off from work. You can do anything you want.”
“But…where would we go?”
“Wherever our imagination takes us.”
She sounded insane, mad, crazy. And happy. He followed her, feeling the fresh morning air on his face as if for the first time, although he could also hear his mother’s voice warning him about never putting himself in jeopardy.
“I can’t skate.”
Now it was his turn to laugh. “No helmet.” He paused to gain confidence. “And I’m not taking off my clothes.”
She winked. “You need to build up to that. Like the Frappuccino.”
“Here’s my car.” Elvin pointed to his sensible Ford Taurus.
“Let’s take mine.”
He didn’t know the model, but it was red, small and didn’t look safe. He got in anyway and buckled up. Her skates were on the floor.
She drove fast and talked non-stop about everything from a Tom Robbins novel she had been reading to a kale-quinoa salad which Elvin thought sounded awful. She played a CD of jazz and had him pay attention to each instrument as if they were speaking to him personally. It seemed like only minutes had passed when he looked around and saw nothing but pasture, so immense and green.
“I feel like a child lost in a painting,” he told Cassie.
“Good. There’s hope for you yet.”
With that, she pulled onto a dirt road, stopped the car, jumped out and began running until she found a path through a fence and onto the open field.
Elvin followed, gasping for breath, his lungs unaccustomed to such exertion. Still, he kept running, exhilarated, not wanting to lose sight of Cassie and awed at the expanse of land, so lush he wondered if he had died and his spirit had returned to the Garden.
“Isn’t this beautiful,” she shouted. It was a statement, not a question. All of a sudden, she began spinning, her short dress rising in the air, exposing her pink tights and looking like she should be performing on a high wire.
Elvin used the time to catch his breath and stare at this strange, wonderful vision. She was crazy, he felt certain of this, and he knew better than to be out in the middle of nowhere with her, but like young men since the time of Adam, he wanted to please her. She possessed a quality–call it madness, joy, spontaneity–a quality he sadly lacked.
“How far can you jump?”
He wasn’t sure he heard her right. Her rhetorical leaps without segues made his head spin.
Without further explanation, she took a running start and jumped, marking where she’d landed with a fallen branch. “Your turn.”
He hadn’t done anything like this since he was a child, before his father died in a car crash and his mother grew fearful of an accident that would take her son’s life. He took his running start and leaped with all his might.
He landed short.
When he fell short once more, she urged, “Again.”
Again and again until he landed inches past the branch.
She ran to him, almost knocking him over, and kissed him, lingering just long enough for him to taste her before pulling away.
“Now watch.” This time she took her running start and flew into the air, defying gravity, landing far beyond the marker.
Elvin rubbed his eyes the way he did in that morning when she skated by his neatly trimmed shrubs.
“You flew! You flew! I saw you fly! How did you do that?”
“I imagined I could. And I did it.”
“Can you teach me to fly?”
“In time. At your own pace. If that’s what you want.”
“It’s been a long day,” she said, patting him on the back. “Time to return to our lives.” She kissed him again, this time on the cheek, and ran back towards the car. Elvin chased after her.
They drove in silence. Elvin imagined life with Cassie, free and uninhibited. Then he thought of his own boxwood-lined house and knew instantly she had no place in his life. What might her life be like? He could never fit in there.
At his car, they hugged goodbye.
“Will I ever see you again?” he asked.
She shrugged and laughed. “Who knows?”
Over the next few months, Elvin joined an exercise class and began dating a woman he met there. His supervisor at work praised him for his creativity, and he planted sunflowers in defiance of a neighborhood ordinance.
Cassie had disappeared from his life as suddenly as she had appeared. He still glanced out his kitchen window hoping to see a vision in pink skate by, and he began most days at Starbucks, although never again ordering a Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino.
He might have filed away Cassie as a caffeine-induced hallucination had it not been for a phone call he received from his cousin Belinda. She called to say she had just adopted a kitten and named it Cassie. She laughed; Elvin went silent.
“Don’t you remember that day I took you skating and that little girl kept telling you to let go of the railing and try again?”
“I never knew her name.”
“She told me it was Cassie.”
“Belinda, tell me. Was she wearing pink tights?”
“The little girl.”
“Pink tights? Geez, I don’t remember. Why?”
WAYNE SCHEER has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net. He’s published numerous stories, poems and essays in print and online, including Revealing Moments, https://issuu.com/pearnoir/docs/revealing_moments a collection of flash stories. His short story, “Zen and the Art of House Painting” has been made into a short film. https://vimeo.com/18491827.