Love 'neath the Manhattan Skies

Gowri Bhargav posted under Retrospect Short Stories on 2022-11-21

The haunting sound from the beeping monitors fills the deafening silence pervading the hospital room. The pungent smell of the disinfectant is overbearing. The bare walls whitewashed to perfection give me an ominous stare. But I’m here for Mark. And…he is lying on the bed as if in a deep slumber--bandaged, and oblivious to all the sights, sounds, and smells. Infinite wires that are hooked to him ensure his sustenance.  Is he in Pain? Is his tormented body being subjected to unforgiving agony? Or has it been numbed hard enough that he doesn’t feel anything at all? It’s all my fault… Tears trickle down my face ceaselessly as I watch his mute body. Mark. Love. The two synonymous four-letter words indeed conjure a million feelings—feelings that take me through a roller-coaster ride encompassing many emotions. It hurts to look at him this way. The somber atmosphere is suddenly punctuated by the whistling sound of the wind due to the small gap in the glass window. As I walk towards the window to shut it my eyes are attracted to the myriad-hued autumnal leaves that lay strewn around the maple tree outside. My thoughts immediately wander. Autumn. Leaf. Central Park. How can I ever forget?  I look at Mark and speak, hoping that he will respond despite being unsure if I’m audible. “Mark! Do you remember the day we first met? I remember every word we spoke.” *** A Year ago It was a cool crisp Sunday morning in October. All the trees adorning the chromatic shades of fall stood tall—it was indeed a feast. Manhattan was bursting with colors.  It had rained in the early hours, so the atmosphere infused with the heavenly petrichor urged me to wake up earlier than usual. I changed over to my exercise clothes and shoes.  I brushed my untamed blonde frizzy hair hastily, tied it back into a high pony, and stepped out. Central Park was only a few blocks away from my apartment so I decided to go there. I jogged to the park and found it bustling with activity. Children were playing, many were biking, and a few others were picnicking with their families. The whole atmosphere seemed vibrant. Happy faces. Lovely moments. After jogging for an hour I sat down beneath a tree. Being a Broadway artist, I rehearsed some of my dialogues and songs mentally for an upcoming show. After that, I opened a book that I carried with me always—my favorite collection of poems. Soaked in the vivid imageries I was lost in a distant realm. When I was done flipping through a few pages, I picked the brightest auburn leaf as a bookmark. But the moment I placed the leaf, a sudden gust of wind blew and carried it far across. As I ran trying to grasp it, I didn’t notice someone walking across my path. That, someone, was you. That was the first time I met you. You were deeply engrossed in a book. You didn’t notice me coming either. We both bumped into each other and I fell clumsily.  “Ouch!” I screamed. My white hoodie became completely soiled due to the wet mud on the ground. “I’m sorry, I didn’t notice you coming. I was trying to catch hold of this leaf,” I told you after grabbing the leaf from the ground. “I’m sorry too. My bad. I was so engrossed in my book,” you said apologetically. That was the first time our eyes met. Your sparkling blue mesmerizing eyes caught my attention. I was lost in them for more than a few seconds. “Ahem! What did you say you were trying to catch hold of…a leaf?!” You asked me in a baritone voice, breaking the silence. You had a puzzled expression on your face.  “Yes! I wished to make this auburn leaf my bookmark. I’m fascinated by all autumnal leaves in general. Don’t they look divine and gorgeous? Nature looks like a ravishing bride during this season. I’m sure you agree, don’t you?” “Whoa! Your poetic explanations don’t make any sense to me.  All I can say is that chlorophyll in the leaf breaks down due to lack of sunlight, which results in other pigments being exposed and hence the color, my lady! After all, they all turn brown and die.” That was the most boring description that I had ever heard about fall.  How could someone not be fascinated by fall? I wondered. “I see. Interesting.” I just feigned a smile though I felt like putting some sense into your head and telling you how drab the explanation was. “By the way, I’m Mark. Dr. Mark. I teach at New York University.” You introduced yourself. “Oh hello, Mark. I mean Dr. Mark. Glad to meet you.”  Your old-fashioned, thick-rimmed glasses and neatly combed hair seemed to match your profession. You appeared to be in your thirties. “You can call me just Mark. And you are?” “I’m Julie—a Broadway artist.” “Wow! A Broadway artist. I’ve never watched a Broadway show. Must be boring to perform it every day, screaming away your lungs in a high-pitched voice, right?” You chuckled. Boring? My job?! Yours is the worst. Boring to death. I wanted to scream it out aloud but just stopped short. “Not at all. I love performing. I get to improvise too. And, make friends. Meet people. It’s very interesting.” I could feel your eyes watching me intently as I spoke. “Well then! Good for you.” Suddenly it turned chilly and I began to visibly shiver. The weather in New York is always unpredictable.  I gave my soiled hoodie an apologetic stare. “Gosh! Your hoodie looks pathetic. You seem to be shivering. Wear my fleece jacket. I don’t need one,” you said, handing the oversized jacket to me. “I’m good! I don’t need it,” I refused. “Come on! Take it. You will thank me later.” Since you insisted I decided to take the jacket. “Thank you, Mark! Got to go. I have some errands to run.” “Me too! Julie, can you give me your phone number?” “You need my number?!” I wondered why you needed it. As if you’d read my mind you said with a grin, “You have to return my jacket, remember? That’s why I asked for your number. We can fix up a meeting place so that you can return it. ”  “Right! I almost forgot. Here you go, Mark!”  We both exchanged our numbers before leaving. I could not stop thinking about you even after returning home. I wondered why! It seemed odd because we had diametrically opposite interests.  *** I shake from my reverie as the doctor storms in along with his team. He checks Mark’s vitals and reads the charts. “Doctor, is everything fine? Will Mark recover?” I ask him frantically hoping to get some answers. He intently looks at his laptop, monitoring Mark’s progress. After a while, he turns towards the nurse and says, “He has suffered a brain injury. He’s in a coma now. Recovery could take several days or even months. More importantly, recovery will happen in phases. We have to monitor him closely.” He then continues with some of the routine procedures and leaves. My eyes gaze at Mark. He is being fed through tubes. It had been days since he’s had a cup of coffee. He loves coffee—so much that he needs a cup almost every hour. He is the one who had gotten me addicted to the drink.  Coffee and I were never made for each other. I used to despise it. But I’d developed a taste for it because of him.  “Oh, Mark! Do you remember the first time you made me drink an entire cup of coffee? And how after that we began meeting frequently?” *** Though we both had exchanged numbers, it had been almost a week and I hadn’t received any call from you. Then, the following Sunday at 9 am, I received a text message from you. Can we meet in Starbucks at Times Square, today at 11 am? Please bring my jacket.  -Mark I felt very excited when your message popped up. I immediately replied with a yes.  I took a quick shower and got dressed. The red trench coat, blue jeans, and boots seemed perfect for the chilly day. I also applied some light makeup to hide the stray acne on my fair, blemish-less face. The Starbucks at Times Square was not very near so I took the subway. I reached just in time and as I entered the shop, you were already seated, sipping a cup of coffee. “Hi, Mark! Did you come in early?” I asked, checking my watch. “Yes, Julie! And apparently, this is my third cup of coffee. Can I buy you a drink?” you replied with a smile. That was the first time I noticed your smile. Ah! Your curved smile ending with dimples on either side of the face accentuated your looks. “Third cup?! Wow! I hate coffee. Period.” “How can someone not like coffee? I need coffee at frequent intervals—almost throughout the day. By the way, did you bring my jacket?” Only then I realized that it had completely slipped my mind to bring your jacket. I felt awkward. “Jacket? Oh, Jacket, oops!! I’m so sorry, Mark. Punish me if you wish. I feel so stupid for having forgotten.”  “Hmm! So, here’s the punishment; I will buy you a tall cappuccino and you have to finish it.” I nodded my head in resignation. It was the price I had to pay for having forgotten your jacket. As I sipped the coffee reluctantly, you began explaining the process of making coffee, right from choosing the bean. I listened to your lecture for a while but then my ears felt muffled since my eyes were keenly staring at your eyes—your attractive blue eyes. I was so lost in them that I did not realize you had finished speaking.  “Julie, are you even listening?” you whispered and tapped my hand. A wave of desire traveled through my nerves the moment you touched me. “Ha ha! I think I almost fell asleep during the last bit,” I retracted my hand instantly and burst out laughing. Following that, I spoke about the challenges of being a Broadway artist, the hard work that went in, and the rigorous practice sessions. I did not realize that I had been speaking for more than an hour. But unlike me, though it was not your subject of interest, you listened to me attentively. “You are one talented woman Julie. It’s remarkable,” you replied. “Thanks, Mark! You should probably watch my performance someday,” I urged. “Sure, I will. But I cannot guarantee that I’ll be awake throughout the show,” you remarked naughtily. “Come on! I know you will be more interested in the acoustics, technicalities, blah, blah, blah…” “Ha, ha! You got that right, my lady.” Our conversation was interrupted when my phone rang. It was a call from my co-artist.  “I’ve got to go, Mark.” “Please go ahead. I can drop you at the station.” “Thank you. I’ll return your jacket the next time,” I winked and you burst out laughing. As we walked towards the station, it began drizzling. I could feel a magnetic attraction pulling me towards you. Before I realized my fingers interlocked with yours and you held them tight. My heart fluttered. Though I wanted to stay with you, I couldn’t. I had to leave. But that was not our last meeting. How could it be?  We met the following Sunday and the next, and the next…for almost two months. Later, we tried squeezing our schedules to meet more frequently. All the meetings were on the pretext of returning your jacket—which I conveniently forgot without fail. Ha, ha! You talked, and I listened. I talked and you listened. We met at the Park, Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty, Times Square—there wasn’t a place in Manhattan that we hadn’t explored. Though our interests were poles apart we loved talking to each other. I loved your company. I was addicted to your presence and over time acquired the habit of drinking coffee too… *** I jolt back to the present when a nurse enters the room with bouquets. She places them on the side table. “Will Mark get better soon? When will the doctor be back?” I ask her but she just leaves. Why can’t she answer? I read the labels on the bouquets. “Mark! These bouquets are from your students. They must be missing your lectures. I miss them too—yes, you have sound knowledge even about the most trivial things. I could watch you speak for hours together—just to be lost within the depth of your blue eyes,” I whisper to him. He remains still. Not a twitch. “Mark! Do you remember what happened at the Empire State building? My silence must have wounded you.”  Though Mark remains unresponsive I continue talking, reminiscing the past. I have a feeling my words are being registered somewhere in his subconscious mind. ***   We had been meeting each other for over nine months. Having become close friends we spent a lot of time together though our interests were highly varied.  One day, you suggested we go to the topmost deck of the Empire State Building. It was quite an experience. While I was blown away by the sheer beauty of the view, you started talking in length about the ingenuity and the complexity involved in building it.   I was giving one of those usual stares at you beyond a point, being lost in your eyes. “Julie?! You are not listening, are you?” you remarked. I gave you a sheepish smile. Then something quite unexpected happened.  You pulled me close, lifted my chin, locked your lips with mine, and kissed me passionately. I couldn’t control myself too. And then quite unexpectedly, you said, “Julie! I love you very much. Will you be mine forever?” “Mark, are you joking?” I giggled. “No, I’m serious and I mean it.”  I just froze thinking about the word ‘forever’. Though I had feelings for you, I didn’t quite expect you to pop the question so soon. Questions stormed through my mind. I’m attracted to you but do I love you? We are different in many ways. Should we stop seeing each other for a while? Aren’t we rushing through it? Am I ready for a commitment? I remained quiet. I was in a state of shock. You seemed to decipher my expressions. “I’m sorry, Julie! I’m sorry if you don’t feel that way.”  I did not reply. We both didn’t talk to each other after that and went home.  I missed you very much and wanted to text you but wasn’t sure what to type. And I didn’t receive any message from you either—for quite a few days.  Then one day, I got a call from my mother. I told her about us—the entire story.  She said, “Dad and I are so different. While he is a doctor, I’m an artist. He loves watching football matches and I love movies. Despite being so different, we love each other very much. Love, just happens, dear, irrespective of how different two people may seem. Think about it, Julie. From what you say Mark seems to be a great man. However, it’s your call.” The conversation cleared my head in many ways. How could I not be in love? I felt so happy when I was with you. Without you, there seemed to be a vacuum. No matter how boring your lectures may sound, I loved listening to you. Two people needn’t have similar interests to fall in love. Yes… I wish to be with you forever. I recalled all the meetings with you, our conversations, your exuding personality, and how in reality my heart throbbed for you. I was simply in denial. Finally, after a lot of deliberation, I decided to text you. Can we meet in Starbucks at Times Square, today at 4 pm?  I have something important to tell you. I was skeptical if you would reply. Thankfully, I immediately received a text from you telling yes.  I was elated. I wished to tell you I loved you too—but not as a text message. I wished to hold your hands, stare at your eyes, kiss and then reveal my feelings. I wore your jacket—the same oversized jacket that I had never bothered to return. I reached the place minutes earlier. My eyes fervently searched for you. Finally, as I stepped out of the shop, I saw you on the other side of the road. I waved at you. You waved back. The walk sign was blinking with just four seconds left. I came running towards you. You ran towards me yelling, “Julie! Watch out.” Amidst all the excitement, I hadn’t noticed the lights turning red. CRASH! You were severely injured by the bus that came storming past the road. Within minutes, an ambulance arrived. The whole world turned upside down. How could I be so careless? *** I shudder as I think about the unfortunate accident. The bare hospital walls seem to flash images of the accident.  “It was all my fault Mark. I was so excited to tell you how much I loved you that I hadn’t noticed the bus coming. You deserve to lead a happy life. You can’t be mute. Show some reaction.”  I then see something hazy at a distance. After a while, it manifests into a known figure. Is it Mark’s soul? “Mark?! Is that you?” “Yes, Julie! I remember everything. Honey! I heard you telling how much you loved me. I’m so happy. I don’t wish to live anymore. Soon my body will cease to exist. I’m minutes away from being declared dead.” His blood pressure was dropping rapidly. “No, Mark! You can’t give up. For heaven’s sake. I’m glad you heard what I said. You have to live.” “How can I, Julie? After what happened to you in the accident?” Tears stream down my face. “Yes, I’m no more. But I’m always present in your memories. You will feel my presence always—with the tinkling wind chimes, whenever flowers bloom, with the petrichor accompanying rain, with the twirling autumn leaves and the heavenly snowflakes. I was here at the hospital all these days to ensure that you become responsive. You have to live. You can’t just give up. I’ll become a tormented soul if you don’t choose to live. Please, Mark!” Mark nods half-heartedly.  “I love you very much, Julie! Ok, I will live because you insist. But I’m not sure how I will cope.” He embraces me and then disappears inside his body.  By then a team of doctors come in and his vitals are back to normal. After a while, his body twitches. His feet shake. The doctors are surprised by the changes. He is on the road to recovery.  I kiss him and bid him adieu becoming one with the wind. Epilogue Mark eventually recovers and is discharged from the hospital. He misses Julie very much. He continues teaching at the university and during weekends he visits places that carry memories of Julie. Then, one autumn day as he sits outside a café sipping a cup of coffee, he sees an auburn leaf floating across. He’s reminded of their first meeting and chases the leaf. He fails to notice a woman walking towards him. They bump into each other and the coffee that she’s carrying spills over her jacket. He apologizes to her. And slowly a conversation begins. They both introduce themselves. She’s Jenny and she owns a bakery. And…that’s how another love story begins. Julie invisibly watches a fresh love story unfold and is happy for Mark. Her soul is finally at peace and floats to a far-away realm. *** She was an artist who loved to sing, dance, and act, He was a nerd who always believed in facts, They both were diametrically opposite and poles apart, But while they remained in oblivion, a love story did start, Then one day when he opened his heart to her, She became speechless and felt a little unsure, She paused and pondered about how different they were, Yet how surprisingly, when together, they made a lovely pair, And when she rushed to tell, how much she loved him, Crash! Everything fell apart and turned grim, But she stayed by his side until he became responsive, Became one with the wind and watched him live, Oh! Love did blossom ‘neath the Manhattan sky, But the strange games of destiny, no one could defy.   Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!