Akeith Walters

Retracing the Chase    

The late downtown afternoon sweats with a humidity that almost drizzles in a sizzle on the streets. I forget about that as I step out of the hotel, how a button-up, even baby blue silk, can stick to an old-man’s chest after only a few paces along the pavement. But for me, the skyscraper summer, dressed in glass and steel, shimmers with the silver of a younger man’s memories.

I light a cigarette and choke on the first hit before grinding it out under a tightly laced shoe. The crowded sidewalk, cemented by constant motion, stirs around and beyond me, and I worry about secondhand smoke. I don’t know why I should. An overbearing scent of exhaust washes up and over the curb. Such habits, though, come from smoking outside in the cool breeze on a small-town balcony. And I live alone.

I find the bus stop. They run every 15 minutes or so. At least they did over 40 years ago.

So much time has passed since I stood here on that Friday afternoon after work, waiting to catch the outbound 5:20, when you took a seat on the bench, hitching your dress slacks at the knees. You wore light loafers and a pencil-thin red tie, knotted to skew an unbuttoned collar. The second time I glanced your way, you winked at me. Getting on the bus, we jostled each other and, as if living a cliché, ended up getting off at the same block. I had looked forward all week to a drink at my favorite bar, a place where I usually spent a lot of evenings. For me, it was a refuge from a strait-laced stonewalled world.

When I approached the door to pull it open, sunlight and shadow shifted on the tinted glass and stained aluminum. You pushed past me, looking back with a grin. In the men’s room, I removed my mailroom badge and white oxford shirt and tied the sleeves around the waist of my jeans. My t-shirt underneath was baby blue. So, too, were your eyes, even in the dim light where you sat on a stool at the bar. I squinted as I made my way past you, returning your casual stare with a slight smile, relieved that the low lighting hid the flush of my face.

Now, looking out from a back seat on the bus, I see that the building has been razed into an over-patched parking lot. It reminds me of my hair, tempered in the reflection of the glass, where a white fringe cuts around a spotted scalp.

I get off at my old stop anyway.

The whole bar district is gone. An organic food shop and a legitimate bookstore stand across the street under the cover of early evening shadows. Further down is a coffee shop. College students mill around as they stare at their phones. Many wear earplugs and tow backpacks over one shoulder or canvas bags of primary colors. Perhaps they stay in touch despite the studied indifference they show. Their clothes appear to be a knockoff from the sixties, only without the flower power or smudge of drug use. Still, no granny glasses to be seen. I think about my old pocket transistor radio and wonder where it went.

A strobe-lit dance club with a backroom bar used to be a couple of blocks away. It took up the entire top floor of a ten-story office building. All the early disco music played. Falling from large overhead speakers, each beat could be felt on back of our tongues as we danced and laughed in between drinks. Our shirts clung to our chests with sweat as we nestled in the back. Not once did we choke on our smoke.

A yoga studio and a holistic medical clinic have replaced the club. The studio hosts evening patrons. At least the building is cool inside as I sit near a potted palm in an alcove by the elevator. I’m craving a cigarette, but I would have to go outside somewhere in the heat. And my feet hurt. I can’t bring myself to go back down just yet.

I remember the blinking neon, a reddish shade shifting behind the drapes against the darkness. The motel’s sign down on the street flashed on and off, on and off. I don’t think I noticed it after you threw me on the bed. We went there because we both had roommates, you a guy and a girl, a couple linked forever together at their groins. You thought the joke was funny, I thought the image disgusting. But then, with our clothes scattered on the carpet, it didn’t matter. It was my first night of drug-free ecstasy.

I lean against the door inside my suite, locking out a journey that can no longer be retraced by sore, aging feet. That old motel had become a half-way house for troubled teens. I slip over and lie on the bed, knowing my Porsche, parked in the hotel garage below, waits to leave. Only six hours after I wake in the morning and I will reach the foothills that climb away from the stretched-out streets of this city. The memory of heat and humidity will dry and drop off me like an old man’s youth, lost but not quite forgotten.

Still, I wonder, staring at the ceiling, the shadows from the bedside lamps arching above me, feeling the ache of my back, my thinning skin against the sweaty silk shirt, my fatigue pressing into the sheets, I wonder whatever became of you. Did you and your baby blue eyes survive? Or did the epidemic take you like so many others? I hope even now that your own white hair sometimes caresses your face in the breeze of a passing bus, and that at least for a moment, a shiny memory of us will dazzle in the reflection of silver sunlight on tinted glass and stained aluminum.

© Akeith Walters 2021

For Akeith Walters, words are the art of his heart. His literary credits include publication in a numerous online and print anthologies and literary journals. At day’s end, he likes to sit with a mug of ice melting in bourbon while he contemplates the difference between poetry and prose. The latter is more difficult to pen down, but sometimes when the room quiet and still, the stories will hang around like cigarette smoke exhaled in frustration.