Jason came up out of the subway on Tuesday when there was a break in the storm to busk in the space between the Dunkin’ Donuts and the bus stop. He came equipped with a borrowed guitar, his own harmonica, and a smashed brown fedora he’d owned for decades. He called it his magic hat: whenever he set on the sidewalk in front of his feet he was sure to collect more bills than coins.
He was singing Sounds of Silence for a middle-aged crowd of reformed hippies and flower children in rumpled business suits and corduroy jackets when she walked up. He saw her stop behind a short woman in a green raincoat. He knew she recognized him, but she eased herself over behind a cluster of teenagers, perhaps hoping he hadn’t spotted her. Her hair had gone white, her jaw fanned with laugh lines. She dressed as if she were still in her twenties, in slim cut denim jeans, and a red silk bomber jacket. She bent her head over a paper cup of steaming liquid, and for a moment he tasted mint on his tongue, remembering the tea she used to brew every night after dinner. Her own healing blend, a pinch of lemon balm, a pinch of lavender. Was he smelling it now? No, no he had to draw his eyes away from her to smile and nod at a matronly woman who dropped a sawbuck in his hat, a few teenage girls who tossed in quarters and dimes. The crowd was shifting like ocean waves, back and forth, left foot to right. A bus was pulling up, another behind it, some people left, new ones arrived. Where did she go? It seemed she was gone. He tried not to feel disappointed; he’d never expected to see her again anyway.
He was forgetting the lyrics, so he invented random words, random songs. He was good at that, and his usual crowds were either too old to remember or too young to have ever known the correct lines in the first place. People hearing without listening. People slipping up, lovers slipping away. Castles in the clouds, but the ocean sweeps them away. So long the days of silence.
The crowd was clearing now as more and more travelers boarded buses. He nodded and waved as many thanked him and said goodbye, some leaving a monetary token of appreciation, some not, but he bid them well just the same.
He stared down at his hat, fantasizing about a hearty breakfast at the diner, when he saw the scuffed toes of her old tooled leather boots edge up toward him. She set her cup inside the hat, then stooped down to pour a quick shot from a flask into the tea.
“A bit early for that, isn’t it?” He greeted her with a grin.
She lifted the open flask to toast him “Salud,” she whispered, then she took a hearty swig.
He bent down to retrieve hat and cup, took a sip, and felt the liquid send a pleasant heat down his throat. They stood inches apart, smiling and expectant. She took another swig and so did he. Then she stepped forward. He gently brushed the hair away from her face and bent so close he could smell her citrus shampoo.
Then Paul Simon was singing somewhere in the distance, and she was rolling toward him in bed, reaching over him to hit the snooze button. “Just a few more minutes,” she whispered, yawning and stretching. Her hair was dark brown, the skin of her face was unlined and taut. He sat up, feeling disoriented. He was in her bedroom, his new fedora sat on her vanity table, her boots were stiff and new near the closet door. She sat up beside him, kissed him on the cheek. “Who is the dreamer, and where is the dream?” She said.
“A prompt for you,” she told him. “A writing challenge. The first line of your next song.”
She got up and headed toward the bathroom, humming, “Hello, darkness, my old friend. . .”
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