Just East of Eden
Lucille wrapped the blankets tighter around her. It had been a chilly winter, and as she laid in bed, her teeth chattered. She pulled herself into a ball, trying to conserve heat. Within the darkness of her room, under the cocoon of blankets, time seemed like it no longer existed. How long ago had she gone to bed? How much time had passed while she tossed and turned under the blankets? How much longer until morning?
And then she felt it. There was a presence next to her, standing over the bed. From beneath the blankets, Lucille couldn’t see it. Even if she pulled the blankets off of herself, she doubted she’d be able to see it. This wasn’t a person, a pet, or an object - this was something of an intangible nature, formed by distant memories and forgotten dreams. It didn’t walk through the door to her bedroom - it simply appeared at her bedside.
The presence had been there her entire life. So, while it wasn’t entirely comforting, it wasn’t entirely alienating, either. It was just kind of there, and sometimes Lucille liked it, and sometimes Lucille didn’t. That’s the nature of memories and dreams - not all of them are bad, not all of them are pleasant, but all of them are certainly there, whether they remain vibrant within the conscious or float along in the subconscious. The presence was merely her own conception of herself - what she did in the past, and what she could do in the future.
Under the blankets, Lucille felt the presence reach out and touch her with a warm hand. The presence knelt next to her bedside and spoke in a gentle voice.
“See you later.”
JUST EAST OF EDEN
The ringing of the alarm on her phone brought Lucille out of her dream.
She rubbed her eyes and pulled up her phone. With all the early morning grogginess, she tapped on the wrong part of the screen - she hit the snooze button. With a sigh, she unlocked her phone, navigated to the clock app, and disabled the alarm entirely.
If Lucille had the money, she’d buy a real alarm clock. Using the clock app meant that the first thing she saw each and every morning was a phone screen. The act of waking up was a return to reality - so every return to reality would start by looking at a screen. Unfortunately, humanity had long progressed past church bells, rooster crows, and waking up whenever it felt natural - so perhaps an actual alarm clock would be a happy compromise. And plus, it would fit her retro-girl aesthetic she occasionally flirted with, as evidenced by the old globe on her night stand that still featured the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
With a yawn, she slipped out of her childhood bed as the sleepiness slowly wore off. She knew she had a dream last night - something about a bedside presence and philosophy - but couldn’t remember it exactly. The presence seemed nice, at least. A lot better than the usual sleep paralysis demon, she could tell you that much.
One of Lucille’s new-year resolutions was to do morning calisthenics. The Japanese did them, and the Japanese seemed to live forever. After one more yawn, she reached her arms up high, ready to bend down and touch her toes, but she decided to scratch her back instead. It was a Sunday - she could start doing calisthenics tomorrow morning, when she really needed a Monday morning wake-up. Though it had been over three months since she was supposed to start calisthenics, Lucille hadn’t given up quite yet (she had a similar line of thinking with her pandemic-era purchase of a guitar, which still remained lightly used in a corner of her room).
Lucille opened a window, letting in the spring sunlight and warm air. Right outside her window, she saw the first green leaves of the season on the oak trees separating her family’s house from their neighbors. The mere fact that nature was no longer dumping snow on their suburb put a spring (heh) in Lucille’s step. Right then and there, she vowed to do something today. Yes, today would be the day Lucille did something!
As to what that something would be - when she thought about how she had to make the commute to the university tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, and so on and so on until Saturday came around again, she felt her goals gradually decreasing in size. Cleaning the whole room transitioned to throwing her dirty clothes from last night into the hamper. When you come home hammered at 2 AM, your clothes - if you even change out of them at all - usually end up discarded across the room. It had been no different for Lucille. She gathered the bits of laundry, tossed them into the basket, then wiped her hands, a job well done.
Now that she had done something productive, it was time to relax. Well, time to get prepared for a full day of relaxation. Well, she had to do laundry today, but that could be an afternoon problem. Out of clean clothes, she looked through her hamper, smelling each piece of clothing until she found something adequate for her purposes. She tossed on a green-and-black sweatshirt from her high school tennis team that still barely fit, put her sneakers on, and made it all the way to the front door of her house before remembering she needed to brush her teeth and slap on deodorant. But once that was out of the way, she finally stepped outside into the bright sunlight.
Fortunately, Lucille lived in a suburb where the convenience store was within walking distance (if you considered fifteen minutes walking distance. Many of her friends didn’t). That’s because this was an old-school suburb in the northeast, grown out of colonial townships rather than the flat desert and plains elsewhere in the country. The advent of the car has been a disaster for the human race, at least in Lucille’s opinion. She fully subscribed to the notion that the car companies had killed off public transport to further line her own pockets. Had she lived several decades earlier (or even just a decade earlier), she probably would’ve been a long-time listener, first-time caller on late night talk shows.
But conspiracies or otherwise, life goes on, and so do the seasons. Sure, the sidewalk took her down a major street and through major intersections, filled with cars and trucks and vans and buses and motorcycles, but every so often, she saw some signs of spring. Behind the rows of houses, some areas of undeveloped land still remained, the remnants of primordial forests. Yet, as they’ve done for thousands of years, the trees still bloomed every spring, and so did the bushes and flowers and even the weeds that grew through the cracks on the sidewalks. Lucille couldn’t identify any of the colorful flowers she passed by, so she gave them the picturesque names from novels she read - lilacs, petunias, hibiscus.
One stretch of the road brought Lucille to her favorite part of the journey to the local 7/11 - the part where the road and sidewalk went over a small stream cutting through undeveloped land. Or rather - the town built the road through the stream, but granted it mercy by digging a tunnel beneath the street so it could continue on. Lucille rested a sneaker against the guardrail, her eyes following the stream as it cut its way through the forest. To quote the Romantic poet Browning (his wife, that is) - she saw a nature tamed and grown domestic. Surrounded by developments that continued to encroach on its territory, nature only remained in the areas where man allowed it to remain.
But at least it was still there. At least Lucille could see it on the spring morning. And, at least in her opinion, that was kind of neat.
Her phone rang. This briefly disrupted her immersion, but she smiled when she saw the caller.
“Ya-hallo,” she greeted.
“Lucille, get this,” Regina began. Lucille could imagine her still laying in bed on the other side of town. “I’m going through our high school yearbook right now.”
The high school yearbook. You got your picture, a quote, and an extra bit of text. Lucille spent weeks agonizing on nailing all three of them.
Picture - Lucille did the best she could to hide the scourge of acne covering the right side of her face, concentrated in her temple where oily teenage skin met brown hair.
Quote, courtesy of the author Annie Dillard - “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we see or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” Lucille thought that quote still kicked ass four years later.
Extra text - thanking her parents (facetiously, of course, since Lucille was full of teenage angst during her senior of high school), thanking her friends, thanking DH. Acronyms for your groupchat was all the rage back then - DH stood for Dawghouse, her groupchat full of her tennis friends. Acronyms were also a great way of getting around the character limit, as Regina was about to explain.
“I’m looking at my own right now,” Regina said. “And I wrote SLTS. What the hell is SLTS?”
That didn’t ring any bells on Lucille’s end. “No idea.”
“This is gonna bother me all day,” Regina complained. “Ah, well. Let me know if you think of it.”
The call ended. Wasn’t that a beautiful part of modern life - the ability to have random conversation with your friends at the drop of a hat? The digital age takes but the digital age also gives.
After a few more intersections, she got to the 7/11. She had been here enough times, especially as a teenager with nothing else to do, to have the aisles and their contents memorized. Not that there were many of them anyway. She looked through the snacks - to quote the madvillain, doritos, cheetos, or fritos for the day? She decided to get the LeBron James promotional Ruffles. She also picked up Arizona Ice Tea, which stood valiantly, like a silent guardian, in this sea of inflation with its ever-present 99 cent price.
Check out went smoothly. Lucille even felt pride in whipping out her brand new credit card with its $500 credit limit. With her goods in tow, she began the return trip home. Already, she could imagine sitting down in front of her television and scrolling through YouTube for half an hour trying to find something to watch. But once she did…Lucille couldn’t help but smile as she walked home.
She got back to where the stream ran below the street. No cars came by, giving her a rare moment of silence, so she stood in place and enjoyed the sight and sound of running water. The smell of the flowers she called petunias placed in her a pleasant daydream; up above her, clouds rolled by in the blue sky. She even saw a plane, but planes were one of the rare man-made objects that actually enhanced the scenery in front of her. The white jetliner glided slowly through the sky, the equally-white plume stretching out behind it. And yeah, maybe the plume wasn’t great for nature, but as for the whole scene - Lucille stood there, letting it wash over her.
There would come a day when she couldn’t remember the whole scene clearly. But, noticed or otherwise, the scene and its feelings would stick with her for a long, long time.
The phone rang again.
“SLTS,” Regina repeated. “Smells Like Teen Spirit. God, I’m a loser, aren’t I?”
Lucille laughed. “The yearbook is just who you were at the time. It’s not really who you are now, you know? We were just kids back then.”
“Then what are we now?”
Lucille was 22, a month away from college graduation, a month away from entering the job market. She already had bills to pay, would have loans to pay, and would have to endure the daily grind of the 9-5 or perhaps even more. Many of her peers had already been exposed to things like that - Lucille was just a sheltered suburban adolescent, though “adolescent” was being stretched to the limit in her case. On the tip of her tongue, down to her fingertips, Lucille knew the answer to Regina’s question was rapidly becoming “adults”.
“Not sure,” she decided to answer instead.
“Ah, well. Hey, my mom’s making spaghetti tonight, you want to drop by?”
Lucille laughed again. Perhaps they were still kids after all.