Slivers of Life

 

A young girl has some difficult choices to make, whilst figuring out the mystery and meaning behind her emotions.


It’s been two years. To Noémie it has nearly felt like an eternity. At nineteen years old, Noémie should be studying architecture at University College London, where she was accepted. She should be drafting up her unique ideas and going out on dates, making new friends and increasing her repertoire of London’s art and food scenes; she should be riding her bike, a thing she loves, looking at the different styles of buildings and landscapes whilst feeling the season caress her skin and waltz through her thick, brunette hair. But, she isn’t doing any of these things that she, and so many others, envisioned her doing at this moment in her life.

Instead, at this moment, she sits in her quaint three-storied blue townhouse with her mère baking bread down in the kitchen. She hardly leaves the house. For many, living in the town of Colmar—a charming French town near the German border—would be a dream. This dream was once Noémie’s reality. She loved this town. She loved the vibrancy of the multicolored Germanic-styled homes with their cascading wood beams. She loved the smell of the blossoming flowers hanging along the canals and beneath the windowsills in the spring and summertime. She loved sitting at a cafe with her mère and père as they made up stories for the strangers walking by. She once felt that her life was as vivacious as the colors and smells all around her, but now she feels her life is antonymous to the scenes she once adored. Instead of getting lost in her own present reality, she spends her time getting lost in other “realities,” such as fictional books, fabricated blog posts, and “reality” TV shows.

As she hampers downstairs to join her mère in the kitchen, she consciously avoids looking at the family photos befittingly hung on the walls

As she hampers downstairs to join her mère in the kitchen, she consciously avoids looking at the family photos befittingly hung on the walls as if she does not want to be reminded of those flashes in time. “What’s the point?” she thinks. “What was true then is no longer the truth now.”

“Bonjour cher!” Her mère says with a gladsome smile as she places a clump of dough inside a round banneton. “Bojour, mère,” replies Noémie tepidly. She tightens her lips and gives her mère a contrived narrow smile.

Dusted with flour, Madam LaCroix raises her pinky to her sandy-colored hair and tugs her asymmetrical bangs and fits them behind her right ear. She looks into her daughter’s sapphire eyes and sharply inhales to speak, but she prudently pauses and says, “There’s fresh coffee in the press as well as some fruit and chilled cheese on the table, dear.”

Noémie walks over to the table, pours herself a large cup of black coffee and sits down. Placing a cloth over the banneton, Madam LaCroix watches her daughter as she pours silky white cream into the black hole of steaming liquid. Tired of worrying about upsetting Noémie, she brazenly says, “So, Hansi came by today and asked me about your bike.”

“Hansi?”

“You know, Hansi, the German boy. Well, his mother is French, but he and his parents moved here a few years ago.”

“What about my bike? Why was he asking about it?” says Noémie, completely nonplussed.

“Well, he was asking if he could buy it,” replies Madam LaCroix forthrightly. “He’s been saving up his allowance money and he thought he could buy a used one before considering a more expensive new bike. Especially because you’ve always kept yours in prime condition.” She turns her attention back to the oven and purses her lips, “Clever boy.”

Noémie pauses for a moment then continues to finish her sip of coffee. She delicately places her turquoise mug down, “What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s been so long since you’ve taken it for a ride. He’s asked me a couple of times before, but I turned him down,” replies Madam LaCroix. “This morning, when he came by, I decided to tell him that I would need to ask you first. He gleamed with the possibility and said he would come back in a few days. So, I want to give him an honest response when he comes back around. I can’t keep making excuses for you, my love.”

Appearing to nonchalantly sip her mug, Noémie feels as if the coffee is thickening in her throat as each sip feels harder to swallow. With frowning eyes and a swollen throat, she looks up at her mère and manages to muster, “Persistent boy, he is.” She continues to sit there, staring ahead as if the room has suddenly become empty. “It’s been two years since I even thought about riding that bike, why am I so reluctant to give it up?” She thinks. “Why now?”

Confused by her emotions, she suddenly knows exactly why she was attached to her vehicle to freedom. However, what agitates her—for the first time in a long while—is her seeming lack of care to keep it. She is conflicted. She is numb.

She continues to stare blankly, contemplating her feelings. The kitchen begins to fade and she feels the summer salty breeze tickle her neck as she stands on the boardwalk. She can see the fireworks exploding into floral bursts of colors—red, green, gold, and blue. She can see the glittering reflection twinkle on the water. She gawks at the marvel, like a transforming piece of art, from the stone pavement and her pupils widen. Whistle. Bang! Whistle. Pop! Whistle. Boom!

“Noémie . . . Noémie . . . Noémie?”

Immediately, the kitchen reemerges and she shifts her attention towards her mère, who is worriedly calling her name. Catching her daughter’s eyes, “If you don’t want to give it up, you don’t have to. But, I need to—”

“I don’t know, mama—” running her hand through her hair and gazing blankly out the window, forcibly restraining the sadness in her eyes from trickling down her face—“… I know I must be acting silly, but I just don’t know.”

“Well, what if you just go for a bike ride this afternoon. You could go to Mr. Bellamy’s and get me a few items I need for dinner—” she places another pan of raised dough in the oven—“…or you can take it for a ride within the next couple days and see how you feel.”

Finishing her coffee, Noémie continues to sit there contemplating her mere’s suggestion. She stares into the cup and thinks how it ironically symbolizes her life, stained… empty. The questions she finds herself asking are; “Do I want it to be filled? How can it be filled? Do I even care?”

* * *

The soft autumnal rays are caught by the beige curtains, only intensifying the orangey glow in Noémie’s room. On the walls a collage of framed images displays architectural beauties: the Shard, Art Deco hotels on South Beach, the Eiffel Tower, Taipei 101, Hagia Sophia, Burj Al Arab, the Guggenheim Museum, and more. She lies on her bed, book in hand, with her back leaned against her plush pillows and shams. There are enough of them to create a feathery nook, forming a barrier of comfort against the iron-rod headboard.

She did not go for a ride down to Mr. Bellamy’s the day prior. Rather, she had preoccupied herself with tedious and trivial tasks as if they each conjured up a valid excuse not to go. Yet, no matter how much she had occupied herself, she could not stop thinking about that stupid bike. The mental avoidance and internal debate had been more exhausting than the meaningless “chores” she had done. She had managed to let yesterday tick away, but eventually her thoughts had caught up with her.

While reading her book, a cool breeze ruffles the curtains, allowing streaks of light to break through and constrict her pupils. Her attention is broken from the pages as another stronger gust enters her room, blowing papers from her desk to the floor. Agitated by the mess, she sets the book down and clambers off the bed. As she picks up the scattered papers, she stops and stares at one of the few remaining sheets laying on the floor. It is an old drawing of hers.

She sits down, crosses her legs, and picks up the penciled drawing. In the background, there is a low three-arched bridge and a canal curving slightly to the right toward the foreground with boats lining the edges. Evenly spaced trees separate the canal from the brick-laid streets, and sandwiched houses varying from three to five stories in height face outward with their windows gazing at the serene beauty just outside their doorsteps. Right in the foreground, there are two light posts on either side of the bridge, from which she drew the picture. There is a low railing and right there leaning on the railing are two—rather simple looking—bikes.

“Amsterdam,” she calmly whispers.

Her attention drifts off the sketch and to the collage of frequently visited works of functional arts. Among the buildings were the Rijksmuseum. It was one of her father’s favorite buildings. They would always visit the museum during their visits to Amsterdam. In fact, it was his explanation of that building that had sparked her allure to the field.

“Some people only see this as a building or as some backdrop for a photo,” he had told her “—but it is a living form of art that doesn’t just hang on a wall, it has functional use. The amusing thing about this building is that its purpose is to house other various forms of art for people to come and experience. It is a space for stories to be awakened, visualized, and analyzed—some real, some fantasized; however, each piece is a window into someone’s thoughts, someone’s life prior to ours. All the while, the building, itself, has its own secrets and factual stories to tell. It has been forever immortalized in countless photos, selfies, paintings, and drawings—some of which are housed inside its very walls.”

His poetic description had transformed her understanding of more buildings around her. Their own town of Colmar was a collection of masterpieces—a jewelry box of sort. Architecture allowed people to experience and live within art, for various purposes: catching a train or plane, watching a performance, doing work at the office, or calling a place home even. The framed photos on the walls had been put there to inspire her and to remind her of their multifaceted uses, but somehow, she has allowed that inspiration to be curtained. She continues to sit there in the glow, gazing between the glared frames and her sketch. With her thoughts, she feels the curtains lifting. She gazes back at the drawing and focuses solely on the bikes in the foreground. She chortles at the coincidence.

“Okay,” she says to herself. “Tomorrow, I’m going for a bike ride.”

* * *

To Be Continued…

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