Austin Horn

Ahead of Time

Separate Skies by Caroll N. Jones III

He stepped out from under the dryness of the prefabricated storefront and into the wet, sticky Georgia summer. A faded brown flannel shirt clung to him, while his new sneakers barely found traction on the slick cement. The cigarette he lit was snuffed out by the rain with a faint sizzle.

It had been his mistake to drive an hour into the outskirts of the city without calling ahead of time. The truth was it hadn’t been a bad day. She wasn’t angry, and they even laughed. She was busy with her friend Laura and couldn’t see him today. He asked when could he? She said eventually. Eventually was good enough for him; he didn’t push. Still, he regretted how he had said goodbye. The words came out of his mouth before he could say anything else.

Nobody much smoked here anyway. He wanted to be inconspicuous, another face in the crowd. A cigarette would draw the condemnation of these people. More than being inconspicuous, he felt disconnected by their clothes and luxury cars.

He was vaguely aware of his hair getting wet as he continued towards the truck, preparing to cover the broken driver-side window with a tarp he kept behind the seat. Past the benches and flowers, he came to a crosswalk and met an older man with a black dog. He smiled and said, “Hi, dog.” The old man looked irritated and hurried the canine along without stopping.

The stores that remained between him and the parking lot were a collection of bistros, salons, and restaurants that called themselves bars. They weren’t bars, though. He didn’t think you could call anywhere a bar that had a thirty-dollar sandwich. An afternoon crowd sat under a green canvas tent on the patio at one of these establishments. He took them in as he passed by, in their business meetings, dates, and family celebrations. He wished he wasn’t alone.

His feet came off the sidewalk and down into a puddle on the way to the truck. The black cotton socks stuck to the soles of his shoes. He could see the truck sitting away from the other vehicles surrounded only by shiny, wet asphalt. He was sure the seat and the door would be waterlogged by now, not that it mattered much.

He approached the grey relic and slowly opened the door. Pushing the seat forward he grabbed the tattered blue poncho that made a makeshift tarp and put it over the door. He climbed inside then closed the door. It felt secure having the window that looked out towards the crowd covered. The light that filtered through the plastic of the tarp had a strange tint to it, reminding him of youth. He had been right; the seat was damp beneath him, but that didn’t bother him.

Soft rhythms of rain pattered loudly outside. The plastic lighter felt small in his hand as he lit another cigarette. When they had first met at the Hmart, he knew there was no way out. She stood by the bottles of Kirin and Sake. Later, after they had gotten tea when she first brought him home, he felt secure in the fact that his world and friends could never find him there. To him, the Kanjis on the wall and plants on the counter were both alien and reminiscent of where he was from.

He finished his cigarette, counted the money in his wallet he’d brought for today, and got out, careful to make sure the tarp would stay in place before he shut the door hard.

Starting back the way he came, through the parking lot and up to the restaurant with the green canvas tent, he made his way to the revolving door. The glass was fogged up.

A hostess stood behind a wooden lectern between him and the rows of tables. Trying to be as small and quiet as he could be, he walked to it, conscious of the fact that he was dripping water on the brown tile. He asked if there was an open table. There was. The hostess led him towards the back to one beside the door to the kitchen. “Thank you, ma’am.” The words came from his throat louder than he anticipated.

He sat down and decided to get a beer and try one of those thirty-dollar sandwiches. There wasn’t much point in going home until the rain stopped.


About the writer:
Austin Horn is currently located north of Atlanta in Georgia. His hope is to document the world and the people around him to the best of his ability. He has had work published in Granfalloon. The mediums he uses are writing and both digital and film photography.

Image: Separate Skies by Caroll N. Jones III (1944-2017). No medium specified. No size specified. 1988. By free license.