[Photo Credit: “Crane Into the Sky” by Riven]
A young man stands in an open room; there are windows all along the back wall that look out at the ocean. He turns his head to the left and thinks about nothing. The waves continue to move up and down. He turns his head to the right and thinks about nothing. Street sounds emerge. In front of him. The young man walks forward to the window and looks out. Some place in New York. Sidewalks. Cars. Bikes. Asphalt. Bricks. All present now. Passersby briefly look up, then move on. Vague glances at the apartment windows. The young man glances down at his naked body. He’d been sleeping before; having sex before. For whatever reason, his clothes were gone now.
The left wall is a closet, flickering light hanging above. He walks to it and dresses himself in shirt and pants. The street sounds continue to increase. Fine-tuning. Delicate noises begin to form. Wind. Room tone. Leaves. Breathing. He looks out the window again. People loiter outside shops, talking over coffee. A man, operating a newsstand, shouts at passersby. One looks at him. Others disregard him.
The young man looks around the room again. Back wall; ocean. Front wall; window. Left wall; closet. Right wall; door. He walks to the door, opens it, and turns his head back. He thinks about nothing. He walks out into a hallway. The walls are the same gray as the room before, made out of concrete or cement, likely held together by rebar. It extends forward, then turns ninety degrees. The young man walks down the hallway and turns the corner. Door. He opens it. Walks out.
The young man stands in front of a clothing rack, sifting through plastic covered jackets. Metal hangers. Price tags tapped to the hook. Masking the size tags. Two women wait behind him, looking at their phones, looking at the register, the other customers. He takes one coat off the rack and walks up to the woman. “This one?” She points him to the changing room, which he steps into. Door closes. A number hangs off the locking mechanism, “one.”
The young man takes off his own coat and puts on the new one. Turning side to side. Inspecting the change in form. The coat on the floor is blue. The one he’s wearing now is gray. Like the concrete walls. The cement walls. With the rebar. He takes off the coat and puts it back onto the hanger. First one side, then the other. Plastic covering remains balled up on the wooden bench.
One woman outside continues to play with her phone, while the other helps the young man open the dressing room door. She takes the coat and walks him to the checkout counter. He follows behind. She smiles, “is that all?” He shakes his head no and walks to a rack across the room.
Outside the window, street sounds emerge again. Well-dressed men cross the street. Phones in their ears. Red and blue ties, slightly loose. Three kids lean against the clothing shop wall. The woman on her phone is forced to shoo them away. Her co-worker leans against the counter and tiredly watches the young man sift through clothes. He piles up various articles. Blue pants. White shirt. Blue tie. Black shoes. Black belt. The young man walks to the dressing room again. The woman meets him there with another number plaque. He steps in and she places it on the door. Then returns to the counter, next to the other woman. She peeks at her phone. Checks the register. Tunes the radio to another station, “is 87.3 a talk show at three o’clock?” The other woman shrugs.
Behind the door, the young man slowly dresses himself. He takes a moment after putting on each article of clothing to see how it looks. Blue pants. White shirt. Blue tie. Black shoes. Black belt. His old clothes are disheveled on the ground.
The backside of the door is painted red with splatters of blue across it. The young man smiles. He thinks about nothing. Then changes back into his normal clothing and exits the dressing room, where the woman again walks him to the counter, “anything else?” He says no and pulls out his wallet. She scans the items and afterwards, he swipes his card through the reader.
In a small coffee shop, the young man sits at a bistro table across from a young woman. The front wall is made of glass with letters painted over in pastel, reading the name. Against the back wall is the counter. Behind that are two servers, moving in a rush. One takes orders. The other makes drinks at a rapid speed. The young woman asks how he’s been doing and he says he’s been fine. She stubs her cigarette against the ashtray and he takes a sip of his coffee.
“What have you been up to today?”
He’s just been to the store.
It was the Hennes & Mauritz on 88th and Oak.
“Max called me yesterday and left a message. I’m not sure if I should call him back or not.”
The young man doesn’t think she should.
“I missed it because of the Bucks game.”
He doesn’t watch basketball.
“Really? What about baseball? Football?”
He’s been too busy with work lately. If he had more time he would. But he doesn’t. The young man looks down at his cup. It means nothing. The server walks over with the coffee pot and refills his cup. He smiles and nods. Then he looks back down at the cup. A man knocks on the glass outside. Another sees him and rushes outside. They hug each other and speak for a bit. Then back into the coffee shop. One orders something new, the other returns to his seat and waits.
“It’s sad what happened in Paris last week. I can’t imagine what it’d be like.”
The young man agrees. He nods his head. Looks up, then looks back down. The man from outside has finished his order now and picked up his drink from the counter. He sits down across from the other at a bistro table on the other side of the room. They speak together about nothing important.
“Did you see the construction they’re doing on 5th ave? The road was all torn up.”
The young man is going to stop by later today, when he walks home. The woman smiles and looks around at the windows; chalkboards hanging with sales deals and promotionals. The clerks twiddle their thumbs. Rotated one over the other. They look at each other, then out at the scattered pairings of customers. The young man motions over at the north face of the cafe. He saw some of the new roadwork getting started on the highway. The commute will slow down. The woman knows this and nods her head in agreement.
“It’ll be annoying for a while. Oh. Before I forget, when are you going to call Anna?”
He isn’t going to call Anna. He wants to live on his own and think independently about the nothing that he’s thought about so far—when he turns his head to the left and then the right. The young man bought new clothes—of the same design, but different color—and he’s moved into a new apartment—of the same design, but different color—and he’s beginning to feel situated in his new aesthetic. The woman looks down, then back up. She sighs and itches her cheek. He says he’ll leave her a voicemail.
“Did they raise the prices of the coffee here?”
They did. He had coffee last week for two or so dollars. Now it’s two dollars fifty. The clerk hadn’t mentioned it to anyone and the woman is mildly annoyed because of it. Nonetheless, her cup is empty and so she walks to the counter and orders another latte. A waitress swings by their table and refills the young man’s mug. He pours in one cream, one sugar cube, and stirs it together; then he takes a drink.
The young man stands alone in front of the construction. A crane lifts steel beams from the ground to the scaffolding, directed by men in hardhats. Rubble forms a nest around the base, which sits behind a wall of orange cones. Rebar is sculpted into elegant skeletons. Hardhat men fill in the spaces with concrete; jackhammers move in orchestral forms behind them.
Figures guide the crane from one spot to another. The sun begins to retreat from overhead and the sky changes color. Hardhat men walk to the trailer and clock out. Within twenty minutes the site is empty. The young man stares up at the towering I-beams and he thinks about nothing.
Mike Corrao is a current student at the University of Minnesota where he is studying English and Film. He is part of the Art House Collective, and a former artist in residence at Altered Esthetics. His work can be found in magazines such as Thrice, decomP, and Cleaver.