The day was mild. It was near winter, and the last of the leaves were hanging on dearly to their branches. It had lightly snowed the night prior, as the ground was damp. The sun preferred to stay hidden behind the fleeting clouds, selfishly hogging its heat.
A throng of pedestrians crossed at once at the green of the light. The cars puttered as they waited. A mother with her young child stayed behind disappointedly, when she found that her daughter had dropped all of her belongings in a spontaneous tantrum.
The day did not wait for anyone in the crowd. All, except one. Only a single individual walked at his own leisure. He soaked the freshness of the air into his skin and greatly enjoyed the slight gusts that coursed through his hair, smiling. This was something very odd among cityfolk. For a minute, the sun beat down with might, with no clouds to remain behind, and slowed the mass considerably.
The man, young and spritely, diverged from the crowd, who proceeded to huddle down toward the center of the city, and he slipped into a small, innocent neighborhood.
Most of the street was shrouded in shadow. Trees of uncontrollable sizes stretched over one another and provided a sort of natural arch over the way. This, however, was a hassle for homeowners who had to rake every morning. Slivers of sunlight crept through the rifts of branches. From afar, the sight was beautiful. The man recognized the scene from the brochure that he took with him that day. It captured something about the place. He felt like the trees really did hold the stories told just underneath. Sworn to secrecy, they bound themselves and prevented any breach of publicity.
403. The house number was on a golden sticker on the mailbox just before the gate and once again on the front door.
The man knocked twice. But, soon realizing that it was a duplex, he found the bell and pressed on the words he remembered: Walker’s Community Counseling.
“4 o’clock session with Mister…”
“Yes, I’m here for Mrs. Ginger. She told me to come straight to the front.”
“Of course! You can register afterward, if you choose to stay. Come up… please.”
The door buzzed and unlocked.
Inside, there was an apartment below, most likely owned by whoever the Walker was. The stairs going up were wooden, uncovered, and rotting. Dust had settled on the edges of the steps and the railing was chipped and worn, the lacquer peeling and bleached.
The man hung his jacket on the coat hanger and set his umbrella against the wall at the top of the stairs and walked in. Above the front desk was a modest chandelier. The light was a bit blinding compared to the shadiness of the floor below, but the man adjusted to the excessive white of the interior and sat himself on a pleather sofa.
The front desk lady stepped out of the bathroom and addressed the man with her index finger. “You are the only appointment this afternoon. Ginger is waiting in the third room. To your left.”
Mrs. Ginger was waiting in her white pleather seat (there was something about the artificial luxury of the floor that the man found oddly amusing), texting someone until she noticed her client step into the room. She looked at a clipboard on the coffee table in front of her and grinned.
Chuckling, she said, “I was talking to Vikki about our call. Are you going to be coming back regularly or is this a onetime thing?”
The man shrugged and sat in the loveseat adjacent to Mrs. Ginger. “I just needed to talk.”
“Well, talk away!” Mrs. Ginger blurted. Even she seemed a bit taken aback by her own abruptness. “I’m here to listen.”
A torrent of thoughts flooded the man’s mind. What was he to talk about? There was everything. He could talk about anything. His mind, a constant blur, was never lacking of thought. What was on his mind today? He asked himself if she would be bored if he shared his morning routine. He could talk about it, after all. He could say anything he wanted. So, he chose.
“I’m doing well in life,” he began. Mrs. Ginger was seemingly confused, but she leaned back and let him continue. “I’m doing well. I don’t see any faults in my life. I’ve gotten all of the education I need. I’m currently working my dream job. I’ve married the woman I love. I have children. And today…” He paused and seemed to fall into a daydream momentarily. “Today is just beautiful, isn’t it?”
Mrs. Ginger was silent. She chewed on her lower lip and her eyes darted from corner to corner. She was unsure how to reply. “Today certainly is nice outside.”
“It is. I was thinking about writing a quick poem about it, but I’m sure plenty of people do that now. It’s nothing new.” He looked straight into her eyes. “Have you written a poem?”
“I have…” she muttered. “On occasion. I don’t write often. I’m mostly here.”
“What have you written about?”
Mrs. Ginger sighed and looked up, as to recall any memory of a poem that she may have written. She only answered positively for the man’s sake. She didn’t actually have a legitimate answer.
“About my job, I guess.”
The man giggled. That was certainly strange. He smirked, but in a kind way, and asked, “Do you by chance remember any of it.” He dropped his head, a little shamefully. “Sorry, ma’am. I’m just blabbing.”
“I don’t remember any of it.”
“That’s okay.” He twirled his finger through his hair. He was silent for a minute or two. Mrs. Ginger relaxed. Silence had never seemed more… empty. She almost waited for the man to speak up again, eyeballing him until his met hers.
“Do you have anything you want to talk about?”
Mrs. Ginger stared directly into the man’s lustrous green eyes. They were squinted, awaiting an answer.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I don’t do much of the talking. I listen and then I suggest my opinion, hoping to… I don’t know… hoping to assuage the other that they’re going to be okay and that she should talk it out.”
Mrs. Ginger stopped for a moment and flushed red. “I have a regular client. That’s who Vikki is. She’s recently divorced and was left with her only child. She’s going through a lot.”
“How often do you see her?”
“About twice a week. She sometimes comes with her baby. Most of the time she doesn’t.” Mrs. Ginger bit her knuckle. She wasn’t sure whether to continue. A flurry began to brew outside of the window. “It’s snowing now.”
“I expected it to,” the man said. “I brought an umbrella with.”
Mrs. Ginger tilted her head. Her heart sunk a little. A memory flashed before her and she blushed some more. “There was one time when she forgot an umbrella and it started to pour outside. This was in the spring. I gave her mine and I walked in the rain. It was better for her, though. She had her baby with her that day. I felt good about that, at least.”
“Are you two friends?”
“No.” Mrs. Ginger swallowed. She felt a peculiar lump in her throat. She forgot the man sitting next to her. “No, I don’t think we’re friends. We’re acquaintances mostly. She comes, she pays, and she talks. It’s mostly about her ex-husband. We compare ours a lot.”
“You’re divorced too?”
“Three years ago, yes. I don’t think mine was as bad as hers, but we feel bad for each other, either way.” Mrs. Ginger wiped her eye for a moment. The man saw her and checked to see if she was crying. He could see no tears. But, her face was very red.
Mrs. Ginger looked up at the man again. Her eyes were swelling and reddening. Tears were welling. “I feel so pathetic because I tried to kill myself over it and she’s so much stronger than me. She kept a child and she has the courage to talk to a stranger about it every Tuesday and Friday.”
The man stood up, held Mrs. Ginger’s hand for a second and kissed it, then said, “You talked to me. Thank you.”
He closed the door behind him, left the check on the front counter, and left the umbrella behind. The snow was getting pretty bad.
By Christian Gann, 16, Seoul American High School, Seoul, South Korea