|Writing Prompt #770|
The moment I saw her, I knew she was the one. I wonder how many other people have experienced love at first sight on the streets of Manhattan. I’d wager that it’s not a small number, but how many of them have fallen in love with a street performer? At least, I thought she was a street performer. Her strange attire, wild hair, and wild eyes drew me to her in a way that no one else ever had.
Normally I wouldn’t just ask out someone off the street, but I figured that she probably got offers to take her out to dinner or grab a cup of coffee all the time. The worst she could do was say no, right? So I said, “Hey, would you like to go get a drink with me when you’re finished… working?”
“Seriously?” said a busker nearby who had his guitar case open in front of him. “That chick is crazy. Earlier she tore a fifty in half when a tourist gave it to her. She’s not even doing anything!”
She was doing something, in fact, she had been climbing a tree when I asked her out, and she leaped down from it, and addressed the man with the guitar. “You are very rude,” she said, “though your lute is pleasing to listen to.” The busker gave her a look that would have offended anyone else, but she had already turned away from him and was looking at me. “Where else would we go if we needed to drink?” she asked, pointing at the fountain. “There is plenty of water here.”
I made a face. “I don’t think--” I began.
“You believe it is not potable?” she interrupted. “I tested it earlier, and it appears to be so, although I am sure it would be more refreshing if those passing by would stop throwing those metal pieces into it.” She gestured at the coins in the guitar case.
I had to stop myself from laughing. “I meant more like a glass of wine, or, you know, water if you want, I guess. Cleaner water than this.”
She tilted her shoulder in a capitulating gesture and began to walk away, then turned and said, “You had better lead us. I do not know the way.”
“I’m David,” I said, as we walked across Bryant Park toward Fifth Avenue. I held out my hand to shake hers, but instead she slapped the back of her hand on my palm and went back to looking at the trees.
“I am called Tiarr,” she replied.
“Tiara?” I said, miming one on my head. “Like a crown?”
She glanced sideways at me. “I do not wear a crown,” she said. “My grandfather, is, however, the current leader of our people.”
I didn’t know if she was joking or just really into her act, but one of the things I have learned in my twenty five years on this planet is to not laugh at a woman when she wants to be taken seriously. It didn’t stop me from smiling, though. “So you’re not from around here, then? What brings you to New York?”
“Exploration,” she replied, inspecting the front of the library as we rounded the corner. She grabbed my arm. “What do those beasts guard?”
I hadn’t yet processed her answer to my question, so I was not prepared for her question. “Uh, the lions? It’s… this is the library. There are books inside.”
“Books!” she declared. “Does it also by any chance contain a repository of nautical charts? My people have been looking for the island of Utopia for generations.”
“Yes, a copy was given to one of my ancestors long ago and we have been looking for the place ever since.”
“Thomas More… that’s... political satire. It’s not a real place. Have you ever read Gulliver’s Travels or Dante’s Inferno? It’s the same type of thing. The authors make up places and things to insult their political enemies.”
She scrunched up her face in confusion. ”Why not just kill them?”
I smiled. “Because even though the authors of those books have been dead for centuries, we still know the names of the men they hated.”
“Thank you,” she said. “That is valuable information.”
“You’re welcome,” I said, still amused. I glanced at my watch. “If you don’t mind walking, there’s a place on West 35th that’s a favorite of mine. Would you like to go there?”
Instead of answering, she stared at my wrist. “What function does that device have? People seem to have many different types of devices on this island.”
“Uh, this is my watch,” I told her, showing off the cheap but sturdy plastic I wore every day along with my cheap but sturdy suit. “It tells the time.”
She held on to my forearm and hand as we crossed the street in order to inspect it. “Instead of looking at the sky, you have a device that tells you something that you could learn by seeing. Is that why you call it a ‘watch?’”
“I hadn’t ever thought of it that way before,” I said. “That might be the origin of the name. I’m not sure.”
We walked down Fifth Avenue, and she asked enough questions about everyday items that I was almost convinced that she was an explorer instead of just an energetic actress way too into her part, and I felt more like I was giving a walking tour than a guy going on a date. I had to explain how a telephone worked, what earbuds were for, give reasons for why someone would send a text, and tell her what the internet was before we got near our destination, and we had just begun a conversation about how all these things could be used with and accessed from the same device when she suddenly began to jump up and down and point down the street.
“I want to go there!” she said. “I would like to ascend one of your structures.”
It wasn’t sexual innuendo. We were in the shadow of the Empire State Building. So I forgot about drinks and we stood in line and shuffled into the elevator with a bunch of other tourists. I didn’t mind it much when Tiarr jumped on me as soon as we started heading up. I had given her lots of details about the mechanics of elevators, but she still didn’t quite grasp what I had been trying to convey, and anyway someone’s first time on an elevator is bound to be startling no matter how well they understand how it works.
“You are sure it is mechanics and not sorcery,” she said several times as we ascended.
I assured her it was, then told the lady that giving us an odd look, “She’s a time traveler from the past.” Everyone laughed, the elevator attendant rolled his eyes, and Tiarr glared at me.
As soon as we arrived in the gift shop, Tiarr reminded me that she was “an explorer, not a crazy person.”
I found myself grinning and going along with whatever fantasy or game she was playing. “I know,” I said, grabbing her hand to pull her outside, “but the authorities here don’t approve of explorers. If someone reported you, you might be captured and held for questioning.”
“That would be inconvenient,” she admitted, then gasped and stepped back as she reached the edge of the building and looked out over the city. “Why are all of your structures so tall?”
“It’s a small island,” I said, pointing at the East River and the Hudson, both clearly visible from where we stood.
“Instead of the population remaining small, your people have utilized the ability to raise these structures in order to accommodate more people?”
I nodded. “And not just here. There are large cities and tall buildings all over the country.”
Tiarr smiled. It made her already beautiful face even more appealing. “Thank you, David. You have been a very helpful and useful guide.”
“You’re welcome,” I said. “This has definitely been an interesting experience.”
A gust of autumn wind at 86 stories brushed past us, leaving Tiarr shivering in her short tanktop-like shirt and trousers that cut off below the knee. I offered her my meager suit jacket, which she accepted after watching another couple, who actually were on a date, do the same thing. Then she surprised me by standing on her tiptoes and giving me a kiss.
While I stood, shocked at her amorous behavior, she thanked me and stepped back to put on my jacket, apparently sizing up its warmth-giving possibilities. I was about to ask about the kiss, but then out of the corner of my eye, I saw that the couple that Tiarr had observed were making out, and realized that maybe she thought that she was exchanging the kiss for the jacket.
“Are we doing that now?” she asked, interrupting my thoughts. She had noticed me watching the couple.
“Uh… no,” I said, blushing. “Not… unless you want to.”
Tiarr shifted her shoulder in a shrug-like motion. “Perhaps later.” She strolled along the observation deck, seeming as though she was intent on seeing as much of the surrounding area as she could.
“So you never told me where you were from,” I reminded her as we walked.
She paused in her survey of the area to flash a grin at me. “You would not believe me if I told you,” she answered.
“What, are you really from the past or something? A different planet? Dinotopia?”
She laughed. “More nonexistent places from your political satire?” I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that, so I just laughed with her. As we reached the southwestern corner of the building, she seized my hand and pointed out toward the water. “See that green patch?” she asked. I couldn’t. “That is where I’m from.”
“Lost underwater Kingdom of Atlantis?” I guessed.
“No,” she said, “a floating forest.”
“O...kay,” I said.
“I told you that you wouldn’t believe me,” she said, smirking.
She didn’t seem terribly offended about it, at least not enough to strand me at the top of the Empire State Building without my suit jacket. After a while we descended, I bought us some food from a street vendor, and we walked in the general direction of Brooklyn.
Tiarr mimicked my movements while we ate, acting as though she’d never eaten a hot dog before. “This does not seem to provide much sustenance,” she observed, “but it is not unpleasant.”
"You must be more used to, uh... what do you eat on a floating forest?"
"Lots of seafood," she replied, licking mustard off her hand.
She asked me more questions about technology and Manhattan, some about my home (a tiny apartment that I shared with roommates who hated me) and work (a lousy nine to five that I'd been planning to quit for years), and even a few about the government and the world economy. Finally, when we reached the East River Esplanade, I realized I hadn't been directing the walk.
“You know where you’re headed?” I asked her.
She nodded. “Home.”
That’s when I saw it.
When she told me she lived in a floating forest, I thought she was crazy. But no, there it was, just like she said.
I looked around at the other people around who were, like us, taking an evening stroll. Why couldn’t they see the huge, ancient ship with trees growing everywhere on it that was just drifting quietly down the river? Why hadn’t it been on the news? I looked to Tiarr for answers, and I found her smiling knowingly.
“It is surprising how often people ignore something because it does not fit into the way they view the world,” she said.
I could only gape in response.
“Thank you for your assistance today, David. I do not think I would have learned so much were it not for you. Would you like your garment back?” Before I could answer, she took off my jacket and handed it to me. “Goodbye,” she said, and dove into the river.
"Wait!" I yelled, as I dashed after her. My chest hit the railing and I squinted out over the water for some sign of her. She surfaced and tossed her hair back off of her face. "Will I ever see you again?"
Her laugh floated to me on the breeze. "Only if you come with me!" she shouted.
I learned a lot that day. I learned that people aren't always what they seem to be. I learned that just because I don't believe that something exists doesn't mean that it's a fantasy. And I learned that the East River is cold.