Angels In overalls

Michael stared up at the traffic light in a blank stupor, the glare flooding his vision. His mind was far from his suburban surroundings, lost in a phantom echo of his sister’s laughter. He was so deep in memory that he didn’t notice the scalding cup of coffee in his left hand beginning to sear his skin. As his thoughts drifted to a vivid memory of the tea bags she used to leave on the counter, Michael took notice of his burning hand.

Michael was a man of progress, of habit and productivity, of initiative and no-nonsense work. At least, that was what he told himself. A more accurate appraisal may have been that he was still hiding behind his desk, after a desperate attempt at normalcy had blown up into a cancer on his life.

Cookie cutter houses slid by as Michael pulled through the intersection slowly. Everyday, the same routine; wake up, make toast, shower, shave, get dressed, make coffee, leave the house, drive to work. The more he got lost in routine, the more he got lost in memories, specifically those of a girl with red hair and blue eyes. If he was being honest, there wasn’t much about his life that he actually liked, and that short list definitely did not include the neighborhood he lived in. The colorless houses seemed to glare at Michael for his heretical thoughts, their white picket fences and gaping windows staring down.

The neighborhood was awash with a filtered grey light, an ashen sun feebly attempting to convince the world of the new day.

Everyday Michael wondered why he was still doing this. He continued on through the same pattern, convincing himself that something would change. Something had to change. He had once read that the definition of insanity was repeating the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. Does that still apply when there is no choice? Even with this in mind, Michael never left the comforting arms of routine, for fear of taking another devastating blow to his psyche.

The woman with the poodle walked on the sidewalk. She never waved back at Michael, which he took no offense to. He had no desire to befriend her anyway. She was aloof, had too much hair, and she smelled like prune juice and baby powder. One of the older residents of the suburbia in which Michael lived, she took pride in her petunias and her pets. She was the epitome of the neighborhood. Too perfect, too utopian, too manufactured.   

 Michael’s drive to work was drawing to a close, and, despite his pessimistic outlook on everything, Michael waved to his neighbors passing by. They moved robotically, walking dogs or weeding their lawns. Todd, the man that lived next door to Michael, was running on the sidewalk. He was red faced and breathing hard as his feet pounded against the pavement, though he still seemed unnatural and automated. Todd and Michael both pretended that they liked each other (as good neighbors should). However, Michael thought Todd was annoying, with his slow southern drawl and his propensity to ask, ‘how’s the weather was up there?’ (Michael was rather tall). For his part, Todd disliked Michael strongly, with his primary offense being his aversion to mowing the lawn.

Michael was almost to work when he saw her.

He nearly crashed the car.

After years of working in his office, doing the same drive everyday, he had always seen the same collection of people on the way. It rarely varied, except for the occasional absence or visiting family member. Whenever someone was sick, Michael liked to pretend they had been abducted by aliens, were a spy with their cover blown, or a king that had to return to their country. Childish, he knew, but at least it was something different. His imagination was starved. It desperately clung to the entrails of creativity like a doting fan grasping at the shirt of their passing idol. These fantasies got Michael through his day, though he would never breathe a word about them, for fear of being labelled insane, or else just stupid.

But today, today was different. She was different. Instead of the faded Toyota that everyone in Michael’s office seemed to drive, she was riding a coral color bicycle, a beach cruiser with white rimmed wheels and tan handlebars. It was a vibrant shade of pink, one that hurt Michael’s eyes it was so bright. Hanging off the front of the bike was a wicker basket that was brimming with sunflowers. Not the kind grown in rows at a flower farm, but the sort that sprout up in street gutters and between the cracks in the sidewalk. A rich yellow, the kind that sings of rolling down hills and lemon popsicles on a summer day. The basket was so full of flowers that petals were streaming behind her in a cascade of yellow, a yellow snow storm raging in her wake.  Michael blinked his eyes fervently, trying to tell if she was merely a convoluted hallucination his mind had created, or if this girl really was on the sidewalk next to him.

The girl looked disturbingly like his sister. Whether this was simply because she was on his mind or if the resemblance was actually there, Michael couldn’t tell. Her hair was the same dark auburn, her wide set eyes the same intense blue, even the angularity of her face mirrored Michael’s. But this would make no sense, as his sister had died in a car crash when he was in high school. This girl’s very being seemed to flicker in the spring air, skipping in and out like a projection. And yet, she was quite possibly the most real thing that Michael had ever seen.

She was not conventionally beautiful. Her nose was too crooked, her limbs gangling, rather like his, actually. A long pink scar stretched across her collar bone, and Michael swerved as the memory of a tiny body in the passenger seat tumbled, her seatbelt cutting across her neck. 

As nausea rose up in the pit of his stomach, Michael decided he was angry at this girl. Angry that she was chipping at the careful walls he had built up. Angry that she was wearing overalls, angry she was riding a bike with a basket of flowers, and not driving a grey Toyota with a cup of coffee. ‘Where did she even get those goddamned flowers?! Michael thought, his internal voice grumbling almost audibly, ‘It’s not as if flowers like those would grow anywhere around here!’ He gestured wildly, coffee spilling everywhere, to the dark concrete and barren fields in a moment of misplaced frustration. There was no one in the car or on the street to see his coffee-stained tantrum, besides perhaps that girl. Michael considered rolling down the window and shouting at her for her nonconformity. He hated that she was different, for he fell to normalcy as a coping strategy. He hated her for being happy. Hated her clothes and hated her flowers, and really hated that damn bicycle.

Stewing with anger and cursing the sky under his breath, Michael’s gaze fell on the mountains that stood tall and proud off in the distance. The road led straight to them, directly West. Funny, he had never even noticed them before. His thoughts flashed back to his memories of the mountains from his childhood. Dancing in the rain to the tinny voice crooning out of a beat up radio. His family had been camping in a flower filled meadow, a warm summer rain offering them a reprieve from humid August air. Lyrics about piña coladas and escaping had floated on the breeze as his sister laughed and laughed at his bad dancing. The mountains had stretched around them, smiling down quietly at the antics of two happy children, enjoying life. Michael sighed in defeat, as he realized that he could not remember any more of that family trip, one of few.

The turn into Michael’s office building was in sight. 1200 feet. 800 feet. 400 feet, 200 feet,

0 feet. 

Michael kept driving.