2011-02-14: Close Your Eyes



Date: February 14th, 2010


Distress comes in unlikely places; comfort comes from unlikely sources.

"Close Your Eyes"

Starbucks (of Destiny)

New York City

It's evening, and people are more cheerful about getting their coffee, tea, and sugary snacks now that the hustle and bustle of the average workday is over. This Starbucks, bigger than many of its sister shops crammed along the avenues of New York, is a cozy spot of warmth on a bitter cold winter night. Its glow is a welcome beacon, and its small tables and slew of stuffed chairs are peppered with only comfortably modestly sized crowd. As always, however, there's a line; it's not Starbucks without a line.

One of these things is not like the others, however. There's one figure who isn't made of the same stock of patrons who sit about sipping lattes, reading, chatting and tapping at their laptops. She doesn't inch toward the seating, nor does she wait in line: a woman in an army green Anorak coat several sizes too large, barely discernable as a woman at all except when she glances this way and that, bearing glimpses of her chary face and ingenuous green eyes to the world around a hood still smattered with moisture from recent flurries. Slipping between two people in line, bumping them without apology, Clara skirts toward the establishment's corner, where the washrooms are; pauses, makes sure the baristas aren't watching; hurries along with her head ducked down, and disappears into the Ladies Room.

The noisy hum of the hand dryer floods Clara's ears as she enters the washroom. Also that constant sound of a toilet flushing— like it's completely and totally stuck in a flushing state. FLUSSSSH Even with that familiar sound of the hand dryer, no one is busy drying their hands. The blonde woman who had, quite magically, ended up wearing her tea after having it spill across her white blouse and black pencil skirt is frantically trying to get that brown stain out.

"Oh come on!" Sydney stamps one of her black heels against the tile. "Don't do this to me, c'mon… come on… " she whispers to the stain amid her shirt. The drying is futile, however. Even though she'd physically rinsed the shirt in the sink as best she could, the brown spot along her blouse is unmistakable. Oh chai tea lattes.

Her eyes widen as someone steps back into the bathroom, "This isn't what it looks like!" Her hands raise defensively as she tries to twist out from under the dryer with a piece of toilet paper under her shoe.

There's a bit of fidgeting at the door, metallic clicks like locking before, with a sudden rustle of her weatherproof jacket, the newcomer turns to face the spectacle the present occupant has made of herself. Green eyes, lined long since smudged eyeliner — the rest of her skin completely free of make-up — stare at Sydney, two completely unmoving points upon her. As though she's the one caught in a strange act, not Sydney, Clara is a deer-in-the-headlights.

Then— a flicker of a smile; Clara's eyes alight. She pushes her hood back over long, blonde, tangled hair. "It looks," she starts to point out, even those couple of words bearing an Australian accent, "like you've got something on your shirt." Speaking of shirts— Clara leisurely unzips her jacket, shrugs it off her shoulders to reveal a heavy, beaten up grey NYU hoodie that's seen more stains than Sydney's blouse, and lets the outerwear fall straight to the bathroom floor like a disrobed dressing gown.

Sydney sighs heavily while she takes a step away from the dryer. There's a twist of her lips, mischief personified, while she lowers her hands to her sides. This always happens when she tries to pull herself together. Always. She forces a weak smile, erasing the mischief from her face. "…hi?" she whispers rather than greets, like the word is a query rather than an outright greeting.

"Yeah… I have a track record with hot drinks here— " she shrugs slightly. "I'm just a little bad with liquid— " Her chin moves towards her chest as she watches the jacket fall to the floor. "I think you dropped your coat. I could…" she bends her legs at the knees, carefully lowering herself to tug on the outerwear, retrieving it for Clara.

"Hi." Clara's mouth quirks into a little smile, tempered by a childlike shyness when she glances away here and there. She reaches out to take the coat, but her reclaim isn't eager. It seems only instinctive, the grab to take something that's offered to her; her fingers just curl into the slippery fabric. She looks down at it as though bewildered by its reappearance. Beneath skeptically furrowing brows, she peeks up at Sydney, pursing her lips in a silly, but completely candid, expression of confusion, as if to ask 'what's the point of this thing?'

She lets the coat fall to the ground again, forgets about it, and drifts toward the three white sinks are set within a bland coffee-colored countertop. "I like hot cocoa," Clara states disjointedly — vaguely on the subject of hot drinks — as she unzips her sweater, too. It suffers nearly the same fate: she takes more care with this article of clothing, as the pockets seem heavy with items. After it's stripped from the scant black tank top beneath, it's bundled onto the counter.

Syd's lips circle into a distinct silent Oh. Her dark eyes narrow at the jacket on the floor again and she bends down to retrieve it. Only this time she drapes it over one of the sides of a stall. At least it's not on the floor. Her pink lips tighten into a thin line as she steps towards the sink to comb her fingers through her curly blonde hair. Springs of curls frame her face as she does so.

With a small smile she peeks at the other woman's mirrored image. "Cocoa is good. I drank copious amounts of coffee for awhile there, but recently switched entirely to tea. Needed some calm in my life," she says evenly with the slightest curl of her lips— a sad, wistful, pseudo-smile, with the kind of depth earned through years of experience, even if Sydney has little in comparison. "Why cocoa?" she asks gently. It's not demanding. It's just a question.

Clara, her own blonde hair limp and lifeless in comparison to Sydney's curls, glances up to watch the other woman's image in the mirror. She gets lost, for a few moments, on that hint of a sad smile. She hones in on it precisely, and in staring, her own eyes seem haunted. It's not long before they cloud over, however, with a strange sort of disconnect — she's not all there. Contrarily, without a budge in her gaze, a silly smile appears, innocently fond for the words she replies with. "It's sweet. I like sweet. And," a bob of her head; yep, she's certain, "it's warm."

Clara looks down, then, snapping back to a task it seems to take her another moment to recall. When she does, it's with hands atop her jeans. She's not done shedding clothing: without any sign of modesty, she goes right ahead and peels out of her pants, one long leg — hopping — after the other, tugging the denim over sneakers scrawled over in colourful marker and pen, leaving her in black underwear and a small slew of bruises and scraped knees.

The removal of pants has Sydney diverting her eyes. Even if they're both female, Sydney practices some measure of modesty. Her cheeks flush brightly as she lowers her gaze to the floor… and then the other woman's legs. Her mouth gapes again as terror flashes over each of her features in turn. Her long pale fingers tremble at the colourful bruising, almost like she aims to touch it. But she doesn't. There's no touch here, just that terror and an odd familiarity with random bruises and cuts.

Straightening, Sydney's arms comfortably wrap over her chest. Her eyes linger on the bruising a little longer before those dark eyes trail upwards to meet Clara's gaze. It's not in her nature to let such things go. Not anymore. "How did you get those bruises?" her eyes narrow a little while her chin cants forward, "Was it.. was it a man?" Abuse lingers on the front of her thoughts.

The jeans similarly take precedence over the jacket, laid upon the sweater. Clara turns the faucet on, makes it warm. Every movement seems practiced, one step after the other, no special attention paid to her task with her eyes; they're adrift. "What?" she asks over the new addition of sound — water running and splashing lightly in the basin — and blinks at Sydney, confused. She visibly fights through a long thought process to answer the simple questions. Eventually, she manages to look down; a hand follows, two fingers walking down the side of her thigh following an imaginary path toward a faded bruise. "Oh," she realizes … and shrugs blithely. "New York is hard," she states as whimsically. "It's made of… hard. Hard things. Concrete and metal. I don't know."

Lo and behold, the woman's purpose: standing over the sink, Clara leans down, whisking her hair over one narrow shoulder to let it get wet under the running water. She reaches out to the hand-soap dispenser, pumping the pink antibacterial foam into her hand to lather along the length of her hair like shampoo.

More gaping. Oh dear. "Do.. do you live on the street? There's a lot of shelters around here, I'm sure…" Sydney begins as she tries to tuck her hands into pockets that don't exist, instead leaving her hands to rest on the outside of her skirt. "There's showers there. Warm ones, better than using… I mean, it's hard to clean well when in a sink, right?"

Sydney's eyebrows knit together tightly as she steps back towards the hand dryer. "I could even walk you to one. I'd offer to drive, but I… " she swallows hard. "I only just got back to the city and I… " finally she shrugs, "No car. Not now." Not ever if she can help it. No unnecessary risks. Ever again.

Sydney is a great deal more upset by Clara's state of being than Clara is at this particular point in time, it would seem. The half-naked woman peeks over her shoulder, droplets dripping down over her face and blurring already blurry kohl under her eyes. "It's warm here!" she declares merrily with an upward bounce of her eyebrows. To attest to this simple pleasure, whirls around with a handful of warm, soapy water flinging in Sydney's direction (and her stained blouse).

The warm soapy water flung earns a small ah from the curly blonde haired woman. Sydney blinks hard as her eyes just rest on Clara unsure of how to respond. Bemused, she turns on her heel and with the distinct click click click of her heels (which still have toilet paper stuck to them), Syd pads towards the door and gives it a tug. And. It's stuck. With a slight frown she tugs it again. Nothing. Oh no. "I.. I think the door is stuck…"

The flying water is tremendously amusing to the vagrant Australian Sydney is now trapped with, on the other hand. As Sydney walks off, Clara bursts out with a loud hah! and smiles brightly with innocent humour. The news about the door doesn't seem to bother her in the slightest; she just turns back to the sink and heedlessly dips her head under the tap again, scrubbing at her head and running the soap through, using the run-off to lather up her arms. Oh, and by the way: "It's locked!" she replies as though that should obviously solve all of the other woman's problems, though it doesn't account for the fact that it's not just locked, but stuck locked; who ever locks public bathrooms? The warm chatter and orders being called by baristas out in the coffee shop proper means that no one is ever far away, however.

The laissez-faire attitude is something altogether wasted on a woman who was trapped in a small windowless room for months on end. Instinctively, she flattens her hand and slaps the door hard, "Help! We're stuck in here!" But her patience wears thin very quickly. Sydney's heart thumps hard within her chest. Her breath becomes ragged in her throat. Her palms bead with moisture as she leans against the wall and slides down it into a sitting position. Legs are drawn tightly into her chest and the former therapist clamps her eyes shut while she hums to herself.

There's an almost immediate response from outside, the faintly muffled voice of a young man who served Sydney her chai latte. "Uhhh… for real?" The door jiggles. "Okay, chill for a sec, I'm getting my manager!"

By this time, Clara has hopped up on the counter beside the sink she's using. Her legs dangle. Her process has quickened with an promptness born of having to be hasty out of necessity. Doors don't always lock. Her shoes have been shoved off and water, rinsing soap, trickles down her shins and toes onto the floor when the shouting sets her on edge. She looks suddenly around as if unsure of the source before sliding onto the floor, unmindful of the puddle she's created, and all but tiptoes toward Sydney. Her wariness in on high, evident in her wide eyes, but, strangely, her own adrenaline barely hops up at all.

The scent of cherries and sanitizer envelopes Sydney as Clara crouches down in front of her. The ball the shorter woman has made of herself is bewildering to Clara; she stares at Sydney as though she's a foreign object, this scared, noisy thing she doesn't know what to do with. Instinctively, a damp hand reaches out, touching feather light fingertips to Sydney's eyelids. Another gently goes to her knee, pulling a little there as if beckoning but really just unsure of its purpose. "It'll be over soon," Clara says, childlike ingenuity turning wise. "Faster than you think if you go somewhere else while your eyes are closed."

The raspy breath and tears the glisten around the corners of Syd's still-closed eyes are symptoms of her continued PTSD. At least she leaves her front door again. So much that she returned. Her body rocks gently, back and forth. It's a rhythm that provides some semblance of control even when there's none to be had. The advice as her turning her head upwards while those still sad, truly terrified, dark orbs search Clara's face carefully. Her cheeks flush slightly, and a single tear rolls down her cheek. It's silly. If she were out with a client who encountered something similar, she'd be offering similar advice.

There's a tight nod in response to Clara's words as Sydney squeezes her eyes shut again. Her motion continues, as does her trembling, but it eases some while she imagines the beauty of the wide open space from whence she came. The lush green hills and fields of trees etch back into her mind, a tracing of a memory rather than current reality. The warm humidity soothes her skin while the smell of tropical flowers and the sound of spurious laughter of playing children soothe those nerves further.

In this place there's no fear of the unknown. There's no cages to be caught in. And Sydney only has her hands to offer. In this place there's no need for words. Just smiles. Joy. And hands. Always hands.

Hands persist on the outside of Sydney's inner world: Clara's. One victim to another. She holds onto the frightened woman's knee, then both of them, as the first hand to reach out is now the second to join Sydney's other knee. Clara rocks forward, watching the face in front of her only a few inches away, so close but blocked from the lovely place within the stranger's head. It's with no particular worry that she does so, but rather a curious, wide-eyed wonder; the fine lines that mark her features aren't concern, but the fight to understand. Her hands move independent of her thought, squeezing in comfort.

On the other side of the door, a key fights with an old, unattended lock. After a few tries, the key wins where the lock-turning inside didn't, and the door swings inward slightly. A blase forty-something woman, the manager, pops her head in and looks down through rectangular-framed glasses to eye the two women — one curled up on the floor, the other missing pants. "… right. Door's unlocked. Get out."

The touch is met with small relief— noticeable in Sydney's breathing and the subsiding trembles. She's still anxious, but touch does wonders for her in many respects. The rattling and the sound of another woman's voice, have her opening her rather reddened eyes to peek up at her. Carefully, Syd runs a finger under each of her eyes, clearing the little bit of formed moisture as she does so before pressing the palms of her hands to the floor.

Carefully, she uncurls her body and pushes up to a standing position. With a careful nod, she sniffles loudly, aiming to leave this bathroom, this quiet prison. But when she reaches the door, she turns back to tilt her head at Clara, "I…" she begins only to falter. "Thank you. For… " she glances at her former spot on the floor. And with that? She's gone. Homeward bound. To lock herself in.

Clara, quiet to Sydney's thank-you, bounds upward to catch the door when the other woman leaves through it. She stands in the doorway watching and smiling — giving the patrons of Starbucks something of a show, and prompting the manager to her disapprovingly — as Sydney takes off to trade one locked in space for another. Bare heels roll back and forth, bouncing on dubiously clean tile. Disorientated but animated, the Australian voice follows— "Bye!"

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License