Natasha Ayaz


Behind the ancient, artisanal smoke shop – with its rose-scented rolling papers and cardamom-infused oils and hand-engraved boxes of imported tobacco – where, on this particular Sunday, a teenager has already taken a lethal dose of oxycontin and a five-year-old girl has accidentally let loose her prized yellow balloon and an old basset hound has taken his last hot piss with his raised leg shaking, two strangers, who have never spoken and never ridden the same bus but have grazed elbows twice – once in a bookstore and once at the tenuous border of a shared dream, when they locked eyes and reached out and were both simultaneously jolted awake by the electricity of their mutual reality – finally fulfill their third encounter (a collision in the parking lot behind the antique smoke store under the cedar tree with the latex limp on its branch like a burst bubble) and, though they both turn back to look at each other with the same lurching sensation of belonging, they continue walking their separate ways down the street, one to her cadmium-yellow car and the other to his apartment, which is nearly devoid of décor save one very bright painting of a city street with a line of vehicles streaming up a hill toward the horizon like colorful beetles (indigo, emerald, dandelion), and neither of them ever know that on the other side of the cosmic fissure in the back lot, a teenager is triumphantly eclipsing his narcotic moon, a young girl is holding a faithful balloon which promises to never burst, a long-eared puppy is looping euphoric laps around its owner, and the two of them are walking, leaning on each other like twins joined at birth, taking the long way home because the air is sweet today and they love each other very much.

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