At the far end of night, Jasmine stretched painfully. Sleepily she crawled out of tangled sheets and blankets. Rude sunlight was already dripping through the makeshift curtain. Finding her sweater she pushed her short hair back under a knit hat and ventured out into the crisp autumn air.
Outside in the chilly air, the sunlight was almost forgivable. Jasmine’s thoughts drifted down the path of fallen leaves, to shards of memory stirred up by the wind.
“Someday I will sit with you under a tree by a lake and ask you infinite number of questions”
His words came back to her, flickering like reflections on the water. Much of their friendship had been words, as they lived always separated by an ocean.
“What I don’t understand” she began, tracing his profile with her eyes “Is how you could seep into me, these pieces of you tangled in my own spirit. I mean, we’re supposed to barely know each other. We spent one afternoon together a year ago, and now…” She trails off, knowing that what she said was false. She did understand. It was his words, of course. Drinking in his words with hungry eyes. Letting them trickle into her soul, after all, she was safe here alone, nobody to notice, and interpret. Nobody to trust or distrust. Only words slipping into her softly, gently. She didn’t understand then, that he was in his words. He stole into her like he stole into his sketches. Peering up at her smiling, laughing, beckoning.
She first met him when he came to visit his friend at the college she attended. It was October and the leaves were finally turning.
She saw him before he noticed her. He was bent over a sketchpad, drawing the old barn behind campus. All she could see was the shaggy brown back of his head, but she liked him immediately. The old gray cat sat in a patch of sun, cleaning herself. Jasmine walked closer to a nearby maple, crunching the dry leaves so he’d hear her approach. Lifting his head he turned to her and smiled.
“I hope you’re not going into the barn” he said, glancing at the cat in front of the big double doors. Jas laughed, she was carrying a box of resin and tools for patching the canoes.
“Don’t worry, I can use the side door.” She assured him. She walked closer, nodding at his sketch pad. “May I?” She asked. He turned the pad towards her as she squatted down beside him.
The lines were dark and definite but the shapes themselves were blurred, suggesting objects below the image originally defined.
“Just like you…” She murmered.
He looked up at her, surprised.
“I’m sorry-“ She said, taken aback. “I didn’t mean…”
“No, you're not wrong” he said. “I was just surprised at how much you saw.”
“I’m Jas.” She said. “I don’t think I’ve seen you before-do you go to school here?”
“Laurence” he said, standing up. “No, I’m visiting my friend Martin. He’s in class right now, so I found my way back here.” Just then the cat sat up and stretched, slinking off towards the trees where a chipmunk was rustling in the undergrowth. Laurence look after her regretfully.
“I guess I’m done sketching for the day.” He said. “What’s all that for?”
“I have to go patch the canoes.” Julie said.
“Yes, we store them in here.” She answered, motioning towards the barn. “Have you ever patched a canoe?”
“No…Why? Would you like some help?”
“I’m just kidding.” She said. “But…if you’ve got nothing better to do, sure.”
Laurence followed her into the barn. The canoes that needed work were stacked to one side. There were four of them. Jas and Laurence moved them out to the middle of the barn.
“You were going to do this yourself?” Laurence asked surprised. The canoes weighed seventy pounds each and were eight feet long.
“There is a trick to it.” Jasmine replayed. “You put it on your shoulders, as if you’re portaging.” She demonstrated, making sure one end was wedged against the support beam, she lifted the other end and rolled it onto her shoulders.
“Your crazy!” He laughed.
“Not really, once it’s balanced it’s perfectly easy to carry. It’s getting it up initially that can be the challenge.” She lowered the canoe to the ground again.
When Laurence left a week later they continued to keep in touch. He’d send her sketches, they emailed endlessly. When she needed a break from studying, she’d walk out to the old barn, and sitting against the tree would write him a letter. The strange thing was how close she felt to him. He was on the other side of the ocean and yet reading his words he felt so close. It was as if all the formalities that one goes through normally when first getting to know someone were tossed aside.
“Our friendship is inside out.” She once told him.
“Yes, yes” he assured her. "Everything we usually keep in, is outside, where it belongs." He had that way of finishing her thoughts. The ones most people had trouble understanding in the first place.
“The problem is,” she continued, as if she had been speaking all along. “That we never get to the outside. The outside is stuck within, and an ocean apart.”
Jasmine pulled her hat down over her ears. The night before she had been sprawled out on the floor, going over registration forms for the November ropes course. The College where she worked offered a ropes course for local grade school students every fall. The phone rang. It was after midnight, nobody calls this late she thought. Then she knew. Jumping to her feet, she ran to the phone. It was Laurence, sounding so close she had to look around her to make sure he wasn’t right there. They hadn’t talked in months, they spent the first twenty minutes catching up. She asked him about Mira, the woman he had been dating. He was silent for awhile. Jasmine looked at her reflection in the dark French doors. She knew before he said it why he had called. Normally she would fill in the silence with his missing words. This time she just waited. He told her they were getting married. Had got engaged two weeks before. As he talked about his proposal, his voice became light and warm. As always with Laurence, one mishap followed another. He had planned the perfect evening-she came down with food poisoning. Jasmine smiled as she listened, she could hear the doting affection in his voice. Then he words trailed off. And the silence he left was questioning. Are we going to be okay? Jasmine answered him, as she always answered. Our dreams are an ocean apart. They always have been. And we’ve always known this. His thoughts came to her, rocking gently against her ear. There was always the hope. The hope that one of us would learn to swim.
When they hung up she went out to the darkened porch and wept. She knew she’d always have his friendship, the way she always had. They had each had their own relationships, their own lovers. What she cried for was the loss of the dream. Her dream. Their dream. That one day one of us would learn to swim.