The grey sidewalk curled under my feet, cracked and covered in filth. There was so much trash spilling from the cans, spills of someone’s gargantuan hot dog oil splashed across the ground. The sidewalk was my insides, blurry and inconsistently visible as I stumbled along my path. People thought the city seemed attractive, or at least acceptable, but they were looking up. Everyone looked up at the lovely old buildings, the impossibly tall trees, the whimsical old lampposts glowing through the romantic comedy setting of a city. The tourists has their eyes trained on the horizon complete with ocean and fluffy clouds, while I kept my eyes trained downwards, avoiding the gaze of others, watching my own feet, pretending to be invisible, and taking in only the dirty sidewalk.
Trembling with the anxiety that accompanies being in a bar packed with human beings, it felt relaxing to be outside in the dark. I weaved across the sidewalk with uneasy feet. I passed men loudly yelling to each other in what sounded to me like anger, but could easily have been a friendly hug of the minds. I’m aware that I’m so sensitive to it that any display of anger or aggression or abrasive contrariness strikes me as terrifying and places me on the defensive. People who like being aggressive say that I fear assertive personalities because I’m emotionally repressed, but really I just grew up around anger and maybe I have a reason to be conditioned to fear that emotion. That night though, I was too drunk to really own my emotions, fear or otherwise.
I didn’t need to look up to walk home. I knew my way via following the ground, drunkenly following the invisible breadcrumbs of social anxiety leading to the candy house of my loneliness. Couples sloppily kissed in closed storefronts, their arms wrapped all the way around each other and then some. Their pheromones this late at night excited me and nauseated me simultaneously.
My insides saturated with beer drowning the inhibitions, I halted my gate abruptly at a seemingly random point on the street. I looked up and saw the divey hole in the wall place. Through the lit window I could see the slices under the glowing warm heat lamp. Jarring neon alerted the drunk late night pedestrians that yes they were still open, obviously, and you, yes, you, are in fact their target demographic. Smells spilled out into the quiet darkness and I allowed myself to enter the green doorway.
Inside the tiny place was warmly lit with yellow orange light. The floor was black and white linoleum. The green little tables looked like they had been stolen from someone’s trailer’s patio. The soda machine hummed a hello to me and I nodded back to it. The greasy moisture of the air clung to my skin and hair and I breathed it in.
Standing behind the counter was a pimply faced tall skinny man. I wondered how he was this thin and worked at a place like this. At the sound of the bell on the top of the door, he looked up from his phone and made eye contact to me. I slurred my order to him, fumbling over verbal language, which hadn’t passed my lips since the beers. Unfased, he grabbed two slices of cheese and put them in the oven to warm them up. I should have told him not to worry, that by the time I got home they’d be cool anyway. I ordered extra tomato sauce, which I love so much I want to drink like it’s thick sludgy tomato blood and I’m a tomato vampire.
Hesitantly I waited for my slices to come out. I stumbled around for a second and sat at one of the many open tables. I propped my elbows onto the table and leaned my chin into my hands, both unsure of what I was doing with my life and subsequently okay with it. I waited and waited for my slices to heat up. It was weird since they had been under the heat lamp initially, but they must have been very cold.
The bell above the pizza shop front door rang and in came a woman in a floral sundress, a clean neat cardigan, and high heels. Her hair was long, clean, and recently had been brushed. Her makeup was minimal but sweetly pretty. She held a purse that didn’t have any holes in it almost mockingly. She smiled at me with a genuine pleasantness and went to the counter to order. Her heels clicked against the linoleum floor. I looked at my watch, unable to read it in my drunken vision. It was unclear where she was coming from or going to. I wondered if she wondered about me and reminded myself that no, probably not.
Dangling from her wrist was a long pink leash, attached to a fluffy mix-mutt of a dog. I think it was a boy dog but I nevertheless or perhaps subsequently found it very beautiful. I stared at it’s thick white and brown splotched fur spilling over adorable ears and healthy dog muscles. It, he, it, had big blue eyes, peering straight into mine over his black nose and open, smiling, tongue flapping mouth.
The eyes were blue like a summer sky in a city with better weather than here. They seemed to go deep into the base of the dog’s skull, and somehow also resonate outward toward me, reaching like bright blue fingers, grasping towards me.
“Hello,” I whispered to the dog. The woman looked at me, raised her eyebrows, and looked away.
Inexplicably and also completely obviously expected, the dog stared right at me and started crying hard. It wasn’t the occasional eye leakage that happens with dogs, but thick, continuous, weeping tears that fell down his beautiful snout, into his mouth, soaking his fur and paws and splattering onto the pizza parlor floor.
“Why are you crying?” I quietly asked, as if I wasn’t supposed to be speaking to the dog, as if they would stop me from consulting with him due to a conflict of interest.
The dog didn’t answer, but shook his head sadly. The woman picked up her to go box of pizza and headed out the front door of the shop, sending me one last pitying look as she exited. The dog followed, no longer crying. His tail was wagging as he went; maybe he was excited for the pizza. I wanted to tell him that dogs don’t eat pizza, but I didn’t want to be the one to disappoint him, not today, not here, but ideally never.
My slices were sitting on a box on the counter with my extra helping of marinara sauce. I tucked the small personal sized box under my arm and strutted out the door, not caring that the pizza would spill and smoosh against each other. I was making a secret mess no one but me knew about inside of the box. The cheese would get stuck together and the sauce would spill and the box would be stained with the grease and oils. When I opened it later I knew it would look like a cheesey murder site and it would be disgusting and shameful and delicious and it would belong to me.