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What’s in Your Heart Will Wait for You

by Matthias Hoefler

“A dryad lives in that tree,” Azubuike said, noticing Ila looking out the window of his apartment. She imagined a dryad coming out of the oak, like someone passing through a wall.

Ila raised her voice to make up for Azubuike’s hearing loss. “You got a little number? A dryad that wears a ball cap and pony tail?” She smiled as she said it, tugging on her baseball cap. He smiled a little. But he quickly frowned.

“That’s just the thing,” he said, rearranging the mail on the counter. “There’s no girl in a ball cap in my life.” Technically Ila was also no longer in his life. Ila and Azubuike had dated a year ago for about six months. They had both agreed it was time to split up. He, because he had undervalued Ila, mostly because of inexperience. He hadn’t dated enough women to know when he had a catch. She, because she thought they didn’t work as a couple. They fought too much.

Not long after they broke up, Azubuike developed a medical problem that kept him home regularly. His doctor and therapist were at a loss as to what the problem was. He had energy to go to class, but little else. His dating life became severely cramped. He tried to bring girls to his apartment for food and drinks. Many wouldn’t agree to go to the apartment of a man they didn’t know.

He had had groups of people over, but it was hard to single someone out in that setting. A girl’s attention would be divided between him and the whole group. Other girls he knew wanted to go out. They wanted to have fun, not sit around his apartment watching movies or playing frisbee in the courtyard.

He said, “I feel as though my whole life is passing me by. I’m like the once great Niagara. The water tumbles over and is gone.”

Ila said, “Your life is not the Niagara. It’s salmon jumping upstream, starting the life cycle all over again.”

“Everyday my body disappoints me. I can’t go where I want to.”

“You think you’re water over the bridge because you feel stuck. I understand you feeling like you’re missing out. But it’s always going to be there. There’s nothing going on that you can’t catch up on later.”

“When does later begin?” he asked, more to the universe than to Ila.

She opened his refrigerator. “Have a soda,” she said. He took it.

They stepped out his front door and looked down on the city. “You can see it all from up here,” he said whistfully, looking eight stories down to the road. The gas station was visible, where couscous could be bought in a clear plastic bag, and the Sky Bank, and Eastfield Park. There was a trendy women’s clothes shop. The street was busy with cars.

“I’ve always thought you had a nice view from up here,” she said.

He went back inside.

Another apartment complex stood on the opposite side of the street, down the road. It was so similar to Azubuike’s building that renters in his complex called it “The Twin.” It was kept up a little better than his apartment complex.

Ila sauntered back into his apartment and tore a piece of paper from his notebook. She creased lines into it, forming a complicated paper airplane. She liked to show off her paper airplane skills whenever she had the chance, even to people who already knew about them.

She normally threw her airplanes around inside, but an impulse seized her. She opened the window. Cool air washed over her skin like a cold wave splashing against the rocks. She stepped forward and threw the airplane. It sailed across a corner of the courtyard and landed on the roof of the apartment complex.

“Oh no,” Ila said.

“I can get it,” he said. He put his bare feet on the bottom of the wooden window sill and stood in the open window, hunched over.

“Azubuike, what are you doing?” exclaimed Ila.

He teetered and fell. Ila gasped. But he didn’t fall, not exactly. He only seemed to fall for a second. He stretched out his arms and legs and drifted through the air, toward the plane. Ila stared, mouth open, wondering if her eyes were playing tricks on her.

He landed on all fours, feeling the coarse shingles beneath his fingers and feet. He picked up the plane. He wafted it, breathing on it as it left his hand, and it sank toward the ground, only to be picked up as though lifted on an air current. For a while it swam like a swan in a pellucid pool.

Azubuike returned to her. The plane flew all around the courtyard. It dipped and then ascended like a balloon, only to come back toward the ground again. It never landed, and you can see it flying there, even to this day.

Copyright © 2010 by Matthias Hoefler

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