or: Waiting to Find Out
By Nicole Itkin
What’s the cost? And how do we decide?
Waiting I wait. sometimes when I don't know if [you] want me to. I smile. I nod. I kick. my white sneakers against the black steps, slithering against solid, solid though rocking on its hind legs and back, back, tilting too far? as i'm waiting in dressing rooms, the driver's seat, the dusky beach, the beach! under blue sky on blistering sand on the beach that became yours Sometime After I started waiting. I make [them] wait when they don’t want to Their brows furrowed into their phones, Clambering one foot then another, into a vase, holding each other and looking out, in a vase In the place of flowers Everything for their daughter, Everything. I wonder if we Choose how we Choose to hurt [others] and I wonder: what's the cost? here and now and waiting, awaiting us.
CALLIE holds her checklist in one hand and her phone in the other. Her eyes are pointed at the walls as she speaks rhythmically to her phone, recording a voice memo.
CALLIE’s voice goes up an octave.
It’s not pretty. It’s freaking gorgeous!
CALLIE goes back to normal.
That’s what Sam would say, right?
Well, today was great. I woke up at six with the sun. So bright here! I took a swim, and sat on the beach writing. What time is it now? It is… 11:04. 11 am! It’s still morning. I’ve already done a lot. Still lots of plans, lots to do. I’ll meditate now. And maybe go to the beach again after.
CALLIE presses play on the meditation and throws her phone face down onto the bed. It’s still recording. CALLIE takes a deep breath in. Out. In.
Think of an image? Okay. The blue of the sky. As it wraps around the birds. And the wind as it ruffles through the tops of trees. The way people’s paces slow down. The way their frantic airport jogs turn into jogs they actually want. The way they go on the same walk every day, as if it’s their job because out here it kind of is.
How is it only 11 am?
CALLIE puts her hands on the rug in front of her, stretching her wrists out. Then she lifts herself into a plank.
Did I tell the office about the pickle? And the time we have reserved for the restaurant?
CALLIE collapses to the ground, face to face with the beige rug, staring at it as if it might lift her back into a plank by itself.
I did, right?
The meditation recording is still playing in the background as CALLIE jumps up. She grabs a slipper and moves to put it on, but gets distracted, waves her hand and paces through the room holding the slipper in her hand.
I did! In that memo I sent about the book launch. Or the one I sent following up on that memo.
Lost in thought, CALLIE bumps into the dresser. She slides her hand up across it as she rights herself. She pauses, slides her hand back down, opens a drawer, and looks down at the neatly packed clothing.
This could be color coded!
She throws the clothes out into the air, aiming for the bed. The clothes land strewn onto the bed, some hanging off, like limbs reaching down with no need to return. The clothes offer pops of color against the white cloudy comforter. She walks over to the bed and folds quickly, briskly. The recording cuts out. There is sudden silence in the room. CALLIE lets go of the shirt she’s folding and looks down at the clothes helplessly.
What am I doing?
Helplessly, CALLIE reaches out and picks up her cup of tea. She brings it to her lips and takes a careful sip. Hours old now, the taste is a mild wash, boring even for her. She dumps it into the trash can and looks around.
I’ll go outside and take a walk. Maybe I’ll meet someone.
Yes, I know Sam would say that! And she would say it just like that. But I’m not copying her. I’m not. I am my own person!
So. I’ll go outside and call Sam. Or Molly. Or maybe they’ll call me. Mom and Dad? But they might be at Pri’s for brunch. Even with all that, it’ll be…what? One? Two? And then what?
What’s there to do around here?
CALLIE pauses, her finger running along the bracelet on her wrist. When she speaks, her words are calm, almost happy.
I’ll just sit on the beach and…hang out.
CALLIE walks out onto the balcony. She grabs on to the railing and looks outside.
It’s so blue. The waves. The ocean. The pool. It’s gorgeous.
Sam would really appreciate this.
CALLIE pushes her way back inside. She spins across the room, the movements jerky and uneven, in harmony with the oddly disjointed smile on her face. She stands in front of the closet, posing, smiling.
If Sam was here….She’d be over here, hair pulled through her hat, putting sunscreen on.
CALLIE lifts her toes up, legs straight. She bends her knees, brings them up to her chest.
She’d lace her shoes, check her nail polish. She would shut the lights off, slip outside, let the door slam shut behind her. She’d find her way to the hotel bar, pull the stool away, hop onto it, lean onto the bar. She’d grin, an air of warmth around her.
CALLIE crouches down behind a lamp. She pops up grinning. She poses, her hands on the lamp shade, her body angled behind it. She holds it for a moment then spins away. Her words are mocking.
She would sing too. Hey!
She plucks the stack of cups in a basket above the fridge from their plastic packaging. She takes the cups out and putting them onto the desk, spread out, then closer together. There’s a knock on the door. A voice says “Housecleaning!” She leaves the cups in the formation of a bird wing, outstretched.
Yes! One moment!
She slides over to the door, still in character. She slides the door open to a gruff older woman, who is utterly not amused. CALLIE comes back to herself.
Hi. Sorry. Hey. Let me just get out of your way.
CALLIE steps through the room, stumbling slightly, the unwavering gaze of the woman at the door unnerving. Finally, she’s done picking up the items she needs and has shoved them into the bag on her shoulder. She slips past the housecleaner. She tries to smile as she passes but it’s fleeting. It makes the woman’s tight smile in response seem generous.
CALLIE stands outside on the staircase just to the right of the hotel room, the rush of motivation, adrenaline, gone. She stands bathed by the early morning glow, shadows closing in on the walls to her sides. Families walking with cheer, little kids hand in hand, couples leaning onto each other.
CALLIE taps her phone to check the time. She pauses. She sees the recording: 46 minutes and 20 seconds. 21 seconds. 22.
I. forgot…. about the recording.
She chuckles. Then she laughs. And keeps laughing. It’s longer than necessary. There are looks: little kids who turn their heads fully and stop walking, dragging their parents’ arms all the way out to the side. There are the teenagers who glance up at her, then go back to the outstretched arms of their conversations, their airpods or their texts. There are the adults who sigh and look away, shepherding their children past her. CALLIE tilts her face up to the ceiling, a hint of desperation in her voice as she shouts out:
It is beautiful here. It really, really is!
What’s the cost of not saying what needs to be said? What’s the cost of saying something that shouldn’t have been said? What’s the cost of (always?) feeling unsure? Who decides the cost? I didn’t have answers to these questions, and I still don’t. I wanted to write something about the process of coming to terms with “the wait,” and of understanding what “the wait” represents.
Nicole Itkin is a high school junior in New York. She loves acting and writing, possibly because both allow her to fling words together in an attempt to tell a story and to tell it well. When she isn't staring at something with writing on it (whether it’s her own notebook, a published novel or a play), she is most likely thinking about new ways to incorporate tofu in her diet, learning other languages or traveling.