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Melissa Ostrom – The Shortest Distance Between Two Places

The Shortest Distance Between Two Places

          Near the bridge, one leaves Jack’s Java.

          Three blocks down, on the opposite side of Main, another exits Alma Books.

          The two approach each other under a patchy sky, where blue tears whole swaths of winter from March. They notice: black hair wind-raised in a question mark, sunlight winking off a silver buckle, brown blazer, turned gaze, one’s loose gait, another’s briskness.

          Passing cars interrupt the observations. Storefront windows darkly double them.

          They appreciate. They dwell. There is much to like.

          This could be fate.

          One wants to stage an encounter, pretend a sudden street crossing is part of the afternoon’s agenda. But then what? How to bring about more than a nod, hello, and backward glance?

          The other wonders the same, rapidly weighs which possession (phone, book, gloves) can suffer a timely plunge to the sidewalk and warrant a halt, exchange, closer inspection.

          One toys with the trip-and-fall.

          The other considers a false-recognition. Didn’t we meet at…

          One: How’s it going?

          Other: I love your shoes.

          One: Do you know where I can find an ATM?

          Other: You are beautiful.

          One: seizure

          Other: stroke

          One: mystical fit, talking in tongues

          Other: heart attack

          Closer and closer. They are nearly abreast, only the street between them: a few yards of rumbling sedans, a skidding newspaper, the matched dip and spring of swallows, a keening gust, oxygen, nitrogen, a little argon and methane. Mostly just air. And one and the other: barely apart but inexorably separated, similarly planed yet mapping parallel lines with lagging steps.

          If only an intersection could be drawn, a single point in common, to undermine the infinite divide, to meet and to see.

          They pass.

          So they’re done.

          The untried word problem. A sad lesson in geometry.

– Melissa Ostrom

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